Update: The Bethany Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously to reject Green Haven's proposed zone change last night, with Patricia Winer abstaining. Ms. Winer observed she was unhappy with public comments directed toward her. My, my, Ms. Winer. The kitchen wasn't that hot, was it?
We generally vote for the Democratic Party in local elections in my household. But this year, there is only one thing that will stop both my wife and me from voting for the Republican Party ticket in the May 6 election this year in Bethany, and that is simple: The town’s Planning and Zoning Commission must vote to reject the proposed amendment to the town’s zoning regulations sponsored by Green Haven at the next meeting of the commission on May 1. Neighbors have told us they will do likewise.
Green Haven slithered before the commission earlier this year with a proposal to change town zoning ordinances to permit high-density residential development on any parcel of land between 20 acres and 35 acres in size. Although ostensibly targeted at development of the Halter farm property on Meyers Road, the initial proposed zone change regulation would open the entire town up to cluster development. It is really just a Trojan Horse that would invite condominium developers into town.
Bethany is one of the few remaining rural areas in Southern Connecticut. There is no shortage of rental property and low-income property in neighboring towns. What the region lacks are open fields, pasturage, and a community of people committed to a rural way of life -- things Bethany still has.
Bethany’s existing zoning regulations are committed to preserving the town’s rural character. But in 2007, a Superior Court judge ordered that the Halter property be made eligible for the development of high-density low-income housing. The site remains undeveloped because of the prohibitive costs of building high-density housing in a rural enclave.
Green Haven proposes to short circuit the 2007 court order by creating an “overlay” zone. In other words, create a high-density project that just might satisfy the court, while at the same time preserving some portion of the open space. It is a superficially appealing project, but it is unnecessary to preserve the rural character of the town.
First, there is no developer ready, willing and able to build a project that would satisfy the 2007 court order. Suggesting Green Haven will save us from some imminent threat of new development is a red herring. The court ruled on what the land could and should accommodate under the state’s affordable housing act; neither the court nor the state is prepared to fund actual construction. The land is likely to remain either undeveloped or broken into smaller lots, and sold consistent with the current land use plan. Green Haven saves us from nothing.
Even if Green Haven were developed, there is no guarantee it would satisfy the requirements of the state affordable housing act. Approval of the Green Haven project would almost guarantee a court challenge asserting the “overlay” zone is really just a sham means of frustrating compliance with the requirements of both the court order and the affordable housing act. Good luck telling a court that this new development is fine and dandy because it brings just the “right kind” of low-income folks to town. Green Haven’s commitment to dedicating a portion of the units to low-income seniors looks like a thinly veiled attempt at racial red-lining likely to draw fire from the NCAAP.
Green Haven’s hasty attempt to redraft the zoning regulations between the recent two public meetings is artless. Sensing opposition to the proposal to open the entire town to condominium development, it tried to amend its proposal to create only one “overlay” zone -- the area of the Halter farm property. But the amended regulation was hastily drafted, and left intact sections that could apply to other properties. If approved, the next developer to eye a cluster housing development could easily either seek a new amendment to the ordinances, or persuade a court that the current regulations are arbitrary. Spot zoning to satisfy Green Haven is a disaster that will haunt Bethany for years to come.
That the proponents of the regulation really have their eyes on a much greater prize than the Halter property is evident by the peculiar behavior of commissioner Patsy Winer. She owns property adjoining the Halter road site. By law she should recuse herself from voting on a matter affecting only that property. She knows this. So what’s her rationale for failure to recuse herself now? The proposed new regulation impacts the entire town, she says. Precisely, Patsy. This silliness strains bonds of affection.
In the last round of litigation about what is to become of Halter farm, the town left significant constitutional issues on the cutting room floor when it challenged the reach of the state’s affordable housing act. Connecticut lacks meaningful county government, and is, instead, governed locally by a crazy-quilt pattern of 169 towns. An act imposing obligations on towns, and not regions meaningfully drawn to reflect not just the need for low-income housing, but also preservation of open space and the right of some to choose to live in rural areas, is flawed, and deserves challenge on broader grounds than were asserted last time around. Green Haven beware, there are broader issues as yet unraised in Bethany.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, creating this zone sets the standard the town will be expected to live by when the next developer saunters into town. Giving Green Haven a green light for cluster housing on Meyers will make it all but impossible to no the next applicant who wants to build such units elsewhere. We are either choose to remain rural, or we do not.
My wife and I moved to Bethany because we wanted to live in a rural community. We still do. If Bethany is to become a site of cluster housing, we’ll have little incentive to remain, paying a high mortgage and high taxes. We could have cut our housing costs substantially if we had elected to live in Hamden or Naugatuck. We didn’t make that choice. I suggest that if the good folk behind Green Haven want to live elsewhere, they do so. I’m just not interested in cluster housing.
In the meantime, we are voting Republican on May 6. Unless, of course, the Democrats on the Planning and Zoning Commission disapprove of the Green Haven project on May 1.