M. JODI RELL – Her plan drew interest

If you propose how to build it, they will come.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell has outlined her ideas – first in creating the Office of Responsible Growth in October and again in her budget proposal earlier this month – with an emphasis on projects linking housing, transportation and job growth. And the development community appears to be responding.

“We are seeing an increased interest from developers and economic development folks,” said W. David LaVasseur, undersecretary of intergovernmental policy in the state’s Office of Policy and Management.

Since its creation last fall, the Office of Responsible Growth has received a variety of project proposals – residential, commercial or a mix of both – for potential development, LaVasseur said.

And while the state looks ahead to potential commuter rail lines from New Haven to Springfield, Mass., and from New London to Worcester, Mass., “we’re seeing [more proposals] where these transportation corridors already exist,” LaVasseur said.

The area between New Haven and the New York line, in particular, has drawn a lot of attention, he noted. Developers are especially interested in “transportation nodes,” or places with access to multiple forms of transit, such as rail, bus or ferry service, he said.

LaVasseur declined to divulge details about the specific proposals, in part because the measuring stick that will be used to evaluate those proposals has yet to be created.

“This is very early in the process,” he said. And the state still needs to create the criteria against which the projects will be evaluated, he added.

Rell is proposing the creation of a task force to develop those criteria by Oct. 1, he said. Then the state will be able to gauge how the various proposals stack up to the idea of “responsible growth.”

Other proposals in Rell’s biennial budget include a $20 million Responsible Growth Incentive Fund, $7.5 million for brownfield development, $20 million to secure open space, $5 million for rail station improvements and new rail cars, $4.4 million to increase East Shoreline rail service, and $35 million for a new parking garage in Stamford.

No ‘Magic Bullet’

The governor’s multidisciplinary approach to managing development echoes the recommendations found in a variety of studies, such as the Center for Housing Policy’s recent research into transportation and housing costs for working families.

“Specifically, it is essential for regions to coordinate their housing and transportation policies to ensure they fully reflect the needs of working families – one example includes building more affordable housing near existing and planned transit hubs,” states the agency’s report, which was released last October. “Additional recommendations include redevelopment of inner-city and older suburban neighborhoods near job centers and targeting job development in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods in central cities and inner-ring suburbs.”

The Center for Housing Policy, which is the research affiliate of the National Housing Conference, examined the expenses of working families – defined as earning between $20,000 and $50,000 – from 28 metropolitan areas.

In managing growth, “there isn’t just one magic bullet,” said Barbara Lipman, research director for the center. “You need to address all areas of growth.”

The impetus behind the study was to determine how the pursuit of cheaper housing affected working families’ transportation costs. The research found that as families moved farther away from their jobs to find more affordable homes, the increased spending for transportation negated the savings on housing.

“We found the break-even point seemed to be about 12 to 15 miles,” Lipman said. “But that isn’t looking at the time costs.”

In 17 of the 28 metropolitan areas studied, the research found that the average transportation expenses for working families were higher than their housing costs.

“Across all 28 metro areas, the working families spend an average of 28 percent, or $9,700, of their incomes on housing and nearly 30 percent, or $10,400, on transportation,” according to the report. In calculating the cost of transportation, the center looked at auto ownership, auto use, public transit use and the cost of commuting, as well as traveling for school, errands and other daily routines.

No cities from Connecticut were included in the study, although Boston and New York were two of the 28 cities.

Regarding Rell’s budget plan, LaVasseur noted, “I think the governor’s proposal clearly shows that she understands all of these [development issues] are interrelated.”

Rell’s proposal also seems to show a desire for each of the state’s 169 municipalities to take an active role in the growth management process. The proposal includes $1.6 million for enhanced global positioning information to help towns with land-use planning, as well as $1 million a year to help towns upgrade their local conservation and development plans.

“The emphasis here is to coordinate where the state invests its capital dollars,” LaVasseur said. “We don’t want to subsidize a plan that the town doesn’t want.”

While the idea of creating a growth management that simultaneously examines housing, transportation, job growth and open space isn’t necessarily new, Lipman said she believes that it is becoming a growing trend.

“There are fashions in economic planning,” she said. “And this is what everyone is talking about now.”