To finish ‘discriminatory and segregating insurance policies’, Civil rights group pushes zoning change in Woodbridge

WOODBRIDGE – Time for resident Matt McDermott for the city to “take stock” of how the zoning rules have affected housing and what it means for the region.

McDermott spoke when the Plan and Zoning Commission aired a proposal to change its land use policy to allow for affordable higher density housing stock.

The proposed change was supported at the hearing.

“For the past 80 years we’ve just tried to increase our lot sizes,” said McDermott.

“Now is a moment for us to take stock of what this has done to our community,” he said. “Our zoning has racial and economic privileges.”

Officials from the Open Communities Alliance, a civil rights organization, claim Woodbridge’s longstanding zoning policy is exclusive. The group has claimed Woodbridge was a “pioneer in the exclusion zone,” where restrictions were introduced nearly 100 years ago to serve as a template for others in the state.

The alliance has also claimed Woodbridge failed to relax its restrictions for decades. During this time, the Connecticut real estate crisis has worsened.

However, representatives from the group did not speak during the hearing this week. In a statement made prior to the meeting, Erin Boggs, the group’s executive director, said “Modernizing outdated exclusion zone policies is the right thing to do – because it corrects decades of discriminatory and divisive policies.”

“And (it’s) the smart one because it will give the state’s economy a decisive boost in terms of job creation and property tax revenue increases for cities across the state in dire need,” Boggs said.

The hearing was the second in a series of hearings at the request of the Open Communities Alliance. The first hearing took place on November 30th.

The hearings are more than theoretical discussions: the group has the opportunity to buy real estate at 2 Orchard Road. Attempts are being made to build a small multi-family complex with a mix of marketable and affordable rental units, a development model that is currently banned in the city.

The Open Communities Alliance wants the PZC to allow small multi-family houses with affordable housing units in single-family zones, provided that these housing units meet the restrictions that apply to single-family houses, such as height and setback, as well as health and safety requirements.

Several residents said city officials had decades of time to make Woodbridge’s housing stock more affordable, but they failed.

Under the city’s current zoning rules, only 0.2 percent of Woodbridge’s land area allows for multi-family homes, and those homes cannot be more than two units. McDermott said, “Two to four units in 1.5 acres isn’t that big.”

Sally Connolly said she thinks some city dwellers believe the city’s way of life is “so bucolic and so similar to a housing estate that it needs to be protected”.

The Orchard Road development application includes an analysis by the Open Communities Alliance and Legal Services Organization by Jerome N. Frank at Yale Law School. The analysis indicates that zoning the city violates federal and state laws on fair living.

City officials have refused to comment on the allegations because the proposal is before the zoning board.

Currently, according to officials from the Open Communities Alliance, only 43 of the 3,000 homes in Woodbridge are considered affordable by state definition, and 30 of those are reserved for senior citizens.

Some of those who spoke this week said that while they are for the city that allows more affordable housing, the details of such a plan must come from the city’s residents, not from organizations outside the community.

“I’m not against affordable housing, but it has to be done wisely,” said Justin Parker, a Race Brook Road resident.

Rob Klee, chairman of the PZC, said the next hearing on the Open Communities Alliance proposal will be on February 1st.

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