Earth Day is an annual event that takes place in April around the world. It is when we pledge to protect the environment and raise awareness about it. Many of us are aware of the everyday ways we can do good for our planet by recycling, carpooling, composting, and other such actions. However, we must also be aware that even though legislative initiatives are well-intentioned, they could have unintended consequences for our environmental health.
This is especially true if proposed laws do not include environmental stakeholders and eliminate the possibility of local control over land-use decision making. Land is a local thing. Local officials should make decisions about land development. They should also be accountable to residents, who are the best at understanding the environment.
A number of bills have been introduced in Connecticut over the last two years to increase housing development. Unfortunately, many of these bills also restrict or remove local control over land use decisions. Or place a large requirement on development without regard for environmental concerns. These bills include HB5429 and HB5204, which are currently being considered by the General Assembly. These bills could result in almost exponential growth for our communities if they are approved. Although these bills are intended to encourage affordability, they ignore the devastating effects of extreme development mandates on local historical and environmental protection.
HB 5429 (a transit-oriented bill) would abolish the public hearing process. It would also silence local P&Z officials and the public. When it comes to protecting our natural resource, the first line of defense is the Zoning Commissions. This bill would allow dense development within a quarter mile of transit centers, creating thousands of additional housing units. The fair share bill, also known as HB5204, would require an arbitrary allocation for affordable housing units to all municipalities. It will be done using a formula that housing development advocates will devise. Some towns would need to build thousands more units.
Climate change, including rising sea levels is a reality. We are all aware of this fact, and coastal communities will experience the most severe effects. To increase residential development around our train stations, which are primarily located on our coastlines (including the Shore Line East and Metro-Norths New Haven lines), the TOD bill would require an extensive increase in residential development. According to theWorld Economic ForumScientists are uncertain how fast or how high the sea level will rise. However, this could lead to massive land loss and destruction of thousands of acres. We shouldn’t force coastal towns to have high population density. These areas could become disaster areas and require more infrastructure to support and protect them. Public hearings allow local officials and environmental intervention to learn about adverse impacts that might not otherwise be known.
It is important that local officials have the ability to hold hearings about development projects so that decisions can be made with due consideration for the local ecology and topography. Local residents are often witnesses to the need for protection of parcels land that have resources or wildlife habitat. The TOD bill blocks public hearings on individual developments, while the fair-share bill would impose such high development mandates that towns would have to deprioritize open spaces preservation in order to meet the new housing quotas.
I urge all residents of the State to pay attention to what they can do in their own homes and businesses to help protect our environment. But, it is also important to be aware of proposed laws that would silence you or omit experts from the process.
Land is lost forever. Both protecting the environment and increasing housing diversity are not mutually exclusive goals. It is possible and desirable to achieve both without compromising one.
This Earth Day, please urge all your legislators to oppose these bills and to ask them, when drafting new laws to provide equal protection for our open spaces, our coastal communities and our wildlife habitats, as well as all of our historical and environmental resources.
Harrison is a member of Fairfield’s Town Plan & Zoning Commission