RESTIERI: Preserve The Future Of Greenwich By Preserving Local Zoning Control

Submitted by Tara Restieri, Greenwich

Did you know that the 8-30g (“affordable housing” legislation) bill was originally passed in 1989? You may ask where has this debate been for the past thirty years, and why has it become such a focus in our community recently? The answer is not as complicated as one might think.

Over the first thirty years since the bill passed, the Town of Greenwich had received only eight 8-30g proposals. Six of those, totaling 132 units (98 market rate and 32 affordable) were passed. Two, were not. Over the past fourteen months, thirteen 8-30g developments have been brought to our zoning committee and are currently under review. Cumulatively, these projects total 728 overall units (516 market rate and 212 affordable). It does not require an advanced degree from MIT to quickly do the math and come to the conclusion that there are incongruities within these numbers.

First, where have all of the development proposals come from, and why now? Advocates for both Transit Oriented Development (TOD) and 8-30g mandates, like DeSegregateCT, would say that this is merely a result of broad momentum for “housing equity”. However praiseworthy the goal is of adding to the states affordable housing stock, this argument is a hollow one.

Rather than being the result of a new found altruism among developers, the current massive uptick in 8-30g proposals in Greenwich (and other communities) is a result of a realization among developers that the easy money policies of the past decade are likely over, interest rates are rising, and they had better act fast if they want to take advantage of a law that gives them the ability to plow over local zoning boards and cash in on big developments. In the case of Greenwich, the bigger the better. And don’t forget about the blazing hot housing and rental markets. They don’t want to miss out on that either.

A recent OpEd by Dan Quigley (QUIGLEY: The Corporate Interests Behind Desegregate CT, March 19, 2022) exposed the alignment of interests between DeSegregateCT and the real estate development industry that has partnered with them through the Regional Plan Association. This alliance is seizing on an opportunity to marry political objectives with big profits, all at the expense of local communities and their local zoning boards.

Secondly, when you look at the numbers stated above, although you see 212 new, affordable units being presented, you also see 516 “market rate units”. That ratio does not portend well for us. Do you think developers have any concerns about stress on our local infrastructure, traffic congestion, not to mention environmental damage (adding to impervious outdoor surface) and likely ensuing major tax increases their developments will have on our local communities? Or, is all of this about getting “in” before interest rates go much higher, seizing on a “hot” real estate market and maximizing their bottom line?

In a recent article, an advocate of both 8-30g and TOD development made the following statement; “this bill (HB5429) would mean those towns would have to give something back to Connecticut — if only allowing some new neighbors in to share the quality of life they’ve been hoarding.” I hope everyone reading this takes time to let those words sink in. I found them insulting. “Those towns” like Greenwich and other Fairfield County communities “give back” on an annual basis by contributing almost half of the state’s tax revenues since 2004.

So, what can you do to help? Support local efforts like the Greenwich Affordable Housing Trust and our Local Housing Authority (Greenwich Communities) so that Greenwich can control how it provides additional affordable housing options. Write your local, elected officials, all of whom are fighting for local control in a bipartisan fashion, write letters to the editor in your local press and testify at public hearings.

I believe that if the current 8-30g Law is not amended to give more control back to local zoning boards with the continued understanding that communities will do their best to add affordable housing options, and if the upcoming bill regarding Transit Oriented Development (HB 5429) is passed, it will represent the beginning if the end of what has made Greenwich and Fairfield County so uniquely attractive for decades.

On a radio program on Thursday, Governor Lamont was told by a reporter “It sounds like you don’t support the statewide zoning mandate bills.” The Governor responded, “I support towns taking the lead.” Let’s hope the Governor stands by his words and works hard to keep zoning control local.