Realtors’ associations are accustomed to tracking and influencing impending state legislation, but several southern Connecticut associations are getting local. The Old Saybrook-based Mid-Shore Association of Realtors, the Norwich-based Eastern Connecticut Association of Realtors and the New Haven Association of Realtors are starting to pay more attention to municipal issues in their areas and have hired some experts to help.

The three associations have hired Evans & Assoc., a Hartford-based government affairs consulting firm, to monitor any changes that could affect property rights in their areas.

The Eastern Connecticut Association and the Mid-Shore Association decided to implement the program upon the suggestion of the National Association of Realtors, according to Eastern Connecticut Association of Realtors Executive Vice President John Bolduc.

The municipal affairs program uses a two-pronged approach, Bolduc said. It is designed to be reactive if a zoning regulation is proposed that could have a negative effect on property rights, and proactive by educating town planning and zoning commissions about smart-growth practices.

The associations and Evans & Assoc. started to monitor towns’ activities at the beginning of this year, Bolduc said.

“We’ve been all over the place,” he said.

The groups have done work in a number of communities, including Stonington, in which Bolduc said he has found a source of pride. The associations, along with Evans & Assoc., gave input while Stonington was implementing its plan of conservation and development, Bolduc said.

“[The community] welcomed our input,” he said.

The plan is not fully approved yet, but Bolduc is glad the Realtors made their voices heard.

“[Stonington is] at least aware of our concerns,” he said.

David Evans of Evans & Assoc. has been monitoring some of the towns’ activities and pushing for smart-growth solutions during a time when many municipalities are seeking to stunt growth by raising the requirements for minimum lot size, or the minimum size a piece of land can be in order for its owner to build a home there.

“It’s the whole idea of smart growth,” Evans noted.

A Larger Scope

Many towns – especially those on and near the Connecticut Shoreline – have tried to raise minimum lot sizes, at least in some parts of town. One town currently seeking to do that is Clinton, where three areas of the municipality could change. One area could go from a minimum lot size of a little less than half an acre to one of slightly under an acre. Another could go from less than half an acre to 2.75 acres, according to Planning and Zoning Clerk Julie Pudem. It would affect 115 properties, she said.

Such thinking does not promote smart growth, Evans said. That kind of zoning can lead to the construction of less affordable housing in an area where it’s already in short supply, and bigger lots usually mean bigger houses, he said. Although the ramifications of having fewer affordable homes in a community may not be immediately obvious, they become so after people realize that young adults who grew up in a town can no longer afford to live there, Evans added.

“It’s counterproductive,” he said.

In particular, such zoning affects owners of large tracts of land. Some may intend to carve out a piece of land for a son or daughter when they are ready to build a house, but new zoning often can prevent that, Evans said.

High-acre minimum lot sizes also can affect landowners who want to sell their land at a later date, said Mike Sexton, vice president at H. Pearce Real Estate Co.’s Branford office and the Connecticut Association of Realtors’ vice chairman of legislative affairs. That can sometimes lead to the landowners selling their property right away, Sexton said.

The continued monitoring of local governments is important for Realtors and for the protection of people’s property rights, Sexton said. In some matters, such as issues pertaining to minimum lot size, the decisions rest with local boards.

“The state’s done all [it] can do,” Sexton said.

The cooperation of the Eastern and Mid-Shore associations also makes it possible to look at issues on a more regional basis, something that is difficult to do after the abolishment of most county government, Evans said. That regional focus can give the associations a larger scope when it comes to property rights in southern Connecticut.

Evans and the associations also educate town governments about smart-growth strategies. They are holding a series of sessions on smart growth on Sept. 17 in Norwich. The $10 sessions are geared toward decision makers in area towns.

“We’ve been suggesting more smart growth,” Evans said.

One strategy that towns can use to promote smart growth and help eliminate sprawl while still advocating for affordable housing is the practice of grouping homes.

“It would be better to bunch or group homes in one area,” he said.

That practice could allow for more open space for all residents to enjoy, rather than having houses spread far apart on large lots, he noted.

“We’re just offering suggestions,” Evans said.