Westport Determining Path for Multi-Family and Affordable Housing

Events of the last two years are allowing Westport to make decisions about its housing stock independent of existing state and municipal regulations. In March 2019, the state awarded Westport a four-year moratorium on 8-30g applications. Accordingly, the Affordable Housing Land Use Appeal Procedure, a powerful tool for developers seeking to overturn the rejections of local zoning commissions for “8-30g housing proposals”, cannot be used again until 2023. Meanwhile, the cap on Westport’s overall multi-family housing (formerly subsection 4-5) was recently eliminated.

If Westport wants to sustain its local economy, many expect diversity of housing to be important. Office tenants cannot lease space in an area where their employees cannot afford to live. Retail tenants cannot lease space where there are not enough customers. Demographic trends, driven largely by millennials and baby boomers, point to a growing demand for smaller dwellings. As far as 8-30g is concerned, affordable housing includes residences set-aside for households earning up to $79,760 (80% of the state median household income), which includes a wide variety of professionals, especially individuals early in their careers.

A nullification of the multi-family housing cap combined with the moratorium on 8-30g gives Westport’s P&Z and developers an opportunity to focus on proactive, thoughtful design. Some designs “hide” multi-family units behind attractive facades the way Belden Place, at 201 Main St, does with its 15 units (3 of which are affordable units). Others designs find opportunities to make multi-family housing out of land uses that are less beneficial to the town, like the state Department of Transportation’s 10.7 acre maintenance facility at 900 Post Road East.

Westport might need to make this kind of progress (and more of it) if it wants to determine its own path doing so will help secure another moratorium on 8-30g to pick up where the current one leaves off. It might also discourage other interventions from the state. Five bills related to affordable housing were drafted for the 2020 state legislative session which was cut short in March due to COVID-19. Topics included giving the state more authority over municipal zoning regulations requirements for new construction of affordable housing, first responders’ housing, and education funding incentives for municipalities that meet or exceed the affordable housing threshold.  Affordable housing regulation is a controversial subject that may again get a lot of attention in Hartford in 2021