Home / Blog / How will new company navigate Connecticut's restrictive zoning laws?

How will new company navigate Connecticut's restrictive zoning laws?

Nov 30, 2023Nov 30, 2023

FullStack Modular designs, manufactures and constructs mid-sized and modular high rise buildings, including this 32-story building in Brooklyn. The company recently announced its plans to move its headquarters to Hamden, prompting questions of how it will navigate Connecticut's notoriously restrictive zoning codes.

In a history spanning just several years, Fullstack Modular has developed a portfolio of successful and planned projects that range from a sleek, six-unit apartment building sandwiched in-between stately rowhouses, to a 32-story high rise with dozens of affordable units towering over a basketball arena and one of the nation's busiest subway stations.

In the company's soon-to-be home of Connecticut, however, such projects are at the center of one of the state's most-heated political battles.

Fullstack, a modular developer based in Brooklyn's Navy Yard, turned many heads last month when it announced its decision to decamp to Connecticut — a state with a long and well-established history of opposition to the very sort of dense, multi-family structures on which the company has built its brand.

Just 2.2 percent of residential land in Connecticut is zoned to allow houses with four or more units as a right, according to an atlas developed by Desegregate CT, an advocacy group that favors denser and more affordable development.

By contrast, nearly three-quarters of residential land is exclusively zoned to allow single-family housing.

"I was honestly so curious why they chose to move to Connecticut," Pete Harrison, the director of Desegregate CT, said of Fullstack's plans.

Fullstack's business model is built around designing and constructing prefabricated building units — or mods — at the company's 100,000-square-foot Brooklyn factory. Those units are sold to developers, who have typically taken the lead in obtaining the necessary permits to complete the project.

Upon its relocation to Connecticut, however, Fullstack is aiming to become more involved as the developer or co-developer on nearby projects, according to Roger Krulak, the company's founder and president.

Krulak told CT Insider in a series of written responses to questions this month that Connecticut's reputation as being hostile to dense, affordable housing did not factor into the company's decision to relocate. He added that he was not aware of any existing mid-or-high-rise buildings in the state that were developed using modular construction.

"Hopefully, that will change in the near term, as we're talking to several developers in the area about potential projects now that we're nearby," Krulak said.

Longtime advocates of reforming the state's zoning codes, however, say that in many Connecticut towns, any effort to challenge the conventional thinking that favors spread-out, single-family housing is likely to run headlong into entrenched opposition.

"Just like a lot of public or private developers, they’re going to run into a lot of the anti-housing arguments — it's not pretty, it's too dense, it's out of character," Harrison said. "It's certainly going to be a challenge to convince local governments to think about something new."

Fullstack's decision to invest up to $12 million in developing its new headquarters in Hamden — as well as a connection to New Haven's Gateway Terminal — was seen as a coup for Gov. Ned Lamont's economic development efforts, which have focused on bringing new companies and taxpayers into Connecticut.

Lamont, a Greenwich Democrat, has also sought to spend up to $600 million to address the state's housing shortage, though he has remained cool to more aggressive proposals that would force some towns — particularly those with a history of excluding affordable housing — to approve denser development.

When asked whether the state's restrictive zoning codes had come up during his administration's talks to lure Fullstack to Connecticut, Lamont said they had not.

The governor also added that he expected Fullstack to play an active role in development of "workforce" housing in Connecticut — which by definition is affordable to residents earning between 60 and 120 percent of an area's median income — which is backed by $200 million in his proposed budget.

"We’re building more housing in Connecticut today than anytime in this century, and they want to be a part of that," Lamont said, adding that he anticipated those projects to be focused in existing downtown areas.

"They do it faster, at less cost and it's environmentally better sealed and saves you a lot on electricity and heat," the governor added.

The growing popularity of prefabricated, modular buildings in the United States has been supported by developers, who see it as a way of speeding up construction and reducing the risk of cost overruns, according to Jin Ouk Choi, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

For the same reason, Choi said that some communities have embraced modular developments because they can cut down on noise, dust and other disruptions associated with larger construction projects.

In southwestern Connecticut — home to both booming cities such as Stamford as well the expensive, staid suburbs of Greenwich, New Canaan and Darien — Fullstack's move has yet to spark conversations over potential developments, according to Francis Pickering, the executive director of the Western Connecticut Council of Governments.

Pickering, who has voiced opposition to efforts to diminish local control over zoning, said that local leaders in the region have had more general discussions about utilizing new construction technologies, including modular development, and remain open to the idea.

"It's less about whether the three-four-five story building is built using modular construction… and more whether the building is appropriate for the area," Pickering said.

Krulak said that while Fullstack's modular units are often marketed by developers as affordable rentals, the company's new factory in Hamden will have the scale to develop models that meet a variety of building projects.

"Whether those mods are utilized for one building of 50 units or several buildings of 3-4 units, we're agnostic to where they find their permanent home," Krulak said.