State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) told the legislature’s Planning & Development Committee today that a governor’s bill introduced last month would strip Connecticut’s towns and cities of their local planning and zoning decision-making authority and transfer it to a board of state-level political appointees. She also said that the bill would expose all properties in areas surrounding rail and bus stations to the threat of eminent domain.
Report by Paula Antolini
March 27, 2015 11:06AM EDT
Lavielle: The State Can’t Push our Towns Around
by Victoria Verderame
(Hartford) March 24th, 2015 – State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) told the legislature’s Planning & Development Committee today that a governor’s bill introduced last month would strip Connecticut’s towns and cities of their local planning and zoning decision-making authority and transfer it to a board of state-level political appointees. She also said that the bill would expose all properties in areas surrounding rail and bus stations to the threat of eminent domain.
HB 6851, An Act Establishing the Connecticut Transit Corridor Development Authority, would create the Connecticut Transit Corridor Development Authority (TCDA), a quasi-public state entity that would promote transit-oriented development projects within a half-mile radius of any transit station. The creation of the TCDA would strip local elected officials of the powers vested in them and transfer those powers to a board of political appointees who have no responsibility to act on behalf of local residents.
Rep. Lavielle testified in vigorous opposition to the bill even though she is a longstanding supporter of transit-oriented development (TOD).
“I am a longtime advocate of and wholeheartedly support TOD, particularly because of the advantages and services it provides younger, older, disabled, and less affluent members of our population, and because of its role in economic development,” said Rep. Lavielle. “But I cannot support this bill, because it undermines every reasonable and longstanding expectation our citizens have of shaping and maintaining the character of the towns and cities where they choose to live.”
Among the bill’s key provisions are the following:
–The TCDA board would comprise 11 directors, all political appointees: four gubernatorial appointees, three legislative appointees, and four commissioners. All would have voting rights. The chief executive of a municipality hosting a development project would be an ad hoc member of the board for matters affecting that project, but would not have any voting rights. Local legislative bodies with planning or zoning authority are not mentioned in the bill.
–In fulfilling its duties, the TCDA is required to work “in cooperation and coordination” with the municipalities where development is taking place. Nowhere, however, is it required to obtain their approval.
–Similarly, the TCDA would have the power to “condemn properties that may be necessary or desirable to effectuate the purposes of the authority”. It would be required to exercise this power “in consultation with” the affected municipality’s chief elected official, but would not be required to obtain his or her approval. Lest there be any doubt about the legislative intent behind this provision, a fact sheet from the administration’s Office of Policy and Management explains that the TCDA “will have eminent domain powers within its designated development areas, in consultation with the chief elected official of the host municipality.”
–The TCDA would have its own authority to issue bonds, which would be financed with TCDA revenues, collected through, among other things, fees, rents, other user charges, and state funding and taxes.
“Many train and bus stations are located in the downtown or village areas of towns and cities. If this bill passes, those areas could change dramatically, with no consideration for the views of local residents or even property owners in TCDA development districts,” said Rep. Lavielle. “Those changes could do a lot of good, like providing badly needed affordable housing or new transit parking facilities, but they could also do a lot of harm. For example, the TCDA could demolish a beloved local merchant’s shop to replace it with housing or offices, take over a parking lot that brings revenue to a town and pass on the revenues to the state, or expropriate owners of private homes.”
Rep. Lavielle noted that both residential and commercial property owners could suffer great financial losses, as property in village or downtown areas is often highly valuable. She also said that the political composition of the board also raises questions about contractor and developer selection and agreements, regardless of the political party or parties with authority to make TCDA board appointments.
“There are many ways this bill could have been drafted had the intent been simply to offer TOD assistance and incentives to municipalities and to give their citizens a critical role in the decision-making process,” said Rep. Lavielle, “but that was not the case. I am disappointed that the executive branch has attempted with this legislation to rob our local governments of the authority long vested in them by their constituents to make decisions critical to the character of their cities and towns.”
HB 6851 received a public hearing today in the General Assembly’s Planning and Development Committee, and now awaits further committee action.
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