On Monday, the House Environment & Energy Committee took up S.100, which is the main housing bill this session. The Committee was reviewing Draft 4.3 of the bill with Legislative Counsel. A number of provisions in the bill would override local zoning regulations that some consider discriminatory and may discourage growth.
One key provision would require that towns allow multi-unit dwellings with a minimum of four units for areas served by water and sewer infrastructure. The latest draft clarified that towns can require a higher floor than this, just not lower.
It would also seek to prevent onerous parking requirements that are difficult to meet in denser downtown areas. This was a point of contention for the Committee as they tried to decide what restrictions were appropriate. Some towns still require two parking spots per unit, but most have reduced this requirement. The current language prevents a requirement of more than 1.5 spaces per unit, but some members wanted to increase that to 2. Representative Clifford pushed to eliminate the requirement completely, wondering what the harm was in letting municipalities manage this.
Chairwoman Sheldon somewhat agreed, saying that they already have municipalities addressing this and it is a “very urban problem” and different communities have different needs.
Representative Torre jumped into the conversation, saying that they should embrace “high level climate strategies thinking and transportation in that picture.” She believed a statewide approach was needed for parking and the availability of EV chargers.
One of the housing advocates was sitting in the room and was asked to comment. She noted that the language is mostly built around dense areas where the state wants planning, because it allows the flexibility for developers to request more spaces than municipalities might currently allow. Best practice is to reduce requirements, recognizing the designs can add spaces, she added.
Representative Smith gave an example of a hypothetical couple that works 15 miles apart and might attempt to live in one of these downtown areas. “Where does the second car get parked?” he questioned. If a developer builds a 4-unit building and they want to live in Derby and there are no spaces and no ride share, this could be quite restrictive. Sibilia commented that “they might not get to live in Derby… or would they need to just keep looking.”
Another addition from the Committee was to create a housing navigator program with a $300K appropriation. Also in the bill was a Building Energy Code Compliance Study which is intended to clarify how the “building energy codes interact with the fire and building safety codes.”