Local Land Use
This page highlights some of the changes in land use law the HBRACT has worked on in recent years, as well as links to important land use information. A lot of work remains to be done to create reasonable, common sense land use controls in CT so that businesses and people want to come here, or stay here. See: Land Use, Tax & Business Policies: 30+ Changes Connecticut Must Make.
Introduction to Local Land Use:
New development - indeed, just about any use of land - is controlled by many laws and regulations at the local, state and federal levels. Collectively known as land use law, the majority of these regulations occur at the local municipal level. Land use is a highly complex and specialized area of law and regulations. Towns and cities write advisory plans of conservation and development, adopt binding zoning maps, zoning and site plan regulations, subdivision regulations, inland wetland regulations, and many other rules and ordinances to control the use of land. Some resources to follow:
Local boards and commissions, such as zoning commissions, planning commissions, zoning boards of appeal, inland wetland commissions, water pollution control agencies, and a number of other advisory groups have various responsibilities or authorities for different parts of our land use control system. In some towns, some of the boards are combined; in others, they're all separate. For example, in about forty CT municipalities, there are separate zoning and planning commissions. But whether combined or separate, local boards have distinct and specific statutory and regulatory rules that must be followed depending on the specific matter before them.
The interplay between land use controls and environmental laws and regulations is also abundant. And, overlaying all land use controls are state statutes (i.e., no municipal land use power exists without state statutory authority, or "enabling act"). And, the Connecticut and U.S. Constitutions, which outline overarching property rights, serve as fundamental limitations on land use controls. If you have a proposed project, the best advice is to engage a land use attorney for guidance through the process.
In addition to the information below, see also these related "land use" topics or browse the menus above:
22a-19 (CEPA) Environmental Interventions Reformed. For the first time in its forty-one year history, the CT Environmental Protection Act, sec. 22a-19, which can play a significant role in local land use processes, was reformed in 2013. See what happened.
Interplay Between Wetland Permits and P&Z Approvals:
Public Act 12-151, Extends wetland permit expiration dates to match associated planning and zoning commission approvals (e.g., site plans, subdivisions).
Public Act 07-102, Clarifies that simultaneous filing of P&Z and wetland applications are allowed. This amendment became effective Oct. 1, 2007.
See also Permit Expiration Extensions below.
Local Performance Bond Process: In 2011, the HBRACT obtained needed changes to the local performance bond process with the passage of PA 11-79. The following year, municipal planners and attorneys worked with an HBRA task group to better understand the new performance bond law, and draft clarifying amendments, adopted in PA 12-182.
State Traffic Commission Authority Amended: STC approval usually required as part of local land use process, but many housing communities became exempt in 2011 with the passage of PA 11-256, sections 14 and 15. This law significantly reformed State Traffic Commission certificate of operation permits, particularly for residential developments.
Permit Expiration Extensions: In 2009, HBRACT sought and obtained land use permit expiration extensions so approved permits survive the extraordinary economic recession. See HBACT's testimony on HB 5254, which became PA 09-181. During testimony, the HBRACT suggested changing the effective date to all site plan, subdivision and inland wetland approvals obtained prior to July 1, 2009, which the committee accepted. However, after opposition from environmental groups, the law adopted provided only a 1 year extension and only for a more limited set of approvals. The HBRACT sought and obtained a more robust extension in 2011 - Public Act 11-5 created a 4-yr automatic extension that applies to all site plan, subdivision and wetland approvals in place on May 9, 2011, and any new approvals up to July 1, 2011; this preserves approvals already granted to allow markets to recover.
What Road Improvements Can a Planning Commission Require of Persons Subdividing Their Land: The law before and after Buttermilk Farms v. Plymouth (2009); HBRACT opposed an unnecessary "fix" in the 2010 legislative session to the subdivision enabling statute proposed by the CT Conference of Municipalities; Planning & Development Committee leadership agreed to not entertain CCM's proposal. See the decision here.
Special Permits for Subdivisions Over Certain Size Not Allowed: The CT Supreme Court ruled in Lord Family of Windsor v. Windsor PZC on Sept. 16, 2008, that municipal planning and zoning commissions cannot require subdivisions over a certain size to obtain a special permit or special exception. The HBRACT funded the developer's appeal to the state Supreme Court due to its significance to the entire industry. The Court confirmed that planning and zoning commissions can regulate the use and density of a development, but not its size if the underlying use, density and otherwise valid regulations are met. See the PZC Decision and a brief Article from attorney Mike Zizka (who represented the developer). A companion decision on the developer's inland wetlands application was also ruled upon against the town by the CT Surpreme Court on Sept. 9, 2008, confirming the law that local inland wetlands agencies must have evidence in the record of likely harm to a wetland to support a denial of an application. Inland Wetlands Decision.
Marketing of Subdivision Lots Prior to Final Approval: An HBRACT initiative allows subdivision developers to market lots prior to final approval; Effective July 1, 2007, see Public Act 07-182; HBRA's Talking Points in Support.Planning and Zoning Notice Registry: Another HBRACT initiative, this law requires PZC to establish a notice registry so local government is more open and transparent, allowing anyone to place their name on the registry in order to receive notice from the PZC of any PZC initiated changes to zoning, subdivision or the plan of conservation and development. The law also makes more uniform the notice requirements applicable to applications before a PZC. See Public Act 06-80.
Reorganizing Local Land Use Boards: While not adopted, see our support statement for SB 1084, Allowing Municipalities to Reorganize Local Land Use Commissions. The newly organized land use structure we propose would benefit all stakeholders in CT, except for those who desire our current complicated, convoluted system so that it is easier to oppose any economic or housing development. Thus, the following groups are still winners:
Vested Rights to Permits in CT: The CT Appellate Court in 2003, held in Poirier v. Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town of Wilton, 75 Conn. App. 289 (2003), that the vested rights statute, Conn. Gen. Stat. Section 8-26a, is clear in that no zoning regulation adopted after the date of subdivision approval shall be made applicable to lots in such subdivision. Opponents of the Poirier decision argued that the vested rights statute applies only to lot dimensions, area and other characteristics of the lot but not to construction on such lots and sought legislative clarification to restrict a property owner's vested rights in a subdivision approval. The legislature "sort of" clarified the state's vested rights rules. See: Vested Rights to Zoning Regulations Clarified ... somewhat, almost, not quite ...