No matter how well-intentioned, I don’t subscribe to the notion that state government should be dictating where affordable housing belongs in any community. There must always be local control of zoning.
There are great discrepancies in opportunity in our state and housing is one aspect of creating opportunity. Those favoring drastic action believe that only through force can we expect suburbs to collaborate with cities in addressing these needs. That’s why 8-30g was created in 1986.
However, some analyses suggest that the statute has not succeeded in driving significant increases in affordable housing. It’s a sledgehammer approach which permits predatory developers to ignore sensible local zoning ordinances to build high-density, maximum coverage projects virtually anywhere, ignoring SmartGrowth principles and basic appropriateness.
Over my ten years in the Legislature, I’ve sought to amend the statute many times, collaborating across the aisle with Republican Fairfield County colleagues who represent similarly affected communities. Although we haven’t succeeded to date, we’ve shined a spotlight on the terrible projects enabled by this law and offered real alternatives to achieving housing diversity without being punitive.
The state should promote more inclusionary zoning, but through incentives, not extreme penalties.
In addition, there shouldn't be a case over protecting a town's “character.” Character is highly subjective term, in the “eye of the beholder,” and shouldn’t be enshrined in law, whether statute or ordinance. It’s not an effective planning criterion. More importantly, it’s a distraction from the real conversation about how any municipality addresses housing diversity.
By and large, Westporters support more housing diversity. We want more choices:
- For young people, looking to come back to the town they grew up in,
- for seniors, who no longer want large homes, but deserve to spend their golden years in the community to which they’ve long contributed,
- for single parents or parents dealing with job dislocations, seeking quality of life for their families,
- for teachers, police officers, firefighters and other first responders, who may want to live in the town in which they play such a critical role.
And Westporters should be proud of our town’s commitment to diverse housing options. Not merely because we’ve earned a moratorium on 8-30g projects, but because we’ve embraced the task by approving appropriate housing along corridors with the necessary infrastructure, while opposing bad projects brought forward by mercenary developers who care nothing about our town. Our town was right to fight some bad proposals, and I disagree with the judge in Hartford who overruled our P&Z.
We should be acknowledged for our steady, sensible approach to achieving diversity.
Westport has done well, and it can do better. If we honor our values, I’m confident that we will do better. Westport can collaborate with the State and surrounding municipalities but, ultimately, we’re best able to determine our own future.
Jonathan on Affordable Housing at this week's Chamber of Commerce debate. Watch the full debate here.