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    Saturday, December 03, 2022

    A study shows zoning impediments to multifamily housing in East Lyme and Stonington

    East Lyme and Stonington are among 12 towns across the state with zoning barriers that discourage and impede multifamily and affordable housing, according to a study released last week.

    "Zoning for Equity: Examining Planning and Zoning Impediments to Housing and School Diversity" is the second federally funded report from Open Communities Alliance, a Connecticut-based civil rights nonprofit organization, in the last two years. The reports are aimed at examining planning and zoning regulations in 24 towns.

    Towns were selected based on high levels of racial and economic segregation, according to the study. In the second report, East Lyme is highlighted for being 82% white non-Hispanic with 82% of the town's housing stock being single-family detached homes. Ninety percent of Stonington residents identify as white non-Hispanic compared to 76% in the region.

    Other towns included in the study were Guilford, Old Saybrook, Simsbury, Farmington, Monroe, New Canaan, North Branford, Shelton, Wallingford and Weston.

    The study found many recurring themes for multifamily exclusions. In all towns, "single-family housing is allowed without a complex and discretionary special permit and public hearing process," — making it "by-right" — "while no town in the study allows multifamily of greater than two units without a special permit," the study says. The vast majority have a category of zones called "residential," which are nearly exclusively single-family districts and do not typically include multifamily housing of more than two units.

    Showing the planning, zoning and land-use maps produced by each town, the study shows how little land is made available for multifamily development. East Lyme's largest residential zones, called "rural districts," make up most of the town and allow for single-family detached housing only, requiring lots of up to 2 acres per home. In the town's "Residence Districts," single-family and duplex housing are allowed "as-of-right"; meanwhile multifamily housing is only permitted in smaller areas reserved for commercial, industrial or special uses.

    Stonington's "Residential Districts" are similar to East Lyme's except " a vast of majority of residentially zoned land does not even allow special permit applications for multifamily housing," according to the study. A review of Stonington's zoning regulations shows duplexes are a permitted use in two of eight zones while multi-family housing is allowed by special permit in four of eight zones.

    The Borough of Stonington has a separate Planning and Zoning Commission and zoning regulations. Its residential districts allow single-family housing as-of-right and do not allow multifamily, except as conversions of existing buildings, permitted only by special permit.

    The report states towns do not provide "adequate" reasons for the different treatment between multifamily and single-family housing. It says some towns will present a detailed list of amenities as a prerequisite for sites to be considered for multifamily housing, such as transportation and proximity to commercial areas, which ultimately constrain the areas where it is developed, and "significantly impeding the potential for affordable housing development." 

    The study also states towns will often use "character" and "compatibility" as justification for maintaining single-family predominance in planning documents.

    In East Lyme, the 2009 Plan of Conservation and Development states multifamily housing would "threaten East Lyme's predominantly single-family residential character." According to Stonington's zoning regulations, the stated purpose of the residential zones that require minimum lot sizes of 20,000- and 15,000-square-foot lots respectively is "for areas that have been previously developed as single-family house lots and which should be maintained as such to preserve the character of the town."

    The report suggests the towns prefer age-restricted affordable housing, while their exclusionary zoning practices allow them to "hoard" educational resources instead of spending them on students who live multi-family housing. The zoning practices also assumed multifamily housing has a negative impact on property values.

    The report says a substantial body of research "has found that proximity to affordable housing developments has no effect, or a positive impact on nearby property values."

    As a result of the report, Open Communities Alliance recommends the statewide adoption of the Fair Share law, which would have the state Office of Policy and Management assess the need for affordable housing in different parts of Connecticut, and towns would share the responsibility to meet that need.

    The report comes as towns across state, including Stonington and East Lyme, work toward adopting state-mandated affordable housing plans.

    j.vazquez@theday.com

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