Equity in Zoning

On October 1, 2021, many new laws take effect in Connecticut. I will be sharing a series of blog posts discussing six zoning law changes that may impact you in the coming weeks.

The Connecticut General Assembly passed more changes to the state’s zoning laws this year than any in recent memory. Many of those changes can be found in Public Act 21-29 (the “Act”).

This post will focus on the efforts taken to address equity in zoning.

Equity in Zoning

Many of the measures found in the new zoning laws aim to address racial and economic disparities often reinforced by zoning regulations.

  • The Act removed considerations of “character,” “overcrowding of land,” and “undue concentration of population” from state law as standards for drafting zoning regulations. “Character” is instead replaced with a consideration of “physical site characteristics”. Additionally, zoning bodies cannot base a zoning approval on a district’s “character” unless the term is expressly articulated in the regulations by clear and explicit physical standards for site work and structures.
    • Why this matters: Subjective definitions of character and these density considerations have been used by zoning bodies to block multi-family development, which furthers the racial segregation of Connecticut municipalities.
  • To proactively address equity issues, zoning regulations must:
    • Consider the impact on contiguous municipalities and the planning region;
    • Address significant disparities in housing needs, access to educational occupational and other opportunities; and
    • Affirmatively further the purposes of federal Fair Housing Act
  • In order to prevent the use of zoning regulations that have a discriminatory effect, zoning regulations cannot
    • Establish a minimum floor area for a dwelling unit that is greater than the minimum floor area required by any applicable building, housing or other code;
    • Cap the amount multifamily housing permitted in a municipality;
    • Require more than one parking space for each studio or one-bedroom unit or more than two for each with two or more unless the municipality opts out of this requirement;
    • Base a zoning approval on the immutable characteristics, source of income, or income level of any applicant or end user other than age and disability when age-restricted or disability-restricted housing may be permitted; or
    • Impose conditions or requirements on mobile manufactured homes or parks which are substantially different from those for single-family dwellings or lots, or multi-family dwellings lots, cluster developments, or planned unit developments.
  • The Act also sets up a commission to study and recommend further changes to Connecticut law including exploring guidelines and incentives for towns to comply with state law to submit affordable housing plans.

Although these are significant changes to Connecticut zoning law, the Act remains a watered-down version of the many proposals brought before the General Assembly. Legislators and advocacy groups are likely to continue to push additional changes to make housing in this state more equitable.

My next post will discuss the legalization of accessory apartments.

If you have any questions about these changes, or your own land use project, please contact the Kohl Law Firm, PLLC at (860) 865-0101.

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