Dozens rally in Ridgefield to oppose proposed zoning bills

RIDGEFIELD — More than 50 people gathered at Ballard Park Saturday afternoon to voice their opposition to a series of zoning-related bills under consideration in Hartford.

The rally was organized by grassroots organization CT 169 Strong, whose members argue that the legislation will take away local zoning control from Connecticut’s 169 planning and development boards.

“Land is the most finite resource, and we have to be really careful and really prescriptive of what we do with it,” Alexis Harrison said. “All of us believe in affordable housing and (creating) diverse housing, but these bills do not accomplish it.”

At the rally, Maria Weingarten, who sits on the Board of Finance in New Canaan, distributed flyers listing the organization's concerns with nearly a dozen zoning-related bills.

Among them was HB-6611, better known as the “Fair Share” bill, would assess the statewide need for affordable housing and establish and enforce affordable housing planning and zoning goals for each municipality.

“If it’s done in an inclusionary way, it would cause most towns to have to double their entire housing stock,” Weingarten argued. “Who is moving here? Who is going to fill all those market value units?”

Ridgefield Selectmen Bob Hebert also questioned the appropriateness of the bill. As a former chairman of Ridgefield’s Housing Authority, he argued that local governments should have control over the types of development that occur in their communities.

“I’m all for mixed-use development if it’s in the right location,” Hebert said. “We don't need a bunch of bureaucrats in Hartford telling us what to do and how to run our town.”

A handful of Republican representatives also spoke at the event, including state representatives Kimberly Fiorello, of Greenwich, and Tom O’Dea, of New Canaan, and former state representative John Frey, of Ridgefield.

Fiorello described the “Fair Share” bill as “oppressive,” and argued that what’s considered affordable housing should be defined by the “naturally-occurring market,” not government mandates.

“We’re here because we are folks who care about zoning and land use and the environment,” she said. “We want affordable life in our state, and this is not the way to go about it.”

Frey argued the creation of more affordable housing could be done without the passage of statewide mandates.

Ridgefield’s Affordable Housing Committee will hold a virtual public webinar with guest speaker Evonne Klein at 7 p.m. Thursday.

“The most important thing we can do right now to improve the availability of housing in Ridgefield is to have a public discussion on the topic,” Affordable Housing Committee Chairman Dave Goldenberg said.

Klein served as commissioner of housing during Gov. Dannel Malloy’s administration and oversaw the construction of 22,000 units of affordable housing.

As co-chairwoman of the Fair Housing Working Group, she helped enact inclusionary housing regulations and an update to the Zoning Enabling Act. As Darien’s first selectwoman from 2003-2009, she formed the town’s first Affordable Housing Advisory Commission, oversaw the development of an affordable housing plan and spearheaded Darien’s inclusionary zoning regulation.

The public can ask questions during the webinar. Registration is required to attend.

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com