Shelton officials fight to maintain zoning 'home rule'

Exterior of Shelton City Hall, in Shelton, Conn. Jan. 11, 2021.

Exterior of Shelton City Hall, in Shelton, Conn. Jan. 11, 2021.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

SHELTON — Fears about losing control over its local zoning has city and state officials joining the front lines in the fight to keep what are presently proposed legislative bills from being approved.

There are nearly a dozen bills — both in the state House and Senate — which call for changes to local zoning, some of which would overrule local zoning authorities and mandate the construction of multi-family and affordable housing, regardless of existing local regulations, city officials say.

State Reps. Ben McGorty and Jason Perillo, both Republicans who represent Shelton, are pushing back against these proposals, which they describe as a “money and power grab” by Hartford Democrats.

Hundreds of people signed up to testify live online March 15 on several proposals to implement a new statewide property tax and override local zoning control.

“Shelton prides itself on being a welcoming, safe and affordable community where people can raise a family and start a business,” Perillo, who serves as Deputy House Republican Leader, said. “Now, Democratic legislators who represent larger, fiscally-distressed cities are introducing legislation that would undermine the local efforts of Connecticut’s well-managed towns.

“Let me be clear, these statewide property tax proposals and anti-local zoning bills are nothing more than a money and power grab by urban politicians attempting to backtrack on decades of their poor policy decisions,” Perillo added. “These taxes would be in addition to our local property taxes and we would have no control over how that money is spent. We need to fight back on these proposals.”

State Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, listed a number of bills, including S.B. 1024, H.B. 6107, H.B. 6611, H.B. 6613, S.B. 1026, S.B. 1027, and H.B. 6107, as those opposed by Republicans as an overreach on zoning laws.

“Many of the zoning proposals made by CT Democrats this year will allow developers to overdevelop in communities, threaten open space, endanger our environment, and upend local control of land use decisions,” Kelly said.

The need for more diverse housing in Connecticut must be addressed, according to Kelly, but the unique needs and geography of each community, including cities, suburbs, and rural areas, must be considered.

“We must look at ideas like the redevelopment of existing structures and housing as a way to improve access to affordable housing without negative impacts on open space and the environment,” Kelly said. “We need more dialogue between the state and local municipalities to reach solutions that work for all.”

The proposals include mandating what type of multi-family housing and accessory apartments are built and where and mandating what towns take into account when determining whether to approve a housing project.

“I am opposed to (SB bill 1024) as well as any other effort by our state legislature to take the control of a municipality’s land use regulations away from its elected or appointed officials,” said Planning and Zoning Commission Chair Virginia Harger.

Harger has spoken or submitted testimony for five separate hearings on these proposed bills.

“Connecticut communities do not stand to benefit from the elimination of local control and decision-making," Harger added.

Replacing home rule and local zoning control with a “one-size-fits-all mandate” from the state as proposed under the provisions of this bill will surely have negative effects on our communities, Harger said.

Perillo said he is worried any time Hartford wants to dictate policy to local municipalities.

“People choose to live in a community for many reasons, one of which is the character of the community,” Perillo added. “What may be constructed in Shelton should be decided locally, not by a bureaucracy in Hartford that has no connection to our town.”

Perillo said Republicans’ major effort has been bringing pressure to suburban Democrats to hold back their support.

“They represent communities that are largely happy with the character of their town and, like us, they don’t want Hartford to dictate local zoning decisions,” Perillo said.

Harger also testified last month at a hearing concerning Senate Bill 804.

Harger criticized the bill as it would create “as of right” zoning without the need for a public hearing, regardless of what changes would be made to the look, feel and character of the community; eliminate parking requirements within a quarter mile of a “main street,” which would allow builders to disregard per unit parking needs; allow “accessory apartments” smaller than 1,200 square feet on large, single-family lots; and change traffic standards from the number of vehicles generated by a development to a “vehicle miles traveled” standard.

“Let’s not fall for the guise that zoning reform will help Connecticut to flourish and live up to its full potential,” Harger said. “Connecticut municipalities will flourish and live up to their full potential by providing appropriate housing based on common-sense, market-driven solutions.”

Harger said if state legislators really want to improve housing opportunities and provide for the creation of more affordable housing units, they would require the 40-year deed restriction be revoked on affordable housing.

“This restriction has given developers little or no incentive to include affordable housing in new housing proposals,” Harger said.

The Connecticut General Assembly created the Affordable Housing Land Use Appeals Act, 8-30g in 1989. After more than 30 years, many Connecticut communities still have not achieved the affordable housing threshold required by this law.

“I believe part of it stems from affordable units that existed at the time this law was passed, but due to the lack of a 40-year set aside, they could not be included in a town’s calculation,” Harger said.

Shelton zoners routinely ask that developers consider including affordable housing - under the state statutes - in their housing projects. One of the most recent applications, on Petremont Lane, would add five more such units to the city stock if approved.

“What Connecticut needs is better public policy that promotes a vibrant economy, bringing revenues, jobs, additional funding for education, and better opportunities that are so badly needed in our state,” Harger said. “We must maintain our decision rights over local land use and zoning in our towns and cities and to trust ourselves and our neighbors to continue to exercise local integrity."

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com