Ridgefield's new plan to add affordable housing — mandate it for developers building 4 or more units

Ridgefield Town Hall

Ridgefield Town Hall

Macklin Reid/Hearst Connecticut Media

RIDGEFIELD — On the heels of the town's approval of its affordable housing plan, its Planning & Zoning Commission is drafting regulations that would mandate certain developers to designate some housing as affordable. 

Called an inclusionary zoning regulation, the proposal would require all developers of four or more housing units to make 15 percent of those affordable by state requirements, while still following all local regulations. 

Additionally, the proposal would give the commission some discretion to work with applicants who are willing to incorporate affordable housing at a percentage above the mandatory minimum.

"Inclusionary zoning regulations can incentivize the development of affordable housing in a municipality,"  said Robert Hendrick, Planning and Zoning chairman.  

There will be a public hearing at 7 p.m. Dec. 27 on Zoom, where residents can share their views on the topic. The commission has to vote within 65 days after the close of the public hearing.

'To set a clear standard'

The Planning & Zoning Commission has discussed these regulations since August. 

"The commission has had a number of discussions about the fact that regularly we get applications ... whether it be for a housing unit, a condo building ... and one of the things that the commission always looks for is an affordable component," Hendrick said, adding, the commission doesn't have anything in its current regulations that makes that mandate.

"This inclusionary zoning regulation amendment will change our zoning regulations to set a clear standard, a clear kind of a baseline," he said. 

The commission proposes all projects that are four or more housing units have to designate a minimum of 15 percent of those units affordable. Under the state requirements, affordable housing is defined as costing less than 30 percent of the income of a household earning 80 percent or less of the area’s median income.

"This is an affordable requirement mandatory minimum for every project everywhere, anywhere in Ridgefield," he said. "It doesn't matter whether it's single family homes or apartment buildings or town homes."

Additionally, if developers go above the mandatory minimum, such as 20 or 25 percent, they would be eligible for some incentives in the way of more relaxed zoning standards, he said.  

"For example, you could allow them to build an extra housing unit or two on site," he said. 

For many years, Ridgefield has had an affordable housing incentive called a density bonus, which Hendrick said is meant to stimulate affordable housing on the second levels above commercial buildings.  

"That is not the same as a mandatory minimum in all zones and all projects, and it doesn't give the commission enough discretion to engage with developers," he said, adding the town's density bonus incentive has "barely been utilized."

Under the new proposal, the incentive structure would be more "nimble," he said, since it could apply to any parcel in Ridgefield.

"There's a lot more latitude for the commission to work with developers, practically, to bring affordable housing," he said. 

When putting together the proposal, the commission studied similar inclusionary zoning regulations that exist in Darien, New Caanan, Redding, Greenwich, and Westport, and models outside the state.  

Hendrick added inclusionary zoning is one of the suggested strategies in Ridgefield's recently-adopted Affordable Housing Plan, which can be found on the town website. 

"During public discussions on that plan, IZ (inclusionary zoning) — with a mandatory minimum — was viewed by many as a smart and straightforward idea to implement," he said. 

Hendrick added the commission is hoping for a good turnout at the public hearing and added there could be additional hearings, if needed.

"We should not delay too much, though, since new construction/development applications pickup momentum in Q1-Q2 (quarter 1 to quarter 2)," he said.  

He added the long-term benefit of inclusionary zoning to the town is to make sure that any future mutli-dwelling construction has some affordable component at a minimum. 

"What we're saying is now, let's make sure that all future projects have some little bit of affordable housing so that we're not just waiting around for these big 8-30g's to come," said Hendrick, referencing Connecticut's affordable statute that allows developers to bypass zoning regulations, with certain exceptions, if they promise to build some affordable housing. 

This regulation allows the town to provide an incentive to developers, "rather than being victim to an 8-30g regime," where the local commission "loses virtually all control."