Laying the foundation for Westport 2050
Westport and Fairfield have similar house construction histories, zone layouts and regulations and these no longer serve the needs of residents who live here or want to come back. They don't address problems that go far beyond Westport's proposed regulations to allow inclusionary housing in the corridor districts, Amendments 618 and 619, and to amend certain regulations potentially affecting house size or exterior improvements in the residential zones which are now before Westport's Planning and Zoning Commission as Amendments 620 and 621.
The inclusionary housing regulations go in the right direction but are hardly adequate.
In spite of clauses in the TPOCD (Town Plan) which overly protects the sanctity of the four-bedroom Colonial of the 1970s family, the commissions must seek new clauses, wording and regulations to match the fact that our formerly young suburban communities have morphed into mature city-like populations with a new mixture of ages and financial capability.
A new community housing plan and a new generation of regulations are required.
The planning and zoning commissions in Westport and Fairfield have to take an accurate look at each town's housing needs and determine what is missing and what is needed in the regulations to attain a sustainable long-term residential housing plan and community. This housing plan must be driven by the needs of its current residents and those who want to come back home.
The prevailing concept of affordable housing is too limited and fails to meet the needs of each kind of recurring family situation. Our towns were built using suburban development and architecture rules which were centered on subdividing farmland and building capes, ranches and splits. Where before a farmer planted his highest and best cash crop each year, new homes were built. Many of these 1920-1960 houses have become functionally obsolete at the same time that Westport and Fairfield have become luxury home communities in which owners have or seek to build new styles and sizes of houses, which are 50 to 60 years newer than the forebear structures and times. These are 3,500- to 6,500-squae-foot dwellings with selling prices of $1 million to more than $3 million and rooms that just did not exist either in 1920 or 1960. We now have computer, toy, mud, family and media rooms, home offices, new kinds of baths and kitchens, walls for entertainment systems, attic spaces, outdoor living rooms with grills, and multi-car garages. Furniture has scaled up too. Ceilings are nine feet and these add two stairs to the staircases. These new homes are modern day counterparts to a farmer's highest and best crop.
A community housing plan must accommodate more than a dozen kinds of "households," each with a wide range of monthly affordability:
"¢ New married couples just starting out;
"¢ Single men and women and partners just starting out;
"¢ Families with school age children (only about one-third of households);
"¢ Families with kids in college;
"¢ Families with an empty nest;
"¢ Married seniors/couples who wish to live in a single-family home;
"¢ Married seniors/couples seeking townhouse or ranch style condos;
"¢ All seniors wishing to age in place with friends and familiar places;
"¢ Married seniors/couples seeking assisted care facilities;
"¢ Widowed seniors;
"¢ Single women or men with school-age children;
"¢ Middle age men or women and families (sisters/brother) caring for a senior(s) in their home;
"¢ Families with adult children living at home;
"¢ Families seeking to rent, buy, and move in with one another.
These household types require a spectrum of housing and multi-unit designs such as townhouse and courtyard apartment complexes, and new styles and sizes of more densely situated capes and small colonials near to town. The current regulations and TPOCD do not cover these, even though they are what we need and create no injury to existing property owners who are located mostly away from the corridors and infill spaces.
A good community housing plan should allow for:
"¢ A mix which will enable owners to move up as their families grow and then to downsize as their space and function needs diminish;
"¢ Seniors to age in place and move from one dwelling style to the next as they age and their mobility wanes (and not have to move out of town);
"¢ A wide range of senior-friendly designs with electric stairs and elevators;
"¢ A place for new high school and college grads to set up households so that each town in Connecticut can stop the disastrous outflow of our 25- to 34-year-old population cohort, which will bankrupt Connecticut and result in fewer families in the housing food chain willing and able to buy your house in 2020;
"¢ A healthy mix of dwelling types planned in such a way that there is a house type, size and price that will keep our young people here as renters and possible future owners;
"¢ Dwellings located near to our trains and major roads and compatible mixed use zones so that trips to work or shopping are reduced;
"¢ Pedestrian sidewalk and bicycle networks and, in certain areas, electric cart and scooter pathways for seniors and handicapped;
"¢ A wide variety of new housing types built in compatible mixed-use zones that include affordable housing along with grocery stores and markets, cafes and restaurants, public transportation and commercial activities in a new harmony;
"¢ Permit one- and two-bedroom accessory apartments built over garages or as additions in the A and up zones in order to allow additional family members to live on the property but also to allow tenants to seek "carriage house apartments" to use the land and help the owner pay the taxes;
"¢ And allow for a range of luxury home designs to be built on an ever-changing timeline line without restrictive regulations that create an enormous number of non-conforming properties;
What this all means is that our commissions have to build regulations to match the needs of the town for the next hundred years which will be characterized more by retrofit, repurpose, and infill and not new farmland or woodland development.
Ken Camarro lives in Fairfield and is a Realtor and property rights advocate who writes on planning and zoning and political leadership issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org