LETTER: Local zoning control is a cause worth fighting for.

Submitted by Dan Quigley, Greenwich RTC Chair

There has been an ominous trend materializing in Greenwich. Developers, eager to capitalize on unrealistic and ill-conceived state mandated 8-30g housing requirements have descended on Greenwich and are ready to build, build and build. As long as a project has a 30% 8-30g “affordable housing” component, our Zoning Board is constrained in its ability to reject it.

Here is a sample of some of the proposed projects.

  • Church Street: a 192 unit development that will essentially replace an entire neighborhood of single family and two family homes.
  • Brookridge Drive: an 86 unit apartment complex adjacent to Hillside Drive and Greenwich High School.
  • 240 Greenwich Avenue: one year ago, a modest four story, 20 unit building was proposed, only to re-emerge as a six story, 60 unit, 8-30g apartment building in its most recent incarnation.
  • 111 Mill Street: a proposed four story, 27 unit apartment building with no parking for residents.
  • Benedict Court: 110 units under 8-30g. This is the third time this project has been presented. A few years ago it was proposed as a six story, 72 unit condo building. It has grown significantly taking advantage of 8-30g.
  • 125 Greenwich Avenue: Adding an additional two stories to an existing building under 8-30g statutes. This will set a bad precedent for increasing building height on Greenwich Avenue.          

This unprecedented tsunami of proposed development will have a long lasting ripple effect throughout our community. As ominous as the above slate of proposals is, their total combined number ofaffordable units” (130) is only 1/10th of the 1,200 units Greenwich will need to add if it is to meet the state mandated 10% affordable housing target (we are currently at 5.3%). It is important to note that in order to financially justify their construction, developers will have to produce an additional 2,800 “market rate” units to subsidize the 30% (1,200) 8-30g units. They still need to make a profit and that is their goal.

Under 8-30g, for every three “affordable units” built, there will be seven “market rate” units. Thus, the fallacy of the 8-30g experiment. It consistently moves the goalposts in a way that will make it unlikely we will ever reach 10%. It would be much more effective to have our local housing authority (Greenwich Communities) build out our affordable housing supply. They would not have to add any market rate component and it would give our town a fighting chance to reach the 10% target quicker and in a way that would efficiently provide affordable housing options to those who need it most.

The 8-30g issue has also been hyper-politicized by the  group DeSegregateCT. This group holds firm to its thesis that CT is a “segregated state” and that the best solution to solving the affordable housing conundrum is to flood downtown suburban real estate markets with apartments. These areas are targeted due to their proximity to transport hubs. This will, in turn create an “oversupply” problem and will drive down surrounding prices, thus making housing more “affordable” for all. 

The net effect will be a pronounced uptick in population density in small to midsize communities across Connecticut. In Greenwich, this will overburden our municipal infrastructure and exacerbate existing traffic and parking challenges. The ultimate result will be significant increases in infrastructure spending and of course, higher tax rates.

In addition to the stress on our infrastructure, the 8-30g push will negatively impact the environment. Smaller scale construction allows for the reduction of impervious surface and other important environmental benefits. The EPA website states; “Stormwater runoff is a major contributor to water pollution. When rainwater washes over impervious surfaces such as rooftops, parking lots, and roads, it collects and carries pollutants that ultimately flow into our waterways.” We don’t need more of that.

Our ability to retain our zoning rights as a community is being directly threatened. This is the single most important local issue facing the electorate in Greenwich as we head into midterm elections next November. Tax rates can fluctuate depending on which party has power in Hartford, but losing local zoning rights will have lasting consequences that cannot be easily unwound with a Bill in the legislature.

What can you do about it? You should contact your local state representatives and state senators, participate in local rallies, write letters to the editor in your local paper and testify at public hearings. For our community to be effective in opposing this, we will need all of our elected officials to be engaged, energized and working together irrespective of party affiliation. 

Affordable housing is an admirable goal, and over time, neighborhoods and communities change. However, this is different. This is an ambush by developers who are trying to force through projects that maximize their profits under the false guise of good intentions, at our expense. It is being facilitated by ill-advised, big-government policies in Hartford. 8-30g will not solve the affordable housing problem in any way. Instead it will harm our environment, increase municipal infrastructure spending, raise our taxes and devalue our real estate. These are all issues worth fighting for.