Why It’s Time To Reform Connecticut’s Antiquated Zoning Laws

November 7, 2019

Over the past several years, there’s been a renewed push in Connecticut—among the development and advocacy communities alike—to reform the state’s aging and antiquated local zoning laws.

Connecticut is a unique state, its nickname is “the land of steady habits” and that’s for good reason. With the exception of Rhode Island, Connecticut is the only state in the nation to have no officially incorporated form of county government. This can make enacting any new measure difficult, especially zoning reform since it’s directly tied to the housing market and the degree to which developers are interested in building in one area or another. Right now, there’s only two ways to change zoning law. The first is at the state level—which would impact some markets more favorably and other markets less favorably—this cookie cutter approach is rarely effective. That leaves only one other option:  business as usual. That is, we navigate around a myriad of different zoning laws in each of the state’s 169 towns and cities. This makes predictability in the development community very complex. When you consider that each community has different zoning codes and regulations, then add in that each community also has varying degrees of infrastructure and permitting requirements, it significantly drives up the cost of development.

This is a practical problem, but it’s also a systemic issue that goes back decades. It’s become an issue of social equity. Some communities are more likely to favor multifamily housing development and some are more likely to favor single family housing development.

Connecticut is an aging state, and with the regional trend of millennials moving out of the northeast, something needs to be done to make the area more attractive and more affordable to individuals and young families who may not be ready or willing to purchase a single-family house.  While this is by no means a simple problem to solve, we may need to alter our way of thinking to ensure Connecticut remains a great place to live, work, and raise a family.

Perhaps it’s time to seriously consider a regional approach? The cost savings alone for our towns and cities would be substantial if we pooled resources. But, if we could enact regional zoning reforms it would also allow for more predictability in the development community from one market to another. By allowing for a steady pipeline of diverse housing options we can build a more inclusive, equitable, and affordable Connecticut.

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