New Land Use and Zoning Legislation Affects Every Connecticut Municipality

by Diane W. Whitney

All municipalities should be aware of the provisions of Public Act No. 21-29 and what changes it could bring to zoning in your town or city.

Public Act 21-29 is part of the initiative to make housing in Connecticut more affordable for more people, and in the process, to also increase integration in housing.  The new law allows municipalities to make certain changes in their zoning regulations to effect these changes, but also allows towns to opt out of the changes, if they follow the guidelines for doing so and act before January 1, 2023.

Briefly, the changes concern “accessory apartments, which are separate dwelling units which have cooking facilities and are located on the same lot as a principal dwelling unit. The new units must also either comply with or be exempt from any applicable building or fire codes or health and safety regulations. To be considered affordable, the new units must have binding covenants that preserve them for a period of at least ten years at specified lower cost.  Other definitions in the act apply to cottage clusters (a group of at least four detached units per acre located around a common open area) and middle housing (duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes, cottage clusters and townhouses).

Changes to zoning regulations required by the new law include a provision that, in addition to the previously required factors governing regulations, now they must also:

  • protect the state’s historic, tribal, cultural and environmental resources;
  • consider the impact of permitted land uses on contiguous municipalities and the regional planning area;
  • address significant disparities in housing needs and access to educational, occupational and other opportunities;
  • promote efficient review of proposal and further the purposes of the federal Fair Housing Act; and
  • be drafted with consideration of the physical characteristics of the site.

Housing choice and economic diversity in housing are to be encouraged.  Consideration of drinking water supplies, erosion, agriculture and environmental concerns are also to be considered, and energy-efficient development is to be encouraged.  The new requirements increase the responsibilities of both the regulating agency and the applicants.

Among the uses that regulations may not prohibit are:

  • family child care homes in residential zones;
  • recycling storage receptacles;
  • the installation of temporary health care structures for use by mentally or physically impaired persons;
  • cottage food operation;
  • establishing a minimum floor area greater than that in the applicable building, housing or other code;
  • placing a fixed cap on the number of dwelling units that constitute multifamily housing units, middle housing, or mixed-use housing;
  • requiring more than one parking space for each studio or one-bedroom unit or two spaces for each unit with two or more bedrooms unless the municipality opts out as explained below. 

Municipalities also may not deny a land use application based on the character of a district unless that character is expressly articulated in the regulations, or on immutable characteristics, source of income or income level of an applicant or end uses, other than age or disability in housing restricted for those purposes.

Municipalities may opt out of many of the new parking space provisions by a two-thirds vote of their planning or combined planning and zoning commission if they first hold a public hearing, state the reason for the decision, publish notice of the decision and thereafter the vote is confirmed by a vote of the town’s legislative body.

Any new zoning regulations adopted pursuant to these changes shall:

  • designate locations in the town where accessory apartments are allowed (one such apartment shall be allowed on each lot that contains a single-family dwelling);
  • allow accessory apartments to be attached to or located within the principal dwelling unit;
  • set a maximum net floor area of the new apartment of not less than 30% of the net floor area of the principal dwelling or 1,000 square feet, whichever is less;
  • require setbacks, lost size and frontage less than or equal to that required for the principal dwelling and require lot coverage greater than or equal to that required for the principal dwelling;
  • provide for height, landscaping and design standards that do not exceed standards applied for single family dwellings;
  • and other details of what must be required or must be prohibited for the approval of new accessory apartments.

However, municipalities must be aware that they can, by a specified vote of the planning and zoning commission, or planning commission, opt out of the provisions regarding accessory apartments.  Such a vote must happen before January 1, 2023; no municipality may opt out of these provisions after that date.

The act contains other provisions, such as the requirement that zoning enforcement officers must be certified by the Connecticut. Association of Zoning Enforcement Officials during their employment in such a position, and other requirements regarding water pollution control, sewage systems, submission of affordable housing plans.

Should you require assistance, please contact any of our Land Use attorneys who stand ready to assist clients adapt to the changing regulatory landscape.

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