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Clinton’s Planning & Zoning Commission (PZC) has, for better and worse, been among the most prominent parts of local government in recent years. With seven candidates seeking four open seats and several key development proposals coming before the commission in the coming months, Harbor News spoke with the candidates about their qualifications, goals, and concerns.
The endorsed candidates for the PZC who will appear on the ballot are Democrats Alan Kravitz, and Martin Jaffe; Republicans Eddie Alberino, Jr., Walter Clark, Adam Moore, and Wayne Buchanan; and Green party candidate James Connolly.
There are several high profiles sites in town such as the old Morgan School, the former Unilever property on John Street, and the pad where the former Unilever warehouse on Route 145 once stood that have projects currently at various stages of development. It is likely that the PZC will have a chance to weigh in on applications concerning all three properties at some point in the term of the members elected this year.
All the PZC candidates are favor of the potential developments at these sites, though several said they wanted more information.
“The key to managing large-scale developments is to have a larger, more comprehensive vision of what contributions these projects can make to the tax base and quality of life of the town of Clinton, rather than deal with their anticipated impacts in an incremental, issue-by-issue way,” said Jaffe.
Buchanan said, “The PZC works to balance the economic development of these important projects with the Town Plan [of Conservation and Development] and best interests of the community. We want continued economic development that achieves our long-term plan without trampling on the quality of living of our residents and property owners.”
Connolly acknowledged he is known for being a leader of a vocal opposition to the proposal to put a waste recycling plant off of Route 145. Connolly said that he is not anti-development despite that opposition.
“The only development I strongly opposed was the waste plant on 145. I’m open to all kinds of development, but if it’s going to poison the land, I’m against it,” Connolly said.
The role of the PZC is to develop regulations that allow for development, while at the same time protecting the small-town values of the town. Several candidates felt that the regulations needed to be tweaked to better serve the town.
“We have to maximize the commercial space and light industrial zones while protecting residential zones,” said Clark, who also said he wanted the PZC to consider updating the regulations to allow more uses without special exceptions in some areas.
“Clinton needs continued focus on economic development and community growth in concert with our long-term town plans and regulations. We must seek an effective and honest balance that respects the rights of property owners and commerce,” Buchanan said. “Throughout my career I have had to rely on teamwork to find solutions among various alternatives. Eliciting information and listening to the viewpoints of community members and groups, town leaders, and other experts...is essential to shaping the future of our town.”
Clinton is currently looking to fill both a full-time planner position and a zoning and wetlands enforcement officer. The PZC candidates all felt that the town’s inability to properly enforce some of its regulations due to the absence of zoning and wetlands enforcement officers was an issue that needed to be fixed, but the town planner position divided them.
“I am in favor of hiring a full-time town planner. The land use office has struggled lately with lack of appropriate staff, so much so that the town has retained an outside consultant to try and fill in the gaps, but has only had limited success,” Moore said.
Moore argued that since the commission is a volunteer group, having a full-time planner would help the commission move things forward at a faster pace.
“As such, it’s common for even the most basic regulations amendments to take many, many months. A town manager will be able to pick up the ball and run with it on both planning and regulations issues and will be able to see them to a conclusion in a much more expedient fashion,” Moore said.
“As someone who taught urban planning for 30 years, I am strongly in favor of the town hiring a full-time planner. The PZC would be able to rely on the planner’s expertise to help it better analyze the likely effects and consequences of its development decisions and to promote better policies to guide Clinton’s future growth,” Jaffe said.
“The commission and the performance of the commission has been insufficient over the last few years. We need professional guidance,” Kravitz said.
Alberino and Clark were against adding a full-time planner. The two candidates pointed to the expense associated with paying the person, and argued that the town could use a consultant planner to accomplish the same tasks as a full-time planner.
“I don’t think we need a full-time planner. I think we can handle things ourselves if we did our jobs,” said Alberino.
“I think a planning consultant is an absolute must, but we save money with a consultant. It’s the same results but less money,” Clark said.
The PZC has been criticized in the press and in public by residents and elected leaders for a lack of professionalism, controversial decisions, and a propensity for some members to be confused by the regulations and then engage in arguments that derail discussions. The candidates had several suggestions for ways to improve that recommendation.
Clark noted that he served on the PZC in Orange for a long time, and that he felt that commission ran effectively. Clark suggested that recording and airing PZC meetings on local television would help cut down on poor behavior.
Moore said he felt that the PZC didn’t have a poor reputation, but rather decisions were sometimes blown out of proportion.
“It is unfortunate that there are a select few who continue to use social media as a platform to disseminate misinformation, out-of-context information, or supposition when anything happens that is not in alignment with their opinions. We will never change that,” he said. “The only thing we can do is to continue to operate in a manner that benefits the town as a whole and not a select few.”
Alberino said he felt it was on the commission members to hold each other accountable.
“I would immediately hold a meeting with the Land Use Office and the PZC to get things straight and hold people accountable for not doing their work,” he said.
Kravitz and Connolly said that they would look to treat applicants more fairly to avoid complaints.
“I would strictly adhere to no conflicts of interest,” Kravitz said, adding that he felt there were times people should have recused themselves and didn’t.
“We need to ask the same questions and for the same information of small businesses versus big developers,” Connolly said, noting that he felt some developers were given “fast track approval,” while other people were made to jump through hoops.