CT Atty General Jepsen speaking to Darien LWV

jepsen_lwv

CT Attorney General George Jepsen spoke at the LWV Darien 11-16-2016 meeting on the impact of the recent lower court trial ruling "CT Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) vs Rell". To review a recording of the program, please click here.

LWVCT Fall Conference, October 2016

"Follow the Money: Money in Politics in CT." The 2016 Fall Conference, second session in Hartford. How much of an influence does "dark money" have on the politics of CT? Where does this money come from? How does the Citizen's Election Program in CT push back? Is "dark money" a problem? How does the "Citizens United" decision play into the equation? How can voters track the flow of money? Please watch the video below and join our knowledgeable panel to explore this important topic.

Minutes April 6, 2016

In Attendance:  Martha Banks, Deepika Saksena, Jean Sweeney, Mary Genco, Molly Myers, Barbara Thorne, Mary Flynn, Joan Davis, Enid Oresman, Clara Sartori, Gwen Mogenson, Laurie Williamson, Kate Larson, Sue Okie, Adele Conniff, Nancy Cahoon, Karla Coe.

Call to order:  President Gwen Mogenson called the meeting to order at 9:35 am.  Hearing no objections to agenda change, she next introduced “Observer Corps Light” segment and welcomed Jayme Stevenson, Darien First Selectman, and Jeremy Ginsberg, Darien Planning & Zoning Dep’t. Director, for their 8-30g presentation.

State Testimony on Affordable Housing proposals under Ct. General Statutes Section 8-30g:  See attached.

Treasurer’s Report:  Kate Larson distributed “Darien League of Women Voters-2015-2016 Budget” updated as of 4/6/16 that showed no changes in memberships, or in financials other than a revenue increase of $5.98 interest, and a net revenue increase of $147.91 (revenues exceeding expenses) for the Town Officials Coffee.

Membership:  Molly Myers and committee members plan to invite prospective members to a Wine & Cheese Membership Recruiting Party, Thursday, May 5, 6-8 pm (note:  later changed to 7-9 pm), at Molly’s home.  Board members are encouraged to attend and bring friends!

Following brief discussion, Carolyn Bayne and Molly agreed to explore ways of reaching out to local high school voters in the fall before November elections.  Ideas included:  (a) coordination with CDSP and DHS Administration to sponsor a contest (with money prizes) to select a one minute video clip, produced by students, as a public service announcement about voting; (b) use of video for Facebook and instagram; (c) whether National/State LWV would consider student memberships at a reduced charge.

Thanks: Gwen thanked all who organized and supported our well planned, well attended Town Officials Coffee, and all who supported the State LWV Education Fund March 10 Day of Giving.  Coffee Coordinator Clara Sartori commented on the great discussion by heads of Town Boards or RTM, and much improved attendance through coordination with a number of CDSP members who attended and expressed interest in our League.

Government Guide Update:  Martha Banks has updated and posted the 2016 Guide on LWV website, lwv.darien.org.  Deepika Saksena will prepare print copy in a slightly different format, as required to fit onto one page, front and back.  RTM members who have volunteered personal e-addresses will have those included, pending assignment to all members of a Town e-address for their use.

Approval of Mar. 2, 2016 Meeting Minutes:  There being no changes, on motion by Mary Flynn, seconded by Joan Davis, members unanimously approved these Minutes, with many thanks to Martha Banks as Acting Secretary.

LWV “Volunteer of the Year” Award:  By acclamation, members approved Gwen’s proposal of Clara Sartori as this year’s LWV nominee, to be accompanied to the Town-wide May 20 Recognition Luncheon by Enid Oresman.

Website Update:  Deepika Saksena outlined possible website improvements, including home page re-design to feature events, and additional links under “join or renew” tab.  Members agreed generally on priority of maintaining current content as listed under homepage tabs toolbar and “Helpful Links” in homepage left column.  Deepika requested help with updating events.

Nominating Committee:  Sue Okie distributed the proposed slate, on which members will vote at the June  Annual Meeting.  She thanked all who had helped with slate and those who had agreed to serve.

S.B. 422 – An Act Concerning Residential Water Rates, Public Drinking Water Supply Emergencies and Sellers of Bottled Water:  Carolyn Bayne has brought this important Legislative proposal to the attention of League members because of possible adverse environmental and other impact due to as-yet unregulated aspects of commercialization of public drinking water supplies.

2016-17 Monthly Meetings:  Clara Sartori announced The Depot will host LWV Board meetings next year.  The May 4 meeting will be at Atria.

Other Information:  Gwen requested members to contact her if they might be interested in having the Darien LWV participate in coordination with the Westport LWV, where a petition is being circulated to request Legislators to draft and pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to overturn the “Citizens United” campaign financing U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Food for Thought:  Karla Coe asked members to read and think about her recap of the March FFT discussion (distributed as part of meeting agenda) about functions of the national, state, and local Leagues, and possible media ads to highlight our local organization.  Given less Party affiliation, should the Darien LWV develop a strategic plan to encourage more political awareness and involvement?

2016 Annual Meeting:   Clara Sartori announced that Sue Okie had volunteed to host the Annual Meeting in early June, with dates, time, and likely Legislator speaker(s) format TBD.

Adjournment:  On motion by Mary Genco, seconded by Mary Flynn, members voted unanimously to adjourn at 11:32 am.

Respectfully submitted,

Laurie Williamson

Acting Secretary

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Presentation at Darien LWV Meeting, April 6, 2016, Darien Town Hall Auditorium 

 RE:  State Testimony on Affordable Housing proposals under Ct. General Statutes Section 8-30(g)

 By Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson (JS) and Planning & Zoning Department Directory Jeremy Ginsberg (JG)

 (Summary documented by Laurie Williamson from taped comments of the presentation)

JS:  8-30g is a State law.  Legislators observed [in 1989] that a disproportionate amount of City housing being developed was affordable.  Believing this was inequitable, they enacted 8-30g to (a) deny developers appeals rights in numerous Cities where 10% of total housing units are affordable according to 8-30g, thus exempting many Cities from 8-30g; and to (b) mandate a zoning appeal system in all other municipalities that do not meet the 10% threshold, and whose local Planning or Zoning bodies reject or impermissibly restrict an affordable housing project.  Jeremy Ginsberg submits an annual list of these appeals.

Zoning is in place to create a community-decided quality of living (like heights, set-backs, parking), which alters the ways we experience a community.  An example of the 8-30g override of Darien’s local zoning can be viewed on the corner of Leroy/West Avenues.  A Court judge decided that the need for affordable housing outweighed considerations that Darien used to fight that development, including public health and safety considerations, where a building of this size and mass, without set-backs, compromises sight lines on a very busy corner.  This override could be done repeatedly in Darien, depending on the developer and its decision to invoke 8-30g.

Darien proudly supports affordable housing.  But it also acknowledges the need for other types of housing, as examples:  specifically, for senior housing; for market rate condominiums to allow down-sizing; for smaller houses and condominiums for those who wish them; and particularly for Millennials, who may prefer to live in or near a downtown.  We face myriad needs in years to come.

The challenge will be to continue to fight developers who do not actually use this statute to build affordable housing, but use it to change the zoning so they may sell their properties at higher values.  Once zoning was changed by the Court, the previous owner of the Leroy/West property, Mr. Stefanoni, sold that property to its current developer.  His appeal shows this is a money-making endeavor for some.  Every year at West COG [Council of Governments] there is a growing number of Town leaders extremely frustrated by abuse of this statute in their communities.  An example is where a development was forced upon a community where no sewer system exists.

Rep. Terrie Wood has been working in Hartford to introduce modest, meaningful amendments to this statute so it can be a workable statute for all communities.

This year I proposed legislation specific to 8-30g, as part of a House Bill, to address how communities are granted housing equivalency points.  Darien’s first 4-year moratorium under 8-30g has passed; we are on the verge of achieving a 2nd moratorium.  We are building affordable housing stock especially well relative to peer towns.  However, in my opinion the point system is blatantly discriminatory against senior affordable housing.

Point allocations range from one-quarter to two and one-half points.  Senior affordable housing is discounted to receive one-half point.  I got zero response in Hartford on my testimony.  I will continue to press for change:  either give such housing one full point, or completely remove age differentiation language from the statute.

Affordability is determined by the income levels of those living in the units whether age 21 or 91, but without matching equivalency points. The State does not incent towns to build senior affordable housing; their focus is on building for families (for example, three bedroom apartments).  There is a social engineering component that is undeniable but unacknowledged.  We should pursue fairness for all residents.

JG:  The first part of 8-30g deals with standards communities must use to deal with affordable housing development.  A second part deals with the point allocation system, as reflected in the chart distributed.  Elderly units, owned or rented, regardless of income, only count for one-half point.  Family units count for a point, up to two and one-half points.  We have been the model for the State in pursuing, approving, and building affordable housing.  Our first moratorium covered 2010-14; within the next 4 to 6 weeks we will apply for 2nd moratorium which, if successful in achieving four and one-half more points, will cover 2016-20.

Berlin is the only town to qualify for a 2nd moratorium.  Trumbull, Ridgefield, and Farmington have applied, and sought our advice.  It’s not easy to find Darien locations, but we are making progress.  State median income (SMI) is $89,700 for a family of four, and affordable housing points are scaled to give increasingly more points to increasingly lower percentages of SMI (80%, 60%, and 40%).

Once we get 2nd moratorium, Old Town Hall should add 25 deed restricted affordable units (greatly in demand by  over 400 applicants on the waiting list), but yielding only 12 and one-half points towards 142 points required for a 3rd moratorium.

JS:  Note no points are awarded for affordable housing before 1989, or for renovations of affordable housing!  This is one of the fundamental failings of this statute in the ways it was written.  The 2nd moratorium application was submitted to an area in the Dep’t. of Housing that strictly observed the 80%/60%/40% chart, which resulted in the 4 and one-half point deficit.

JG:  Further confusion arises because the State affordable housing funding arm uses different criteria than does the Housing arm.

JS:  A 4 year period is supposed to give Towns time to plan and build affordable projects, but for Darien that translates into a goal of 142 housing equivalent points, which will require about 100 AFFORDABLE units in 4 years. This is not necessarily realistic or achievable because good quality developments usually require longer time spans. Also, the more you build, the higher the next set point, so the more you need.  Also, the number changes with every 10 year census.

JG:  In 2020 the new census will increase the number within a very short period.

JS:  Darien’s current 7000 housing units should require about 700 units to be affordable.  But only 30% of a development’s units have to be affordable to trigger an override of our zoning, so under current zoning and under the current Plan of Conservation and Development, we face high demands in overall housing development to meet each moratorium’s higher set point.

In my opinion, we cannot achieve this without urbanization, that is, through having suburbs build high-rise housing where urban residents can be re-located.  Darien is near NYC, has excellent schools, has a relatively low property tax rate, and is well managed.  I feel certain if Cities made genuine effort to provide excellent schools that Millennials would prefer to live in Cities.  Instead,  I see the State using housing policy to determine where families should be living.

Q&A, other points: 

  • Lack of available land in any municipality is given no consideration.
  • In Darien’s new inclusionary zoning, if development contains 5 or more condominiums, 12% must be affordable;  Kensett Phase 2 has several affordable units in 14 new units, which helps get 2nd moratorium.
  • Palmers and Federal projects at Noroton Heights could present 8-30g application, but if so, 30% of units would have to be affordable, which may not fit their financial models.
  • An office building across from Rory’s Restaurant was successfully re-purposed for 30 units of housing, including affordable units.
  • Only our Town Housing Authority will build projects that are 100% affordable, e.g. 53 units at The Heights.
  • Avalon was an 8-30g development where its fair-market-value units were also given one-quarter points.
  • Leroy/West, originally zoned for 2 single family houses, will have 16 units (5 affordable, 11 market value).
  • The State gives more points for rental than to owner-occupied units, so there’s less incentive for owning.
  • Units are supposed to be “comparable,” but this isn’t always clear or fully resolved.
  • Time-table for Palmer and Federal proposals to create “a village” is the usual for any project-about 6 months for zoning change requests/hearings, about 6 months for application/hearings, in best case.
  • Town residents may not be acquainted enough with these projects or their impacts, despite public meetings held, for example, by David Genovese.  Also there’s need for JG or others to summarize and publicize public concerns, which Planning & Zoning is not permitted to do since they sit in judgment of applications and may not have meetings outside of hearings.
  • All meetings are posted on Town website and covered by Channel 79; other information is available.

In last two years West COG “chief electeds” members have supported 8-30g modifications because all are struggling with it as an unfunded mandate.  For now, growing concerns have met deaf ears in Hartford