Silencing The Public On Subdivisions

A particularly bad idea has taken root in the state legislature with the encouragement and nurturing attention of the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Connecticut, Inc (HBRA). It is sprouting under the nondescript name of Senate Bill 405, “An Act Concerning Public Hearings on Subdivision Applications.” The proposal would effectively cut the public out of local land use agency reviews of subdivisions by prohibiting public hearings on the development proposals. Current law allows land use agencies to conduct public hearings on subdivisions whenever they find it useful for their review. The HBRA, however, would prefer to dispense with the utility of public insights on the interpretation and implementation of local land use regulations. The builders would prefer that the volunteers on local planning and zoning commissions rely solely on information and assessments provided by their own hired experts.

According to the HBRA’s memo on the legislation, “given the mandate to approve (or deny) an application if it does (or does not) comply with the subdivision regulations, public hearings are fruitless and should not be discretionary. The public does not know the subdivision regulations better than the planning commissions that write them.” This perspective suggests that land use review is a simple empirical process and the equation is always as simple as a+b=c. Who needs the public for that? … In fact, just let the developers do the math for us, right?

As we see time and time again, calculating the impacts of development on the goals set forth in a town’s plan of conservation and development is not a simple formula. Assessing the causes, effects, and consequences of good or bad development requires a level of expertise that should always include the very practical expertise of the people living in proximity to the land being developed. If a builder is glossing over problems of topography, drainage, or traffic, they will be the first to point it out. Public concern over land use has also led citizens to hire their own experts to refute assertions made by developers. We can understand why the HBRA does not want land use agencies to hear any of this complicated information when they are reviewing their subdivisions. What we do not understand is why our elected legislators would enable them to muzzle all critical assessments of subdivision development proposals.

Senate Bill 405 is a shining example of special interest legislation designed to serve private rather than public interests. The public has not asked for this. Municipalities have not asked for this. Land use officials have not asked for this. And yet the proposed bill still lives and is moving forward through the legislative process and could be enacted into law before the legislative session ends at midnight on May 7. Hearing from the public is not only good for planning and zoning commissions — it is good for our legislators as well: State Senator John McKinney (203-254-1639); State Representative Mitch Bolinsky (203-364-0287); State Representative DebraLee Hovey (203-445-0012); and State Representative Dan Carter (203-798-0776).

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