by Patricia Grandjean
May 10, 2013
07:51 AMBox Office
Darien and Roxbury: Exclusive . . .
Does Darien still cater only to Aryans? Is Roxbury forcing young professionals out of town? Those are just a couple of the questions examined by Lisa Prevost, Fairfield resident and New York Times real-estate writer, in her fascinating new book Snob Zones: Fear, Prejudice and Real Estate (Beacon Press; $26.95)—which, above all, debunks the notion that "NIMBY" towns are the most desirable places to live. With America facing an affordable-housing crisis, Prevost takes a hard look at recent zoning battles in six of New England's most exclusive communities (including Watch Hill, R.I.; Easton, Mass.; Milbridge, Maine; and Ossipee, N.H.), and exposes, in a case-by-case analysis, how their restrictive and prohibitive laws work against the region's best interests for growth and economic stability. Among the points she makes:
• In four of the six New England states (excluding Maine and New Hampshire), the recent national "housing bust" hasn't reduced home prices enough to make the median-priced home affordable for the average household. According to the National Association of Realtors, only 25 percent of Americans want a home on an oversized lot, yet that type of housing accounts for 43 percent of the supply in New England.
• With a population of 2,200, the town of Roxbury is almost entirely without shops and totally lacks entertainment venues, liquor stores, inns or sidewalks. And it boasts more acres of open space than it does people—as of 2010, it had more than 3,600 acres of protected open space, most of it owned by the Roxbury Land Trust.
• As of 2010, Roxbury ranked sixth on the list of the least affordable communities in Connecticut, with the majority of the town zoned for a minimum of 3 acres per house.
• The median age in Roxbury is now 50, 10 years older than the median age for Connecticut as a whole.
• The price of a single-family home in Darien sells upwards of $1.6 miliion.
• Darien remains the "whitest" town along Connecticut's Gold Coast, and, as of 2010, the wealthiest, with a median household income of $185, 619.
Writes Prevost, "Snob zoning caters to the impulse to wall ourselves off in 'safe' spaces. And as income inequality has widened across the United States, the impacts of snob zoning have become more stark . . . in many areas, town lines all but double as class lines. The American credo of 'opportunity for all' becomes a joke in towns where the zoning laws scream, 'We were here first!' Decades of one-size-fits-all zoning and hostility toward affordable housing have gradually squeezed out people of even average incomes from the most prosperous areas, areas with the most employment potential and the highest-performing schools. In slow-growth, aging New England, the cumulative consequences of inflexible zoning are particularly acute: loss of young people, suburban sprawl, concentrated urban poverty and costly highway congestion."Darien and Roxbury: Exclusive . . .