To The Editor:
In Pansy Road v. Fairfield, our Supreme Court held that a local planning commission may not take into account the effects of off site traffic when deciding a subdivision application. Pansy Road may be the law, but it is bad land use planning.
After local taxes, the single most important issue in most local elections is overdevelopment. Overdevelopment impacts the quality of life of everyone in this state who likes to see a forest or an open field. It impacts everyone who drives to work, to the grocery store or to our public schools to drop off a child. Many things contribute to overdevelopment, but the creation of new subdivisions certainly is a major factor. Subdivisions take away open land. New homes in new subdivisions initially demand much more in municipal services than they return in new tax dollars, as many of the first-time owners come with children they place in our public schools. These added tuition costs eclipse the increases to the local Grand List.
One way to remedy the sorry state of Connecticut land use planning in the aftermath of the Pansy Road debacle is for the General Assembly to amend C.G.S. § 8-26 to allow local planning commissions to take into account the impact of a proposed subdivision on off site traffic. After all, C.G.S. § 8-2 mandates that local land use regulations shall be designed “to lessen congestion in the streets.” Planning commissions should also be allowed to consider other factors already deemed appropriate for determination by zoning commissions, such as whether a proposed application is “in harmony” with the neighborhood.
Many, if not most, municipalities have joint planning and zoning commissions. Under the current state of the law, those commissioners making zoning decisions may take into account the offsite traffic impact. This might include, for example, one condominium complex containing dozens of new residences proposed on a single lot. However, those same commission members wearing their planning hats cannot evaluate the offsite traffic impact of a proposed subdivision containing dozens of new dwellings on separate lots. In other words, zoning commissions are allowed discretion when it comes to the impact of off site traffic, and planning commissions are not. There is no sound reason for such disparity.
Proponents of the status quo argue that the planning commissions can modify their regulations and zoning commissions can change zones on their own initiative. Although technically correct, that argument is fallacious as § 8-2h requires that an application must be decided pursuant to the regulations in effect at the time the application is filed and not when the application is decided.
Attorneys for developers argue that their clients should be entitled to certainty when it comes to subdivision applications. Why should those clients, as a matter of sound land use planning, be granted certainty when such application may be detrimental to a surrounding neighborhood, such as the public elementary school next door to the proposed Pansy Road subdivision?
Other land use applicants must weigh the risks when making applications. This includes clients making an Inland Wetland permit, applying for a zone change, filing a request to create a condominium, asking for a site plan approval, or making an application to the historic district commission. There is no logical reason developers should be given a free pass, especially when the likely result will be tax increases to pay for new tuition dollars, the loss of open space and increased traffic delays.
This is a quality-of-life issue. Citizens of our state are crying out against overdevelopment. If the General Assembly amends 8-26 as suggested herein, in due course there will be a uniform body of law defining what are appropriate reasons for a subdivision denial or appropriate conditions for subdivision approval. If the General Assembly fails to act in a timely fashion, most municipalities, in response to the unrelenting demands of its citizens, will continue to adopt a whole array of techniques to delay and thus discourage subdivision development. If the General Assembly takes the lead, it will result in more statewide uniformity and thus allow for more of the certainty that counsel for the developers are demanding.
Richard H. Saxl
Fairfield Town Attorney