6 Zoning Law Changes to Take Effect in Connecticut on October 1, 2021 – Cottage Food Businesses, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy in Zoning, Definition of “Character” and New Fees 

September 29, 2021 

By: Zachary A. Kohl 

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 week. 

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”). 

My last post focused on the legalization* of accessory use apartments. Previously, my first post discussed efforts under the Act to make zoning laws more equitable. This post will cover: 

  • The allowance of “cottage food businesses”; 
  • Energy efficient development and renewable energy measures permitted under the Act; 
  • The requirement of a more objective definition of character in zoning regulations; and  
  • New land use fees permitted under the Act. 
  1. Allowance of Cottage Food Businesses 

Zoning regulations must now allow the operation a “cottage food operation” in a residential zone.  

Under Connecticut consumer protection law, a cottage food operation produces baked goods, jams, jellies and other “nonpotentially hazardous foods” in the home kitchen of an individual’s private residential dwelling and only for sale directly to the consumer. Such products do not include maple syrup and honey. Additionally, the operation cannot also operate a food service establishment, or be a food retailer, distributor or manufacturer as defined and regulated under state law. 

  1.  Energy Efficient Development and Renewable Energy 

The Act also allows municipalities to require or promote energy efficient patterns of development, use of distributed generation or freestanding solar, wind and other renewables, combined heat and power, and energy conservation. Furthermore, incentives may be provided for 

  • solar and other forms of renewable energy;
  • combined heat and power;
  • water conservation, including demand offsets; and 
  • energy conservation techniques, including, but not limited to, cluster development, higher density development and performance standards for roads, sidewalks and underground facilities in the subdivision. 
  1. More Objective Definition of Character 

As discussed in my post on equity in zoning, the Act moves toward a more objective definition of “character” in zoning regulations. Character has been a basis for denying any project that a zoning body may disfavor but finds difficulty in articulating another legal basis for its decision. In the Act, the term character has been replaced with “physical site characteristics” as a consideration drafting zoning regulations. Additionally, a zoning decision may be based on a district’s character only if the term is expressly articulated in the regulations by clear and explicit physical standards for site work and structures. Both of these changes should result in more objective and articulable bases for zoning decisions.

  1. New Land Use Fees 

The cost of some land use applications will increase under the Act. The Act allows municipalities to charge land use applicants for the reasonable cost of any necessary review of any technical aspect of the application by expert consultants, such as traffic or stormwater for the benefit of the commission or board. A municipality have to adopt a zoning regulation to implement such fees.

As can be seen from this series of blog posts, the legislature brought many changes to zoning law this year some of which I have not covered in these posts. Nonetheless, the Act is a watered-down version of the many proposals brought before the General Assembly and advocacy groups are likely to continue to push additional changes that did not make it into law. 

The Act also sets up a commission of land use experts and political appointees that will (1) develop model design guidelines for streets and buildings that towns may adopt to promote equitable, sustainable development; (2) study alternative on-site sewage treatment systems; (3) explore guidelines and incentives for towns to comply with state law to submit affordable housing plans; and (4) recommend statutory changes to the state’s plan of conservation and development. 

Accordingly, more changes to land use law in Connecticut are likely to follow in the coming years.

Stay tuned for my next blog post that will address changes Connecticut made to land use deadlines largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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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