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Friday, December 15 News

Stevenson: Change to affordable housing law not a plus for Darien

DARIEN — Recent changes to a state housing law that incentivize the building of affordable units is cause for celebration in some small to midsize municipalities — though not all.

The changes, however, almost didn’t come to pass as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy vetoed the bill. Last week, the state Senate opted to override the governor’s veto and pushed the bill through.

Darien’s first selectman had hoped the veto would stand, sending the revise of the 8-30g laws back to the drawing board, but said at least the override signals a willingness to address a flawed piece of legislation.

“There are so many challenges with this 8-30g statue, this represents a willingness on the part of the Legislature to make appropriate changes,” Jayme Stevenson said.

The idea behind the new bill is to make it easier for municipalities working to build affordable housing to achieve a moratorium, a four-year respite from developers who could otherwise skirt local zoning regulations so long as they provide some affordable units.

The override largely saw legislators split based on the size of the municipalities they represent.

Urban legislators tended to support Malloy’s veto, upholding stricter regulations to achieve a moratorium on affordable housing. Most suburban and rural legislators favored the override on the grounds it gave them more power to ward off potentially-predatory developers able to skirt local zoning laws in municipalities without an acceptable number of affordable units.

Still, some of the characteristics of the bill are not helpful to the town which, with New Canaan and Brookfield, is one of three municipalities in the state that has qualified for a four-year moratorium this year by increasing by the number of affordable housing units by 2 percent of the town’s total housing stock.

Under the new bill, for mid-size municipalities with more than 20,000 housing units, the threshold is reduced to 1.5 percent. Second and third moratoriums attained by these larger municipalities would also be extended to five years — something that would not benefit Darien.

“We are not positively impacted by the lowering of the minimum number of housing unit-equivalent points, our threshold still stands at two percent,” Stevenson said.

Also included in the bill is a point system in which family-style affordable housing, consisting of two- or three-bedroom units, is encouraged. “Incentive housing zones,” which designate and award unit-equivalent points to clusters of affordable housing, are awarded more points. Darien, Stevenson said, does not have an incentive housing zone. Instead, the town uses inclusionary zoning, which requires any development of 5 units or more, anywhere in town, be at least 12 percent affordable.

“Our inclusionary zoning actually sets a higher standard. I would argue that it allows for the very thoughtful and more methodical development of affordable housing across town, doesn’t overburden one area of town over another,” Stevenson said.

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Just north in New Canaan, the override was better taken.

First Selectman Robert Mallozzi III also expressed a need to revise the original language of the 8-30g law, calling it a “one-size-fits-all” model. Mallozzi, however, didn’t feel the override would greatly impact New Canaan, whose moratorium was approved this spring.

“For our town, I don’t think it hurts at all. I think we’re in a good place,” Mallozzi said.

New Canaan Housing Authority Chairman Scott Hobbs went further, saying the bill provides a necessary change.

“I believe the override is a good thing. It makes it slightly easier to achieve moratoriums and the moratoriums last a little longer. Those things are good,” Hobbs said. “The 8-30g law as it stood really discouraged a lot of communities because you couldn’t figure out how to reach the moratorium level and if you can’t figure out how to reach a goal, you don’t go for it.”

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