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UPDATED Blanket Zoning is Not for Greenwich – Mayor Elicker Owes Greenwich An Apology

Editorial Photo

This week’s issue of the Greenwich Sentinel is full of information about several bills before the state legislature that would dramatically alter state zoning laws. House Bill 6107 would remove zoning authority from our local Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission. The Office of Policy and Management in Hartford would then oversee all Greenwich P&Z issues.

In its place it would mandate state-wide zoning that would call for a corridor of multi-family housing within one half mile of a transportation hub. This new housing would be required to have a minimum of four units. For 10 units or more 10 percent would need to be set aside to meet affordable housing requirements.

What does this mean for us here in Greenwich? It means we lose the ability to regulate building scale and density in the neighborhoods surrounding our train stations. This can drastically affect both the character and value of these parts of town. Take a drive around Cos Cob or Riverside stations and imagine what those areas would be like with large multi-family houses where there are currently single-family homes.

Earlier this week, the Planning and Development Committee of the legislature held a public hearing on the bill. As you might imagine, it was a popular hearing with passion on both sides of the issue. Our First Selectman Fred Camillo testified and said:

“I cannot state in strong enough terms that one-size-fits-all, Hartford-driven mandates that weaken local control of authority is both not needed and potentially very dangerous. Any legislative proposal that threatens the streetscape and architectural consistency of neighborhoods in every municipality in the state of Connecticut by taking away local decision-making will devalue property, hurt tax revenues, clutter streets, and take away from the beauty of the local neighborhoods that we call home.”

We agree.

To be clear, we do not oppose housing density or affordable housing. Both are needed to create a vibrant community. We encourage developers and our P&Z to continue to increase both forms of housing. There are appropriate locations throughout town where these developments would fit nicely.

What we do oppose is the concept of one-size-fits-all. It does not work for Greenwich, the same as it does not for Norwalk, or even Hartford. Our communities are too nuanced for a centralized decision-making process to be able to understand them. This bill should never make it out of committee. It will forever alter the landscape of our town if it does.

At the hearing on Monday, one of the most eloquent comments we heard was from Representative Stephanie Thomas of Norwalk. A first term Democrat who has a great deal of experience on Norwalk’s P&Z and grew up in affordable housing, she too expressed concern about giving up local control of P&Z.

One of the most disturbing and frankly outrageous and irresponsible comments came during New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker’s testimony. In his comments he confirmed his accusation that Greenwich actively uses zoning to keep minorities out of our community. He said, “Places like Greenwich and Woodbridge and New Canaan and other towns are using zoning to keep out communities of color. Let’s be clear about it.” SEE BELOW FOR THE RELEVANT TRANSCRIPT.

This is a serious accusation. When asked for evidence, Mr. Elicker could provide none. His comments were baseless and inflammatory. He should apologize to the Greenwich P&Z Commission. As an elected official, he should know better.

We are pleased that Representatives Harry Arora and Kimberly Fiorello have stood up against the proposed legislation and Mr. Elicker. However, we wonder where Senator Alex Kasser and Representative Steve Meskers stand?

On a legislation that could alter our community dramatically they have been remarkably quiet. Do they also agree with Mr. Elicker’s comments about our P&Z acting illegally? They should join the call for him to provide evidence or apologize. Their silence is becoming deafening.

EDITOR’S NOTE:

We have several updates to this week’s editorial.

After the editorial was published, Rep. Steve Meskers of Greenwich announced he opposes the removal of P&Z authority from Greenwich and is opposed to the bill. Thank you, Rep. Meskers.

Additionally, after the editorial was published, we were contacted by New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker’s office asking for the specific place in the Mayor’s testimony where we found his quotation and for a retraction. The quotation was an amalgamation of the Mayor’s comments.

It was originally published as: One of the most disturbing and frankly outrageous and irresponsible comments came during New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker’s testimony. In his comments he implied that some communities actively use zoning to keep minorities out of their communities. When questioned he said: “Greenwich and New Canaan actively discriminate against people of color to keep them out.” To clarify, that paragraph has been updated and now includes the full original quote.

The committee’s own recording can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nRAG5qpTYV0 beginning approximately at timestamp 1 hour and 11 minutes and going until 1 hour and 16 minutes.

In order to ensure that his comments are not misinterpreted or taken out of context, we have also transcribed the relevant part of the hearing testimony specifically from the recording. Please see below.

Planning and Development Public Hearing #4
CGA-Planning and Development Committees YouTube Channel

TRANSCRIBED:

State Representative Doug Dubitsky to New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker
“You made a bold statement that there are towns currently today discriminating against people by using, because of the color of their skin, by use of zoning regulations so I challenge you. Name those towns.”

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker to State Representative Doug Dubitsky
“Rep. Dubinski, historically it was done explicitly, today it is done in a more creative way, but it still exists.”

State Representative Doug Dubitsky to New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker
“Where?”

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker to State Representative Doug Dubitsky
“Many of the suburban towns.”

State Representative Doug Dubitsky to New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker
“Which ones?”

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker to State Representative Doug Dubitsky
“In our state. “

State Representative Doug Dubitsky to New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker
“Which towns?”

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker to State Representative Doug Dubitsky
“Greenwich, New Canaan, you name it.”

State Representative Doug Dubitsky to New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker
“So, Greenwich and New Canaan are now actively discriminating against people of color with their zoning regulations, is that your statement?”

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker to State Representative Doug Dubitsky
“Correct.”

Later in the Hearing:

Rep. Kimberly Fiorello to New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker
“Hi Mayor Elicker. Thank you, Mr. Chair. I can’t help but I think it begs the question, where is the evidence that Greenwich is using zoning rules to keep people of color out? Is that what you said Mayor Elicker?”

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker
“Yes, it is what I said.”

Later in the Hearing:

Rep. Kimberly Fiorello to New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker
“You made an incredible accusation against my town and I would like to understand how to wrap my mind around it. Please enlighten me. This is illegal activity to use zoning and to keep people of color out. I mean this is absolutely illegal. I’d like to understand.”

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker
“Places like Greenwich and Woodbridge and New Canaan and other towns are using zoning to keep out communities of color. Let’s be clear about it.”

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