Op-ed Column | Trying to Erode Local Control Again

Four years ago, CT169Strong was founded by Connecticut citizens to defend local control of our towns and cities to make decisions for themselves in the face of paid advocacy groups pushing aggressively for more state control of zoning. Our non-partisan all-volunteer organization is a dedicated advocate for local control, sustainable growth, and affordability in Connecticut’s communities. We believe in empowering residents and local leaders to shape policies that reflect the unique needs (environmental, water, sewer infrastructure constraints, economical and more) of our 169 municipalities. We also believe in the principle that the government that governs closest to the people best is fundamental to our democracy.  Our organization plays a vital role in informing residents about proposed legislation and facilitating discussions with experts to ensure sound public policy. We have helped to defeat major anti-local control proposals since 2021, but those proposals keep coming back every year.

One such bill this year, HB5390, recently passed in the House narrowly and was awaiting action in the Senate. This bill, proposed by developer-backed DesegregateCT, aims to push highly permissive zoning in transit areas by conditioning priority for billions in state funding on adopting that type of zoning. 

HB5390 establishes Transit Oriented Communities (TOC) in the state that must allow development up to 9 units “as of right” around bus or train stations in that area and any development 10 units or more so long as they have 30% affordable units included. While towns and cities have to adopt that type of zoning, the bill threatens local control by threatening future grant funding and community development money for towns and cities. HB5390’s solely prioritizes state grants for municipalities that opt into TOCs. 

These grants, including the $2.34 billion Urban Action Bonds and the $300 Million STEAP Grants, would be allocated to TOC municipalities, potentially leaving others without essential funding for community projects. State funds are limited. This prioritization unfairly disadvantages municipalities that choose not to participate or lack access to transit infrastructure.

Furthermore, the bill mandates the creation of transit districts of unspecified size, overseen by an unelected state bureaucrat or their contractor. This centralization of zoning decisions removes local input and accountability, placing too much power in the hands of state officials who may not fully understand the needs of individual communities. Opting into TOCs also comes with burdensome mandates for municipalities, including allowing up to 9 units of middle housing without affordable housing requirements. Even larger projects are only required to include affordable units after reaching a certain threshold, undermining local policies on affordable housing.

Additionally, the bill imposes top-down zoning guidelines from the state, further eroding local autonomy and flexibility in land use decisions. While there have been verbal assurances that existing Transit-Oriented Developments (TODs) would be grandfathered in and exempted from certain mandates, these promises are not reflected in the bill’s language itself. This inconsistency raises concerns about favoritism and unequal treatment among municipalities, further exacerbating the divide between those that opt into TOCs and those that do not.

The loss of local decision-making authority under HB5390 is particularly troubling as it undermines efforts to manage growth, infrastructure, and environmental concerns at the community level. By pushing one-size-fits-all zoning policies, the bill disregards the unique characteristics and needs of each municipality, potentially leading to irreversible consequences for local residents and ecosystems. Transit areas already face challenges with dense development, and HB5390 fails to provide adequate safeguards for municipalities to plan and manage growth responsibly. Without the ability to address infrastructure limitations or environmental considerations, communities risk long-term harm to their quality of life and ecological sustainability.

CT169 Strong opposes HB5390 due to its erosion of local control and failure to create affordability or sustainable growth. We urge the Senate to carefully consider the implications of this bill and vote against its passage—and invite citizens to contact their senators to that end. It is essential to prioritize policies that empower communities, respect local decision-making, and promote equitable development for all residents of Connecticut. 

Sincerely, Alexis Harrison – Fairfield

Maria Weingarten – New Canaan. Harrison & Weingarten are founding members of CT169Strong. 

Editors note: This OpEd was submitted prior to the end of session.

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