Submitted by Ellen Brennan-Galvin, RTM D-7, Vice-Chair, Land Use Committee
CT Statute 8-30g, which was initially adopted in 1989, did not achieve what it set out to do. In an article in the Western New England Law Review (vol. 23, 200l, entitled: “CT’s Housing Appeals Statute: After 10 Years, Why Only Middling Results?”, one of the original authors of the 8-30g Statute, the late Terry Tondro, noted that it had been a lightning rod since its inception, (and still is). Mr. Tondro commented on various aspects of the statute, noting that it was fairly unique at the time in that it placed the burden of proof to deny or approve applications squarely on local planning officials rather than on developers. He also commented (in his exact words) that the Statute could in a sense be construed as a type of “blackmail” since applicants whose traditional developments were denied could come back with even more ambitious projects under the guise of 8-30g, which could then not be denied, except on grounds of wetlands or narrow grounds of health and safety.
We have certainly seen this happening in Greenwich lately, when both the Benedict Place Project (110 units) and 240 Greenwich Ave (60 units) came back after a period of years under 8-30g as much larger projects than initially proposed. Because 8-30 projects are virtually impossible to deny, they can be constructed without taking into consideration such factors as height, density, traffic congestion, neighborhood opposition, and so forth.
Essentially, 8-30g is a cudgel that allows development that is often out of scale with surrounding neighborhoods and sometimes in areas that are problematic. As the late Terry Tondro noted, “the downside of relying on the developer to do affordable housing planning is that the developer’s decisions about where to build will almost always be based simply on market considerations, such as where land is available, its cost, etc., rather than on planning considerations such as where it is best to provide housing for low- and moderate-income families.”
Currently, 8-30g projects in Greenwich are proposed in out-of-the way places not served by public transport: (e.g., Greenwich Woods on King St. (162 units); another at 5 Brookridge Drive (86 units) is not on a sewer line; Church St./Sherwood Place (192 units) is on the edge of a national historic district that would involve the destruction of numerous historic homes; and even 3 units are proposed on the roof of a historic building on Greenwich Avenue, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The most astonishing aspect of 8-30g is the rapid proliferation of projects. From 1989 to mid-2021, a period of more than 30 years, there were ten 8-30g projects proposed in Greenwich (5 were approved, 4 were eventually approved with modifications, and one is currently still in litigation after nearly 5 years. In town after town throughout the State, local governments have shouldered the burden of lengthy court appeals, confronting developers with far deeper pockets. Indeed, out of 24 appeals of 8-30g before the courts in recent years, only 3 appeals were upheld.
Somewhat shockingly, in less than a year, the dams have opened and there has been a flood of 8-30g projects, one after another, on an almost weekly basis. Indeed, 13 new projects have come before Planning and Zoning in the past year alone, with a total of 741 proposed units, 30% of which would be affordable.
In the current legislative session of the CT General Assembly, one modest step is a bill – SB 169 – which proposes not to repeal or substantially reform 8-30g, but merely to study the impacts of the statute.
The wording of the bill is to “conduct a study of the affordable housing policies, as set forth in section 8-30g of the general statutes, and the effects of such policies in the State, to identify any recommended amendments to said section to improve affordable housing opportunities for residents.”
Hardly incendiary language. Despite these laudable intentions, testimony from town after town was frequently divided, with even two Greenwich residents decrying Greenwich’s poor record on affordable housing and asking that the Statute not be modified.
On the other hand, local residents and officials from many CT towns expressed that they were incredulous that so many projects were coming in all at once that they were powerless to even
modify. Large ugly buildings in the midst of historic districts and overly bulky buildings on relatively small plots of land were becoming the norm, not only in more affluent towns in Fairfield County but in some working-class towns as well.
Speaker after speaker from multiple towns at the SB 169 hearing emphasized that the affordable housing goal as it stands is completely unattainable, particularly with the 70-30% breakdown for set-aside housing, since the building of more market rate units made the denominator keep increasing, hence made the 10% affordable housing goal increasingly elusive. Quite a few speakers expressed the opinion that the goal should rather be to seek moratoria, giving towns a 4 or 5 year respite, during which they could re-group, not face a continuing onslaught of 8-30g projects, but continue to seriously pursue their affordable housing goals.
The problem with moratoria:
In the case of Greenwich, the construction of around 500 houses would be required to obtain a moratorium. The timing is crucially important. The town just cannot say it intends to build the housing; rather, it must be built in a timely fashion. A case in point: New Canaan, one of the towns that received a moratorium, recently had it revoked because construction of a project was delayed due to supply chain issues during Covid. New Canaan appealed to the State but was told there was no way to grant an extension since there was no “leeway in the law.”
The Affordable Housing Trust Fund:
Following the expected passage of the Declaration of Trust, hopefully the Affordable Housing Trust Fund can soon be up and running. In addition to $1.8 million hopefully to be made available from the American Rescue Plan, the initial goal is for the AHTF to solicit private funds.
Fundraising is complicated. As one who has been involved with fundraising for decades for my undergraduate university, I always say it involves persuasion, persistence and a bit of chutzpah. It won’t be easy, but we can most definitely make a start.
Down the line, whether the BET will need to become involved and allocate more funds is a question. We will see how the private fundraising goes. Also, as will be discussed in the upcoming Affordable Housing Strategy Plan, exploring other funding mechanisms such as fees in lieu, by which developers are taxed, will most definitely be explored.
The activities of Greenwich Communities (formerly the Greenwich Housing Authority) are widely touted because all of their units count, as opposed to the 30% of units in 8-30g housing projects. There are a number of shovel ready projects, such as the 52-unit senior living development Vinci Gardens, which received MI (municipal improvement) status back n 2018, but further funds (about $6 million) will be required. This will take time. One of the most promising projects is the re-development of Quarry Knoll, which was originally built in the early 1960s. The plan is to build multiple several story buildings and create some 250 plus affordable housing units. However, this will involve re-location of current residents, moving many of the Quarry Knoll seniors to Vinci Gardens, which is not yet built. This whole process will take considerable time.
The bottom line is that we must get moving with creating more affordable housing and moving quickly. One has only to listen to the hours of testimony regarding SB 169 to see how Greenwich has a target on its back and is reviled by many and varied organizations and non-profits throughout the State. We are NOT going to be let off the hook easily, if at all.
But there are some rays of hope. Our Greenwich legislators, Senator Ryan Fazio and Representatives Kimberly Fiorello and Steve Meskers, as well as our First Selectman Fred Camillo, are working tirelessly on our behalf. Several legislators from other parts of the State recently expressed interest in coming to Greenwich on a “field trip” to see proposed 8-30g sites and to thus better understand our needs and concerns – not just from the perspective of reading about Greenwich from their offices in Hartford.
Time is of the essence. At the rate the projects are coming in, again, almost on a weekly basis, Greenwich will be deluged by dozens and dozens – even scores – of additional 8-30g projects,
essentially losing control of our planning process. If all of the projects currently on the books in Greenwich (most of which are likely to be built, despite neighborhood opposition, even on a somewhat scaled down size), there would be something on the order of around 200 affordable units. These will not be built in 6 months, or a year, or even two years. The idea of achieving the 500 units needed for a moratorium is most likely unattainable Greenwich needs to commit itself fully to creating affordable housing: We are not asking the State to “get us off the hook.” In our upcoming Affordable Housing Strategy Plan, we are making a clear statement that Greenwich is fully committed to affordable housing and are marking out a clear roadmap of how we intend to achieve it. A timely reminder is that there were plans for an Affordable Housing Trust back in 1989, but it died in the RTM. We must not make that mistake again.
Why we should support the SOMR:
The SOMR proposed by a bi-partisan group of my colleagues in D-7 is not an Affordable Housing Plan, nor does it have any powers of enforcement. It is merely one more vehicle to let our legislators know that Greenwich citizens are extraordinarily concerned that we are losing control of the planning process.
An ordinance that is 32 years old and that has largely failed to attain its goals of providing housing for working families (since so many of the projects do not provide the larger needed two- and three-bedroom apartments) must be re-considered.
Greenwich probably could have done a better job with providing affordable housing over the past several decades, but there is no point in bemoaning the past. We must look to the future and soon will have new tools at our disposal, such as the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
But we must act urgently. No more hand wringing and endless debating. This is Greenwich – a proud, strong, energetic community of very bright people. I urge you to support the SOMR.
Let’s get this done.
Vice-Chair, Land Use Committee