The next Planning & Zoning commission meeting is Wednesday, Feb 22 (pushed back a day because of Monday is a holiday).
It will kick off at 4:00pm with an item presented by Desegregate CT.
Their proposal for the 2023 legislative session in Hartford, “Work Live Ride,” has the goal of building more homes near public transportation.
TOD Becomes TOC
The proposed legislation revolves around Transit Oriented Communities – TOC’s.
Last year Desegregate CT drafted HB 5429, a “Transit Oriented Development” bill, TOD for short.
After an outpouring of opposition, including from Greenwich residents, the bill never got out of committee.
It would have allowed high density housing – 15 residential units per acre in a 1/2-mile radius of a train or bus station. It specified that 10% of units would be affordable. The goal was to increase both the overall supply and affordable units.
This week, in an opinion piece published in CT Mirror, “Work Live Ride is Ready for Departure,” DeSegregate CT’s director Peter Harrison describes ‘Transit Oriented Communities as “a popular, practical, and proven zoning concept.”
He says the TOC concept grows the economy, increases housing options, makes streets safer and less clogged, preserves natural spaces, and fortifies against climate change.
A tall order.
In a Jan 4 presentation in Old Saybrook, Harrison said lessons from the last legislative session had been learned, including that mandates were a political non starter, and that that the one-size fits all argument was “kinda true.”
He acknowledged that the capacity of local infrastructure was a major barrier and that local P&Z commissions should be partners.
“We want to get involved with folks earlier,” he said.
The framework for Work Live Ride would create incentives rather than mandates.
In Rapid Transit Communities with populations over 60,000, such as Greenwich, they would call for 30 homes per acre. For communities with populations under 60,000, they’d want 20 homes per acre.
There are both carrots and sticks.
Work Live Ride gives discretion to towns to determine where they might create a TOC. Rather than thinking about a strict half-mile bubble around a train station or bus station, the TOC could be along a commercial corridor, for example.
It is community’s choice whether to opt-in.
If a community does pass a TOC district, they are automatically eligible for state resources. Technical assistance and funding would funnel through the Office of Responsible Growth. (Desegregate CT will be asking the state for funding for 4 full time land use planners and additional discretionary funding.)
Sticks: If a town does not opt-in, they are ineligible for discretionary state funding tied to infrastructure.
Harrison said TOCs are centered around bicycle and transit riders, as well as pedestrians, as opposed to cars, and offer a diversity of types of homes and jobs.
“So it’s not just a single-family home on a large lot, far from the centers. It’s townhouses, it’s apartment buildings. It’s home ownership opportunities. It’s home rentership opportunities at all different levels of income.”
Harrison said TOCs would meet the demand from retiring seniors and young people, and address Connecticut’s “job-home gap.”
In TOCs, as-of-right developments would not have “onerous” parking requirements or lot size minimums.
In order to encourage diversity, there would be no residency restrictions. “Not basically saying it’s just for seniors or that a family member has to be in the ADU in the back yard.”
“If a half acre could support 6 or 8 homes, it should be able to do so,” Harrison said. “It’s the sweet spot of naturally affordable, more diversity of options, smaller footprints and less disruption.”
The TOC would have affordability requirements. In his presentation to Old Saybrook, he said with 20 homes per acre there would be a requirement of 18% affordability.
In Greenwich, a TOC with 30 homes per acre would presumably require more than 18% affordability.
Old Saybrook Presentation
In Old Saybrook, Harrison was asked if Desegregate CT was a non profit and how they are funded. A resident said she’d read a critical article about the organization.
“That we’re real estate shells?” he joked.
“It’s not exactly QAnon level conspiracy, but it’s not far from that,” he said. “There were some attempts to make us into some big special interest or some real estate shell. We’re a non profit.”
He said Sarah Bronin started Desegregate CT in 2020 as an all volunteer organization.
But Ms Bronin has left to take a position in Washington, DC leading a historic preservation group.
He said Regional Plan Association, RPA, was a fiscal sponsor.
He described RPA as an 100-years old non-profit organization involved in education, research and advocacy.
“We’re not real estate shells,” he said, adding that he was employed by RPA.
“We don’t take money from real estate,” Harrison continued, adding that Desegregate CT was not advocating for any particular developer or type of home.
“There are lots of real estate developers that are opposed to the pro-homes vision, for pretty sound reasons,” he explained. “They are established in this hard network of getting stuff built. They know how to operate inc communities. They navigate these approval processes and the financing. They’re fine with the status quo. They don’t want competition so they don’t want to see a lot of changes.”
“Not for nothing, on the back end, housing scarcity raises prices. It raises commissions. There’s a lot to be gained from a from scarcity of housing in that industry.”
Click here for the Feb 22 P&Z agenda and Zoom link.
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