There has been some confusion about a recent Special Board of Selectmen Meeting relating to the Plan of Conservation and Development and the process for its adoption. I would like to use this opportunity to set the record straight.
First, it is important to remember what the Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) is. It is a document required by state statute that is a “statement of policies, goals and standards for the physical and economic development of the municipality”. It must be adopted by the Town Plan and Zoning Commission at least once every 10 years.
Contrary to some misunderstanding, the POCD does not change zoning, nor is it binding on future zoning decisions. It is a visionary document that describes certain goals for the town during the next 10 years and it can be amended at any time. For example, in the brief time that I have been First Selectman, the plan was amended to add a Farmland Preservation Program.
Last week, two selectmen (Selectmen Anastasio and Dey) called a Special Meeting of the Board of Selectmen, a very unusual action that one would expect be used only for a matter of extreme importance and time sensitivity. (I believe this is the first time such a meeting has been called in the history of our Town.) The agenda was for the Board of Selectmen to review the draft Plan of Conservation and Development in order to submit comments to the Town Plan and Zoning (TPZ) Commission.
Prior to the Special Meeting, however, we were informed by TPZ that it would be inappropriate to accept comments from anyone, including the Board of Selectmen, after closing their public hearing, which they had done on January 28. Thus, there was no meaningful purpose for the meeting. Shortly after my explanation of the POCD process as well as explaining that any action by the Board of Selectmen on the draft POCD would be untimely and for no meaningful purpose, a motion to adjourn the meeting passed.
As required by statute, TPZ provided the Board of Selectmen with a copy of the draft plan 65 days prior to the January public hearing. I did not receive comments from any Board of Selectmen member during the 65 day period (or at any time), nor was I asked to place the draft POCD on the Board’s agenda until well after the comment period ended and after the public hearing was closed. Had I received a timely request from any member of the Board of Selectmen, I would certainly have included it on a Board of Selectmen meeting agenda.
Because of the importance of the plan, both TPZ and my office conducted extensive outreach to the community to be sure interested residents were aware of the many opportunities to review and comment on the plan. This outreach, conducted between May 2014 and late January 2015, included three press releases; seven e-newsletters to notify residents (including all Board of Selectmen members) of upcoming events and that included links to an online survey, online drafts and an email address created specifically to receive comments on the POCD; four Facebook posts; four columns in this newspaper (not including this column); seven “news” posts on the Town’s website; several mentions on Channel 79; inclusion in the Town’s June tax bill sent to all who own property in Woodbridge; a September postcard sent to residents of the Village District; and a September email to all board and commission members.
Under state statute, the POCD – including drafting and adoption –is unambiguously within the sole purview of the TPZ Commission and not the Board of Selectmen. TPZ Commission members have spent hundreds of volunteer hours working on the plan, including hosting many public meetings to hear from residents.
I have every confidence in our commission members who are dedicated to doing what is best for our Town. I believe the draft plan, subject to important modifications, will be a good framework for town planning in the years to come. In my view, the Board of Selectmen does not have the expertise that the commission members have developed and devoted to this important task.
I applaud the Town Plan and Zoning Commission’s efforts to strike the proper balance between maintaining the suburban/rural character of the Town while preparing us to meet the demands of 21st century population shifts and economic realities. This includes, as required by state statute, “the coordinated development of the municipality and the general welfare and prosperity of its people”.