Camillo: Greenwich ‘under assault’ by zoning bill

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GREENWICH — Calling it “extremely dangerous,” First Selectman Fred Camillo is blasting a proposed state law that he says would remove zoning decisions from local control.

Camillo said he will issue a formal statement of opposition to Senate Bill 1024, “An Act Concerning Zoning Authority, Certain Design Guidelines, Qualifications Of Certain Land Use Officials And Certain Sewage Disposal Systems” that is currently before the state legislature.

“Every municipality in the state is under assault right now,” Camillo said at Thursday’s Board of Selectmen meeting. “Here in Greenwich we are really, really working hard to diversify our housing and to increase our affordable housing stock. We’re doing that and looking at new and different ways to do that.”

Advocates say the bill would provide more opportunities for affordable housing where it is lacking, but opponents say it would rip local control from decisions about what housing gets built and where.

A former representative for the 151st District, Camillo said he will testify on Monday against the bill, saying, “In all my years in Hartford I’ve never seen it get this bad. One proposal seems to be worse in the other.”

Camillo said he believed the proposal would “really take away from the architectural consistency of neighborhoods.”

Selectperson Jill Oberlander said she was not sure where she stood on the bills yet and expressed
reluctance to sign onto a statement before she saw the language in it. Oberlander also expresed
concern about making sure that children had access to housing in Greenwich to be able to go to the town’s schools.

“This isn’t just about Greenwich,” Camillo said. “This would affect lots of towns. You wouldn’t recognize some of the places anymore. It’s a very dangerous path they’re going down.”

Local opposition

State Rep. Kimberly Fiorello, R-149, is another vocal opponent, and she co-hosted an online forum about the bill in January.

The proposal has also drawn the criticism of Margarita Alban, chair of the town Planning and Zoning Commission, who spoke out on the topic at the Board of Selectmen meeting.

“This bill doesn’t do anything with affordable housing,” Alban said. “It doesn’t create affordable housing.”

Senate Bill 1024 is endorsed by Desegregate CT, which describes itself as a coalition of neighbors and nonprofits “who believes in creating abundant, diverse housing in service of equity, inclusive prosperity, and a cleaner environment.”

“SB 1024 will enable more diverse types of housing to be developed and will improve zoning processes that have historically restricted housing opportunity, thereby making Connecticut more equitable, inclusively prosperous, and sustainable,” Desegregate CT said in a statement Thursday. “The bill will empower towns to work toward shared goals on housing, through crucial zoning reforms which legalize accessory apartments, allow for multifamily housing near main streets and transit stations, cap excessive parking mandates, update technical standards, create an optional statewide model form-based code, and require commissioner training.”

Alban said Desegregate CT’s goal is to increase the housing supply — and thereby decrease housing prices in the state. It would lead to more housing in Greenwich, but none of it for people seeking affordable places to live, she said.

It would also hurt the town’s economy by putting more housing into the market and would limit neighbors’ ability to block large-scale developments, Alban said.

“In Greenwich, you’re creating million-dollar condominiums and $800,000 condominiums,” Alban said. “You’re not creating affordable housing. You’re creating more supply.”

The requirements in the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development for including affordable units in certain size developments would do more to increase affordable housing stock, she said.

But Desegregate CT’s founder Sara Bronin countered that, saying the proposals “would put new housing where development already exists, which will protect the natural environment that I know Greenwich residents cherish from sprawl that is eating up our farmland and forests.”

“Greenwich residents will benefit tremendously from zoning reform, especially the third of property owners who are cost-burdened and would be able under our proposals to create accessory dwelling units, currently virtually banned by local zoning,” Bronin said.

Local efforts for housing

But Camillo said the reforms called for in the bill aren’t necessary in Greenwich. He praised the work of Greenwich Communities, formerly known as the Greenwich Housing Authority, to provide affordable housing and said local efforts could address the issue.

“We don’t want to lose our rights and have the state jump in there and basically upend zoning all over the place,” he said at Thursday’s meeting of the Board of Selectmen.

He said he hoped his board colleagues would join him in the statement of opposition and voice support for the town’s efforts to provide affordable housing, which both of them said they favor.

But Selectperson Jill Oberlander said she could not commit to a statement she had not seen nor about bills that are not finalized.

“I’m not sure where I stand on any of these proposals,” Oberlander said, and Camillo said he understood.

Selectwoman Lauren Rabin indicated her support for Camillo’s statement and discussed her experiences growing up in town.

“I don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach,” Rabin said. “The first time I lived in a single-family home I was 29 years old. I grew up in Greenwich on the reduced lunch (program) so I understand some of the issues because I lived them. If I think about the favorite places I lived, it wasn’t on a busy street next to I-95, it was a place where as a child I had a yard to play in.”

Republican Lauren Rabin speaks at the League of Women Voters of Greenwich debate for the Board of Selectmen at
Greenwich High School in Greenwich, Conn. Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019.

Not every town and city has the same infrastructure nor the same natural resources, Rabin said, which why she disagrees with mandated approach to affordable housing.

Oberlander said she agreed with Rabin that the one-size approach would not work, but she expressed concern about the opportunities for affordable housing in Greenwich, particularly for children having access to the town’s schools and resources.

“I also recognize that sometimes in terms of legislation its hard to get communities to move toward different goals,” Oberlander said. “I am particularly sensitive to children, actually, and what access they have to great education. That’s something being talked about nationally and statewide.”

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