Zoning laws are important when we consider climate change – Hartford Courant

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Over the past week, people around the world have directly felt the impact of climate change, with temperatures soaring from coast to coast and hot temperatures driving record energy consumption. Cooling centers have been opened to bring relief and we are told to watch out for each other, especially the elderly and the vulnerable. In Europe, extreme temperatures have become catastrophic, causing massive and deadly forest fires.

One of those hot days, a friend shared with me an article from The Guardian on the heat wave and how the current trend to deregulate our zoning in cities to spur development has far-reaching implications. In this insightful article, Jesse Keenan, a climate expert from Tulane University, pointed out that since the 1990s, several states have gutted housing regulations to help spur development that has now left several cities, like in Scottsdale, Arizona, struggling to get enough water. to survive. Sprawling concrete for new housing and inadequate urban forestry programs have caused temperatures to rise in many of these growing cities, according to the article. The spread of hard surfaces has also led to flash flooding, as Houston saw to its cost during the devastating Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

The warning signs of our changing climate are hard to ignore – sea level rise is real and storms and more severe weather are a reality.

Here in Nutmeg State, zoning has become a major issue in recent years. Hartford lawmakers, housing advocacy groups and development lobbyists pushed to create statewide development and density mandates and reduce local control of our zoning, with little regard for the climate change and the role of the natural environment in delaying and mitigating its impact. If the bills proposed over the past few years had all passed, Connecticut’s 169 cities would now be largely unable to make land use decisions. As a longtime land use advocate and now zoning commissioner, these trends are alarming, and they should be alarming to you, too.

Some bills introduced in recent legislative sessions have called for housing densification in our suburbs (doubling the number of housing units in some cases) and mandated the construction of housing around transit and train stations which are primarily located in coastal areas already impacted by climate change.

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The idea that local governments couldn’t make good land use decisions is a slippery slope for me and ideas that will have implications for our communities. Land use agencies like your local zoning boards are your first line of defense when it comes to protecting the environment. Land use decisions are critically important when planning for climate change, which is the most pressing issue of our time.

Already in Connecticut, we have a zoning law, CGS 8-30g, enacted in 1989, which applies to municipalities where 10% of the total housing stock is not considered affordable housing. If the 10% target is not met, developers can propose projects that are not subject to any local zoning regulations, creating density, adding impermeable surfaces and placing constraints on our infrastructure and our natural environment. . This law has changed little in the more than 30 years that it has been in force and climate change has worsened during this time. Our lawmakers need to seriously review and reassess this law, which has created little affordability (a 10% ratio is virtually a mathematical impossibility in part because 70% of new units don’t need to be affordable) and has a negative impact on our natural environment.

Decisions made by our local zoning commissions should protect our natural resources which can then provide shade, cooling and natural trees, shrubs and soils to control flooding, not only help modulate the amount of water, but help clean the water, and the trees also absorb carbon and help clean the air of pollution.

Natural ecosystems and green spaces, large and small, not only promote public health, but also reflect the unique nature of each community, whether it is a small hamlet, town or city. .

Because land is not uniform and cannot be relocated, its unique nature must be protected where it is. Central planning simply does not allow this, as we have seen in many bills which, fortunately, did not pass. Not yet anyway.

We ignore the powerful saving graces of our natural resources at our peril. We must prioritize and expand environmental protection and this must include maintaining local control over development decisions. Your legislators and aspiring legislators are running for office this fall and they’ll be asking for your vote. As they campaign and solicit, I encourage you to ask them where they are on local zoning and if they will commit to environmental protection and fight for our local towns. It’s just that they do.

Fairfield Town Plan & Zoning Commission member Alexis Harrison, but writing this as a private citizen

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