Several proposed Connecticut state legislative amendments are being considered which would enact statewide zoning mandates upon municipalities. These mandates are intended to combat discrimination and address disparities in housing needs while also creating opportunities for smart growth and increased development potential throughout Connecticut.
The Planning and Development Committee Raised Bill Number 1024 and Housing Committee Bill Number 804 each contain proposed legislation mandating all municipalities permit four or more residential unit developments (or mixed-used developments containing same) as-of-right in at least 50% of the area within a one-half mile radius of a municipality’s primary transit station. Transit station in both instances includes rail stations, bus rapid transit stations, ferry terminals, and bus terminals. Similar statewide provisions would mandate zoning provisions for “middle housing” (duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes, cottage clusters, and townhouses) and accessory dwellings while also controlling certain bulk restrictions such as the minimum density that local zoning can permit and the maximum number of parking spaces that can be required.
Similar bills also presented during this year’s legislative session include Proposed Bill Numbers 551 and 554 which would, respectively, require “fifty percent of the land within one-half mile of transit stations and commercial corridors be zoned for multifamily housing and that accessory dwelling units be permitted on such land as of right, provided such units conform to applicable health and building codes” and “require that a municipality’s zoning regulations permit a greater density of housing within one-half mile of a public transit station than is otherwise permitted by such municipality.” Draft legislative language has not yet been made available for Proposed Bill Numbers 551 and 554.
In addition to increasing housing potential, such mandates permitting multi-family developments, accessory dwellings, and/or increased density around public transportation hubs promote the core tenet of Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) and helps capitalize on investments in public transportation.
TOD proposals are attractive to many young professionals or “empty nesters” looking to downsize so they present little strain on school systems while directing commuters away from streets and onto alternative modes of transportation. The additional housing stock permitted by the bills could also promote the growth and accessibility of affordable housing throughout the state. While the specifics of these proposed mandates and any strings that may be attached are yet to be seen, the potential benefit to communities and landowners throughout the state is certainly apparent.
These bills have a long journey ahead of them before becoming law including public hearings during which legislators, state agency representatives, and the public will be permitted to comment. One area that is certain to receive attention is the state’s willingness and authority to pre-empt local authority under home rule delegation which grants local municipalities sole legislative authority “relative to the powers, organization, and form of government of such political subdivision.” This home rule delegation has long afforded municipalities broad authority to regulate “local concerns” which includes specific local zoning regulations and controls while the state retains regulatory authority over areas that touch matters of “statewide concern.”
So while these concepts could be beneficial to the public and development community, it is still to be seen whether these proposed bills will gain enough support to be advanced and, if so, whether a sufficient matter of “statewide concern” can be demonstrated.