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A zoning map of the City of New Haven

Zoning Reform Increases Property Rights, Not State Control

August 5, 2020

Imagine you’re a property owner in Connecticut looking to make some extra income. You own a single-family home in a well-to-do suburb where rents are high and apartments are limited. You have been thinking about converting your home into a duplex, or perhaps converting your garage into an accessory dwelling unit; however, both would be illegal under your current municipal zoning code. Then, the state passes a law allowing duplexes and accessory dwelling units on lots like the one you own.

In this scenario, the municipality lost some of its power to enforce what residents can and can’t build on their property. But who gained power; the resident (you), or the state?

The answer is obvious: The more freedom you have to control what’s built on your property, the more power you have. Unfortunately, the current conversation on zoning gets this backwards. See also: A missive from State Rep. Gail Lavielle, titled “Should the State Control Your Local Zoning Laws?”

Zoning reform is not a game of tug-of-war between the state and its municipalities. The bottom line is: Most of our state’s residents have been heavily restricted in what they can do with their properties. It’s about your rights, not the state’s power over zoning decisions.

Opponents of zoning reform often cite the need to preserve the “character of the community” in their decisions to deny new housing development. In fact, local zoning regulations have often made it illegal to build the sort of housing that already exists in these communities. For example, a study of the zoning code of Somerville, MA (population: 81,360) revealed that just 22 of the city’s residential buildings met the standards of the zoning code.

To conservative-minded opponents of zoning reform, we ask this: Who is better equipped to make decisions about how best to utilize your property? You, or the state? If you believe in property rights, then zoning reform is for you, too.