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3/14/2022 - McNally Testimony on HB 5429

March 14, 2022

Connecticut General Assembly

Committee on Planning & Development

 

RE:      Raised Bill 5429

            An Act Concerning Transit Oriented Development

 

Dear Chairman Cassano, Chairwoman McCarthey-Vehey, Vice-Chairman Needleman, Vice Chairwoman Goupil, Ranking Member Senator Hwang, Ranking Member Zullo, and Distinguished Members of the Planning & Development Committee.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony on Raised Bill 5429—An Act Concerning Transit Oriented Development, which I strongly oppose.   

Darien supports Transit Oriented Development.  We currently have three large developments underway in town: the Corbin District in the town center and, two separate projects at Noroton Heights, all within one-half miles of train stations. These developments will add 297 new housing units, 38 of which will be deed restricted affordable.  These will be some of the densest projects approved in the history of our community.

However, the proposed bill overreaches for Darien, and many other impacted communities. As drafted, the bill threatens to cause unequal treatment among impacted communities. Lines 10-16 reference “within a half-mile radius of any passenger rail or commuter rail station…”  The Town of Darien is in the highly unusual circumstance of having this impact six (6) different rail stations—the Noroton Heights and Darien Train Stations in Darien, as well as four (4) other train stations outside of Darien which are within one half mile of the Darien border.  This includes the Rowayton Station in Norwalk; the Talmadge Hill Station in New Canaan; and the Glenbrook and Springdale Stations in Stamford.

Many communities have organically grown near their train stations, and Darien is no exception. For over 70 years, Darien has zoned minimum lot sizes as small as 1/5th acre (7,812 square feet).  Houses in this zone are considered working class or middle class housing in Darien.  With small houses in the range of 800-1,500 square feet, this zone provides essential housing for moderate income families who could not afford new construction in lower Fairfield County, under present prices. 

The proposed bill would require the Town to in essence “re-zone” these areas, which now allow for small single-family residences. This long-established housing would be replaced with small apartment buildings of, for example, six units with one affordable unit.  However, those six units would be market-rate, and in Darien, market-rate apartments (two-bedrooms) are now renting for $4,000-$5,000 per month.  With this conversion, we would lose a large percentage of our working class housing, replacing it with six expensive units and one deed-restricted affordable unit.  The proposed bill would damage Darien’s present affordable middle class housing stock.

The proposed bill, with an effective date of October 1, 2022, is being rushed through the legislature with details lacking. Definitions of key elements including ‘minimum overall average gross density’ and ‘as of right development’ are missing.  As of right development within a half mile radius of train stations could occur on land not zoned residential.  This could take place on commercial and industrial land as well. Essentially, this is a potential loss of local control on over 500 acres around each station.

The public hearing process proposed does not allow for time for adequate consideration of the impact on people, existing businesses, and communities.

We have found Inclusionary Zoning and CGS 8-30g applications viable solutions for creating deed-restricted affordable units. Darien’s recent rezoning of many properties has resulted in a number of new market-rate apartments and condominiums coming on-line. Darien’s inclusionary zoning regulations, 40% more restrictive than State requirements, has resulted in 18 new deed-restricted affordable housing units, with another 26 coming online in the next three to four years.  CGS 8-30g projects have created 240 units in Darien, 63 of which are affordable. Within the past few weeks, our Planning & Zoning Commission approved an additional sixty unit apartment building with 8 deed-restricted affordable units.

An equal challenge for many communities, including Darien, is to maintain and grow our stock of middle class housing. 

The Darien Planning & Zoning Commission is currently in the process of preparing our Affordable Housing Plan under CGS 8-30g.  That Plan will include a several recommendations addressing housing of all types—including both low and moderate income.  All of these are necessary to have a diverse, vibrant community. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.

 Sincerely,

Monica McNally

First Selectman, Darien, Connecticut