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Republicans, at Norwalk rally, ring alarm bell on proposed Democratic zoning legislation

State Sen. Tony Hwang (R-28), left, speaks at a “Hands Off Our Zoning” rally Saturday in Norwalk. Behind him are Norwalk activists supporting potential zoning laws, including Diane Keefe, center.
Acting Norwalk Republican Town Committee Chairman Fred Wilms at a “Hands Off Our Zoning” rally Saturday in Norwalk.

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk is not a metropolis, it’s a collection of neighborhoods, and it’s possible that there’s too much building is underway, acting Norwalk Republican Town Committee Chairman Fred Wilms said Saturday, warning that some bills currently making their way through the legislature would put the construction “on steroids.”

“The bills that we are contemplating in the Connecticut General Assembly… are bills that take a look at one size fits all,” State Sen. Tony Hwang (R-28) said at a rally held at Norwalk City Hall. The Norwalk RTC had invited CT169Strong.org, a group organized to oppose an assortment of Zoning laws being contemplated by the legislature, to hold the “Hands Off our Zoning” event, he explained.

“We are criss-crossing our state to spread the message on the importance of citizens being engaged, and being assertive of our property rights of you know the right to have a voice in your local community,” State Rep. Rep. Kim Fiorello (R-Greenwich) said.

The Norwalk Zoning Commission discussed the proposed State bills April 21. Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin said S.B. 1024 “had been watered down” and much of the “bad… advocacy” language removed. “The one other bill that was really troubling,” H.B. 804, was no longer active.

S.B. 1024 was created on recommendations from Desegregate CT, said Alexis Harrison, a Fairfield resident active in opposing the potential legislation.

Phillip Ballestiere of Stamford, who has Norwalk roots, discusses issues with Norwalker Diane Keefe at a “Hands Off Our Zoning” rally Saturday in Norwalk.

Then there’s H.B. 6611. In an effort to respect local control — but not allow towns to ignore their obligations under the Federal Fair Housing laws — H.B. 6611 would leave it entirely up to municipalities to determine how to provide their so-called “fair share” of affordable housing but would attach strict enforcement mechanisms if a town’s plan or implementation is not ambitious enough. The fair share would be determined after a housing-needs assessment is completed and overseen by the state. After that, each town would be required to provide a specific number of affordable housing units to meet that need.

Kleppin referred to “far flung” concepts in that bill. He hadn’t done any work on that one yet, he said.

The bills seek to remedy the high housing costs and the segregation that festers between poor and tony municipalities, tackling exclusionary zoning practices that inhibit developers from building more affordable housing and block the people who need it from moving into their communities.

Compared to other states, Connecticut comes in 49th place for building housing.

S.B. 1024 would have allowed the construction of multi-family developments close to a town’s main train station and two-, three-, and four-unit developments in the downtown corridor — without a developer first needing to go through a public hearing and winning approval from the local planning and zoning board, before it was gutted in a March 31 hearing.

Hwang, at Saturday’s rally, said, “You may hear that from people saying, ‘well, this bill is not going to go forward, this bill is dead.’ Let me assure you until the end of session on June 2 midnight, every single bill is alive.”

He said, “We have two dummy bills in the planning Development Committee, that is exactly that. It has nothing in it. And at any time, language to be inserted in and passed in the dark of night. That will irreversibly change communities.”

Hwang and other speakers at the Republican rally decried the State level effort to mandate local laws.

“Affordable housing is an important subject and deeply important topic in our state,” State Rep. Terri Wood (R-141)

said. “There are ways to address it. There are lots of proposals out there that can address affordable housing without this incredibly top-down heavy-handed government.”

“It’s about who controls, who decides,” said Wilms, former District 142 State Representative. “We do a much better job of deciding for ourselves then a Hartford bureaucrat, a judge, or somebody outside of Norwalk. So keep it local, keep local control, Norwalk control over Norwalk.”

“Zoning reform will expand our state’s housing stock and diversity, attract new residents to Connecticut, and give our economy a much-needed boost as we recover from COVID-19,” State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) is quoted as saying in a DesegrateCT press release. “Contrary to over-the-top rhetoric from some, these commonsense proposals respect local authority and will receive the full attention of the State Senate.”

S.B. 1024 was developed with the technical expertise of planners and zoning enforcement officials serving towns all over the state, he’s quoted as saying in the Darien Times.

A Duff representative “indicated there wasn’t any immediate action on any of these bills, that they thought there was several more months of vetting that was going to occur before any of this was realized,” Kleppin said April 21.

“Unfortunately, right now… there are far too many bills being proposed by the mandate of one-party rule, by a philosophical point of a mass majority, that does not incorporate difference of opinion, difference of perspective,” Hwang said Saturday.  “…Your voices need to be heard in Hartford.”

CTMirror.org reporter Jacqueline Rabe Thomas contributed to this story.

Citizens attend a “Hands Off Our Zoning” rally Saturday in Norwalk.
State Rep. Terri Wood (R-141) at a “Hands Off Our Zoning” rally Saturday in Norwalk.
Citizens attend a “Hands Off Our Zoning” rally Saturday in Norwalk, including South Norwalk resident John Flynn, left.
Citizens attend a “Hands Off Our Zoning” rally Saturday in Norwalk.
Citizens attend a “Hands Off Our Zoning” rally Saturday in Norwalk, including Norwalk Democrat Diane Lauricella, left.
State Sen. Tony Hwang (R-28) at a “Hands Off Our Zoning” rally Saturday in Norwalk.

 

Comments

16 responses to “Republicans, at Norwalk rally, ring alarm bell on proposed Democratic zoning legislation”

  1. David Muccigrosso

    “Keeping planning and zoning local” is precisely what got us into this mess in the first place.

    We aren’t overbuilding those stupid luxury megacondos because zoning isn’t strict enough, we’re building them because the zoning laws we have are corrupt and keep too many property owners from following the market and doing whatever the %*&! they want with their own property.

    Notice how these Republicans aren’t backing a law that would free up their vaunted “free market” to solve CT’s housing crisis?

    Look, these guys don’t all have to be racist jerks in order for them to simply be misguided. And they’re just as misguided as the Democrats, in this case! Affordable housing carveouts are almost as horrible of a policy as rent control.

    But when the Republicans aren’t offering much of a solution, it’s clear that we need far more than just housing reform. CT, and Norwalk, need electoral reform that allows more parties and independents the breathing room to compete with these ignorant knuckleheads.

  2. John Levin

    In the first photo, 96-year-old Norwalk resident Virginia Auster holds a sign, partially obscured by Westport/Fairfield State Sen. Tony Hwang’s left thumb. It reads: “Weston, Westport, Wilton, New Canaan and Darien all want affordable housing, BUT THEY WANT IT ALL IN NORWALK!!” This pretty much captures my own view of the issue and the pending bills in our state legislature.

    Further, it’s worth mentioning that H.B. 6611 – the “Fair Share Housing” bill, would have ZERO impact on Norwalk, because Norwalk already provides a significant share of affordable housing and has done so for a very long time. The bill, however, would, eventually impact each of the five towns surrounding Norwalk if they continue to block development of affordable housing, as they ALL have done for a VERY long time – effectively insisting that the burden of housing (and schooling!) lower income individuals and families fall only onto towns like Norwalk.

    Further, it’s worth mentioning, that “local control” of zoning in Connecticut exists only because it is granted to the 169 separate towns by the state legislature under existing statute. Can there be any doubt that “local control” would have maintained and perpetuated racial segregation of public schools after the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954 determined the widespread practice was not constitutional? Consider, one state constitution (not ours!) still contains these words: “separate schools shall be provided for white and colored children.”

  3. Good intentions is no excuse for poor public policy. It is not fear mongering to state what is actually written in the bills and the fully anticipatable adverse consequences that will happen if these bills are enacted. Why not state the language on environmentally concerning alternative sewers capacity increases and ineffective composition of working groups still in SB1024 and the unattainable fair share units in HB6611 imposed on 162 municipalities by the zoning bills? Why not state that 49 of 169 towns will need to create 20% of their existing housing stock as new affordable housing or be subject to unending lawsuits and court determinations and oversight since virtually anyone will be given legal standing – including housing advocates? Isn’t that just a new industry/revenue source for housing advocates? Why not state that to create those units by permitting developers using an inclusionary policy will essential DOUBLE the size of most towns? Why not discuss what impact that doubling will have on local taxes, infrastructure from mostly market value multifamily units? Is multifamily what new residents will even want post-Covid?

    Reporters should explain why exactly the state of CT was the only state that had not seen property values increase in over 20 years pre-Covid, and that has everything to do with the poor economic public policy in CT that has chased many businesses out of our state. That is why housing development has been so low in CT, it is a lack of demand. Over development of mostly market value multifamily units as these proposals mandate with unattainable fair share units, will not bring jobs to CT or increase demand. It is jobs and opportunity that sustainably increases affordability by creating good paying jobs with higher salaries. Instead, good paying jobs have left our state and are being replaced with jobs that pay less. The insurance industry is also threatening to leave the state if the state starts to compete with them. Where is the common sense in that? CT was once the insurance capital of the world.

    Further, the state has been complicit in where affordable housing is being built. Of Lamont’s recent $49 Million in Seed Capital for affordable housing, 52% went to Hartford, New Haven and Waterbury (with just 7%). How much was granted for Fairfield County? Only $1.6 Million, or 3% for a single development in Stamford. Why not fund other towns in this region? In addition, residents using housing vouchers cannot easily move from one housing authority to another due to issues with “portability” rules. This keeps individuals needing assistance stuck in communities where they are currently living, limiting their choice of housing options.

    Meaningful reforms are needed since 8-30g has not been successful in addressing affordability. But what is now being conceived behind closed doors are reworks of poor policy drafted by housing advocates. Despite what was stated in this article, these bills excluded important stakeholders (municipal leaders from varying communities statewide as well as soils, sanitation, conservation and environmental experts) in the process. Stakeholders must be included to ensure that effective policy is created that truly brings affordability instead of pandering to special interests: builders, lawyers, housing advocacy groups.

    CT169Strong.org is for effective legislation that will achieve its intended goals, but these bills will not do that. These bills do not create the needed affordability and do not provide the necessary changes needed to 8-30g regs that have been unsuccessful in creating needed housing. Why not bring ALL parties to the table to work together for effective solutions? Wait until all municipalities have submitted their 8-30j plans before mandating new policies that will override local P&Z planning and their efforts and do not comprehensively address 8-30g as well. Visit CT169Strong.org to TAKE ACTION.

  4. Alice

    Couldn’t agree more.

  5. stuart garrelick

    I look at the enclosed pictures and imagine the sparse crowd for this event in our neighboring “tony” communities would have been more of a super spreader. If there are those who oppose these bills in both communities I hold that it is for entirely different reasons. Having said that how can gerrymandered representatives supposed to represent both Norwalk and the surrounding towns do that job? They can’t. What does Norwalk have to lose with this legislation-allowing other towns to encroach on our affordable housing leadership? We can worry about that after they catch up to us.

  6. John Levin, here is the problem when people make assumptions about bills since they are not exposed to the facts. Norwalk has Fair Share units assigned! And the units of housing for Norwalk per the Open Communities Alliance Website (download their worksheet) is 1,760 units of required affordable housing. Has Bob Duff shared that number of units with the City of Norwalk? No! Want to build those units using an inclusionary policy of 8 market value units permitted for development with 2 units affordable required, Norwalk would have to build 8,800 units. Sound reasonable to you? Is that what Norwalk needs? Will that not impact Norwalk’s infrastructure
    Also, many towns have reached moratoriums on affordable development, and towns like New Canaan are currently in the process of building additional units – all funded by their towns, with seed capital coming from a developer fund that was started DECADES ago. There were proposals made by Republicans to actually create bills with affordability, but those never see the light of day thanks to the Democrat majority that controls the agenda. It is time to stop pitting cities and towns against each other and work towards real solutions, and these bills are not it! Your Democrat legislators are simply not giving you the facts. Go to CT169Strong.org and look at the Fair Share Calculator for more information. Ignorance is no excuse for approving of poor public policy. Good intentions is no excuse for poor public policy. It is time to expect more, expect better.

  7. BOB GIOLITTO

    Bravo John Levin and Stuart Garrelick.

  8. stuart garrelick

    Why doesn’t CT169Strong go by the shorter and more descriptive alias of NIMBY (Not in my back yard)?
    When we are through with all those “facts and figures” let’s look at the bottom line. Of all the towns mentioned Norwalk is the only one to have attained the 10% level affordable housing set as the goal, Many of the surrounding towns have not only failed to achieve that goal but finagle moratoriums against having to consider additional units. Clearly the playing field needs to be leveled! CT having 169 different sets of rules isn’t going to do it.

  9. Michael McGuire

    I think the progressive argument in the responses is missing of the point. I think this is a bit more visceral then just zoning. Its more about the ongoing, systematic and accelerating reduction of individual rights and freedoms. In this case every property owner is having a bit more of their “bundle of rights” associated with real estate removed.

    While each one is not significant they do add up. So much so we have gotten to the point of allowing private companies to censor freedom of speech while those in power do…..nothing. Since our political leaders lack the fortitude to fights this most egregious offense, its becomes par for the course to now assume any (left leaning) government desire is in play.

    This is the real attack on democracy.

    What’s next?

  10. David Muccigrosso

    @Michael, you’ve got it absolutely backward. Zoning and other ticky-tack local rules PREVENT property owners from doing what they want with their property. Plenty of property owners would *love* to capitalize on the current market level of rents by building ADUs or selling to redevelopers who would build for the next increment of density, but NIMBY neighbors insist on vague hand-wavey things like “neighborhood character” – itself built by previous generations deciding to increase density! – so instead, we’re all left to the mercy of Mayor Thuggy McThuggerson’s big developer buddies.

    No thanks. Incremental development is BOTH conservative AND progressive. Keeping people from building what they want on their own property is anti-liberty.

  11. John

    Has anyone been paying attention to the large-scale investment in single-family homes being rented? What do you think will happen when the green light is given to build multi-family residences without local approval? Many of these single-family homes will be torn down and replaced with multi-family units resulting in a pretty nice return on investment. Good for the investor, maybe not so good for the town.

  12. Huge Impact

    @John Levin… I partially agree that with all the apartments going up in Norwalk, the impact would seem to be mitigated. However, think of this. If you lived in a zone close to a transit center and have a nice one family home next door, you may wake up to a massive complex of renters who have little to no investment in your neighborhood. Even progressive’s are huge NIMBY’s that don’t want this.

    Also, you are dead wrong about ZERO impact. Two things. Norwalk’s water comes from resaviors in Wilton and NC. To my knowledge no studies exist to help understand where the water will come from to keep toilets flushing and lawns watered. Don’t you think Wilton and NC will take care of their needs first! Second is Norwalks sewage plant. Today if it rains very hard the plant lets out raw sewage. Can you imagine all the apartments in Wilton and Norwalk – both use our plant, sending 40% more sewage downhill? This plant is not being upgraded and the State of CT is not providing funds to upgrade it. INSANE. So after all the work that was done to clean the Long Island Sound we will revert to the days of Fecal Noro Virus and closed beaches.

  13. NiZ

    Norwalk is over populated due to our local zoning issues.
    I think all communities in the radius proposed around transit hubs are not trying to be like Norwalk.
    Does anyone know there are contracts to build multi family units up and down I95 corridor from Westchester NY to New Haven CT Counties?
    If you want to question where I get the info.., Being in the Construction industry, I was offered a PM job for these developments.

  14. David Muccigrosso

    @John, what do you have against multifamily homes? The most popular area in all of Norwalk, SoNo, is made of multifamily buildings. I humbly suggest you recalibrate your expectations. You are literally arguing against the free market.

  15. Michael McGuire

    David – this is superficially about zoning. The deeper cut is the systematic loss of rights and freedoms. There is a great ancient Arabic fable along these lines.

    It goes something like this. There was a family with one daughter and 3 sons. One day they found that someone had stolen their chickens. The 3 sons asked their father what they should do. The father simply stated – “get the chickens back”. The 3 sons never did pursue getting the chickens back out of fear, laziness….who knows as it’s not relevant.

    Later on the families home was robbed. The sons asked again -“father what should we do”. He simply replied – “get the chickens back”.

    Then their sister was raped and again they asked their father what to do. He simply stated -“get the chickens back”.

    That is the way of power in the world, which includes our local reps as well.

    Many places around the country are pushing back on issues like Critical Race Theory, tearing down statues, renaming schools, school board issues relative to school openings, sanctuary cities, defunding the police etc.

    However, I see none of that covered in mainstream or “big tech” media other than to call anyone who engages in pushback, as is our God given and Constitutional rights, to be deemed an insurrectionist, Trumper, racist, white supremacist (regardless of color), de-platformed etc. That is the noise. It’s designed to distract from the real issues.

    Look for the signal in all the noise.

    Not that the zoning issue is noise, but the position you take is based on your feelings, and limited facts (I think they call that “Equity”). That is noise.

    But consider the deeper cut. Post single party rule in Norwalk our leadership rapidly moved to building all these dense housing projects and gentrified SoNo, we became a sanctuary city which balloons our school costs, they then illegally took over the Wall-West Ave area and foisted a 100% affordable housing complex despite the strong push back from this neighborhood and the fact that Norwalk had already meet our 10% threshold. By doing so that took funds away from other Cities that needed them. $800,000 per unit – absurd by any industry standard.

    We get our 3 minutes to talk in front of a completely partisan CC and other commissions, they get unlimited time to “present” their case for the “public good”.

    Closed schools, ballooning budgets, a questionable new HS, mask crackdowns, closing small biz while big biz stays open, etc. etc. etc., Decisions often made by un-elected, un-accountable people.

    I think we agree on the overbuilding, but I’m hoping you can begin to see the signal – systematic loss of freedoms – in all the noise. Did anyone ask us, the public?

    What’s next?

  16. David Muccigrosso

    1. Thanks, but my position is based on years of research and reason, not “feelings” and not “equity”. Please don’t assume things you don’t know about other people.

    2. Single party rule is a result of having a national two-party system superimposed over local elections that cannot handle nuance beyond those two parties. I regularly advocate for reforms like Ranked Choice Voting that would break the two-party duopoly.

    3. I’m only agreed that we overbuild precisely because we do not allow people to build on their own property. The demand has to be met somewhere, so the supply is built over the poorest neighborhoods and only up to whatever the height limits and whatever other silly regulations allow. And meanwhile, the prices go up for everyone regardless.

    4. I honestly don’t care about your particular vision of “systematic loss of freedoms”. I’m sorry, I just don’t see the same boogeymen you do. But I ALSO firmly believe that neither of us really HAS to see things each other’s way! What we need is a system that allows for more nuance, which means more parties, and thus more room for democratic responsiveness.

    Right now, local elections are broken. Why in sweet tarnation do we have the mayoral election in odd years? Why do we do it in the middle of spring, or summer – heck, why doesn’t anyone except for a dedicated subset of invested incumbents even know when the heck it is?! I’ll tell you why: It’s because those incumbents don’t want you and I turning out the way we do for presidential elections.

    You keep making things about national politics. I’m trying to keep things local. I’m trying to keep things in perspective. There’s a million “freedoms” that are being impinged each and every day, but they’re not all impinged equally, and they don’t all matter equally.

    The impingement on your freedom to have your vote actually matter, matters far more than anything else your government is doing to you. Do you LIKE voting for the losing side in Norwalk, year after year? Do you LIKE your priorities never being taken into account? Do you LIKE being forced into the same two tired options? If not, then WHY are you spending your time complaining about schools and masks? Why are you not demanding a form of elections and representation – like, say, proportionalism, or Ranked Choice – that give you more than the same two tired options?

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