The proposal would encourage residential densities near CT transit stations

A new bill would encourage increased residential density near transit stations, one of the key pushes for Connecticut zoning reform this term.

The proposal is based on a land use policy known as transit-oriented communities. It aims to encourage cities to build more housing within half a mile of train and bus stations so residents can easily walk there, experts and advocates from group Desegregate CT said at a news conference on Monday.

Under the proposal, cities that choose to do so would have access to government money for infrastructure improvements such as bicycle infrastructure, pedestrian protection measures, or rehabilitation of “brown spaces” or sites such as former gas stations or laundromats that have become polluted.

Municipalities wishing to create a transit-oriented community district would work with the State Office of Responsible Growth to plan and design the district. The proposal also encourages cities to build “deeply affordable” housing in the transit-oriented communities, Desegregate CT director Pete Harrison said Monday.

“We think ‘Work, Live, Ride’ is ultimately about creating access to jobs, more affordable housing and safer roads,” Harrison said, using the phrase advocates use to refer to the measure.

This year’s proposal, a modified version of a bill that failed in the last session, would use financial incentives to encourage cities to create zones for housing rather than requiring it. This significant shift came from feedback Desegregate CT received when members conducted “walk-through audits” to meet with city residents and see their housing issues in person.

Zoning reform has long been a contentious issue in Connecticut politics.

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Opponents of zoning reform laws have said the measures undermine local control and impose one-size-fits-all solutions on cities with unique challenges. Over the past year, many local leaders and lawmakers, particularly from Fairfield County, opposed zoning reform legislation, including a proposal to require more density near transit stations.

The state lacks tens of thousands of homes that are affordable and available to the lowest-income renters, and experts say much of this is due to local zoning policies that limit the number of homes that can be built in many cities. Proponents have said a nationwide approach is needed to resolve this issue.

“It’s very simple,” said Sean Ghio, policy director at the Center for Strong Communities. “We need more homes in Connecticut. We have lived under a slow housing growth local planning and zoning system for decades. We are now suffering the consequences.”

Apartments tend to be more affordable for low-income people who may not have the assets needed to pay a down payment on a home.

Transit-oriented communities are land-use policies that create walkable neighborhoods with homes, shops and restaurants, and other businesses near public transportation. It encourages the use of public transport, which benefits the environment.

It also benefits low-income people, who are also less likely to have cars, as they can live close to transportation. Transit-oriented communities have recently become increasingly popular in states like New Jersey and California.

“We’re all about supporting walkability and accessibility in our community,” said Jay Stange, Transport Hartford Academy coordinator through the Center for Latino Progress. “We need better transit service and more walkable communities. And we need mixed-income housing that allows people to live closer to where they receive services, closer to where they work, and closer to where they school.”

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Tate Norden, owner of GastroPark in West Hartford, spoke at the conference, which was held at his company. He said the proposal would encourage more people to come to businesses like his that are close to transit.

A CTfastrak station is visible from the window of the GastroPark building.

Connecticut also needs more housing so families can live in places where they only spend up to a third of their income on rent, advocates said. About 65% of Connecticut families struggle to pay for their daily expenses, said Eli Sabin, Legislative Coordinator at Connecticut Voices for Children.

“We must do everything in our power to build more homes, especially in smart places near transits where people can save money on gas, car insurance, car payments, using public transportation, or walking or using the.” Bikes come around,” said Sabin.

Rep. Kate Farrar, D-West Hartford, said she would push for the bills that would benefit cities like West Hartford. The city already has a traffic-oriented quarter.

It is Desegregate CT’s second attempt at a nationwide transit-oriented development policy, although this year’s has significant changes. Last year there was a public hearing but no committee vote by the Planning and Development Committee.

Desegregate CT is a program of the regional planning association.

In 2020, before becoming part of RPA, Desegregate CT successfully lobbied for a policy that required cities to allow accessible housing units, or “granny pods,” with an opt-out option. The original bill also included a transit-oriented development policy, although that language was dropped before passage.

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The Desegregate-CT proposal is one of at least two zoning bills expected at this session. The other is a proposal to implement a “fair share” law that would require cities to plan and allocate a certain amount of affordable housing according to their region’s needs.

“Work, Live, Ride is a bet on Connecticut’s future,” Harrison said. “It’s a bet that local governments and the state can work together to create accessible jobs, affordable housing and safer roads. It’s a bet we can make a difference in the lives of the homeowners and home renters who live here today. And we can get a whole bunch of them to come to Connecticut tomorrow.”