Friday, November 27, 2020

Local News

Changes Underway in Deep River’s Planning & Zoning Office

On June 9, the Deep River Board of Selectmen (BOS) discussed a decision made by the Deep River Planning & Zoning Commission (PZC) at a special meeting on June 8 that has temporarily left the town without a zoning enforcement officer (ZEO).

A ZEO’s duties typically include administering and enforcing zoning regulations, performing inspections, investigating complaints regarding violations of the zoning regulations, and educating permit applicants on the process and procedures for making applications and obtaining approvals.

Until June 7, the town was using the services of the Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments (RiverCOG) following the departure of previous ZEO Jullie Pudem on May 18. Pudem was hired after longtime ZEO Cathie Jefferson retired last summer.

On June 8, the BOS learned that, at a special meeting the night before, the PZC moved to recommend CHA Consulting, Inc., to the BOS to fill the ZEO role. The vote also terminated RiverCOG in its role as ZEO.

The action took the BOS by surprise.

“This was done without any consultation with me other than notifying me that they were having a special meeting,” said First Selectman Angus McDonald.

PZC Chair Anthony Bolduc is consulting with the town attorney to better understand his authority to conduct the immediate business needs of the town, such as signing off on permits, until a decision is reached on the ZEO’s replacement.

The PZC’s preference, CHA Consulting, Inc., is a full-service engineering consultant and construction management firm that acquired CME Associates, Inc., in January.

When asked by Selectman James Olson as to “the reasoning for this organization versus trying to find and hire a qualified individual” to fill the ZEO role, Bolduc said, “I can’t read minds, but my guess is that because they had applied before and we didn’t use them and they were there and available again instantaneously.

“My guess is that [the commission]...didn’t like an application that came forward, the way it was handled, so this was kind of a gut reaction,” he added.

CME Associates is currently being used as town planning consultants by the towns of Essex, Wilton, and Bozrah, according to Bolduc. McDonald reported that he had spoken with the first selectman of Bozrah to discuss CME’s services and cost.

McDonald found that, given the town’s roughly $30,000 annual budget for ZEO services and CHA/CME’s hourly rate of $120 an hour, “we would land at about five hours a week of coverage,” said McDonald. “That is really one of my biggest problems with this, is that that cuts our office hours in half and also eliminates any staff, staff support at any meetings, and, given the nature of this particular planning & zoning commission, I do not think that is advisable.”

The former ZEO was in the office at Town hall for a total of seven hours a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays from 8:30 a.m. to noon, according to the town website.

McDonald said that he and Bolduc will meet with representatives from CHA/CME on June 12 to discuss the parameters of contracting with the firm, including the length of a contract, specific hours in the office, and how the town will be billed for duties, such as site visits, that happen outside of the office.

McDonald intends to keep the other selectmen apprised of his conversations.

“Given the nature of the situation in this community right now, while this is in fact my job, I will include you both in all of these decisions because of the nature of the political atmosphere in Deep River, driven by a small but very vocal group of people. You will all be involved in this decision,” said McDonald.


Elizabeth Reinhart covers news for Chester, Deep River, and Essex for Zip06. Email Elizabeth at e.reinhart@shorepublishing.com.

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