Outdated Land-Use Policies Thwart Transit-Oriented Development

Southwestern Connecticut is home to one of the best commuter-rail networks in the country. Yet many communities across the region aren’t making the most of their superlative transit connections.

A new RPA study has found that only about half of Connecticut communities with Metro-North rail service have established land-use regulations that maximize access to transit. And even when towns seek to take advantage of their transit assets to foster economic development, they often find that outmoded parking and land-use guidelines undermine their goals.

For example, it’s common for developers seeking to build near train stations to discover that they are required to include more parking spaces than they need, raising their costs and creating privately owned surface parking that goes unused. The study found that only half of station areas allow densities that encourage a mix of homes, shops and services within walking distance of transit.

Nationally, cities and towns are recognizing that the post-World War II model of suburban development – large homes on large properties, separated from offices and shopping – has after 50 years contributed to long commutes, heavy traffic, destruction of habitat and open space and high costs for quality housing. Improving development around transit hubs reduces dependence on cars and curbs pollution, allows for a mix of housing types and makes more efficient use of land. Companies located in transit-served, mixed-use centers also are able to attract more highly skilled employees. And both young people and retirees are drawn to walkable neighborhoods with easy access to shops and services.

Halfway There: How to Create Land Use Policy That Makes the Most of Connecticut’s Transit Network” looks at how Connecticut towns could do more to capitalize on their transit links to attract investment and draw residents and businesses. The report also offers detailed recommendations for municipalities on how to update their land use, density and parking guidelines. -- Amanda Kennedy, Connecticut Director, RPA