Housing Regulations Could Change Face of Town

State law must be reformed to stop developers from circumventing local town plan and zoning commissions. By Chris DeSanctis

All Fairfield home owners should be watching this issue very closely.

In Stratfield, a developer recently sought to circumvent our zoning regulations by invoking a 1989 state law that was designed to encourage the development of affordable housing. The developer wanted to subdivide his 10,000-square-foot site on Homeland Street, keeping an existing home on one half and building a second on the other half.  When this plan was denied by the Town Plan and Zoning Commission (TPZ) in March because current zoning laws require a minimum of 9,375 square feet for one home, he revised his application to include three housing units, one of which would be an accessory apartment over the garage of the second home.  Under the provisions of state law “8-30g,” because the apartment would be classified as “affordable housing,” three housing units would be allowed on the property despite local zoning restrictions.

That may sound like a local dispute is quite obviously much more, so thank goodness for the groundswell of opposition from our Stratfield neighbors – more than 100 turned out at the public hearings, and more than 200 signed petitions in opposition.  They understand that approving this proposal would set a precedent for the entire town of Fairfield that would allow developers to dictate how our town should be developed by allowing them to enter any neighborhood and change its character forever by simply including affordable housing in their plans.  Fortunately, the developer’s new application was rejected unanimously, primarily on the grounds that the TPZ had “not been presented with adequate information . . . to make a decision that is informed, proper and in accordance with the laws of the State of Connecticut.”  It’s certainly likely this developer will try again. Meanwhile, just a few blocks away, another developer has just threatened to propose a “so called” affordable housing development with many more units than the three he put forward to build on his Chatham Road site after his original plan was rejected unanimously by the TPZ.

Section 8-30g basically says that if less than 10% of a town’s total housing units are “affordable”  (in the latest assessment, only 2.63% of Fairfield’s 21,648 housing units were deemed to be affordable), then multi-unit developments in which at least 30% of the units are affordable are exempt from local zoning regulations and can only be denied by local planning and zoning commissions based on “substantial public interests in health, safety or other matters which the commission may legally consider . . . that clearly outweigh the need for affordable housing . . . and cannot be protected by reasonable changes to the affordable housing development.”  In plain English, this means that an 8-30g application cannot be denied simply because it is opposed by neighbors or would adversely impact property values, neighborhood character, aesthetics, traffic, and/or schools.  Also, if any denial is challenged in court, the burden of proof regarding the legitimacy of the reasons shifts from the developer to the local commission, which basically means an expensive lawsuit that can be difficult to win.

The statutory definition of “affordable” is housing that costs no more than 30% of the income of people who earn 80% or less than the area median income or the state median income, whichever is lower.  However, the only housing units that may be counted toward the 10% threshold of 8-30g are those which are built, acquired, or rented with government assistance specifically for low- and moderate-income people and those with formal deed restrictions that require the owners to sell or rent them at prices that are affordable to low- and moderate-income people.  Thus, perversely, a town like Fairfield, in which more than 10% of the housing units may meet the law’s definition of “affordable,” is still vulnerable to 8-30g “coercion” if it does not have enough “statutory” affordable housing.

We should all be in favor of affordable housing for many reasons, including the opportunity it provides for older residents, those with limited or fixed incomes, local public- and private-sector employees, and young people working in entry-level jobs. At the same time, however, we should all be in favor of what has come to be called “Smart Growth,” which means community development under a thoughtful and comprehensive master plan, such as locating high-density housing near public transportation, on streets with adequate traffic capacity and parking facilities, and close to essential services, schools, and businesses, as opposed to plunking down high-density, multi-unit housing anywhere in town that a developer happens to have acquired a piece of land.

As a candidate for the State Assembly in District 133, which includes Stratfield, I believe there is a solution. One of my first priorities, if elected, will be to lead an effort to revise Section 8-30g to give communities like Fairfield: (a) a one-year moratorium from 8-30g for any town that wants to create a comprehensive Smart Growth Master Plan (SGMP); (b) the right to deny affordable housing applications that are not consistent with a town’s SGMP, and (c) credit towards the 10% objective for non-statutory housing units that are, in fact, affordable by the applicable standards but are not “deed restricted” or “publicly assisted.”  Meanwhile, I encourage all Fairfield citizens to become informed and engaged on this important issue and to let their local representatives know what they think. 

Chris DeSanctis is a candidate for State Representative in Fairfield’s 133rd legislative district. He works as an elementary school Principal and Adjunct Professor at Sacred Heart University. To learn more about Chris visit his web site at www.chrisdesanctis.com

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

lbh September 03, 2012 at 08:46 PM
Thanks for focusing on this issue. It is very frustrating to think that a state law can supercede the town zoning board. I hope more people will become aware of the impact this can have on our entire town. I am very glad that you have put together a plan to deal with this issue at the state level.
Stanley Simpleton September 04, 2012 at 01:28 PM
Thank you for your thoughtful and insightful article. You can count on my vote in November!
peacemaker September 04, 2012 at 02:01 PM
Mine, too. Finally, someone who gets it. This is frustrating for many reasons, but there has been no one in town willing to step up and take a stand. Where is the first selectman? Where are the other selectman? TPZ can't do this alone! Chris DeSanctis is the ONLY one who has and will publicly address our concerns.
James H September 04, 2012 at 02:39 PM
It's disgracefull when a developer tries to twist a regulation ment to help people into nothing more than a means to make a quick buck. If you read the article written after the last TPZ meeting the developer says that the reason he's doing this is because he can't make enough of a profit by playing it straight. I wasn't at the last TPZ meeting but now that I see that this can possibly have the same impact on my neighborhood down the line I will be at the meeting set for 9/11 to hear public comments on the matter. I hope that other residents from the different parts of town will see this as an opportunity to protect their own neighborhoods and attend the meeting as well.
Stephanie Roberta Kardos January 16, 2013 at 01:53 AM
What if a person is trying to buy in Fairfield. Has a good job. Pays her bills but sadly does not make enough to buy anything currently on the market in Fairfield. While these paricular projects mentioned above may not be appropriate all of the affordable applications cannot be bad for Fairfield. Why did the town buy a quality affordable housing project site on Burroughs Road only to build soccor fields there?? It seems clear Fairfield does NOT want ALL people to live in Fairfield. Lets be homest about it!!


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »