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Newtown DTC Hosts Virtual Presentation From Desegregate Connecticut



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The Newtown Democratic Town Committee (DTC) hosted a webinar with Desegregate Connecticut founder and lead organizer Sara Bronin on March 23. Zoning and current legislation were the top focuses of the one-hour event.

DTC Chair Eric Paradis introduced Bronin to those tuning in.

According to its website, desegregatect.org, Desegregate Connecticut is “a coalition of neighbors and nonprofits who believes in creating abundant, diverse housing in service of equity, inclusive prosperity, and a cleaner environment. We can desegregate our state by expanding housing diversity, increasing housing supply, and improving the development process. We work to educate, research, and advocate in service of change. For the 2021 legislative session, we are advocating for SB 1024, which will help us create a stronger, fairer, cleaner Connecticut.”

Bronin began the presentation by explaining that Desegregate Connecticut began last summer when people joined together to talk about role of land use and entrenched societal land use practices. The coalition focuses on statewide legislation, and the presentation described the ideas and actions Desegregate Connecticut supports.

Reasons to act in ways that support desegregation, according to the presentation, include equity, prosperity, and a cleaner environment.

Bronin said there is “a lot of evidence” that zoning laws had segregated effects. The state’s population growth is lagging, she added, and its “outdated land use laws” led to an inability to plan to grow. While Bronin said Desegregate Connecticut is not pushing to abolish single-family housing, she said single-family housing zoning is contributing to constraining economic choices, specifically for young people.

Acknowledging climate change, Bronin also pointed out that current zoning makes society “build outward and outward,” and that sprawl contributes to commuting and polluting.

One proposal Desegregate Connecticut makes would allow accessory dwelling units (ADUs), or small scale housing, to be built on the same lot as a single family lot. Newtown, she noted, is doing “very well on the ADU front,” but she suggested, while acknowledging she was not completely familiar with all of Newtown’s local practices, allowing non-family and non-employees to live in the ADUs. Desegregate Connecticut is proposing towns have the allowance to regulate architectural standards, eliminating “Air BnBs,” and owner occupancy.

Another Desegregate Connecticut proposal outlined in the presentation is termed “main street middle housing,” though it does not have to be on a main street. Bronin described it as allowing two- to four-family housing options within a quarter mile of a commercial area. Towns, she said, would have control over architectural standards and more. The historical preservationists in Desegregate Connecticut, she noted, support the idea as a way to also support maintaining historical aspects in a community, as in renovating historical buildings. Bronin also discussed proposed parking changes to curb the number of cars allotted per one-bedroom units.

For Newtown, Bronin summarized, the proposals supported by Desegregate Connecticut would make it easier to create ADUs and expand their availability to people, would modestly change one-bedroom parking requirements, and more.

Following the presentation, virtual attendees weighed in. Local attorney James Gaston, a member of the Newtown Borough Board of Burgesses voiced a number of concerns with the proposals, specifically regarding the Borough. Selectman Maureen Crick Owen also offered extra information regarding zoning and ADUs in Newtown, and said growing the commercial tax base locally is important.

More information about SB 1024 is available on the state’s website at cga.ct.gov/asp/cgabillstatus/cgabillstatus.asp?selBillType=Bill&which_year=2021&bill_num=1024.

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