Guilford officials address over 300 pages of ‘hodgepodge’ zoning rules – CT Insider

GUILFORD — An effort to disentangle some of the more than 300 pages of rules that govern building in this Shoreline town appears to be nearing its end after a two-year process, officials said Monday.

The undertaking — a complete rewrite of Guilford’s zoning code — is now headed toward a period of review by zoning officials and the public, where it could spark debate over weightier aspects of the project that touch on the longstanding issues of affordable housing and denser development.

The town’s current zoning code dates back to 1978, according to Town Planner George Kral, and numerous additions in the decades since have ballooned the code into a “hodgepodge” of overlapping rules, contradictory regulations, and numerous special planning districts.

“It was added on to, amended, and whatever, many, many, many times over the years since then,” Kral said. “It led to confusion, not so much on the part of the Planning and Zoning Commission, but on the part of the users of the code, builders, developers, property owners, architects, et cetera — finding what the current rules actually were and making sense out of it.”

The efforts to revise and streamline the code began in 2019. They were intended to be a mostly editorial and noncontroversial process, Kral said, that included updating references, fixing errors, and moving around various sections of the code so that similar topics are addressed together.

Along the way, however, Kral said it was an “inevitability” that officials would address weightier topics.

“We would find things that appeared to be hot issues right now and we tried to address them,” Kral said. “We tried to minimize major changes, but we’ve definitely identified substantive changes, issue areas that are controversial right now.”

The town budgeted $100,000 for the project and hired an outside consultant, Glenn Chalder of Avon-based Planimetrics, to help officials complete a page-by-page review of the code.

“I’m kind of like a doctor, they ask me to come in and do an examination of the regulations and diagnose some issues, and I’m trying to help them sort of solve those problems,” Chalder said.

Chalder, Kral, and the town’s former zoning enforcement officer, Erin Mannix, met monthly for much of the last two years to discuss the project, Kral said. Eventually, the group developed a rough draft of new regulations to submit to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

While a formal draft has yet to be submitted, members have discussed its contents in a series of public, informal meetings this year.

Among the substantive issues likely to be addressed in the final draft are the development of multifamily housing, and regulations related to accessory dwelling units, more commonly known as “granny pods.”

Kral said that the revised code will likely remove any remaining restrictions on multi-family housing in commercial areas that limits such units to senior housing. Those regulations have been removed on a piecemeal basis for years in commercial districts, which are generally open for denser development, he added.

In addition, Kral said the draft will likely address a new state law intended to spur the development of “granny pods,” by removing the need for the owners of those units to seek permission from zoning officials in some circumstances.

Neither Kral nor Guilford First Selectman Matthew Hoey anticipated that the changes would prompt intense pushback, despite the relative amount of controversy surrounding the issues. Hoey said Monday that the overall public interest in the code revision project has been “benign.”

Guilford, like many other towns in Connecticut, has struggled to provide enough affordable housing for lower-income residents. Less than 3 percent of the town’s housing stock was considered affordable last year, according to a list maintained by the state.

Building denser and smaller units, such as “granny pods,” would help alleviate some of the lack of affordable housing, Hoey said. He noted that the area’s high median income likely means that, under the state’s definition of “affordable,” the cost of such housing would still be high.

In Connecticut, affordable housing means that households that earn up to 80 percent of the area median income are spending no more than one-third of their incomes on housing.

Guilford’s area median income is $111,000.

“We want to be an open and inviting community that allows folks of multiple backgrounds and socioeconomic status to afford to live here in town,” Hoey said.

Once zoning officials complete their review of the new draft codes, Kral said the documents will be put forward for a public comment period that could begin around the start of the new year.