When Larry Merly served as city attorney under Mayor Tom Bucci 1985-89 he was well ahead of his time.
He’d assert that large-acre discriminatory zoning in the suburbs forced the heavy concentration of public housing, tax-exempt property and social institutions into the city.
The way to preserve the suburban lifestyle, he argued, is to wall up all the social issues in cities.
Merly is hardly a liberal lion. When city attorney he was a classic Ronald Reagan Democrat. He argued it was disquieting for white folks from the ‘burbs, many posturing one thing but doing another, to address housing segregation. Instead they quietly enacted zoning regulations under the guise of quality of life that barred poorer interests, impacting mostly black and brown faces.
A roaring social schism, bubbling for years, uncorked a wave of protests across the country, when the knee of a white cop took the life of a black man pleading to breathe.
These are emotional times that can lead to emotional decisions. Merly, however, jawboned his beliefs when few talked about it. Open up the borders for fairness and dignity of others unfairly shoe-horned with limited choices. The cost for all urban residents he said was breathtaking, adding the words “affordable housing” terrified suburban bigots embracing housing segregation. Merly said if the governor and state legislature won’t do anything about it maybe a court should decide.
All these years later, Connecticut Mirror reporter Jacqueline Rabe Thomas splits open the issue in this report: Connecticut has an opportunity to tackle housing segregation. It appears to be taking a pass.
On a recent Sunday, protesters marched through the center of Weston, a small, wealthy town in southwest Connecticut. They chanted “no justice, no peace” and raised handwritten signs that read “Black Lives Matter” and “Silence is Violence.”
Somewhere in the crowd, Brian Murray hoisted his own message.
“Fact check: Weston, CT. No Black teachers. No Black police officers. No Black board members. No Black town of Weston government office members.”
Murray, one of the town’s few Black residents, viewed the June 7 protest through a different lens than his white neighbors.
“It was a photo opportunity. That’s all,” said Murray, a limo driver and father of five who moved his family to the town eight years ago.
Eight days after that protest, at which elected officials urged the overwhelmingly white crowd to fight racism, Weston officials turned their attention to housing. With a unanimous vote, they adopted the town’s strategic plan, which recommends keeping most development to single-family homes on lots of at least two acres, a requirement that has resulted in a typical sale price of $660,000–and a lack of diversity. Just 1.4% of residents are Black. Local officials rejected a suggestion to convert a vacant property into affordable housing for seniors. Instead, they carved out a small area of land surrounding the town green for potential development.
“Fundamentally, this is who we have been for a long time,” said Ken Edgar, the chairman of Weston’s Planning and Zoning Commission, referring to the town’s large homes. “We are trying to move the ball, but there would have to be demonstrated interest before I think we move the ball further and build diverse housing on small lots.”
Full story here.