Some critics of Connecticut’s initiative to increase affordable housing are saying the recent approval of a five-story apartment building in Glastonbury illustrates the problem.
Glastonbury planners last month voted 4-2 to authorize a 74-unit apartment building on Manchester Road despite relatively widespread opposition from neighbors.
Nearly 20 residents told commissioners that the building is too big and would be out of character for the property where it’s proposed, but those arguments weren’t enough to overcome a state law that heavily favors developers who propose affordable housing.
About 30% of the apartments in Buckingham Place would be deed-restricted for 40 years as affordable housing, more than enough to trigger a state law that encourages such projects. In towns where less than 10% of the housing stock is designated as “affordable,” the law sharply restricts the ability of planning commissions to refuse projects.
Advocates in the General Assembly contend that overly restrictive zoning is part of why most Connecticut communities — especially the more affluent suburbs — fall far short of the 10% goal. Glastonbury has acknowledged that less than 6% of its housing qualifies as affordable.
Critics of the law argue that it gives developers too much freedom to skirt reasonable zoning rules, ultimately forcing planning and zoning commissions to approve projects only out of fear of being overturned on appeal.
“This application is somewhat troublesome from a number of perspectives,” commission member Ray Hassett said after a hearing in July. “The project is too dense, the building is too tall, it doesn’t comport with the area in which it’s being placed.
“I don’t think it meets a lot of the needs of affordable housing — it’s not on a bus line, it’s really not walkable to areas that are meaningful,” Hassett said.
Nevertheless, Hassett and three other commissioners reluctantly voted for the project in a 4-2 vote.
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But Hassett said state statute 8-30g limits local zoning commissions so sharply that they can’t take those factors into their decision making.
“We’re restricted, we’re limited. This projects falls squarely within 8-30g,” said Hassett, who credited state Rep. Jill Barry for telling commissioners that she will work in the General Assembly to revise that law.
“This project is too intense for this site,” commission Secretary Michael Botelho said. “The fact that it’s five towers is troublesome to me as well. There are concerns, there are issues — however none of those concerns or issues override the fact that we have section 8-30g of the Connecticut general statutes.
“It’s in serious need of revision. Hopefully changes will be made so that the legislature does not have the ability to control or dictate how towns like Glastonbury govern themselves,” Botelho said. “We really cannot deny this application unless we find substantial health and safety issues. The record does not reflect those issues.”
Vice Chair Sharon Purtill agreed, noting that she had voted against what she called “a less intrusive proposal” 17 years ago when a developer wanted to build a CVS on the same property. But the terms of 8-30g didn’t apply to that project, so the town’s rejection wasn’t likely to be overturned in court.
She noted that the commission hired experts to determine whether substantial health and safety issues remain with the apartment proposal. They reported no such concerns, so the commission couldn’t reject the plan, she said.
“The law does need to be changed,” she said.