Selectperson Janet Stone McGuigan
WHERE WE STAND
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May 18, 2022
I’ll begin my update by expressing my appreciation for tonight’s Zoom format.
I was humbly reminded that Covid is still a daily reality when I tested positive last week – in case the Sunday New York Times marking our country’s one million Covid deaths didn’t make enough of an impression on me. I’m grateful that my symptoms were mild and while not everyone has this luxury, I’m able to isolate past the five days recommended by the CDC. In the legislative session that just concluded, Hartford passed a bill that allows remote public meetings, and I will continue to advocate for this option for all Town meetings. Meanwhile let my case serve as an example to take appropriate care and I hope everyone remains well.
One in-person event I was disappointed to miss was Sunday’s rally in Stamford in support of Roe v. Wade. I’m sorry for the reason – that reproductive rights so frequently come under attack in this country – but whenever the need arises you can be assured I will repeat my unequivocal support for the right to choose.
Last week’s Board of Selectmen’s meeting was fortunately hybrid and I was able to vote to approve the Town’s Affordable Housing Plan, which will now go to the RTM in June. I’ve said before and will say again, 8-30g may be flawed, but Greenwich needs to do more than say we don’t like it, we need to actively support the housing needs of our community. I believe this plan will help move us forward, and I thank our Planning and Zoning Chair, Town Planner and the excellent team behind them in creating this plan.
Last but not least, the Town budget for the fiscal year starting on July 1 was finalized with the RTM’s vote last Monday. Thanks to everyone for the countless hours devoted to this and I’ll appreciate our BET’s debrief on this year’s process. I share the view that all of Greenwich lost out when our caucus’s motion to responsibly plan for our Town’s future capital needs was defeated.
From the perspective of my office, I was particularly disappointed by some very small cuts made before the budget was presented to the RTM that will have outsized impacts on our Town’s ability to plan for climate change and a sustainable future.
The defeat of our BET member’s motions to earmark $20 thousand for a study to determine the best location for a solar parking lot canopy, and $50 thousand for a climate change resiliency study, will make no discernable difference to the mill rate. But it will have a negative effect on good governance. Without these studies, any actions taken, if any are taken, will be ad hoc. There will be less transparency and public engagement, consistency and efficiency in the management of our public resources.
We celebrated Earth Day last month, but the need to plan for a sustainable future is something we must do every day, not just one day a year. I continue to work with the many like-minded organizations and residents of this Town on sustainability issues. Thank you for helping me in this effort.
On Affordable Housing
Connecticut municipalities have been paying attention to affordable housing of late, and that's a good thing. All towns need diverse housing stock to thrive, and while Greenwich already has a diverse housing stock, it does need more affordable, workforce, senior, accessible and starter family housing. A balanced vision for Greenwich is articulately expressed in the Town's 2019 Plan of Conservation and Development.
What's prompted this affordable housing discussion, however, is the proliferation of development proposals falling under the State statute 8-30g. 8-30g overrides municipal zoning regulations and permits developments that are 30 percent affordable according to the statute's formula and don't present health or safety risks, the idea being that a developer can use the profits from the market rate units to offset any losses from the affordable units. I won't describe 8-30g further since so much has already been said. But I concur with the arguments that most of the proposals are too large for the locations in question.
We're a capitalist society and as such we depend on the market to address our housing challenges. 8-30g was supposed to present a market-based incentive to do this but it has demonstrated its flaws. Greenwich has made its unhappiness with the statute's unintended consequences clear in testimony to Hartford and most recently through the Representative Town Meeting's Sense of the Meeting Room resolution regarding 8-30g. Reform of the statute, and/or properly crediting Greenwich with affordable housing units not currently counted under the statute would be helpful but is hardly assured.
At any rate, now it's important that support for affordable housing not get lost. Supporting the redevelopment of Quarry Knolls, a development of Greenwich Communities (formerly the Greenwich Housing Authority) is a good example. Without Town funding, Greenwich Communities would like to create some market rate units to pay for the redevelopment. But unlike a profit-driven developer, Greenwich Communities can consider a project that is well above 30 percent affordable.
Another way forward is the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, recently approved by the RTM. When developers accept funding, in the form of loans or other financial assistance, the development comes under the rules of assisted housing rather than affordable housing, and the project can be scaled down and still remain economically viable. The Trust Fund won't be funded with Town money; it's anticipated that most of its funding will be from private contributions.
Right now the only seed money that's being proposed is a $1.1 million allocation from the American Recue Plan Act, down from the original proposal of $1.8 million. As most of us are only too aware, that's only plus or minus the median price of a single family home in Greenwich. Other towns assess fees on developers to fund their trust funds but Greenwich doesn't seem to have the appetite for this.
Should the Trust Fund not prove to be up to the task of creating more affordable housing, the next approach is tax abatements. This approach would lower the cost of each housing unit. Existing units could be converted to affordable units, eliminating the need to create new market rate units.
In a recent exchange of letters to the editor the question was raised whether housing is a right. It's my view that affordable housing isn't a right, because a right is granted to all and must be blind to need or any other attribute. Therefore housing is an entitlement that good governments equitably provide to all in need. But calling affordable housing a right or entitlement doesn't help us move forward. Figuring out how we can best harness market approaches does.
An affordable housing plan is scheduled to go before the Board of Selectmen in June and I look forward to supporting the excellent work of our Town's volunteer leaders and professional staff. I don't want to wait for April's National Volunteer Week to appreciate how fortunate Greenwich is to have the volunteers we have!
As always, thank you for the opportunity to serve this Town. Please reach out to me at my email.
Janet Stone McGuigan
As a member of the Greenwich Board of Selectmen, it is my honor to serve you, and I take your input seriously. Please reach out to me at my email. In exchange, I will share what is on my mind of late:
My thoughts are with our Central Middle School (CMS) families and staff. Thank you to those working to keep everyone safe after the school’s closure. I join in asking that this situation be resolved quickly. The community has been concerned about the facility's structural issues for a number of years, and now there is an engineering report to substantiate those concerns. I ask the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) to create a financing plan to address the long term needs of the school and if there is any urgent work that cannot be covered by the current budget, approve the needed interim funding.
Which bridges to my next thought...along with everyone else in Town Hall my attention is on the 2022-2023 budget process. In particular I want to express my support for the proposed operating and capital budgets for our schools. Along with CMS, Old Greenwich School (OGS) and Julian Curtiss Schools (JCS) are in need of capital support. We have heard from our community, and our aging and deteriorating schools need to be our highest budget priority.
On the Town side of the budget process, there are a number of capital proposals that have been described as potential public-private partnerships. The Town currently does not have a gift policy. The BET has asked that one be put in place before pursuing any such proposal, and I strongly support this request. I understand a policy is being drafted, and I thank all involved for their work on this.
In the proposed capital budget, one can see that there is a vision for the development of Greenwich Avenue, a Greenwich gem. It has been proposed that the Havemeyer Building, currently the Board of Education administrative building, be repurposed. While there may be merit and community excitement behind this idea, I am concerned about the timing of this proposal. In particular I hope it does not come at the expense or distraction of the urgently needed work on CMS, OGS and JCS.
There is also a provision for additional pedestrian bump outs on the Avenue. (On January 20, an application by the Department of Public Works was heard by Planning and Zoning for two additional bump outs on Greenwich Avenue.) While I supported the creation of a bump out at the Elm Street intersection (while still an RTM member), I am not convinced that it has improved pedestrian safety.
I believe bringing special police officers or crossing guards to Greenwich Avenue would, and I advocate that the Town pursue this measure.
It is important that the Greenwich community is engaged in the budget process. On March 28 at 7 pm, the BET will hear public comments. The proposed budgets are currently posted on the Town website. The Zoom link to the March 28 public hearing has not been posted yet. I ask all Town commissions, boards and committees to please use the Town calendar when posting meeting links. The virtual halls of government can be something of a labyrinth, and it is important that we honor the time and effort that members of the public make to attend meetings by making the experience easy.
Affordable housing and 8-30g has been a big topic in the local news recently. I will not take column space to dive into this topic, but I will note that affordable housing is eligible for American Rescue Plan Act funding. There is debate about the appropriateness of this funding going toward the recently approved Affordable Housing Trust Fund. It has been proposed that $1.8 million be requested, of the over $30 million available to the Town from ARPA. I would argue that this one-time federal funding would provide much needed seed money for the trust, and would help Greenwich create affordable housing units outside of supersized 8-30g proposals.
To end on a happy note, I'd like to shine a spotlight on the First Selectman's Youth Commission, which with the support of the YWCA and the First Selectman's Diversity Advisory Committee just hosted its 3rd annual Greenwich Student Diversity Leadership Conference, titled Beyond Allyship: Igniting Action and Agency. The commission is comprised of student leaders from Greenwich public and private schools. I recently attended one of their meetings and they are a force, raising money for scholarships, organizing park cleanups and sponsoring essay contests.