Post Election Legislative Update
Where do we go from here?
Sen Tony Hwang [R] 28th, Sen Toni Boucher [R] 26th, Rep Jonathan Steinberg [D] 136th, Representative Gail Lavielle [R]143rd Matthew Mandell WWCC, Adam Ney CBIA
The Chamber held a very successful Forum Dec 4, 2014.
Below is from It's Relevant and Westport Now
Planned Multi-Family Housing Tops Legislative Forum
By James Lomuscio
In the face of two multi-family housing projects planned for Westport, state legislators at a Westport forum today focused on state statute 8-30g, which allows developers to overstep local zoning laws if a town does not have 10 percent of its housing stock classified as affordable, which Westport does not.
“It is the worst violation of local control, an overreach of best intentions,” newly elected Sen. Tony Hwang, a Republican serving District 28, said about the 1989 law intended to create more affordable housing in the state.
Hwang was speaking at a Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce (WWCC) sponsored legislative update titled “Where Do We Go from Here.” The meeting, held in cooperation with the Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA) in the Westport Library’s McManus Room, attracted about 20 persons.
Other participating legislators included Sen. Toni Boucher, a Republican serving the 26th District, Rep. Gail Lavielle, a Republican representing District 143, and Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, a Democrat who serves District 136.
In addition to 8-30g, questions from WWCC Executive Director Matthew Mandell, who moderated the forum, addressed the state deficit and the region’s ailing transportation system.
Still, 8-30g took up the lion’s share of the two-hour discussion, with all of the legislators stressing that it has been misused by developers to override local zoning laws, including town regulations on building height.
For example, the owner of The Westport Inn, Sheldon Stein, plans to demolish it and using 8-30g, put up five-story structures totaling 200 rental units, 30 percent of them affordable, required by statute.
Another multi-family housing project planned is for Hiawatha Lane in the Saugatuck section, said Steinberg. Developer Felix Charney intends to put 186 rental units there.
Steinberg, for one, said that since the law’s inception there have “been egregious examples of how the statute is used in a predatory manner.” He said that the Home Connecticut Program, which aims at creating affordable housing zones incentives, offers better options.
“I agree with the housing incentive zones,” said Lavielle. “Enacted in 2007, they offer ways for the towns to make a choice of where they want to put the housing, what they will look like, the height.”
Regarding 8-30g, she said that he hopes “over the long term there will be enough concerns that there will be modifications.”
Boucher pointed out that the Town of Trumbull has become “the poster child” of 8-30g abuses, with local officials concerned about crowded roadways, schools and higher taxes.
Hwang, who served as a state representative for six years before being elected to the senate in November, said that “the unfathomable burden on tax structures” imposed by 8-30g misuse should be addressed as a regional concern presented in Hartford.
He urged Fairfield County towns to “build a collective group” with cities bearing the brunt of low income housing, such as Stamford, Norwalk and Bridegport.
Lavielle noted that the new Western Connecticut Council of Governments, which starts up in January, replacing the Southwestern Regional Planning Agency, incorporates18 towns, and that 8-30g is on its agenda for the new year.
Other issues discussed were ways to address the state deficit and the region’s ailing transportation system.
“In the next few years we’ll be talking about a billion dollar deficit,” said Boucher. “Right now the governor has control over that budget; we do not.”
“Let’s be honest; we’re in a very difficult situation,” said Hwang. “I truly believe that a state government should operate like a family or a small business.”
And that requires transparency and honesty, he said, not pulling “gimmicks out of a hat ...borrowing at higher interest rates just to keep the lights on.”
“If government were run in a more honest way, we’d be in a much better place,” Hwang said. “Let us do that and not have one person in office make unilateral decisions.”
“I’m the only Democrat on the panel, and I agree with him,” said Steinberg.
One area where Steinberg differed from his colleagues was his call for “congestion pricing toll lanes” on I-95 to pay for the turnpike’s maintenance and upgrades.
Boucher said that “transportation is one of the few areas you should bond for, not keeping the lights on,” and that bonding would negate the need for tolls.
Hwang said he would favor tolls if the money raised were put into a lock box; however, historically, the transportation fund has been raided, its money siphoned into the general fund.
At the forum’s start, Mandell noted that it was being conducted in connection with the CBIA in support of the organization’s CT20x17 campaign designed to have Connecticut make top 20 states by 2017 in terms of its economy and job creation.
More on the CT20X17 campaign can be found at www.ct20x17.org