Nothing on this webpage should be considered as anything but opinion...more here.


RIGHT - WESTERN CONNECTICUT COUNCIL OF GOVERNMENTS ("WCCOG") OR PERHAPS "WC" FOR SHORT;  LEFT - "SWRP-BRP" AS IT SOUNDS, AS REQUESTED BY GBCEO...OUR BET IS THAT GBCEO GETS ITS WISH.

Regional Planning Organizations now to all be Councils of Governments by January 1, 2015.  HVCEO-SWRPA north-south transportation study.

CT Plan of Conservation and Development 2013-2018
Not much planned for Weston except recognition of an actual "village center" - CT Plan suggest a "small scale" water and sewer service - here?  (r) WCCOG organization graphic has no role for RPC in the region.

S O U T H W E S T E R N   C T    R E G I O N A L    P L A N N I N G   P A G E :   NO MORE SWRPA...SOON - LIKE ANY MINUTE...


Link here to tax implications

"By developing zoning regulations based on responsible growth, we will be able to promote more affordable housing options..." (from Hartford region's Plan)





Holy Westchester County, Batman!

Board of Selectmen, Feb. 24, 2014 at 7:30pm.  Don't miss this one!  We watched it from home on Channel 79.  Selectman Tracey on speaker phone.

The RPA-COG merger (SWRPA and HVCEO) item was taken up with a unanimous approval to pave the way for COG.  Which puts Weston as the second town to approve it after Westport.  According to the First Selectman, New Canaan, Darien and Greenwich are starting the approval process soon (meaning that Wilton, Stamford and Norwalk have not started).  It was also reported that the HVCEO did not approved proposed bylaws at their last meeting - they were concerned with the reason for needing an Executive Committee, and also were concerned about the Regional Planning Commission makeup.


Law may help SCCOG with funding and expansion
Incentives provided for consolidation of regional agencies
By Kimberly Drelich Day Staff Writer
Article published Jul 10, 2013

The Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, already the second largest agency of its kind in the state, could get additional funding and possibly even expand following a new law that encourages regionalization and larger planning organizations.

The new provisions could change planning regions in the state within the next two years.

The law calls for the state to study and revise regional boundaries and also offers incentives for consolidation into larger councils of governments.

In response to this push for regionalization, some eastern Connecticut regional planning organizations are proactively beginning to discuss the advantages or disadvantages of voluntarily merging in full or part.
Representing 20 municipalities, SCCOG would likely remain the same, but it could even add a few towns. However, SCCOG representatives advised against expanding the COG too much so that it becomes less efficient. And, on the other hand, SCCOG member towns could also elect to join other planning organizations.

After receiving invitations last month, SCCOG's executive committee met with the Windham Region Council of Governments. SCCOG representatives also met with the Northeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, which wanted to explore options with WINCOG and specifically the SCCOG towns of Voluntown, Griswold, Lisbon, Sprague and Franklin.

SCCOG Chairman Paul Formica said the meetings included a discussion on the most efficient number of members in a council of governments that would enable leaders to put the municipalities' best interests forward. The COGs learned about each other, outlining their histories and common interests, he said, and explored whether it would be beneficial to make a decision.

Formica, who is also the first selectman of East Lyme, added that the councils consist of elected officials representing their municipalities' best interests and the COGs' boundaries "don't and haven't precluded us from working together on regional projects."

SCCOG is financially sound and has a reputation built on more than 50 years of regional planning, said SCCOG Executive Director James Butler.

Under H.B. 6706, the state would reconfigure all regional agencies into councils of governments to provide regional services. Councils of governments are currently one of three planning options along with regional planning agencies or councils of elected officials.

The law would also offer a boost to the about $13,300 SCCOG received from the Office of Policy and Management this year, though that amount is less than SCCOG received about a decade ago. The planning agencies will receive $125,000 in fiscal year 2014. In 2015, COGs will receive that amount and an additional 50 cents per person from a regional planning incentive account.

The extra funding could potentially enable SCCOG to perform more regional planning items and find even more ways for the municipalities to collaborate and realize cost efficiencies in the future, explained Butler.
How to allocate the proposed funds, when received, will be the subject of future conversations with leadership, he said.

The discussions will cover all aspects of planned funding or required responsibilities, such as any additional transportation planning, said Formica. While no decisions have been made, the topic of potential mergers will also likely be a standing agenda item, he said.

In other parts of the state, the Litchfield Hills Council of Elected Officials and the Northwestern Connecticut Council of Governments recently approved merging, according to Butler.

------------


Public Act 13-247:  AN ACT IMPLEMENTING PROVISIONS OF THE STATE BUDGET FOR THE BIENNIUM ENDING JUNE 30, 2015 CONCERNING GENERAL GOVERNMENT
From SWRPA staff regarding meaning of separate bills included in the "Implementer":

•    Regional boundary study to be completed by 10/1/13; OPM to consult with CT DOT on the boundary study to insure that RPOs have the capabilities to comply with the requirements of any relevant federal transportation authorizing acts; CT DOT to prepare a separate report on the redesignation of metropolitan planning organizations by 7/1/14;
•    Regional planning agencies and regional councils of elected officials to be restructured to form regional councils of government by January 1, 2015; Funds each council of governments of $125,000 plus $0.50 per capita; would allow voluntary consolidations of Regional Planning Organizations into COGs prior to 1/1/14 and for regions to be held harmless if they choose to do so;
•    Expands the Regional Performance Incentive Program to make proposals for shared information technology services available for grant awards;
•     Bureau of Enterprise Systems and Technology in consultation with COGs to connect each municipality and COG to the state-wide high speed, flexible education technology network;
•    Transfer $6.76 million between FY 2015 and 2017 from the regional planning incentive account to the municipal reimbursement and revenue account;
•    Allow OPM to use Town Aid for Roads funding for other purposes; Would create a municipal aid adjustment account and provide funding; Would authorize bonds for municipalities for purposes similar to Town Aid for Roads, and specifies amounts for all municipalities;
•    Delays by one year, from July 1, 2013 to July 1, 2014, the date by which municipal planning commissions must prepare or amend a municipal plan of C&D, and suspend, until July 1, 2015, the provision disqualifying towns that fail to update their plans from receiving discretionary state funds until they do so or the OPM secretary waives the provision.



NO MORE REGIONAL PLANNING AGENCIES?  LOOKS LIKE IT!  IMPLEMENTER BILL A DAGGER IN THE HEART OF SWRPA.

Sec. 259. Section 4-124j of the general statutes is repealed and the following is substituted in lieu thereof (Effective from passage):

Within any planning region of the state a regional council of governments may be created by the adoption of sections 4-124i to 4-124p, inclusive, by ordinance of the legislative bodies of not less than sixty per cent of all towns, cities and boroughs within such planning region entitled to membership on such council as hereinafter provided. [Where any regional council of elected officials, or a regional planning agency, exist within a planning region, a regional council of governments may be created either as hereinabove provided, or by the adoption of said sections by resolution of any such regional council or councils of elected officials and any such regional planning agency, and the ratification of any such resolution by ordinance of the legislative bodies of not less than sixty per cent of all such towns, cities and boroughs. ] All towns, cities and boroughs within a planning region shall be entitled to membership on such council, including any city or borough with boundaries not coterminous with the boundaries of the town in which it is located. Any nonmember town, city or borough entitled to membership may join the council by the adoption of said sections by ordinance of its legislative body. Any member town, city or borough may withdraw from the council by adoption of an appropriate ordinance of its legislative body to become effective on the date of such adoption; provided, however, that any such withdrawing member shall be obligated to pay its pro rata share of expenses of operation and pro rata share of funds committed by the council to active programs as of such date of withdrawal.


SWRPA area map above left - by January 2015 R.I.P. 
New suggested regional boundary in black include GBCEO and Valley, right...click here to find out how much state aid Weston gets in comparison to...the other 168


SWITCHEROO - 6629 merged into 6706 - after car tax change idea killed... "shall be restructured to form a regional council of governments (Regional Planning organizations now to be all COGs).  Starting with Section 250 of this "implementer bill" 6706, you can find out  what a regional planning commission is ("may be created"). Find out how they voted.


6629 APPROVED BY HOUSE - SENATE EXPECTED TO DO SO TOO - BY BY SWRPA - BUT FIRST SOME DRAMA - CAR TAX REVISIONS OUT - BILL 6629 MERGED  INTO IMPLIMENTER 6706

2013 M.O.R.E. COMMISSION NOT FINISHED WORK, BUT BILL (#6629) VOTED OUT OF P&D COMMITTEE (JFS) APRIL FOOL'S DAY - CCM PREFERRED BOUNDARIES FOR COGS  HERE.  EVERY PLANNING REGION TO BECOME A COG BY 2015 (MAYBE).





EDITORIAL: Regions, counties
WESTON EDITORIALRegional, schmeegional.
By Macklin Reid, Ridgefield Press
October 6, 2013

Big news! Or not. Or, maybe. Weston’s eight-town Southwestern Regional Planning Agency is merging with a neighboring group, the 10-town Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials. It’s voluntary — sort of. It’s the groups’ response to a state initiative to consolidate Connecticut’s 14 regional planning agencies down to eight “councils of government.” These would be part of larger Metropolitan Planning Agencies, which would be reduced from 10 to 5.

For the most part, a reorganization of the state’s regional planning alphabet soup is something few people care about.

If all goes well, it won’t make much difference to people. Regional planning agencies and their small staffs do perform valuable functions, but it’s all a step removed from people’s daily lives. When there’s a pot-hole to be filled, a tree across the road, or somebody suspects a builder is filling the wetlands next door, nobody calls their regional planning agency. They call the town.

But reorganization does highlight one of Connecticut’s strengths: It is a state without county government. Long-time locals grouse about their taxes, and have every right to do so. But people moving in from New York or New Jersey often regard the taxes they pay as residents of Weston, Conn. as refreshingly low.

A major reason is that, unlike neighboring states, Connecticut has only a few vestiges of county government. Weston is part of Fairfield County, but the county hardly exists — it’s little more than a name used to organize the state’s judicial system.

In New York, people vote for — and pay — a county executive. There’s a county board of legislators, county police, county taxes…

In very rural areas, county or regional governments have more to do —they pick up functions the state is too big to do efficiently, and little country towns are too small to do.

But in populated, urban and suburban areas like Connecticut, there are few tasks that couldn’t be handled as well by the state or by local officials. Regional perspectives can be useful in some areas, like transportation, and Connecticut’s low-power planning agencies — affiliations of mayors and first selectmen, served by minimal staffs — do pretty well providing them.

The agenda behind the state reorganization isn’t clear, and local regions don’t have much choice. But Connecticut residents should be wary of moves toward regional or county government.

Counties are just another level of government to support, with less control and less accountability.










At the left, map of 14 regions as represented in the Draft State of Connecticut Plan of Conservation and Developmen 2013-2018.  "About Town" interviews OPM staff here.

State’s 14 Regional Planning Organizations to See Demographic Changes Ahead

By ctbythenumbers ("About" this websitelink here:  http://ctbythenumbers.info/aboutctbythenumbers/)
10/11/2012

Most people are familiar with the leading numbers that characterize Connecticut… 169 towns, 8 counties, 5 Congressional Districts, and so on.  Fewer people – especially in the Land of Steady Habits – are aware of the 14 Regional Planning Organizations that divvy up the state’s geography.

The Office of Policy and Management (OPM) is responsible for the designation and re-designation of planning regions within the state. Through local ordinance, the municipalities within each of these planning regions have voluntarily created one of the three types of Regional Planning Organization allowed under Connecticut statute –

    a Regional Council of Elected Officials,
    a Regional Council of Governments,
    or a Regional Planning Agency.

The mission of the organizations is to carry out a variety of regional planning and other activities on their behalf.  Under state law, each RPO is entitled to a grant-in-aid to support its various planning activities.

The University of Connecticut’s State Data Center has developed population projections for each of the RPO’s through 2030, including a range of demographic breakdowns.  In the Capitol Region, for example, the breakdown by race, between 2000 and 2030, is projected as follows:  white, from 513,283 down to 380,545; Hispanic, from 71,149 more than doubling to 150,321; African-American, increasing from 86,739 to 130,835; and “other” increasing 25,231 to 66,135 – all of which reveals a very different racial and ethnic make-up of the region anticipated in the coming decades.

OPM provides a map showing these regions and a list of municipalities within each region, including town populations based on the 2010 census.

Regional Planning Organizations

  1. Capitol Region Council of Governments
    Website: http://www.crcog.org
    Executive Director: Lyle Wray
  2. Central Connecticut Regional Planning Agency
    Website: www.ccrpa.org
    Executive Director: Carl J. Stephani
  3. Council of Governments of the Central Naugatuck Valley
    Website: www.cogcnv.org
    Executive Director: Peter Dorpalen
  4. Greater Bridgeport Regional Council
    Website: www.gbrpa.org
    Acting Executive Director: Brian Bidolli
  5.  Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials
    Website: http://www.hvceo.org
    Executive Director: Jonathan Chew
  6. Litchfield Hills Council of Elected Officials
    Planning Director: Richard Lynn
  7. Lower Connecticut River Valley Regional Planning Agency
    Website: http://www.midstaterpa.org
    Executive Director: Geoffrey L. Colegrove
  8. Northeastern Connecticut Council of Governments
    Executive Director: John Filchak
  9. Northwestern Connecticut Council of Governments
    Executive Director: Dan McGuinness
  10. South Central Regional Council of Governments
    Website: www.scrcog.org
    Executive Director: Carl Amento
  11. Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments
    Website: www.seccog.org
    Executive Director: James S. Butler
  12.  South Western Regional Planning Agency
    Website: www.swrpa.org
    Executive Director: Dr. Floyd Lapp, FAICP
  13. Valley Council of Governments
    Website: www.valleycog.org
    Executive Director: Richard T. Dunne
  14. Windham Region Council of Governments
    Website: http://www.wincog.org
    Executive Director: Mark N. Paquette




No more RPA's if this bill passes in the Senate - only COG or RCEO type regional planning.  What do you think Weston bring to the table in a larger region?
"The bill aims to have local governments involved in any newly designated, consolidated regions by permitting COGs and RCEOs and not regional planning agencies (RPAs), which are typically headed by planners who are not elected."

First item is our top  interest, but they all do resonate!
Best and the rest of the past week
CT POST editorial
Published 04:42 p.m., Thursday, May 17, 2012

Thumbs up to the idea of a bike-sharing program in Bridgeport. The Greater Bridgeport Regional Planning Agency applied for a $150,000 grant that would set up the system under which users can rent bikes by the hour from a credit-card operated bike-rack system. According to Brian Bidolli, executive director of the GBRPA, the bikes are suitable for both men and women and have a durable build for any terrain. With racks situated throughout the city, the proposal could offer a realistic supplement to buses, cabs, driving and walking. Should the planning agency secure the grant, the program could be running by summer 2013, according to Bidolli. Such programs run successfully in New York and Boston and it's certainly worth giving it a go here.

Thumbs down to the continuing scourge of distracted driving. A New Canaan teenager this week was charged in the death of a jogger in Norwalk. According to police, the 16-year-old was using her smartphone to search the Internet while driving an SUV when she struck and killed 44-year-old Kenneth Dorsey. But this is far from an isolated incident, and it's not limited to teenagers. As handheld technology becomes more common and more sophisticated, people are taking more chances behind the wheel and putting more people, including themselves, at greater risk. They need to realize they are not as skilled at multitasking as they think they are. And police need to take greater notice.

Thumbs up to the pending reuse of Harrison's Hardware. The landmark on the Milford green has been vacant since a 2006 fire closed the century-old hardware store, and officials have been looking for a new use for the building ever since. Now a group of developers say they're working through the process of opening a restaurant in the building while maintaining its old-time appeal. It won't be the same hardware store residents remember, but it would be a welcome addition to the bustling downtown scene.

Thumbs up to making every vote count. Turnout at local budget referendums is often disappointingly low, but that means everyone who does show up has an even greater impact. In Oxford, for example, the town budget passed this week by a mere eight votes. If just a handful of people had changed their minds, the outcome would have been different. Local spending plans affect everyone, and it would be nice to see greater interest in making those decisions. And the people who do take the time should realize that every vote is important.


"AN ACT CONCERNING PLANNING REGIONS... IT'S ALIVE - NOPE..."
This bill, with some really minor changes, just passed the House on Thursday and is on the way to the Senate.  Bill analysis below.  Our take:  If it passes the Senate the Governor will sign it.  SWRPA will be merged with Greater Bridgeport and maybe Housatonic Valley as one big RCEO.  Or maybe not!  NOTE:  language that refers to Economic Development Districts dovetails nicely with Planning Regions...

OLR Bill Analysis sHB 5154
AN ACT CONCERNING PLANNING REGIONS.

SUMMARY:

This bill extends the deadlines and changes criteria for the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) secretary's analysis of state planning regions. It also sets the goal for the analysis to reduce the number of planning regions from the current 15 to no more than eight (last minute"strike all" amendment get rid of the specific number 8 just took place in the House).

The bill also extends certain deadlines concerning municipal notification about proposed planning regions.

The bill (1) creates an incentive for areas of the state that contain two or more contiguous planning regions and have at least 14 municipalities to consolidate to form a single regional council of governments or regional council of elected officials by exempting them from redesignation in 2014 and (2) allows the secretary to waive the requirement that the redesignated region contain at least 14 municipalities.

It also makes technical changes.

EFFECTIVE DATE: Upon passage


PLANNING REGION REDESIGNATION

By law, the OPM secretary must divide the state into logical planning regions and redesignate them (by changing the boundaries). There are currently 15 approved regions, but this will change to 14 as OPM recently approved the consolidation of two regions (see BACKGROUND).

Extended Deadlines

The bill extends by two years, from January 1, 2012 to January 1, 2014, the deadline by which the secretary must complete an initial analysis of boundaries of logical planning regions and notify municipalities in regions slated for redesignation. (The secretary did not complete the initial analysis. )

Under current law, any changes to the regional boundaries are effective on July 1 following the date when the analysis or modification is completed. Under the bill, they are effective January 1, 2015.

Analysis of Boundaries of Logical Planning Regions

Consultation. Currently, the OPM secretary alone is authorized to analyze the boundaries of local planning regions. The bill requires the secretary to consult with the (1) chairpersons and ranking members of the Planning and Development Committee, (2) Connecticut Association of Regional Planning Organizations, (3) Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, and (4) Connecticut Council of Small Towns.

Evaluation Criteria and Reduction of Regions. Under current law, as part of the analysis, the secretary has to develop criteria to evaluate how urban centers affect neighboring towns. The bill instead requires him to examine the boundaries of existing planning regions and develop criteria to evaluate opportunities for coordinated planning and regional delivery of services among urban centers and neighboring towns with the goal of reducing the regions to no more than eight.

The bill also adds three new criteria. First, it adds demographics. Second, it requires a study of traffic patterns in the state's “transportation assets” rather than “major roads,” thus including traffic on rail lines and at airports.

Lastly, it requires consideration of any applicable federal requirements when establishing a minimum size for the planning areas. Currently, the planning areas' size is based on the number of municipalities, total population, and total square mileage (see BACKGROUND).

Timelines for Notification of and Municipal Objection to Proposed Redesignation

The bill extends various timelines in the notification and redesignation process.

Current law requires the secretary to notify municipalities about the the planning regions he proposes to redesignate by January 1, 2012. The bill extends the deadline to January 1, 2014.

By law, if a municipality's legislative body objects to the revision, its chief executive officer (CEO) must petition the secretary to attend a meeting with the legislative body to hear its objections. The CEO must do so within 30 days after receiving the notice. The petition must specify the meeting's place, date, and time.

The bill also extends the time for the CEO to propose holding the meeting from no later than 45 days after submitting the petition to 60 days. As under existing law, the secretary or his designee must make every reasonable effort to attend this meeting or a meeting held on another date, which must fall within this period. If the secretary cannot attend the meeting, he and the CEO may schedule the meeting for another date and time, which must fall within 210, instead of 120, days of the secretary's notice to the CEO.

By law, the legislative body must use the meeting to inform the secretary about its objections and the secretary must consider them. Under the bill, the secretary has 60, instead of 45, days to notify the CEO about his decision on the proposed boundary changes. By law, he must state his reasons for the decision.

Forming Newly Designated Regions Before January 1, 2014

The bill creates incentives for areas of the state that contain two or more contiguous planning regions to consolidate to form a single regional council of governments (COG) or regional council of elected officials (RCEO) by exempting them from being redesignated in 2014. The OPM secretary must approve redesignation as such by January 1, 2014. The bill specifies that the new planning regions must have at least 14 municipalities, but allows the secretary to waive the requirement.

The bill aims to have local governments involved in any newly designated, consolidated regions by permitting COGs and RCEOs and not regional planning agencies (RPAs), which are typically headed by planners who are not elected.

BACKGROUND

Types of Regional Planning Organizations

By law, OPM designates local planning regions within the state (CGS § 16a-4a (4)). Within the 15 current regions, the three types of regional planning organizations allowed under Connecticut law are RPAs, COGs, and RCEOs. Through local ordinance, the municipalities within these planning regions have voluntarily created one of the three types of regional planning organizations to carry out a variety of regional planning and other activities on their behalf.

At this time, there are five RPAs, eight COGs, and two RCEOs. But a proposed merger would bring the number of planning regions to 14. OPM has approved a merger of two RPAs, the Connecticut Estuary and Midstate Planning RPAs, into a COG to be called the Lower Connecticut River Valley Planning Region. Sixty percent of the affected towns must first agree to the change.

Regional Economic Development Districts

A 2010 law allows the three types of regional planning organizations to (1) propose “Regional Economic Development Districts” (REDDs) that the governor designates, (2) prepare strategies to develop them, and (3) apply for state and federal economic development funds. (PA 10-168) It specifies criteria for drawing district boundaries and procedures for preparing, reviewing, and approving strategies. The law permits only eight REDDs to be established in the state.

An approved REDD can request:

1. the Department of Economic and Community Development commissioner to recommend to the governor that he designate the district as an economic development district and

2. federal designation from the U. S. Department of Commerce as an economic development district, making it eligible for federal economic development grants (CGS § 32-741 et seq. ).


City hopes to start a bike-sharing program
John Burgeson, CT POST
Updated 11:03 p.m., Monday, May 7, 2012

BRIDGEPORT -- You've just arrived at the Bridgeport Metro-North railroad station, and you have an appointment at the University of Bridgeport in 20 minutes.

It's a long walk from the train platform to UB, so your options for getting there are few. You could either take a cab or try to catch the No. 1 Greater Bridgeport Transit bus from downtown.

But cabs are expensive, and the wait for the No. 1 bus could take 30 minutes or more.

Soon, however, there might be a third option: sharing a bicycle.

The Greater Bridgeport Regional Planning Agency has applied for a $150,000 grant that would set up a professional bike-sharing program. It would allow users to "share" a bike by the hour. The bikes would be dispensed from credit-card operated automated bike racks or docking stations, according to Brian Bidolli, executive director of the Greater Bridgeport Regional Planning Agency. The bikes are purpose-built and are suitable for both men and women, large and small.

The money would come from the federal Highway Administration's CMAC program, which stands for Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality, Bidolli said. And, he said that if things go well, a program could be in place by the summer of 2013.

"The funds would be used to buy the bicycles, bike docking stations, signage, and other equipment," Bidolli said. "Bridgeport is really a hub of bicycle activity for this part of the state. The terminus of a regional bike trail is here and then there's the intermodal bus and railroad station."

This would be the first program of its kind in the state, Bidolli said, although New Haven and Simsbury have less ambitious programs, and Fairfield University also offers bike sharing. Bike-sharing differs from rental in that the fees for the first hour or two are low, but go up dramatically after that. The idea is to keep the bikes in circulation as much as possible.

Planners say that after a rocky start 40-plus years ago, bike-sharing has finally caught on. In New York City, officials have just announced a 10,000-bicycle sharing program using dozens of solar-powered, credit-card operated docking stations. The bikes, called Citibikes, sport Citibank's logo; the bank is helping to pay for the program.

The bike-sharing concept began in Amsterdam in the mid-1960s, and soon spread to other European cities. The first-generation plans typically used second-hand bikes that were spray-painted white, green or another color. The idea was that people would borrow them and leave them for the next user, and volunteers would help maintain them.

These early plans that relied mostly on honesty had predictable results; the bikes were quickly stolen or vandalized.

Since then, technology has made bike-sharing a viable transportation option, according to Paul DeMaio of MetroBike LLC, a consulting company that helps cities set up bike-sharing programs. The credit-card operated bike docking stations also provide a way to easily go after riders who fail to return their bikes, he said.

DeMaio's advice for Bridgeport? "Set up the largest bike-sharing system you can. The bigger the better. The more bikes and docking locations you have, the greater your chance for success and the more customers that will join. And they really need to put it in perspective. A bus costs $400,000, and building a mile of road costs millions of dollars."



From the Greater Bridgeport Regional Planning Agency...

Towns make wary, fitful moves to regionalize

CT POST
Vinti Singh, Staff Writer
Published 11:25 p.m., Sunday, January 1, 2012

It's a point of pride for Nutmeggers, the sometimes stark differences between each of Connecticut's 169 cities and towns.

But municipal borders are based on lines drawn centuries ago, when the criteria was simply that a city or town needed a church. Some municipal leaders now say it's time for the town boundaries to be less rigid -- when it comes to services anyway.

"We're working on 300-year-old logic that's no longer relevant to our society," Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch said.

The way Finch sees it, so much more could be accomplished if those boundaries were broken and Bridgeport annexed its surrounding towns. He knows that's never going to happen, especially since Connecticut's constitution doesn't allow for annexation.

But he's hoping towns can at least symbolically erase those lines to share more services.

As towns continue to struggle with budget constraints with a weak economy, surrounding town leaders are thinking more like him.

Through the recession, "we've learned no one town is an oasis," Fairfield First Selectman Michael Tetreau said. "We have all suffered. We have all struggled."

In Trumbull, First Selectman Tim Herbst said there's room for municipalities to combine services. "It is arcane to believe that in a state as small as Connecticut, we have 169 towns and cities that sometimes provide services in 169 different ways," he said.

The combined budgets for Bridgeport and its five surrounding towns from July 1, 2009 to July 30, 2010, equaled $1.4 billion.

Cities like Raleigh, N.C., and Bakersfield, Calif., are similar in size and population to the Bridgeport region, but both had budgets of less than $700 million in the same time period. That's because these cities incorporate areas that in Connecticut would be independent municipalities.

"If we can harness even a percentage of that price difference, we will save a lot of money," said Brian Bidolli, executive director of the Greater Bridgeport Regional Planning Agency, a regional planning organization for Bridgeport, Stratford, Trumbull, Monroe, Fairfield and Easton.

THE CASE FOR REGIONALIZING

The official term for working together is regionalization, and the concept is not new. Easton and Redding regionalized their high schools decades ago to create the shared Joel Barlow High School. Trumbull sends its sewage to Bridgeport to be processed.

Other areas in Connecticut have pioneered other cost-saving services. Greater Hartford has set up an online regional building permit application where local contractors fill out an application that is shared by a dozen municipalities. Towns in the state's northeast corner combined their property revaluation processes and now hire one company to value all properties in participating towns at once.

But there can be some resistance to regionalization. Not everyone was immediately on board, for example, when the GBRPA proposed regionalizing the municipalities' geographic information systems. Trumbull had just spent $250,000 on a brand new GIS system, and some officials there did not want to help foot the bill for a group-wide system when some towns, such as Stratford and Fairfield, needed system upgrades and others, like Monroe and Easton, didn't have them at all.

The Trumbull Town Council eventually signed onto the agreement because members realized being a part of the region would mean shared maintenance costs later on, Trumbull Chief of Staff Dan Nelson said.

"But the real money and real savings are in tougher places like public works departments, fire departments, other public services. The hardest sell is education," state House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey said.

Sharkey is a proponent of regionalization and has offered a number of bills to encourage doing so.

Greater Bridgeport towns are taking on some of those tougher sells. Monroe, Trumbull and Easton have committed to regionalizing their emergency dispatch centers into one. Shelton, Trumbull and other municipalities have explored combining employee health care plans to negotiate lower costs.

But there is still a lot of resistance to regionalizing.

"With the anti-big city sentiment in some towns, not everything will work," said Monroe First Selectman Steve Vavrek. "Part of the problem is the way cities are run. People don't want to inherit the city's problems, whether it be the poor school system or whatever."

One of the biggest challenges facing the Bridgeport region is the sewer system. Bridgeport's system is in need of updating, Trumbull needs to find a way to lower its sewage costs, and Monroe doesn't have one at all. Municipal leaders have floated different ideas for combining sewage systems but no officials plans have been proposed.

EDUCATION A HARD SELL

And then there is Sharkey's hardest sell: education. For Finch, whose school district faces financial problems, high drop-out rates and low student achievement scores, the idea is not a hard sell at all.

"We could dream and say, wow if we had five school districts instead of 150, think how much better we could make it for children," Finch said. "Right now, it's better for the adults, rather than the children.

"The thing we have to remember is those problems are going to be your problems whether you live in my jurisdiction or not. If you have thousands of undereducated children near you, they're going to become your problem.

"They won't stay on the streets of Bridgeport."

Bridgeport's relations with surrounding towns are strained. Some of that is inherited, like the rancor with Stratford neighbors over expanding the Sikorsky Memorial Airport runway and issues over access to Pleasure Beach.

One of the most heated issues involves a proposed regional magnet school. After Trumbull signed away more than 40 acres for Bridgeport to build a regional magnet school, Finch said he never promised the town one of the city's administrative buildings in return.

Then, at a Dec. 16 Bridgeport Regional Business Council breakfast, some attendees said Finch criticized Trumbull residents who opposed initial plans for a section of a regional hiking and bike trail that would cut through their neighborhood. Vavrek said he felt he had to interrupt the conversation. Stratford Mayor John A. Harkins said the comments made him uncomfortable, too, because Finch made comments about Herbst when he was not present.

Finch said his speech was about comments some Trumbull residents made at a public information session that the trail would attract "different characters coming in from other cities."

"I admit was not shy about sharing my displeasure with fellow leaders at a recent regional council meeting, but I would not have then, and will not now, sit idly by while others make thinly veiled, bigoted remarks about the people of our city who might avail themselves of a nature trail that will extend into the suburbs," Finch said. "Any leader who was in the room who didn't repudiate the statements ... should have done so."

Herbst -- who was not at the meeting -- believed the comments were directed at him, adding that Finch has shown a pattern of alienating those around him. He said Finch had indicated he supported the alternate route that Trumbull residents who attended a hearing on the hiking trail wanted.

"When you look at his behavior collectively, it gives me cause for concern," Herbst said. "In politics you're only as good as your word. When you go back on your word, it's disconcerting. When you get up and disparage another chief elected official in front of 30 others, quite frankly when you talk about regional cooperation, in essence you're speaking with a forked tongue."

LOOKING FOR SUCCESSES

Despite his dust-ups with Finch, Herbst said he will continue to consider partnerships with Bridgeport, especially if they benefit his town.

Every municipal leader has a pet service they want to regionalize.

For Harkins, it's employee health care plans.

For Vavrek, it's purchasing municipal trash trucks. For Trumbull, it's a regional dispatch center.

If there's one thing the municipalities can indisputably agree on, it's saving money.

"There's growing municipal scarcity, but we don't have to share scarcity," Bidolli said.

"We can share success."




MORE DETAILED HISTORY OF THE REGIONAL PLANNING ORGANIZATION FORMAT ISSUE - CLICK HERE


HAPPY NEW OLD YEAR!   WE'VE BEEN HEARING ABOUT THIS SINCE 2003 AND LONGER.  CT COUNTIES GONE IN 1960...COMING BACK?
And for 2012, yet another replay of these 2005 arguments?   How about going back a bit further...and if you want ancient history, ask this website!





Regional governing plan divides Fairfield County
CT POST
Neil Vigdor, Staff Writer
Published 01:03 a.m., Sunday, January 1, 2012

A plan to create a regional governing council of mayors and first selectmen from southwestern Connecticut is dividing municipal leaders, with some saying it will give the area more clout in Hartford and Washington and others fearful that it is a step toward resurrecting county government.

The Connecticut General Assembly abolished county government in 1960.

Filling the void is the South Western Regional Planning Agency or SWRPA, a transportation and development-focused alliance currently made up by Greenwich, Stamford, Norwalk, Westport, Darien, New Canaan, Wilton and Weston.

In addition to SWRPA, which has about eight employees based in Stamford and is predominantly federally funded, the chief elected officials from each municipality meet on a monthly basis as part of the South Western Region Metropolitan Planning Organization, a group led by Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff.

There is ongoing push within the Metropolitan Planning Organization to meld the two organizations into what is known as a council of governments, following the model of the majority of regions in Connecticut.

But Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei is balking at such a transition, which he characterized as an additional layer of bureaucracy.

"I do not support it and will not be voting for it," Tesei told his colleagues on the Board of Selectmen Thursday at the group's most recent meeting.

A Republican elected to a third term in November, Tesei said the proposal would be an extremely tough sell with the Representative Town Meeting, which was reluctant to even let Greenwich join SWRPA in the 1970s.

"I do not see it as necessary," Tesei said of creating a council of governments.

Joseloff, a Democrat and one of the chief proponents of the plan, denied this is an attempt to go back in time.

"It's not a step toward a return to county government," Joseloff said.

"All these are kind of false ideas that people throw up. They really have no validity."

The plan's supporters say they have done their homework, visiting other regional councils throughout the state and talking to elected officials about the benefits of the setup. One of the model organizations they cited is the Capitol Region Council of Governments, which represents 30 municipalities and has Hartford as its seat.

"None of them said they regretted the move," Joseloff said. "I think it's pretty important as we move ahead with efforts to regionalize (and) streamline.

"I think it raises the visibility, hopefully, of the Metropolitan Planning Organization and it puts us on equal footing with a majority of the other regional planning groups in the state."

Joseloff emphasized that the eight cities and towns that make up SWRPA would not be ceding power under the proposal.

"It does not impact home rule," Joseloff said.

"It will not have any other authority over local decision making."

Stamford Mayor Michael Pavia is undecided on the proposal.

Pavia acknowledged that he is concerned that larger municipalities could wind up carrying more of the burden.

But under certain circumstances, Pavia said he supports regionalization, such as when a tree comes down along the Stamford/New Canaan border and mutual aid is rendered to reopen the road.

He also thinks it makes sense to have a regional bomb squad and police scuba diving teams.

"Now there is a general consensus that components of regionalization, in other words taking the strengths of one community and offering them to another, has a lot of appeal," Pavia said.

Pavia made it clear that he does not wish history to repeat itself.

"I think the last thing that we need is another layer of government," Pavia said of having a county bureaucracy.

In addition to the professional staff of SWRPA, the eight municipalities that make up the organization get to appoint members to its board based on population.

Paul Settelmeyer is one of three SWRPA representatives from Greenwich and a former board chairman.

"A lot of people will have concerns and will interpret it as a move toward county-level governing," Settelmeyer said. "I don't have a concern that it is going to assume taxing powers and mandate powers."

At the same time, Settelmeyer raised concerns about mayors and first selectmen assuming additional responsibilities under the new organization.

"Doing strategic planning is very important, and the SWRPA board members had the time available to do it," Settelmeyer said.

"I guess my chief concern is do the chief elected officials who are busy people right now have the time to handle the organizational responsibilities that they will have in running the staff organization? I can't see Mayor Pavia or Peter Tesei being involved in the financial reporting and reviewing the monthly financial statements of the organization."

Joseloff disagreed that it would burden the chief elected officials of the region.

"Frankly, it is the CEOs, not the appointed representatives, who are accountable to the taxpayers," Joseloff said. "I don't anticipate it would take much more time. I think there may be a little bit more pressure on the CEO if there's a council of governments and he or she doesn't show up."

Joseloff expects the plan to come up for a vote in the spring or early summer in each of the eight municipalities. Five of the eight would have to sign on to the proposal to create a council of governments, he said.

"You don't have to participate in the same level if you don't want it," Joseloff said. "I can't imagine any CEO not wanting to participate and have his voice. Nothing stops at town borders anymore."

Without a council of governments, Joseloff argued that southwestern Connecticut is at a competitive disadvantage to other regions in the state.

"I call it the Rodney Dangerfield move," Joseloff said of the late comedian and one-time Westport resident, whose catch phrase was "no respect."



Stay tuned for follow up...hot time in the old town Thursday evening
Weston Selectmen to Review Revamping SWRPA

The Norwalk Hour
By Robert Koch
Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Weston Board of Selectmen on Thursday night will get a better look at a proposal that would revamp the South Western Regional Planning Agency and affiliate Metropolitan Planning Organization into a Council of Local Governments. Creation of a Council of Local Governments, which ultimately would require the approval of the legislative bodies of at least four of SWRPA’s eight member communities, would put transportation, housing and other inter-municipal issues under the direct leadership of chief elected officials, according to proponents.

On Thursday night, the selectmen will begin their discussion of the concept. “ We’re going to have a presentation made to ( the selectmen) and then we have to set a public hearing date and then we’ll vote on it at our next meeting which is July 7,” said First Selectwoman Gayle Weinstein. “I’m in favor of changing the structural organization to a COG, because I think it will allow us to work more effectively as a region.” Weinstein said a COG structure would facilitate regionalization efforts, centralize purchasing and lead to government efficiencies.

SWRPA Chairman Gerald Ellis will make the presentation Thursday night. Wilton First Selectman William F. Brennan and Woody Bliss, former Weston first selectman and past SWRMPO chairman, will also be present, she said. In December 2009, Bliss said creation of a Council of Governments was worth considering.

New Canaan First Selectman Jeb Walker, then incoming SWRMPO chairman, said the organization of SWRPA and SWRMPO was “probably our top priority.” But the idea of converting the two organizations into a Council of Local Government has faced opposition from those who believe it’s a step toward the return to county government, or simply shortchanging some communities.

Greenwich First Selectman Peter J. Tesei told fellow SWRMPO members in April that Greenwich residents perceive “ a very strong push toward regionalization and the adoption of various levels of taxes that in a nutshell redistribute resources in an unequitable manner.” Mayor Richard A. Moccia said this month that there’s no rush to bring the COG concept to vote in Norwalk.

“ I’d prefer to wait until after the summer, maybe early September, to bring it to the council, so they can make their presentation and everything,” Moccia said.

“My position on (the COG structure) is that if it opens the door for more grants and for more regional aid, it’s fine,” Moccia said. “As long as everybody understands we’re not losing local autonomy. I believe the state has some incentive grants that if you have a COG, you can do joint purchasing and save some money and things like that. That’s the advantage. But it has to be clear that you don’t lose local autonomy.”

Floyd Lapp, SWRPA executive director, said four of SWRPA’s eight member municipalities have had public discussions and meetings on the COG option for regional structure. “In the case of New Canaan and Westport and Wilton, I believe they have introduced or will be introducing resolutions,” said Lapp who limited his comments.

“The elected officials and their legislative bodies should be leading the effort, and I should not be getting out in the front offering my opinions."

--------------------

NOTE OF CORRECTION AND A QUESTION:  Five (5) municipalities' legislative bodies must OK changeover.  However, the Board of Selectmen's agenda Thursday says the following:

"...3. Discussion/decision regarding an ordinance to approve a change from SWRPA’s current regional structure to a Council of Government- Jerry Ellis, SWRPA Chair
 4. Discussion/decision regarding setting a date for a public hearing regarding an ordinance to approve a change from SWRPA’s current regional structure to a Council of Government..."



Study to be completed prior to January 1, 2012:
New boundaries for Regional Planning Organizations - instead of 15 they are to shrink to 8;  new boundaries to bring related regions together - but this is going on at the same times as Congressional District boundaries are being redrawn, too.  Where is the public input here?

AND IT ALMOST DID PASS, NEWLY ADDED LANGUAGE IN RED - ran out of time in the house.

Senate Bill No. 495

    Senate, April 7, 2011

    The Committee on Planning and Development reported through SEN. CASSANO of the 4th Dist., Chairperson of the Committee on the part of the Senate, that the bill ought to pass.

    AN ACT CONCERNING THE PROVISION OF SERVICES BY REGIONAL COUNCILS OF GOVERNMENT.

    Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Assembly convened:

    Section 1. Section 4-124d of the general statutes is repealed and the following is substituted in lieu thereof (Effective October 1, 2011):

    The council shall consider such matters of a public nature common to two or more members of the council as it deems appropriate, including matters affecting transportation and the health, safety, welfare, education and economic conditions of the area comprised by its members. The council shall identify opportunities and obstacles to interlocal agreements that promote regional cooperation. The council shall promote cooperative arrangements, including regional economic development agreements between towns entered into pursuant to section 7-148kk, and coordinate action among its members and make recommendations therefor to the members and such other public agencies as exist or perform functions within the region or regions. The council shall identify opportunities to provide regional services.

PASSED THE SENATE DID NOT PASS IN THE HOUSE, AS WAS THE CASE FOR OTHER REGIONALISM BILLS...






At the historic Windsor Railroad Station on August 2, 2007: 
"RESPONSIBLE GROWTH" BILL SIGNED BY GOV. RELL


Local officials want a say in merger of planning agencies
New London DAY
By Claire Bessette Day Staff Writer
Article published Apr 1, 2011

Norwich - Sixteen area town officials gathered for two hours Thursday at the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments office to discuss various state proposals to consolidate the number of regional planning agencies.

The group held a conference call with David LeVasseur, acting undersecretary at the state Office of Policy and Management, and asked for a chance to make the changes themselves wherever possible.

LeVasseur outlined two apparently contradictory bills being considered by the state legislature and said OPM had been asked to conduct its own study on creating new regional boundaries for the planning groups. That study is due to the legislature by Jan. 1, 2012.

There are currently 15 regional planning agencies, three of which were represented at Thursday's meeting.

Municipal officials said Thursday they felt the entire process was speeding along without their input. Preston First Selectman Robert Congdon, who chaired the meeting, agreed that consolidation was unavoidable but said the three regions needed to present their argument that the towns themselves know best what system would work for them.

Congdon pushed the group to lobby for input into whatever state law or administrative consolidation directive comes from OPM. The three planning agencies will send representatives to a legislative forum on regionalization on April 18 in Hartford.

Though the Planning and Development Committee forum is not a public hearing, the members will ask for a chance to speak.  Chairmen of the three COGs will also separately send letters to legislative leaders asking for the rationale behind proposed consolidations and what problems the moves would solve. That way, North Stonington First Selectman Nicholas H. Mullane II said, the towns could offer their own solutions to those problems.

Meanwhile, the 17-town Connecticut River Valley Council of Elected Officials voted at its March 23 meeting to send a letter to the state reaffirming its interest in merging the nine-town Connecticut River Estuary Regional Planning Agency with the eight-town Midstate Regional Planning Agency.

Linda Krause, CRERPA's executive director, said the Council of Elected Officials is hoping to take advantage of funds in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's budget that would provide monetary incentives for regional planning agencies that voluntarily consolidate.

"They are concerned that if the state were broken up into smaller numbers of larger regions, that some of the sense of character that they have would be basically torn apart," Krause said of the town officials. "The river is a uniting factor, and it would be really sad to break up the sense that there is around the river."

The current 15 regions were established about 50 years ago, OPM's LeVasseur said, with criteria that made sense at the time - local phone regions, hospital service areas and even newspaper subscriptions. But today, many of those conditions have changed and now overlap, and LeVasseur said his agency is struggling to find new relevant criteria for the consolidations.

At the same time, the legislature is considering two bills that would affect the regional planning agencies. One would reduce the number of districts from 15 to eight, while a second bill would establish six service regions for all state agencies.

Town officials at Thursday's meeting were divided on how the regions should respond to the proposals. Coventry Town Manager John Elsesser suggested the three regions consider establishing one governing entity while retaining their individual "service districts" which already provide valuable regionalized services in the three regions.

Pomfret First Selectman Mark Paquette said the regions should make a case that their current arrangements work and are financially efficient.

Paquette said he gladly pays for town engineering and regional animal control services through the Northeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, and said it would make no sense for him to receive similar services from the southeastern counterpart, based in Norwich.





N E W S    F R O M    A . P . A .   (W E B S I T E)

HUD Grant includes funding for Regional Plan Association to the tune of $3,500,000 - South Western Connecticut part of this winning application!  SWRPA participated and should bring planning funding to the region.  Update of Regional Plan should be related to sustainibility aspects of grant.  See one project possibly in for planning funding here.






Legislators mull transportation fixes in Malloy budget
Martin B. Cassidy, Greenwich TIME Staff Writer
Published 09:05 p.m., Sunday, February 20, 2011

STAMFORD -- Echoing Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's call to create more jobs as part of his recent state budget address, state Rep. Gerald Fox III, D-Stamford, said obtaining funding for transportation projects will help attract business.

Fox had been hoping the governor would include nearly $50 million in funding to replace the deteriorating rail station parking garage downtown and replace the Atlantic Street overpass where trucks delivering goods to the South End often get stuck.

"What we plan to do in Stamford with those two projects has so much potential to create jobs that that will be the argument we make in seeking funding," Fox said.

The governor's budget included few specific projects, but many area legislators said they were pleased Malloy is emphasizing the need to maintain the state's mass transit and highway infrastructure that had been long deferred.  Among the transportation related projects and investments identified by Malloy's budget office to be funded in his two-year budget are:

$227 million to fully fund the Department of Transportation's Fix-It-First program to perform high-priority repairs on highways and bridges.

$196 million to maintain bus and rail infrastructure, above and beyond current funding levels.

$50 million over two years to support the dredging of the heavily silted Bridgeport Harbor and other maritime projects like refurbishing ferry slip and harbor facilities in New London.

Malloy's budget director Benjamin Barnes said the proposals would keep rail and bus fares flat through 2011, further delaying the first of seven consecutive annual fare increases of 1 percent to pay for new M-8 cars until January 2012.  Connecticut Rail Commuter Council Chairman Jim Cameron said that the plan to delay the fare increase seemed reasonable given a pledge from former Gov. M. Jodi Rell to postpone the fare increase until the M-8s were in service.

"I hope he will be able to honor it if there is any further delay in the testing program for the M-8s," Cameron said. "I would say that it is good news."

The state is also expected to continue releasing funds toward an $880 million project to double- track a passenger rail line to shorten commuter trips between lower Connecticut and Massachuetts.

State Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-143rd District, and state Sen. Toni Boucher, who both represent Wilton and Norwalk, said they supported Malloy's pledge to block legislators from raiding the state's Special Transportation Fund away from transit projects to cover general government expenses.

"We need to protect that money for transportation purposes because we need it to maintain what we have," Lavielle said.

Lavielle said that she supported work on the project, but felt that investments to electrify the Metro-North Danbury Branch and upgrade the New Canaan Branch would be prioritized.

"If you are looking for the bang for the buck for the least amount of investment having the greatest impact, I think the New Haven Line and its branches really have to be a priority," Lavielle said.

Boucher said that it was likely that Malloy's plan to raise the state's gasoline tax from 25 to 28 cents a gallon to raise money for transportation projects would likely cause an outcry.

"I saw a lot of good things in his transportation plan, but the gas tax won't be very popular with the public because we already have one of the highest gas taxes in the country," Boucher said.


Regional planning groups pushing for consolidation;  Connecticut River groups think they would fit well if state imposes regionalization
By Jenna Cho Day Staff Writer
11 July 2010

Old Saybrook - If the state decides to consolidate regional planning groups, two of the agencies centrally located along the Connecticut River are hoping they'll get to join forces.

The Connecticut River Valley Council of Elected Officials, made up of leaders of the 17 towns that make up the two agencies - Connecticut River Estuary Regional Planning Agency and the Midstate Regional Planning Agency - sent the state Office of Policy and Management a letter on June 1 affirming an interest in merging.

"We believe that our towns share a common character which creates a distinctive regional identity," the letter states. "The natural beauty and cultural history of the valley is highly valued and is a source of attraction for residents and visitors alike. It is the goal of the CRVCEO to maintain and enhance their distinct identity, rather than to evolve in a suburban sprawl pattern outward from existing larger urban areas."

OPM has been tasked with reassessing the boundaries of the state's 15 regional planning groups by 2012. Many believe the end result will be a mandated consolidation of the groups, similar to the consolidation of the state's 117 probate courts down to 54.

Old Saybrook First Selectman Michael Pace, who is chairman of the Lower Connecticut Valley Selectmen's Association, said the 17 towns were being proactive in suggesting the consolidation of the two agencies.

"We'd like to design what protocols we want for our future," Pace said.

The two agencies would prefer to remain separate but understand that the state is pushing for more regionalization of services, said Linda Krause, CRERPA's executive director.

"The argument is that the bigger you are, the more efficient you are," Krause said. "I think in lots of places, that's not necessarily the case. Sometimes you're just bigger."

Connecticut has five regional planning agencies, three councils of elected officials and seven councils of governments, according to the Connecticut Association of Regional Planning Organizations' May 13 report, "The Geographic Scope of Connecticut's Regional Planning."

The report was issued to, in part, suggest criteria for evaluation of the planning groups' boundaries, Krause said.

Members of the CRVCEO felt their two agencies should stick together because the 17 towns have more in common with each other than they do with the surrounding cities of New Haven, New London and Hartford, Krause said.

"We call it the space between the places," Krause said. "It's really its own place. And that's the impetus behind it. They think that if they are glued onto any other region, they'll kind of get lost."

The letter to OPM was "basically a weigh-in from this area that says, 'Look, when you're looking at boundaries, consider these things,'" Krause said.


State may consolidate planning agencies
Danbury News-Times
Vinti Singh, Staff Writer
Published: 09:53 p.m., Friday, June 18, 2010

BROOKFIELD -- Connecticut has already regionalized its probate courts and is urging towns to regionalize their health and EMS departments. In 2011 the state will look into consolidating some of its planning agencies as well, according to the Office of Policy Management.

To reduce the state budget, the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities wants to reduce the number of regional planning agencies from 15 to seven.

The agencies create transportation and growth management plans for their region.

The Danbury area is overseen by the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials, which recently created plans for a Still River Greenway in Danbury and a Metro-North rail line extension to New Milford.

HVCEO's members are opposed to merging with surrounding agencies.

HVCEO cannot merge with its southern neighbor -- the South Western Regional Planning Agency in lower Fairfield County -- because the I-95 corridor competes with the I-84 corridor to attract private business, said HVCEO executive director Jonathan Chew.

The agency cannot merge with its western neighbor -- the Council of Governments of Central Naugatuck Valley in Waterbury -- because that group is primarily concerned with downtown traffic improvements, Chew said.

And it cannot merge with its northern neighbor -- the Litchfield Hills Council of Elected Officials -- because it is a rural area whose needs conflict with Danbury's industrial base.

HVCEO members discussed the possibility of consolidation at a meeting Thursday.

"The tourism districts are a disaster after they regionalized them," said New Fairfield First Selectman John Hodge. "Statistics show we're doing better on our own."

Before the recession hit, the Office of Policy Management planned to do an in-depth, detailed study to determine new borders for the planning agencies, according to a HVCEO report.

In 1958 a similar study approved by the General Assembly cost $65,000. Accounting for inflation, the study would cost $400,000 today, Chew said.

"Since they have no money, this may be something they try to do cheap and quick," Chew said, resulting in poorly designed regions.

Contact Vinti Singh at vsingh@newstimes.com or 203-731-3331.



Exploring Regionalism: Worthy Task Won't Be Easy

NEW COMMISSION • How can the state help towns work together?
Hartford Courant editorial
January 16, 2010

We do not envy state Rep. Brendan Sharkey his new challenge.

Mr. Sharkey, a Democrat from Hamden, has been named to head a blue-ribbon commission charged with finding money-saving efficiencies through regional cooperation. With towns struggling and the state facing a possible $6 billion deficit by 2013, sharing of municipal services can and should be a way to economize.

But legislative leaders didn't make it easy. For one thing, the commission has 45 Democratic legislators and no Republicans, a needless and counterproductive exercise in partisanship that GOP leaders have rightly criticized. Also, the commission will begin its work just two weeks before the 2010 legislative session begins in February. These are not simple issues, so it is unclear how much can be accomplished this year.

Perhaps the commission, which also will have town, union, nonprofit and business representatives, should bring in experts to study different models of metro or regional government and examine how they might work in Connecticut. Our ancient and balkanized system of 169 towns would seem to lend itself to more collaboration.

Or perhaps the state can help towns do what they have begun to do on their own. For example, Canton considered merging its police department with the larger departments in Avon and Simsbury, but was going to have trouble matching higher salary or benefit levels paid by those towns. What if the state came in with, say, a three-year grant to make up the difference?

Another tack might be to look at services performed both by the town and the state, from road maintenance to economic development, and ask if they can be combined.

There may be more interest in regional cooperation among towns than at any point in recent memory. The state Office of Policy and Management held a forum on municipal shared services Thursday at Central Connecticut State University, and it drew more than 200 town officials — and some gubernatorial candidates — from across the state.

Mr. Sharkey, a smart-growth advocate and co-chairman of the legislature's planning and development committee, is the right man to give this a try. He spearheaded regional legislation last year that he would like to build on. If ever there was a time to challenge the status quo, to put radical ideas on the table, this is it.


And earlier...

NOTICE OF PUBLIC INPUT HEARINGS - here is a link to the almost "Gone With the Wind" - sized document


The State of Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development is seeking public input into the development of the State; 2010-2014 Consolidated  Plan for Housing and Community Development, the Citizen Participation Plan, the 2010-2011 annual Action Plan, and the 2010-2014 State Long Range Housing Plan.

The Consolidated Plan for Housing and Community Development (ConPlan) and the State Long Range Housing Plan (SLRHP) are Five-Year Strategic Plans that govern the administration of federal and state funding appropriated for housing and community development activities. Such federal funding includes the following programs; HOME Investment Partnerships (HOME), Small Cities/Community Development Block Grant(SC/CDBG), Emergency Shelter Grants (ESG), and Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA). The Action Plan is an annual implementation plan for the five-year ConPlan. The Citizen Participation Plan is a process that solicits citizen input and public review for the ConPlan.  Public Hearings on housing and community development needs in Connecticut communities will be held to solicit input into the development of the above referenced documents. Hearings will be held at the following times and locations:

Rocky Hill                       Hamden            
2:00 p.m.                         2:00 p.m.    
October 5, 2009               October 8, 2009    
CERC                             Hamden Gov. Center        
Meeting Room                 3rd Floor Conference Room
805 Brook St, Bldg. 4       2750 Dixwell Avenue
Rocky Hill, Ct                  Hamden, Ct
                                   

All state residents are invited to attend and provide oral or written comments on housing and community development needs in Connecticut’s communities. For copies of former documents, please refer to the Department of Economic & Community Development’s web site, or the State Library.

Written comments may be sent to W. Michael Regan, Community Development Assistant Administrator, Office of Strategy and Policy, Department of Economic & Community Development, 505 Hudson Street, Hartford, CT  06106-7106 or CT.Housing.Plans@ct.gov   All comments received will be addressed in the Public Commentary Sections of the aforementioned Plans.

Department of Economic & Community Development programs are administered in a nondiscriminatory manner, consistent with equal employment opportunities, affirmative action, and fair housing requirements.  Questions, concerns, complaints or requests for information in alternative formats must be directed to the ADA (504) Coordinator, Irina Baj-Wright from the Department of Administrative Services, at 860-713-5391.  Locations for the public hearings are handicapped accessible.

Distribution Date:  September 17, 2009 




South Western CT did already!
TRASH DISPOSAL: Towns Hoping To Dump CRRA, Save Money
By JOSH KOVNER, The Hartford Courant
November 15, 2009

Dozens of contracts between individual towns and the state's regional trash giant are expiring in the next two years, and a group representing a swath of communities from Hartford to the Litchfield Hills will take the first step next week to form its own solid-waste authority.

These towns and cities are looking to beat the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority's $63- to $69-per-ton fee to dispose of millions of tons of garbage a year.

They are looking for more direct control — a board made up exclusively of representatives of member communities, rather than CRRA's mixture of gubernatorial and legislative appointees.

Forty-two towns and cities have told the Capitol Region Council of Governments that they are interested in exploring a regional authority and have sent in $500 each in seed money to start the process of creating one. The council is expected to approve the expenditure Wednesday.

The action will provide a glimpse of the post-CRRA landscape, the period, around 2012, when many of the 20-year municipal contracts run out and communities look for other alliances.

"Towns and cities want to be masters of their own destiny," said Lyle Wray, executive director of the council of governments. "They want to save money and respond more quickly to the rapid changes in technology, such as the recycling of food scraps."

There are 70 communities in the CRRA's Mid-Connecticut Project sending tons of trash per day to the agency's incinerator and recycling center in the South Meadows of Hartford.

The council of governments' Jennifer March-Wackers said that the outreach to towns and cities is continuing and that the council hopes most or all of the 70 communities will join the new authority. After the legal work, she said, the next step is to solicit proposals from waste-disposal firms that want to do business with the new authority. She said the CRRA would be welcome to compete.

Many town officials have wearied of the CRRA, the agency that lost $220 million in the Enron collapse. Communities had to go to court over fee increases stemming from the loss.

"The CRRA was formed to help towns dispose of solid waste efficiently," said West Hartford Mayor Scott Slifka. "Instead, the relationship over the years has turned on its head. They dictate terms to the members. This is a bureaucracy that exists to perpetuate itself."

CRRA spokesman Paul Nonnenmacher said the agency isn't going anywhere and wants the area's business. He said that there are four representatives of Mid-Connecticut Project towns on the agency's 11-member board and that the agency has been responsive to new recycling technologies. He said, for example, that the amount and types of plastic packaging material accepted at the Hartford recycling plant has just been significantly expanded.

At the same time, he said, "We expect that towns are going to investigate options to make sure they get the best price."

"If it's us, great," Nonnenmacher said. "If it's someone else, well, good for the town. We hope everyone stays, but we're not naive enough to think we're going to be 70 for 70."

He said he was aware that Mid-Connecticut Project towns are expressing interest in a CRRA alternative.

"What, are they going to have a 42-member board? See, at some point you have to have some kind of a republic to represent the member towns," said Nonnenmacher.

"Let us worry about the makeup of our board," said East Hartford Mayor Melody Currey, adding that appointees would likely represent several contiguous communities.

"The point is, we want direct control over our municipal solid waste," Currey said. "This is an exciting time."

Copyright © 2009, The Hartford Courant




Leaders call for Route 7 transit study

Stamford ADVOCATE
By Martin B. Cassidy, Staff Writer
Posted: 09/24/2009 10:00:09 PM EDT
Updated: 09/24/2009 10:00:10 PM EDT

The elected leaders of eight lower Fairfield County municipalities gave unanimous support Thursday to a fuller study of an unfinished expressway and other possible projects to make travel easier along the bustling Route 7 corridor.  The vote prompted an exchange of views among leaders about their support or staunch opposition to the decades-old concept of a "Super 7" four-lane highway and whether the long-delayed idea had any merit.

"No city has been affected more by not having a Route 7 expressway than our town," said Norwalk Mayor Dick Moccia, who favors the project. "I think we need a statement to keep all the options open."

The project, first proposed in the 1950s, would create a four-lane highway from Interstate 95 in Norwalk to Interstate 84 in Danbury. The initial portion of the road was completed from Interstate 95 in Norwalk to near the Wilton town line. Opposition from environmentalists and nearby residents has stalled the remainder of the expressway, according to local officials.  A list of prioritized projects, whether it included the Super 7 expressway or not, should be compiled before ruling the road out, Weston First Selectman Woody Bliss, chairman of the group said.

"The point is to look at the infrastructure system and not just Super 7 but the future economic development of this region and enabling workers to get from where they live to where they work," he said.

The resolution did not specifically ask that the state refrain from selling 14 state-owned homes and other property in the proposed path of highway. In July, in a letter to Gov. M. Jodi Rell, state Transportation Commissioner Joseph Marie touted the benefits of selling off the state-owned homes in the proposed expressway path, in response to Rell's request from state department heads for lists of saleable properties to raise revenue during the state budget crisis.

The Department of Transportation controls more than 890 acres of vacant land along the right-of-way for the Route 7 expressway, with an estimated value of $80 million to $150 million, according to the DOT.

Any sale of the land reserved for Super 7 had been barred until passage last year of a law sponsored by state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, a staunch opponent of the project.  At Thursday's meeting, state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, presented the results of a recently conducted UConn-Stamford survey that says more residents support Super 7 than oppose it.

The survey included 486 responses, including 164 respondents in Norwalk and 100 in Danbury, several times the number of responses for towns like Wilton, Redding and Ridgefield, which showed lower support for the road, according to the survey.  Boucher expressed bafflement at Duff's effort to spur debate about the expressway and also the survey results.

"Quite frankly there were practical reasons it wasn't supported throughout the region," Boucher said of Super 7.

Aside from environmental and economic concerns, Wilton First Selectman Bill Brennan told members that completion of the Super 7 project, which is estimated to cost billions, should be permanently shelved, if only because of state and national budget deficits.

"We should be listening to the people in this country and this state," Brennan said. "They want government spending reduced and are alarmed over the future consequences of runaway national and state debt that will eventually require higher taxes."

Three residents at the meeting spoke in favor of the Super 7 project eventually being completed.

"With population growth in this country, the Route 7 Expressway is something that should eventually be done," Melvin Moore of Darien said.

Last week, members of the Southwestern Regional Metropolitan Planning Organization met with Marie to discuss the state's long-range plans for Route 7, and ask that design and other groundwork for another project, the Route 7/Merritt Parkway interchange, be prioritized, Bliss said. That project is estimated to cost $156 million.  Marie said last week that he was happy to meet with officials about transportation priorities, but that only a limited number of larger-scale construction projects could be funded, given maintenance needs and funding constraints.

"The reality is that there are considerably greater needs than available resources, and we must make sure we are addressing preservation challenges first," he said. "In other words, we must ask ourselves if it makes sense to remodel our kitchen when the roof is leaking."



SMART GROWTH EMPHASIS IN GROWTH MANAGEMENT PRINCIPLE #2 - and by the way where is the legend for this map?


Time To Renew The Fight Against Sprawl
Hartford Courant 
Tom Condon
5:05 p.m. EST, February 27, 2013

Here in the draft CT State Plan 2013-2018 is the smoking gun...Growth Management Principle Two - but wait!  How about Growth Management Principles 4 and 5?

n March of 2003, the demographer Myron Orfield warned that Connecticut, despite its wealth, was not on a path for healthy growth.

Orfield was the principal author of "Connecticut Metropatterns — A Regional Agenda for Community and Prosperity in Connecticut." The study, commissioned by the Archdiocese of Hartford's Office of Urban Affairs, looked at the state's growth patterns and found "inequality and sprawl." His findings, hiding in plain sight, included:

• Geographic stratification concentrates the state's poor in municipalities — mostly central cities — that don't have the resources to help them.

• Many smaller cities and older suburbs, home to nearly half the state's population, also face significant and growing poverty with weak local tax bases.

•Sprawling development threatens the state's natural resources and farmland.

•The state's fiscal system pits local governments against one another in a competition for tax base that needlessly undermines the character of local communities, wastes resources, discourages cooperation and increases fiscal disparities.

How little progress we've made in a decade. How much of what Orfield observed holds the state back today.

The Metropatterns report was one of many efforts in the middle part of the last decade to stop the low-density, wasteful development patterns that were eating up resources, creating traffic congestion, paving over the countryside and separating the haves and have-nots. There was a blue-ribbon commission, articles and forums and several new laws promoting smart growth, or growth in existing town centers and transit corridors.

For all of that, sprawl continues. The fastest growing towns, with few exceptions (Stamford), are outer suburbs with available land. Some programs, such as HomeConnecticut and, especially, the Community Investment Act, have made inroads against sprawl. The push for transit-oriented development has the potential to counter sprawl.

There is at least one more card in the deck. The state's 2013-1018 Conservation and Development Policies Plan has been completed and sent to the General Assembly for approval. The plan is excellent; it calls for the kind of smart growth that Myron Orfield and others urged on the state.

The plan calls for the revitalization of existing (or currently planned) town centers and transit corridors, as well as the protection and restoration of environmental, cultural and historical resources, a broad array of housing types and better intergovernmental planning (not an area of excellence here).

The conservation and development plan is intended to guide the activities of state agencies, and nothing requires towns, developers or anyone else to follow it. But this year's plan has a strengthening factor — it urges state agencies to put their money behind the plan and invest in "priority funding areas" that echo the principles laid out in the plan. So, for example, when state agencies buy property or make loans or grants, the money should be spent in town centers or within a half-mile of transit.

Will the state actually put its money where its plan is? There is no enforcement mechanism, per se, in the plan; the tiny planning office in state's Office of Policy and Management serves in an advisory and coordinating capacity. So, much depends on the implementation. Here, conservationists and other smart growth advocates need to be engaged, to make sure agencies follow the plan.

We all know that sprawl despoils the countryside and creates more traffic. What we may not be aware of is how expensive it is. The state made massive investments in its urban infrastructure over the years, and then in the past several decades has been abandoning it and rebuilding parts of it in the suburbs. It costs more, and takes more time and energy, to deliver services to a spread-out area than to a compact one. We complain about the cost of government in this state, yet we keep running up our own bill.

As the plan points out, a region's "development potential is highly correlated with its accessibility to urban-scale infrastructure." We need our cities to work, to be places where people come together, exchange ideas, start businesses. Connecticut has invested heavily in everything from wastewater treatment and transportation to energy generation and broadband access. We must maintain and leverage these assets and not abandon them.

We had that great burst of energy a decade ago, and began to get a handle on sprawl. We need to pick up the banner again.


"Smart Growth" bill passes in 2009, State Plan update to take an extra year.
Rell stresses jobs and housing in new economic strategic plan
DAY
By Patricia Daddona
Published on 9/17/2009

A 542-page Economic Strategic Plan for the state marries a sweeping vision of Connecticut as a “competitive” place to work and live with detailed proposals for making that happen.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell released the plan produced by Joan McDonald, commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development on Wednesday, saying the blueprint would guide state officials in retaining and growing jobs and investing in the infrastructure and technology to attract business.

Specific, targeted investments are recommended for housing, transportation and work force development. The proposal touts responsible growth, talent and technology, and competitiveness, and recommends a mix of bureaucratic and funding mechanisms to implement the plan's vision.

Key proposals include creating a statewide port authority for New London, New Haven and Bridgeport maritime business and major airports and launching an “Angel Investor Tax Credit” to reward early investments in biotechnology, digital media, and information technology and green technology.

Before the recession hit, DECD held public meetings in 10 cities and towns to gather feedback from residents, business leaders and lawmakers on the plan. As the global economic downturn continues to take a toll on Connecticut families and employers, causing job losses and budget deficits, DECD plans to hold more public meetings on the plan, Rell said.

”These economic challenges have made the plan all the more important even as they have complicated its development,” Rell said in a statement.

The blueprint is intended to cover growth and economic development as far out as 20 years from now, but it's near-term timeline calls for action over the next five years.

”Our game plan all along has been to compile as comprehensive a plan as we could,” said McDonald. “That's why our next step is to get feedback. Many of the initiatives require legislation. Those that have cost implications will have to be done as part of the overall budget.”

Setting priorities would follow the public dialogue, she added.

Specific targets for improvement in things like the literacy rate and commuter rail miles won't be included until the public has had a chance to further comment on which initiatives might be pursued either administratively or through the enacting of new laws, the plan states.




At Forum In Hartford, Planners Talk About Reshaping State's Future
The Hartford Courant
By DON STACOM
June 1, 2009

Clustering new housing around Connecticut's job centers, transit lines and existing commercial hubs would significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the cost of infrastructure in the decades ahead, regional planners said at a forum in Hartford.

Starting from that basic premise, the group Friday exploring possible approaches to the state's future that ranged from the innocuous, such as tax incentives for building apartment towers near Union Station, to the semi-revolutionary — creating a streetcar route from downtown to the University of Connecticut Medical Center via Farmington Avenue.

"It's about giving people freedom to choose, and preserving long-term value for our communities," said David Kooris, Connecticut director of the Regional Plan Association.

Planners throughout the country have debated urban development for decades, but the conversations have taken on a new urgency in the midst of the ferocious financial downturn, erratic fuel prices, deepening concern about global warming and widening dissatisfaction with relentless suburban sprawl.

Changes in streetscapes, building design and municipal zoning are necessary, but they don't need to be as jarring as some traditional New England suburbanites might think, according to speakers at the conference.

Too often, towns impose development rules that discourage efficient growth and create miles of isolated cul-de-sacs and inaccessible neighborhoods, creating ever-worsening traffic congestion as people relocate farther and farther from job centers, downtown commercial zones, medical offices and mass transit routes, said Patrick Condon, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of British Columbia.

He recommended encouraging interconnected streets with good bike and pedestrian lanes, allowing apartments and multifamily homes and one-family houses on the same streets, and conserving land by rewarding higher-density development.

Connecticut has relied too long and too hard on sprawling subdivisions of big-acreage tracts in remote suburbs and semi-rural towns, creating isolated pockets of low-density development that mass transit can't reach efficiently, according to several speakers.

Kooris said that with Connecticut's population shifting from predominantly young and middle-aged families to more elderly, young couples, single people and one-parent families, the housing market is undergoing a long-term shift.

"We bet the bank on one-family, detached houses with big yards. The demographics tell us we need to make our portfolio more robust — the Connecticut of five or 10 years from now will be demanding a different product," Kooris said. "But we're not talking about doing away with established one-family-home neighborhoods, not at all. We're talking about what we build, where we build, we're talking about tweaking underperforming strip malls and dead or dying malls, brownfields, dying corridors."

Copyright © 2009, The Hartford Courant



SWRPA to see state cut for regional planning

Stamford ADVOCATE
By Martin B. Cassidy
, STAFF WRITER
Posted: 02/17/2009 08:27:34 PM EST

Regional planning agency directors and local officials say they are puzzled by Gov. M. Jodi Rell's decision to address the state's budget deficit by cutting off funding to regional planning agencies at a time when the state is pursuing more municipal cooperation.

Rell slashed the entire $1 million state contribution to the 15 regional planning agencies, including the South Western Regional Planning Agency that serves Fairfield County. Meanwhile, the state is going forward with a $50 million grant program to municipalities to encourage cooperation.

"What I don't understand is, if your theme is regionalism, why cut a very critical source of funding that OPM (the state Office of Policy and Management) has provided for many years?" SWRPA Executive Director Floyd Lapp said. "If they can afford $50 million to encourage intermunicipal cooperation, why not leave the $1 million there, and you have planning on both ends."

If SWRPA and other regional planning organizations find their effectiveness sidelined by funding cuts, whatever boost in regionalization funds to Fairfield County could be used unwisely on projects that don't serve local interests, Lapp said.

Lapp said he plans to reach out to state legislators and top elected town officials to ask them to fight the budget cut.

The state cut to SWRPA amounts to a little more than $62,000 in revenue, Lapp said, adding if the $1 million in state funding to SWRPA "is not restored fully or at least partially, it will have an impact on our regional planning. We don't expect to be able to ask as much from towns that are furloughing and laying off people."

While the agency's overall revenue last year was nearly $800,000, according to the agency's annual report, more than three-quarters of that funding is for specific transportation projects, Lapp said, and cannot be used to cover administrative costs. Last year, SWRPA coordinated the use of about $500,000 in Department of Transportation funds for projects in Fairfield County.

"Transportation funding cannot cover this large a loss in money for regional planning," Lapp said.

Farther north, Carl Stephani, executive director of the Central Connecticut Regional Planning Agency, said his group relies on $60,000 from the Office of Policy and Management to secure matching federal grants for transportation and environmental studies conducted for its eight member towns, including Berlin, New Britain, Bristol and Plymouth.

"It makes no sense to me," Stephani said. "We've been very productive and don't understand why we'd be left out of the loop."

Donna Tommelleo, a spokeswoman for Rell, said the cut was one of many difficult ones made to balance the state budget. She emphasized that $50 million was set aside to encourage regionalization.

Tommelleo said agencies can apply for grant money from other sources, including the federal government, to cover shortfalls.

"This budget has more money for regionalization than any state budget ever," Tommelleo said. "Every cut has a constituency, and there are a lot of worthwhile projects and programs that, because of the economy, didn't get funding."

Lapp said the process of applying for grants for regional planning from the federal government can be extensive and time-consuming, a task that could be a hurdle without the state's additional funding.

Some of the state's $50 million designated for the towns could be allotted for planning organizations, but the governor's proposal precludes that, Lapp said.

SWRPA, established by the General Assembly in 1962, represents Stamford, Darien, New Canaan, Wilton, Norwalk, Weston, Greenwich and Westport. The group handles the federal requirement to establish regional transportation plans and acts as a professional staff for the Southwestern Regional Metropolitan Planning Organization, a body made up of the chief elected officials of the eight towns and cities. It authorizes spending for transportation projects in the area.

In Connecticut, regional planning agencies have three sources of revenue: federal highway grants for transportation projects, dues from member towns and state funding. Salaries and other costs are paid by dues and state money.

Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff said the loss of funding, even for a year, will derail SWRPA's continuous monitoring of trends in housing, transportation and environmental issues that affect Fairfield County towns and cities.

The importance of SWRPA's work is underrated, Joseloff said. "I'm astounded that we've lost funding for what is the closest thing we have to a county government, which seems penny wise and pound foolish," he said. "The MPO meetings are extremely important and are underreported and not understood."

Joseloff said he also was concerned that the state's $50 million fund won't be doled out to towns for what they have prioritized. For example, he said that Westport and Weston currently provide health services jointly but might be ineligible for funding under the new guidelines, which require combined health districts to serve a minimum of 50,000 residents to secure funding.

"We need to see the impact of the cuts," Joseloff said.

Joseph McGee, vice president of public policy for The Business Council of Fairfield County, said that while the lost funding would be a drawback, he was excited about the $50 million in grants to encourage towns to merge services and cooperate.

Sharing information technology and administrative services are two potential areas where towns could save money by pooling resources, McGee said.

"This is new ground for Connecticut," he said. "We've cooperated on some things, but we need to go to the next level and look at the opportunities, and I think the taxpayers are demanding that government services be provided more productively."



THE GOVERNOR'S BILL ON REGIONALIZATION:
  http://www.cga.ct.gov/2009/TOB/H/2009HB-06389-R00-HB.htm

Rell's budget offers chance for change 
DAY Editorial 
Published on 2/5/2009

Some Connecticut taxpayers might want to jump for joy.

That's because the two-year, $38.4 billion state spending plan proposed by Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell does something very unusual - it recommends spending less in 2010 than what is budgeted for in 2009.

What a terrific idea during tough economic times. Under Gov. Rell's suggested budget, government in the state would become smaller, less expensive and more efficient.

She has proposed sweeping reforms that would eliminate or consolidate 23 state agencies and commissions, resulting in the elimination of 400 positions. In addition, she recommends abolishing an additional 448 state jobs that are currently not filled. The governor isn't just saying don't fill them now, she's saying, get rid of them entirely. And she is looking for concessions from state workers.

Some of what Gov. Rell is proposing will be a hard sell. And some of it may be unpalatable and unacceptable. But it is the kind of forceful attack of a difficult problem that is required.

The state's revenues are in a free-fall. Virtually every other business and industry is reeling and taking steps to cut spending. The state is not immune. Gov. Rell has proposed reforming government and rethinking priorities. Her budget message: this is the state's opportunity to change things for the better. The General Assembly must take up the challenge.

There will be resistance. Among those agencies on the elimination list: the offices of consumer counsel and health care advocate, both watchdog agencies. And, there is a recommendation to consolidate the state's existing 117 probate courts to 36 and evenly distribute the workload. Probate judges would continue to be elected but would have to be attorneys with at least 10 years of service.

Under Gov. Rell's two-year plan, state aid to municipalities would not be cut, but additional incentives would be available to cities and towns that regionalize services. Hallelujah.

Noncarbonated water would be part of an expanded bottle bill and municipalities would be eligible for up to 3.5 cents for every container recovered through roadside collection. The governor suggested relief from unfunded mandates for municipalities and advocated for a two-year delay of a change of jurisdiction for juvenile prisoners that when implemented will be costly for the state and municipalities.

She is proposing a Civilian Conservation Corps to put the state's unemployed to work, closing the courthouses in Bristol and Meriden, and increasing the cost of every single licence, permit and fee issued by the state, from a fishing license to a driver's license.

The governor's budget plan is chock full of ideas to cut the cost of government and raise revenues, such as shaving to 4 percent (from 5 percent) the commission paid to store owners who sell lottery tickets, cutting funding for AIDS services by $3.1 million, and creating a “middle college system” that would consolidate technical high schools and community colleges for job training.

There will be critics and cheerleaders. Advocates will lobby to keep funding intact, agencies operating and state workers employed. And the taxpayers who have already been hit, those who have lost their jobs and savings, will push to reduce the cost and scope of state government. Gov. Rell has certainly provided fodder for both sides.


New Day For Smart Growth
LEGISLATIVE PACKAGE • New laws would encourage regional cooperation, saving money and land
Hartford Courant
January 27, 2009

Progress, the late poet Ogden Nash observed, might have been all right once, but it has gone on too long. That might describe the state's postwar rush to suburbia.

Stoked by VA mortgages and cheap cars and gas, development marched outward. Cities lost population as former villages boomed. But what boomed was mostly sprawl — ill-planned, low-density, auto-dependent, single-family residential or strip mall construction on what had been forest or farmland.

Only belatedly did the citizenry realize that progress has a cost, in addition to infrastructure and services expenses, air and water pollution, energy use and social isolation. It diminishes the open lands that support agriculture, water supplies, wildlife habitat and the traditional visual character of the Connecticut countryside.

Corralling sprawl

In the past few years, the General Assembly has passed several bills to discourage sprawl. These have provided some funding as well as plans and studies. Sweeping legislation proposed on Monday would vastly increase the state's efforts to grow more compactly and efficiently.

The legislative package is the result of a year's work by the bipartisan, public/private Smart Growth Working Group assembled by state Rep. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden. The proposed laws place a heavy emphasis on regional planning and cooperation. Mr. Sharkey and his colleagues believe that regionalism and other smart-growth measures will shrink the overall cost of government and make the state more competitive.

This is a threshold moment for the state's smart-growth movement. If we really believe that sprawl is damaging the economy as well as the scenery, the bills should pass.

A core problem with the present system is that it almost requires sprawl. Towns have to pay for education and other services, and virtually the only way they can raise revenue is the property tax. So the incentive is to develop all available land, whether the development is appropriate or not.

Sharing revenue

Under the new proposal, towns would voluntarily form economic development regions, which would entitle them to federal funds. The towns would share the revenue from new commercial development rather than waste time competing with one another. They would engage in regional collective bargaining, land-use planning, purchasing and other activities.

As an incentive, the state would give the towns a percentage, perhaps 1 percent, of the sales tax collected in the region (though this might take a year or two to implement).

The proposals also include such things as model smart-growth zoning regulations (most local zoning codes encourage sprawl), Geographic Information System mapping and streamlining the state's brownfield remediation program.

In all, it is the most comprehensive approach to reversing sprawl that's yet been presented in this state. But note: Connecticut has been behind the curve on smart growth; many of these measures have been used successfully elsewhere. For example, Minneapolis and its suburbs have had a revenue-sharing system in place since the 1970s, and it's worked well.

Still, it won't be easy to overcome years of distrust between towns and the state. The way out of that hole is to view state and local governments as one government, Mr. Sharkey said, and not as competing forces.

With local budgets strained and the state heading for a major deficit, it is essential to reduce the cost of government. If we the people can make government more efficient, and save farms, reduce car trips and clean the air in the bargain, we should.


Rell: Towns Will Receive Help Planning Affordable Housing
By LORETTA WALDMAN | The Hartford Courant
11:35 AM EST, November 11, 2008

The Capitol Region Council of Governments, a regional planning agency representing Hartford-area municipalities, has been awarded federal assistance to develop responsible growth strategies for affordable housing, Gov. M. Jodi Rell has announced.

CRCOG will receive direct technical assistance valued at approximately $45,000 from a team of national experts organized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Rell said. The largest of the state's 15 regional planning agencies, CRCOG has long been a proponent of the environment, social, and economic benefits of smart growth and will use the funds to enact "incentive housing zones" that encourage affordable housing development. CRCOG requested EPA assistance with technical policy analysis and public participation processes to develop and promote model smart growth regulations that include provisions for incentive housing zones in rural, suburban, and urban areas in the Capitol region.

"This assistance will help Hartford area towns promote a regional approach for combating sprawl," Rell said. "By developing zoning regulations based on responsible growth, we will be able to promote more affordable housing options in the greater Hartford area."

Other communities receiving the funding are Miami-Dade, Florida and New York City. Connecticut Communities represented by CRCOG are: Andover, Avon, Bloomfield, Canton, East Granby, East Hartford, East Windsor, Ellington, Enfield, Farmington, Glastonbury, Granby, Hartford, Hebron, Manchester, Marlborough, Newington, Rocky Hill, Simsbury, Somers, South Windsor, Suffield, Tolland, Vernon, West Hartford, Wethersfield, Windsor and Windsor Locks.

One of the recommendations to come out of Rell's Responsible Growth Task Force last year was to develop models of smart grown zoning regulations that could be used by Connecticut's municipalities and regional planning organizations.

"If left unchecked, sprawl will continue to chop up the landscape and impair our ability to remain economically competitive," she said. "Responsible development ensures that we protect valuable natural resources at the same time we take important steps to grow and strengthen our economy."

More information about the communities receiving EPA smart growth technical assistance: http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/sgia2008.htm .


Responsible Growth Not Easy: Task force provides vision for future Connecticut development.
By The Day 
Published on 2/17/2008
     
The "Responsible Growth Task Force" recently issued its report to Gov. M. Jodi Rell and it envisions a state developing far differently in the future than was the case for the second half of the last century and the first decade of this one.

For the last four decades development has meant a flight away from the urban centers. The result is a sprawling suburbia entirely dependent on the automobile. Developers have built ever-larger homes on ever-larger building lots, chopping away at farms and woodlands to make way for this lifestyle.

Zoning was established in such a way to segment it all - residential here, commercial over there. No neighborhood stores, no local diners, no offices.

So to build, care for and fill their large homes and maintain their large lots suburban dwellers drive to large shopping centers filled with big-box megastores. The simplest tasks - taking the kids to Little League, picking up a few groceries, getting a bite to eat - require long drives in the car.

Meanwhile, our city centers have suffered, left with empty storefronts, substandard housing and higher crime rates.

In terms of energy use, pollution, creating a sense of community, protecting our natural resources, maintaining our agrarian culture, it has been a time of irresponsible growth.

In its report to the governor the task force encourages reuse and rehabilitation of existing infrastructure. That means rebuilding Connecticut's cities. It calls for coordinating housing with the location of jobs, services and mass transportation.

The task force says Connecticut needs to concentrate development and stop using up what little open space it has left. It calls for developing "walkable districts" with a mix of residential, commercial, educational and recreational services. The panel wants to revitalize the state's existing village centers.

Such a strategy would protect natural resources, wildlife habitats and historic landscapes.

It urges regional planning and regional control of "projects of regional significance," meaning major projects, which if done right can promote responsible growth and if done wrong can be detrimental to an entire region.

It is a great vision, a necessary vision, but it will be a major task to get there.

Connecticut does not take well to change. Its governance and property tax structure is predicated on an every-town-for-itself attitude. Big-box shopping centers mean tax revenue. Single-family homes on two-acre lots mean low impact on municipal services, keeping town costs down.

Conversely, the kind of dense development proposed by smart growth means more kids in schools, and so higher property taxes. Mixed-used communities with residential and commercial development are foreign to the zoning model drilled into the collective consciousness of town officials for decades. And the idea of towns granting regional control over major projects planned within their borders? Forget about it.

Real responsible growth will take real change. Reforming the tax system to end the over-dependence on property-tax revenues. Providing the financial help and incentives to rebuild the cities and bring people back to the downtowns. Making mass transit user-friendly. Creating regional government.

But changing mindsets may be the biggest challenge. Accepting the premise that perhaps big homes on big lots and shopping at big-box stores was not the culmination of cultural advancement after all.



T A S K   F O R C E   T O    R E P O R T   T O    G O V E R N O R    I N    O C T O B E R . . .

Picture story of "Responsible Growth" bill signing ceremony in Windsor on August 2, 2007



"Responsible Growth" Office of OPM head, legislator on PRI studying regional issues, head of Transportation Strategy Board, DEP, LWVCT, "1000 Friends..." and Agriculture Commissioner meet in Windsor (Governor Rell noted that the Office of Responsible Growth [its head to her right--between LWV and DEP Dep.Commissioner] had been formed about a year ago by her Executive Order).  The Governor's bill (sHB7090) eventually absorbed some of the concepts of S.B.1215...at the ceremonial signing some familiar faces!

New Mass Transit Commissioner (within the D.O.T.) thanks the Governor for taking action - above;  Windsor officials with Governor Rell below.

Windsor Station is at one of those on-grade crossings--lots of clanging, red lights and barriers.
Freight train at the beginning of the ceremony trundles by--no speaking while that happened!  To close the event AMTRAK pulled in!




AN ACT IMPLEMENTING A PROCESS OF STATE-WIDE RESPONSIBLE GROWTH.  This bill got changed beyond recognition--some of it just waltzed into sH.B. 7090!
S.B.1215 - the particular section affecting SWRPA (if the bill passes)...March 5th Public Hearing at P&D, according to sources.

Sec. 6. Section 8-35a of the general statutes is repealed and the following is substituted in lieu thereof (Effective July 1, 2007):

(a) At least once every ten years, each regional planning agency shall make a plan of development for its area of operation, showing its recommendations for the general use of the area including land use, housing, principal highways and freeways, bridges, airports, parks, playgrounds, recreational areas, schools, public institutions, public utilities, agriculture and such other matters as, in the opinion of the agency, will be beneficial to the area. Any regional plan so developed shall be based on studies of physical, social, economic and governmental conditions and trends and shall be designed to promote with the greatest efficiency and economy the coordinated development of its area of operation and the general welfare and prosperity of its people. Such plan may encourage energy-efficient patterns of development, the use of solar and other renewable forms of energy, and energy conservation. Such plan shall be designed to promote abatement of the pollution of the waters and air of the region. The plan shall include provisions for disaster response and regional purchase of interoperable equipment and communication devices for first responders. The regional plan shall identify areas where it is feasible and prudent (1) to have compact, transit accessible, pedestrian-oriented mixed use development patterns and land reuse, and (2) to promote such development patterns and land reuse and shall note any inconsistencies with the following growth management principles: (A) Redevelopment and revitalization of regional centers and areas of mixed land uses with existing or planned physical infrastructure; (B) expansion of housing opportunities and design choices to accommodate a variety of household types and needs; (C) concentration of development around transportation nodes and along major transportation corridors to support the viability of transportation options and land reuse; (D) conservation and restoration of the natural environment, cultural and historical resources and traditional rural lands; (E) protection of environmental assets critical to public health and safety; and (F) integration of planning across all levels of government to address issues on a local, regional and state-wide basis. The plan shall identify measurable economies of scale for government functions, including, but not limited to, health districts, planning assistance and interoperable geographic information system mapping of the region, compatible with the state geographic information system. The plan of each region contiguous to Long Island Sound shall be designed to reduce hypoxia, pathogens, toxic contaminants and floatable debris in Long Island Sound.

(b) The regional planning agency shall prepare and include in the plan a comprehensive economic development strategy. In developing the strategy the agency shall:

(1) Evaluate economic development in the region, and shall include a review of population, geography, workforce development and employment, transportation access and resources, environment and any other aspects of the region's economy the commissioner deems appropriate;

(2) Analyze economic and community development problems and opportunities in the state, including (A) review of other government sponsored or supported plans and applicable state and local workforce investment strategies, and (B) identification of past, present and projected future economic development investments in the region;

(3) Define economic development problems of the region and establish goals and objectives to solve the economic development of such problems;

(4) Provide for community and private sector participation in implementation of the plan;

(5) List all projects and estimated numbers of jobs to be created from such projects;

(6) Identify and prioritize vital projects, programs and activities that address the state's greatest needs or that best enhance the state's competitiveness and identify sources of funding for past and potential future investments;

(7) Identify economic clusters that are growing or declining within the state;

(8) Propose a plan of action to implement the following goals: (A) Promoting economic development and opportunity, (B) fostering effective transportation access, (C) enhancing and protecting the environment, (D) maximizing the effective development and use of the workforce consistent with applicable state or local workforce investment strategy, (E) promoting the use of technology in economic development, including access to high-speed telecommunications, (F) balancing resources through sound management of physical development, and (G) obtaining and utilizing adequate funds and other resources;

(9) List performance measures to evaluate successful development and implementation of the plan, including, but not limited to, (A) the number of jobs created after implementation of the plan, (B) the number and types of public and private investments undertaken in the state, (C) the number of jobs retained, (D) the amount of private section investment in the state after implementation of the plan, and (E) changes in the economic environment of the region; and

(10 ) Outline the methodology for integrating the plan with regional economic priorities.

[(b)] (c) Before adopting the regional plan of development or any part thereof or amendment thereto the agency shall hold at least one public hearing thereon, notice of the time, place and subject of which shall be given in writing to the chief executive officer and planning commission, where one exists, of each member town, city or borough. Notice of the time, place and subject of such hearing shall be published once in a newspaper having a substantial circulation in the region. At least sixty-five days before the public hearing the regional planning agency shall post the plan on the Internet web site of the agency, if any, and submit the plan to the Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management for findings in the form of comments and recommendations. Such findings shall include a review of the plan to determine if the proposed regional plan of development [is not inconsistent] conforms with the state plan of conservation and development the state comprehensive economic development plan. Such notices shall be given not more than twenty days nor less than ten days before such hearing. [The regional planning agency shall note on the record any inconsistency with the state plan of conservation and development and the reasons for such inconsistency.] Adoption of the plan or part thereof or amendment thereto shall be made by the affirmative vote of not less than a majority of the representatives on the agency. The plan shall be posted on the Internet web site of the agency, if any, and a copy of the plan or of any amendments thereto, signed by the chairman of the agency, shall be transmitted to the chief executive officers, the town, city or borough clerks, as the case may be, and to planning commissions, if any, in member towns, cities or boroughs, and to the Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, or his designee. The regional planning agency shall notify the Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management of any inconsistency with the state plan of conservation and development and the reasons therefor.

[(c)] (d) The regional planning agency shall revise the plan of development not more than three years after July 1, 2005.

[(d)] (e) The regional planning agency shall assist municipalities within its region and state agencies and may assist other public and private agencies in developing and carrying out any regional plan or plans of such regional planning agency. The regional planning agency may provide administrative, management, technical or planning assistance to municipalities within its region and other public agencies under such terms as it may determine, provided, prior to entering into an agreement for assistance to any municipality or other public agency, the regional planning agency shall have adopted a policy governing such assistance. The regional planning agency may be compensated by the municipality or other public agency with which an agreement for assistance has been made for all or part of the cost of such assistance.


The South Western Regional Planning Agency and its Metropolitan Planning Organization for transportation funding watch over issues of import to our little part of Connecticut...


Link to a good group that watches the water issue...

THE REGIONAL PLAN OF CONSERVATION AND DEVELOPMENT 2006-2015 WAS ADOPTED AT THE FEBRUARY 6, 2006 MEETING OF SWRPA:

A new direction?

Connecticut's Quality At Stake
Hartford Courant editorial
November 12, 2006

A few weeks ago, Gov. M. Jodi Rell went to the Windsor railroad station to announce a new initiative to battle the sprawling development that is consuming Connecticut's countryside.

Now that Mrs. Rell is officially at the throttle for the next four years, it's time for this train to leave the station.

Mrs. Rell issued an executive order creating a new agency, the Office of Responsible Growth, in the state's Office of Policy and Management. The new agency will convene a steering council made up of the state agencies involved in land use: economic development, environmental protection, transportation, agriculture and public health, as well as the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority and the Connecticut Development Authority.

This group will then assemble a set of policies to encourage growth in town centers and along transit corridors, create more transit options and more transit-oriented development, protect vistas and other natural resources, and create a better mix of housing choices.

The new office will be headed by Undersecretary W. David Levasseur, chief of OPM's intergovernmental policy division. A lawyer, conservationist and former first selectman of Killingworth, Mr. Levasseur directed the state Plan of Conservation and Development, which has a definite smart growth bent.

Mr. Levasseur promises to broaden the reach of the steering council to gain information and advice from other state agencies as well as municipal, quasi-public, university, nonprofit and private entities. He likened the relationship to that between the U.N.'s Security Council and General Assembly.

He's right to make the process as open and inclusive as possible. Many local officials do not trust the state, to put it bluntly. They have to be part of the endeavor, and must buy into the notion that responsible growth is in their best interest. If they don't, the effort will fail.

One of the first tasks of the steering council will be to do an inventory of the smart growth tools already available in the state. Although the state was slow to respond to the challenge presented by low-density exurban development, it has a number of planning and funding mechanisms - village district legislation, brownfield remediation, historic tax credits and open space acquisition, among others - meant to encourage sound development.

Mr. Levasseur said such a survey will tell the council as well as local officials and developers what is available, what needs to be coordinated and where the gaps are.

When this is accomplished, the council will face the challenge of determining where to encourage growth and where to discourage it. This will take regional planning, a traditional weakness in Connecticut.

Mrs. Rell has said that regional planning cannot usurp local zoning. That leaves one practical alternative, which is to plan around natural resources. The state Department of Environmental Protection under Commissioner Gina McCarthy has moved aggressively to protect water supplies and other natural resources. The department is updating its "green plan," through which it identifies which parcels of open space to target for preservation.

Perhaps this work can be the basis for regional plans that will protect natural resources and direct growth to the already built areas. There should also be incentives for communities to increase population density in certain areas. This is the essence of smart growth.

Smart growth can happen here, but it won't unless Gov. Rell and legislative leaders work together to make it a top priority. In so doing, they will be protecting the state's quality of life. That should not be a partisan concern.



South Western Regional Planning Agency ("SWRPA"):  Regional_Plan_of Conservation and Development 2006-2015

Table of contents for this page:


IMPLEMENTATION OF THE PLAN:

Plans are drawn to guide public decision-making.  This advisory Plan contains an overview of how decisions of regional import might be made by the eight towns in the South Western Region.  What questions should be asked?  Who are the participants to be gathered together to make a decision of regional import?  What are the pros and cons of alternative courses of action?

Thanks to advances in technology, it is possible to read and/or print out a copy of the recently adopted Regional Plan for Southwestern Connecticut (click above).  Below is the "Foreword" section, which, in a nutshell, reflects the policy direction of the Agency.  Bound copies are in public libraries and Town Halls, were distributed to Planning and Zoning Commissions and Mayors and First Selectmen in the Region.  This Regional Plan has been declared "not inconsistent" with the CT State Plan of C&D 2005-2010.

In the six (6) subject chapters in the SWRPA Plan (Land Use, Transportation, Infrastructure and Critical Facilities, Housing, Natural Resources and Recreation, and lastly, Emergency Planning and Disaster Relief), there are approximately 40 specific recommendations for action.


As global warming is accepted as fact, the question of water supply being adequate rises to the surface...and Google Earth doesn't have anything on "About Town" (we get our aerial images off the CLEAR website):


"Aerial Saugatuck" detail of "The Grand Plan" and "Norfield Easter '07" by Margaret Wirtenberg



FROM THE SOUTHWESTERN CT REGIONAL PLAN 2006-2015:




CENTRALITY:  Stamford and Norwalk lead the way...


Three major tenants extend their leases at Merritt 7 Park
By CHRIS BOSAK, Hour Staff Writer
June 13, 2007

NORWALK — Three biggies are staying put in Norwalk.

General Electric Commercial Finance, Eastman Kodak and Siemens have extended their leases at the Merritt 7 Corporate Park, it was announced Tuesday by Albert D. Phelps, Inc., the managing and leasing agent for the six-building office complex.

General Electric also expanded its lease by 7,627 square feet, bringing its total lease to 348,907 square feet at the complex. GE now occupies 201 Merritt 7 in its entirety and has more than 108,000 square feet in 401 Merritt 7.

According to JoAnn Brennan McGrath, director of leasing for Merritt 7, the staggered lease renewal dates for GE have all been extended to 2014.  The landlord also worked with Kodak to take back some space the company no longer needed without penalty and was therefore able to retain Kodak for another five years. Kodak leases 48,756 square feet in building 401.

"Tenant retention was key for us," McGrath said. "It's important for us to have that tenant roster. These lease extensions stabilize the property a lot."

Other companies at Merritt 7 Corporate Park include: FactSet, Webloyalty, FASB, EMCOR, Marsh, Arch Chemicals, Principal Financial and HEI.

Related to the recent lease renewals, the complex also moved its fitness center and conference facility from building 201 to 301. "They are updated and more centrally located now," McGrath said.

The fitness center and conference center are now located next to the newly refurbished dining facility on the plaza level of 301 Merritt 7.

"The timing was very important," McGrath said. "We needed to move quickly in relocating the property's on-site amenities, in order to have the additional space built out for General Electric in an efficient manner. GE was able to expand their occupancy and satisfy their growth needs."

Siemens renewed its lease for 17,278 square feet in 101 Merritt 7.

"We are delighted that Kodak, GE and Siemens, each valued and long-term tenants of Merritt 7, have renewed their lease commitments," McGrath said in a release. "The completion of these three transactions reflects the landlord's commitment to forging strong tenant relationships and accommodating space requirements."

Merritt 7 Corporate Park is owned by Merritt 7 Venture, a joint venture between New York State Teachers' Retirement System (NYSTRS), and Fairfield Investors Inc.


Seligson gets OK to develop West Avenue
Norwalk HOUR
ROBERT KOCH, Hour Staff Writer
November 29, 2006


NORWALK — The Common Council last night gave local developer Stanley M. Seligson his marching orders for redevelopment of West Avenue: Come back to us by mid-March with an acceptable plan and you may reshape Norwalk's urban spine with new retail, housing and offices.

On Tuesday night, the council approved designating Stanley M. Seligson Properties as master developer for Area B of the city's West Avenue Corridor Redevelopment Plan, and giving Seligson until March 16, 2007 to present the council an acceptable development team and conceptual plan.

If Seligson fails to do so, the city will issue a request for proposals seeking other developers.  Leaving City Hall Tuesday night, Seligson expressed confidence that he will deliver by next March.

"(After) close to 60 meetings, we've listened and changed the plan dramatically — listening to the neighbors and listening to the citizens," Seligson said. "We feel we're using the best planners in the country, and we're in a position with them to be able to address what I'd like to believe are all the needs of the community. Our goal is to make this a very, very special project."

The West Avenue Corridor Redevelopment Plan, drafted by the Redevelopment Agency and approved by the council last June, will serve as a framework for Seligson to work. It allows for up to 350 new residential units, 75,000 square feet of office space and 393,174 square feet of new retail space in the core area.

Seligson left City Hall with Douglas T. Adams, his vice president of development, and planners from Street-Works, the urban design firm engaged in West Avenue redevelopment. So far, Seligson said he has presented new concept plans to several neighborhood groups. Aside from the smaller scale, the new plans leave streets more intact and call for several small parking garages rather than a single large one, he said.

What Seligson has come up with so far has won over Gordon F. Tully, a registered architect who vigorously opposed Seligson's earlier designs for the West Avenue area.

"When Seligson Properties and Street-Works presented the current design at a recent meeting of the Eastern Norwalk Neighborhood Association, on which I serve as a board member, the project really took my breath away. Not only had the major problems been resolved, but a wonderful and cohesive design had been created," Tully said. "I strongly support the designation of Stanley M. Seligson Properties as master developer for the West Avenue Corridor Redevelopment project."

On a nearly unanimous vote, the council approved designating Seligson the preferred developer. The vote came after comments by the public — split roughly for and against — and discussion among council members.

Councilman Matthew T. Miklave, chairman of the Planning Committee, gave five reasons to give Seligson the "first crack" at reshaping West Avenue: Seligson owns roughly 60 percent of the land in the redevelopment area, has invested about $12 million in the project, has demonstrated his development abilities with Lohmann's Plaza and other projects, and has listened to the public.

And, according to Miklave and others, seeking other developers at this point would delay the project.

"Putting this out for a request for proposals will delay the process. This process should move forward as expeditiously as possible," Miklave said. "If we're going to develop West Avenue, we should do so and get on with it. If we're not, we should take the cloud of redevelopment off the property owners and let them get on with the lives and livelihoods."

The potential use of eminent domain, although not at stake Tuesday night, has prompted property owners in the West Avenue area to oppose the redevelopment plan and Seligson's designs for the area.

"What bothers me is people are trying to make plans with my property," said Keal Evans, owner of European Auto Center Repair Inc. at 539 West Ave. "Now people are telling me they're going to take my property and make something else. What's going to happen to me?"

On that point, Mayor Richard A. Moccia indicated that property owners will be treated fairly.

"There will be relocation efforts made for people living in the area, so we're not going to be chasing them out of town," Moccia said. "Property owners there have to be treated with respect."

Councilman William M. Krummel cast the only vote against making Seligson preferred developer.

"Our American business history has repeatedly shown us that open competition is the best way to achieved excellence," Krummel said. "I understand that because of the preferred developer's very large holdings that there may not be a significant response to an request for proposals, however, I think that is a necessary risk to take to ensure that we continue to maintain the principles of open competition."



A forward vision for coastal corridor
CT POST editorial
Article created: 11/10/2005 04:23:18 AM

Plaudits to Rep. Christopher Shays, R-4, for his new "One Coast, One Future" initiative — in which the congressman hopes to strengthen the economic ties between the Bridgeport, Norwalk and Stamford communities.

Ideally, "One Coast, One Future" will help spur new jobs and development opportunities along all of the Southwestern Connecticut corridor. The initiative is being launched with an initial investment of $493,322 in federal funds.

"One Coast, One Future" is meant to play into the strengths and weaknesses of each of the three major coastal communities in Fairfield County. In practical terms, though, the benefit of this initiative might be slightly more complex.

After all, Stamford is a major community of business headquarters and facilities. Norwalk and Bridgeport, on the other hand, have struggled to find their selling points in convincing major corporations to open up shop in their cities.

The initiative has already put forth several concrete ideas, such as building a regional network to create a "Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy," producing a marketing initiative to increase cross-regional usage of the region's restaurant and cultural attractions, and linking wi-fi hotspots to enable seamless connectivity between housing and employment centers.

While most of that sounds like typical business double-speak, the overlying concept is what's important here — that it is in the best interest of Stamford, Norwalk and Bridgeport to work together, rather than against each other.

And not just in the business world, either. Hopefully, this coalition will help push forward regional initiatives on the state level and federal government level, too.

If its communities work together, Fairfield County has nearly limitless untapped potential. The pieces are all there. Our region just needs the foresight to help put them together. Shays' vision has helped provide some of that foresight.



FROM SECTION 3 (effective July 1, 2005) OF P.A.05-205...
(d) Any revision after July 1, 2005, shall describe the progress towards achievement of the goals and objectives established in the
previously adopted state plan of conservation and development and shall identify
(1) areas where it is prudent and feasible
(A) to have compact, transit accessible, pedestrian-oriented mixed-use development patterns and land reuse, and
(B) to promote such development patterns and land reuse,
(2) priority funding areas designated under section 5 of this act, and
(3) corridor management areas on either side of a limited access highway or a rail line. In designating corridor management areas, the secretary shall make recommendations that
(A) promote land use and transportation options to reduce the growth of traffic congestion;
(B) connect infrastructure and other development decisions;
(C) promote development that minimizes the cost of new infrastructure facilities and maximizes the use of existing infrastructure facilities; and

(D) increase intermunicipal and regional cooperation.





State Of Sprawl: 
Relentless, Helter-Skelter Development Is Chewing Up Connecticut's Landscape At An Appalling Rate And Diminishing Our Quality Of Life In Myriad Ways
Hartford Courant Editorial

October 9, 2005


In 1995, Tolland and Hartford were going in opposite directions. Tolland was on a development tear that would add more than 1,000 homes through 2004. Hartford, on the other hand, began a demolition program to reduce its inventory of more than 800 abandoned buildings.

The city even considered asking the National Guard to help knock down buildings, because some of the structures were being used by squatters and drug addicts. The boom in Tolland and the bust in Hartford are opposite sides of the same coin: sprawl in Connecticut.  In the post-World War II period, and particularly in the past two decades, subdivisions and strip malls have pushed through the inner suburbs to what had been quiet, rural communities - scenic farming towns or small manufacturing villages that hadn't changed much in a century or more.

They are changing now. The 2000 census showed dozens of small rural towns in both the eastern and western parts of Connecticut growing at a breakneck rate, while population fell in four of the state's five largest cities. In the eastern part of state, for example, there were 10-year population increases of 33 percent in Colchester; 28 percent in East Hampton; 24 percent in East Haddam; and 22 percent in Hebron, in a decade when the state's overall population grew only three percent. Many of these towns and others have been adding 100 homes or more a year for several years.

Nearly all of this development is sprawl - ill-planned, low-density, auto-dependent, single-family residential or strip mall construction on what was forest or farmland. From 1997 to 2002, the state lost 12 percent of its farmland, nearly 50,000 acres, the highest percentage of lost farms among the 50 states, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.  Much of this development has come without concurrent population growth. From 1970 to 2000, according to the Connecticut Metropatterns study by demographer Myron Orfield, the state's population grew by 12 percent but the amount of land in residential use increased by 102 percent.

Countless residents have come to see that their towns are at a crossroads. So is the state. Sprawl may bring the dream houses that some people want, but it comes at a cost only slowly being appreciated. Sprawl carries the expense of building new infrastructure and the waste of the old. It diminishes open lands that support agriculture, water supplies, wildlife habitat and the traditional visual character of the Connecticut countryside. It promotes driving and fuel consumption and increases the cost of services. It isolates poor and senior citizens, and limits housing variety.

"Sprawl is the most serious environmental problem facing Connecticut," said Karl Wagener, executive director of the state's Council on Environmental Quality.  To date, nearly 20 states have mounted serious anti-sprawl efforts. Connecticut is just starting. The state has been slow to respond to this self-inflicted wound.

How Sprawl Happened

In 1950, Connecticut was as generations remembered it: a land of a few mid-size cities, some smaller ones, and towns and villages in a countryside full of farms and woods.  Hartford had nearly 180,000 people. Downtown streets in the capital were crowded; people shopped at G. Fox and bopped at the State Theater.  But change was coming. Over the next half-century, the city would lose nearly 60,000 residents, and the towns in the country would boom.

Americans had been pushing out to settle the countryside since the Colonial era. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, "streetcar suburbs" such as West Hartford and Wethersfield began to radiate from core cities. But the real explosion in suburbanization came in the confident days after World War II. In just seven years, from 1946 to 1953, banks provided mortgages for 10 million new homes across the country. Huge subdivisions the size of cities were built along new roads and highways. The new suburbs were celebrated by the new entertainment medium, television, in comedies such as "Ozzie and Harriet" and "Leave It To Beaver."

The reasons for the suburban explosion are plentiful: from the completion of the AC electrical grid and the rise of a consumer culture to racism and an anti-urban bias. The real estate and construction industries had grown strong enough to influence public policy - in the 1920s, they successfully lobbied Congress for a tax deduction on home mortgage interest, according to Yale University Professor Dolores Hayden, author of "Building Suburbia."

But the major factor, the sine qua non of sprawl, was the growing availability of cheap cars and cheap gas. Nothing changed the American landscape like the automobile, because once free of the need for fixed-path transit, development could go anywhere. As the car culture developed, the highway lobby gained the muscle to get its way. 
Of the many factors that pushed and pulled people helter-skelter into the suburbs and exurbs of Connecticut, some are still at work, causing sprawl today. They are:

Government policies. Many Connecticut residents who moved to the suburbs, especially in the 1950s, came from the cities. Many doubtless wanted a suburban Cape Cod-style house with a lawn. But even those who might have stayed in the city were discouraged from doing so.

In the 1930s, banking reforms made it easier for middle-class workers to afford new homes, but government policy virtually assured that those homes would be in the suburbs. The Home Owners Loan Corp., a New Deal program created to stabilize the real estate industry by refinancing mortgages, shamelessly "redlined" urban working-class and ethnic neighborhoods, making it difficult for potential homeowners to buy in cities. The Federal Housing Authority followed this lead.

After World War II, millions of Americans took advantage of FHA and Veterans Administration mortgages to move to the suburbs. The federal government and the states provided the means to get there when they constructed the interstate highway system at the behest of the powerful highway and automotive industries. These highways were often built right through cities, as I-84 and I-91 were in Hartford, fragmenting them and demolishing historic buildings and urban neighborhoods.

Also, tax incentives, such as the 1950s rule on "accelerated depreciation," encouraged the building of suburban malls at the expense of traditional downtowns.

While the federal government was subsidizing single-family homes in the suburbs, it was building housing projects in cities. These eventually became home to the very poor, increasing the pattern of racial and economic segregation that is characteristic of sprawl.

Also, newly adopted zoning laws worked against the best interests of cities. The separation of uses - forcing industrial or commercial districts away from residential districts - sometimes went too far and made once-vibrant urban neighborhoods sterile and uninteresting. At the same time, many suburban subdivisions were built before towns passed zoning laws.

Finally, state government in Connecticut aided sprawl by moving state workers out of Hartford offices to suburban office parks in Rocky Hill and elsewhere.

Today, despite a growing concern over the effects of sprawl, government continues to subsidize it, building roads, schools and infrastructure in the hinterlands.

Poor planning. Although the forces pushing and pulling people out of cities made some growth inevitable, it didn't have to be as chaotic as it has been. It could have been planned, if the state had any meaningful land-use planning. Alas, there isn't much beyond site planning. Nearly all land-use decisions in the state are made on the local level, giving Connecticut 169 approaches to land use.

Locally, especially in small towns most recently hit by sprawl, planning is iffy. In some cases, a town's plan of conservation and development isn't consistent with the zoning map, or isn't updated every decade, as state law requires. Some towns don't have town planners, some have outdated zoning codes; three small Connecticut towns - Eastford, Bethlehem and Sterling - still do not have zoning.

Connecticut has had regional planning since before World War II, but the regional planning agencies have no statutory authority to review or alter local plans or even to make their own plans. The current regional plans are essentially compilations of local plans. Without regional standards, natural features such as forests or ridgelines may be protected in one town but developed in the next.

The one comprehensive plan that's available is the Conservation and Development Policies Plan, published every five years by the state Office of Policy and Management. The 2005-10 plan offers a growth-management strategy that balances economic growth with conservation of the environment.  The problem is that no one but state agencies has to follow it. Its authority has been narrowly limited to telling state agencies where they should or shouldn't build or expand. If towns followed the plan, we'd be attacking sprawl.

The state took a baby step this year when the legislature passed a law requiring that local planners consider whether their plans are consistent with regional and state plans of conservation and development.

Tax structure. The Connecticut Metropatterns Report, the Blue Ribbon Commission on Property Tax Burdens and Smart Growth Incentives, and other studies all reach the same conclusion: Connecticut towns are so heavily reliant on the property tax that they make bad land-use decisions to compete for property tax revenue.

For example, Canton had been growing quickly, but was still one of the smallest towns with a self-contained school system. As its population grew, so did the school budget. So a few years ago, the town abetted the sale of a lovely golf course on Route 44 for a shopping mall and didn't act to protect a historic site across Route 44, a seven-acre farmstead settled by the founder of the town in 1796, now also ticketed for commercial development. Town officials said they needed the property tax revenue.

So do other towns that practice what is called "fiscal zoning," land-use policies designed to grow the grand list, often at the expense of orderly development. Many towns opt for expensive homes on large lots to generate more tax revenue. "Active adult" developments without children are also becoming more popular.

"Our tax system, which is over-dependent on property taxes, virtually mandates that communities zone in tax and sprawl generators, such as shopping strips and office parks, and zone out all but expensive, large-lot housing," said Robert Yaro of New Canaan, head of the Regional Plan Association, who has done two studies of sprawl in Connecticut.

What's Wrong With Sprawl

It would be wrong to say that the postwar movement to the suburbs was a bad thing, because for countless Connecticut families it wasn't. People from Hartford or New Haven who moved to Tolland or Guilford bought houses, made friends, raised families and got involved in their communities. But the continual, relentless development of once-rural areas has an economic, environmental and social cost. The costs of sprawl include:

Waste and expense. Hartford has an extensive system of roads, sewers and other infrastructure. To rebuild it in the suburbs is inherently wasteful. Because suburbs spread out, it's more expensive to build and maintain infrastructure and deliver services there.

A study of sprawl in Pennsylvania, done in 2000 for the advocacy group 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania, found that towns spend up to $120 million a year more than they would if more compact forms of development were used. Avoiding sprawl can save up to 25 percent of the cost of building roads, utilities and schools.

A study the same year, commissioned by Grow Smart Rhode Island, found that if the state stayed on its course of sprawl, taxpayers would shoulder a $1.5 billion burden in the next 20 years. Half that expense would be for lost tax revenue in decaying urban centers, and 30 percent would be for building and maintaining extra infrastructure.

The consumption of land. From 1988 to 2002, Connecticut lost 100,000 acres of farmland and 300,000 acres of forested land to development, according to a 2002 study by the Harvard Graduate School of Design titled "Promoting Smart Growth in Connecticut." Only about 11 percent of the state's land is still in active agricultural use, and the percentage is dropping by 2 percent a year, twice the national average.

A study by the University of Connecticut's Center for Land Use Education and Research, covering 1985 to 2002, found the state is losing an average of 18 acres of forest per day and adding 12 acres of buildings, parking lots and roads.

If this continues unabated, the consequences are almost unthinkable. Most of the state will be an undifferentiated mishmash of subdivisions and malls. Much of today's privately owned woodland will be gone, few farms will be left and the Connecticut landscape, which has inspired residents and visitors for centuries, will be compromised. And once it's gone, it isn't coming back.

More driving. That means more congestion, lost time, pollution and energy use. With development stretching farther from urban centers, the median commuting time in Connecticut increased 16 percent, to 24 minutes, from 1990 to 2000, according to the Harvard study. The number of "vehicle miles traveled" on local roads increased 46 percent from 1986 to 1995, according to the Regional Plan Association. Most sprawl settlers have to drive because low-density, spread-out development discourages the use of transit. Fully 80 percent of the state's 1.6 million workers drive to work alone.

Traffic congestion on I-95 has gotten so bad that it inhibits the flow of goods by truck, which led consultant Michael Gallis to opine that unless congestion is abated, the state will become an economic cul-de-sac. That report was issued seven years ago. Since then, traffic has gotten worse.

An increase in air and water pollution. Although it has improved somewhat in the past 20 years, Connecticut's air quality is still worse than most other states, and motor vehicles are a major cause. Cars, SUVs and other light trucks emit more than 40 percent of airborne toxic chemicals, according to the Connecticut Fund for the Environment.

Sprawl also challenges the quality of streams and rivers, because of the loss of vegetation and increase in paved surfaces. "In Connecticut, more miles of river are impaired by pollution from the land that goes into runoff and storm sewers than by industrial and municipal pipe discharges combined," according to the 2004 annual report of the state Council on Environmental Quality.

Though it has received little publicity, the most serious environmental aspect of sprawl may be to the water supply. The legislative Blue Ribbon Commission on Property Tax Burdens and Smart Growth Incentives said that sprawl may "overtax water supplies, aquifers and delivery systems."

Lower housing production. Douglas I. Foy, Massachusetts' secretary of Commonwealth development and former head of the national Conservation Law Foundation, said sprawl largely limited housing production in his state to "McMansions," large houses on large suburban lots. The result was many fewer units than could have been built in more compact design, and a shortage of affordable housing.

Connecticut followed a similar path to a similar bind. A blue ribbon commission said five years ago that the state was short 68,000 units of affordable housing. Since then, the price of housing has increased 60 to 80 percent, while wages have gone up 13 to 15 percent. With the price of land continually bid up, it has become uneconomical for developers to build affordable housing. McMansions on suburban greenfields are the easiest and most profitable homes to build, and so they continue to be built.

Many believe the lack of affordable housing is a main reason for the anemic growth of the state's workforce. From 1995 to 2000, the state's workforce grew by only 0.2 percent, while New York's increased by 6.3 percent.

The legislature took a significant step toward solving the affordable housing crisis this year when it created a $100 million fund. Where and how the money will be used remains to be decided.

Obesity and other health problems. An extensive Rand Corp. study released last year, using data from more than 8,600 people in 38 metropolitan areas, found that those who lived in compact, walkable communities were less likely to report chronic health problems such as obesity, abdominal and digestive problems, migraines and arthritis than people who lived in sprawl suburbs. Researchers believe the result is mostly related to exercise, or lack thereof.

Social isolation. The first wave of young couples who moved to the suburbs after World War II are now, if they are still in the earthly choir, well into their 70s or 80s. As they become unable to drive, they become isolated. Many seek a place with services and amenities within walking distance. These needs won't be met if we continue to build only suburban McMansions.

At the same time, the pull of middle-class people out of cities has left the very poor behind. The loss of middle-class role models and community leadership, along with the loss of manufacturing jobs that cities such as Hartford and Bridgeport could once offer, has exacerbated the problems of drugs, violence, teen pregnancy and other pathologies that make it so difficult to revive the urban areas.

For all of this, Connecticut is still a desirable place to live. But it won't be if sprawl continues unabated. It's time to do something about it.

What To Do

When it comes to battling sprawl, Oregon was way ahead of the other states. In 1979, environmentalists teamed with Republican Gov. Tom McCall to create urban growth boundaries around the state's urban areas. Though a few other states have followed the Oregon model, the idea of government-mandated growth limits is highly controversial, even in Oregon, and a tough political sell.

In the past decade, a dozen states have taken a different tack and offered incentives for towns and regions to implement "smart growth" measures that would channel development into town centers and transit corridors. This approach is sometimes known as the "Maryland model" because it was pioneered by Gov. Parris M. Glendening in the 1990s.

Connecticut has yet to embrace either model. Though it's been obvious for years that poorly planned, low-density development was devouring the countryside, the state has been slow to react. Gov. John G. Rowland, first elected in 1994, was interested in large capital projects in cities. He did champion an open-space acquisition program in 1999, when the state was last in the nation in acquiring open land, but never developed a comprehensive program to confront the reasons open space was being lost.

Nor has anyone else. Despite the efforts of a small coterie of interested legislators in the past decade, few bills have been passed. The handful of new tools these bills made available - zoning protection for village districts, rural cluster development, multi-town planning, revenue sharing actions - have rarely been used.

This year, the legislature put money into smart growth when it passed a bill to create a permanent fund to conserve farmland and open space, preserve historic buildings and construct affordable housing through a $30 filing fee on real estate transactions. Another law encourages - but doesn't require - officials to make local, regional and state plans of conservation and development consistent with one another. That tepid law also asks towns to identify areas where "transit accessible, pedestrian-oriented mixed use development" might be built.

These are preliminary steps toward an incentive-based anti-sprawl program. But Connecticut still has a long way to go to reverse its decades-long pattern of poorly planned, helter-skelter development. If it's to happen, there must be changes at both the local and state levels. There are land-use groups in many towns, and a new statewide organization called 1,000 Friends of Connecticut, pushing for change. But history tells us that nothing will happen without the leadership of the governor.

In each of the states that have embraced some kind of growth-management program, it was the governor's baby. Democrats such as Mr. Glendening, Janet Napolitano of Arizona and Jennifer Granholm of Michigan and Republicans such as Jeb Bush of Florida, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania all led the fights to control sprawl in their states.

If Connecticut is to get a handle on growth, Gov. M. Jodi Rell or her successor must take the lead, articulate the vision and make it a top priority. This is the threshold step. Beyond that, the governor and other state leaders should:

Continue the educational programs begun by groups such as the CenterEdge Coalition, a Connecticut group that has held scores of meetings to publicize the findings of the Connecticut Metropatterns Report. That report says that the state's pattern of development has led to economic stagnation and social isolation.

Do a build-out study. Sprawl is a slow-motion crisis. People need to understand its implications to support change. One major step, as recommended by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Property Tax Burdens and Smart Growth Incentives, would be a "build-out" study showing what the state would look like if development patterns continue. This should provide a ghost-of-Christmas-yet-to-come glimpse at what Connecticut will look like if present development patterns continue.

Create meaningful incentives. If the state chooses to follow the "Maryland model" - though the Oregon growth-boundary plan shouldn't be dismissed out of hand - the governor and lawmakers should then create a series of incentives that would encourage development in town centers, employment areas and at transit stops. The incentives could be grants, loans, tax breaks or some form of zoning override. There should be an incentive for towns to make their plans of conservation and development consistent with the state's plan.

Also, the state should focus on preserving historic assets such as 19th-century factory buildings, entire mill villages, well-preserved fishing harbors and heritage roadways. Most of the state's highway infrastructure spending should be used to repair existing roads and bridges.

In short, the state's money would go into the built areas. There would be no more subsidy for sprawl.

Change the tax system. Everyone who studies this issue reaches the conclusion that the state's heavy emphasis on property taxes to pay for municipal government leads to poor and ultimately self-defeating land-use decisions. Towns give up beautiful green space to jam in big box stores simply because they need the tax revenue. Some spending - most likely in education - ought to be shifted to other taxes, as Michigan, Texas and some otherstates are doing. We need to do something different. One radical idea is to have the state collect all business and commercial property taxes and return the money to the towns as needed.

Make a real investment in transit and transit-oriented development. Gov. Rell was rightly applauded for committing $1.2 billion to transportation. But that was mostly to upgrade the existing system, which is inadequate. Connecticut has to bite the bullet and make a real investment in transportation. Gov. Romney of Massachusetts just committed $31 billion to transportation over 20 years, nearly half of which is earmarked for mass transit.

When the I-84 project in the Waterbury area is finished, and the I-95 widening east of Branford is concluded, the state's highway system will be essentially completed. It's already congested. To stave off gridlock, we must shift people onto trains and buses.

One way to achieve that goal is population density near the stations. People living near train and bus stations lessen the need for more cars and highway lanes and draw development away from rural greenfields. For example, nearly every suburban stop of the Washington, D.C., Metro has become a pod of housing, stores and offices. One way to make this happen in Connecticut would be to earmark the $100 million affordable housing fund for transit-oriented development.

The governor may want to create a super-agency that oversees transportation, planning and all other aspects of development, as Massachusetts has done. Short of that, a reorganization of the state Department of Transportation might temper the department's tendency to solve the state's transportation woes by widening the highways.

Strengthen the cities and inner suburbs. As should be obvious, if cities and inner suburbs are strong and healthy, people are more likely to live there and not join the sprawl parade. State leaders need to look for opportunities to strengthen these core areas. In recent years, for example, inner-ring suburbs have been penalized by the state's school funding formula. That shouldn't be. If the West Hartfords and West Havens don't thrive, there will invariably be more pressure on the small towns farther away from the cities.

Study regionalism. People in Connecticut aren't wastrels, as a rule. The costs of municipal government continue their steep climb. If some services can be provided more efficiently and inexpensively on a regional basis, people will listen. It makes sense to have stronger regional planning, and to give regional planning agencies real authority. Regional revenue sharing, as practiced in Minneapolis, Pittsburgh and some other cities, may solve some problems for Connecticut. The governor ought to empanel a study that would answer these questions.

Help the towns. Hartford lawyer Dwight Merriam, a nationally recognized expert in land-use law, said the state should increase its planning capacity and have a "sprawl-buster" office that helps towns plan and manage growth. The state could offer such things as model zoning and subdivision codes, Geographic Information Systems services and planning assistance to towns that don't have planners.

On The Local Level

While the state wrestles with the big picture, sprawl actually happens on the local level, one public hearing at a time. Since nearly all land-use decisions in Connecticut are made at the local level, town officials can stop sprawl if they work at it.

Start with planning. Towns are supposed to update their plans of conservation and development every 10 years. Some aren't particularly assiduous about it. East Hampton's plan was last published in 1989, using some 1980 data. While a new plan is in the works, the town is being overrun with development, with almost 1,100 new homes either finished or in the pipeline from 1998 through 2004. In some instances, town plans are not consistent with local zoning. In others, zoning codes are outdated.

Thomas Byrne of the Connecticut Federation of Planning and Zoning Agencies says towns should update their plans all the time, not every 10 years. "Make decisions on what you want your town to look like, what kind of development you want and where you want it," he said. Then make zoning consistent with planning.

Plan the development for the developer. When towns are able to control some or all of the land in a deal, they begin to set parameters for development and offer incentives to developers who'll sign on to build the project. This is known as "getting the developer to eat the carrot." The Blue Back Square project in West Hartford is a variation of this idea. There, the town offered to sell some of its land, plus provide help in bonding, to a developer who would buy an adjacent tract for mixed-use development in West Hartford Center.

Examine the effect of local zoning. Some towns use large lot, 2- to 3-acre zoning in the belief that it reduces sprawl, when in fact it actually encourages more development. The lots are too small for anything besides homes, and a developer needs more land to build a certain number of houses to make a profit.

Educate members of land-use boards. In most towns, members of land-use boards are volunteers from all walks of life. While many gain experience on the job, and sometimes ask consultants for assistance, they can be overmatched by teams of high-powered lawyers, architects, engineers and consultants that big developers can assemble. Obviously, the better trained the board members are, the better job the board will do.

This list is not meant to be exclusive. The private sector, for example, can also play a major role in fighting sprawl by building the kind of compact, walkable, mixed-use developments that are both lively and easy on the environment. Land trusts and other local groups are seeking to buy and preserve important parcels.

Sprawl is the most serious challenge facing the state. Connecticut's leaders can address it, and manage the state's growth smartly and sensibly, if they have the imagination and the political will.

To that end, this page will continue to highlight sprawl issues. We will ask all candidates for governor to explain how they will attack the sprawl problem if elected. Sprawl must be a centerpiece of the 2006 campaign. We'd like to hear your thoughts as well.


EDITORIAL - Hartford Courant
Regional Cooperation Is Imperative
January 2, 2005

Connecticut's cities and towns are slowly but inexorably being drawn into regional relationships that if properly exploited can help bring property taxes under control, end wanton development of open space and encourage better mass transportation systems.

Local officials are preparing budgets for what will undoubtedly be another difficult fiscal year. State aid to schools and other grants are not likely to rise this year, which will put more pressure on property taxes.

While local officials have few choices when seeking revenue, they can make their problems known to their legislators and push for action that will force the state to live up to a promise of an average 50 percent funding for public school education from kindergarten through high school. Sending more state money to the towns for special education expenses is also critical.

Without meaningful changes in the way municipalities pay their bills, they will continue the cannibalization of the landscape that makes them desirable. Canton, for example, lost its centerpiece of green space on Route 44 as the lure of tax revenue from big-box stores meant digging up a golf course and surrounding property.

National chains seem determined to provide town after town with a cluster of look-alike department and home improvement stores that they built the year before just a few miles away. Studies and forums have decried the trend for decades, but without the will to make change, commercial and retail developments will be built along major roadways until they form continuous eyesore strips interrupted by small areas with trees.

Many municipalities have inadequate planning and zoning regulations. A proposal to raze the small East Hampton Mall and replace it with a super-sized supermarket resulted in a well-intentioned but poorly conceived piece of state legislation, which was passed in haste last year. The new law prohibited developments of more than 12,000 square feet within 2,000 feet of a lake of 500 acres or more. While aimed at one proposal, the new law affects other buildings in East Hampton and in other municipalities. Using such narrow legislation instead of good planning and zoning is an indication of the patchwork approach to growth in the Connecticut.

East Hampton is likely to end up in court over the supermarket proposal. Town residents and officials appear to be finally paying proper attention to getting the town's plan of development updated and to other ways of controlling growth. Officials in many municipalities have the same kind of work to accomplish before they are faced with legal but inappropriate development.

Local officials should also work toward forging regional relationships so that development of commercial, residential and industrial areas is done with an eye to what's best for all the cities and towns in a region. Lyle Wray, executive director of the Capital Region Council of Governments, is advocating a regional design center for reviewing developments. The center would work to make existing or planned developments complement each other and link them to mass transportation systems. If dependence on property taxes can be lessened, such planning will allow municipalities to, in effect, share regional shopping centers or industrial areas and leave more of the state's appealing landscape untouched.

Saving one of the shoreline's last and largest tracts of land from development should be a primary interest of residents in Old Saybrook, Westbrook and Essex. Called The Preserve, the 1,000-acre forested parcel forms the watershed for the Oyster River and is home to several species of plants that are considered endangered or causes for concern. Buying this land from River Sound Development, which plans to build 248 homes and an 18-hole golf course, should be a priority. State officials who have expressed a desire to help protect The Preserve should act before it is too late.

Another shoreline challenge is getting towns near Long Island Sound to address septic problems. A state law adopted last year allows towns more flexibility in finding creative solutions to handling waste - beyond sewage lines and treatment plants once sought by the state Department of Environmental Protection. Now that the towns have the flexibility they sought, they need to clean up the problems.

Portland recently joined New Haven as the second municipality to embrace a new energy future by making a commitment to purchase 20 percent of the town's power from clean sources by 2010. Power generated by wind, solar and hydropower can help reduce dependence on oil and natural gas. It also helps reduce air pollution. The cost of buying clean energy may be more at first, but the long-term rewards are worth the expense. It's an opportunity for all of Connecticut's municipalities to take meaningful action on a global concern.

Local initiatives can have positive regional effects. Manchester, for example, should settle on a site for a downtown bus station that would be on the line of the proposed busway running east from Hartford. A site decision would help clear the way for the transit system to operate.

It's taken too long to get busways around Hartford underway. A proposed route from Hartford to New Britain appears to be bumping along, but more signs of tangible progress this year would be welcome.

South Windsor and Manchester need not hesitate to get started on creating a shuttle bus route to serve the Buckland commercial maze. New stores and other development make imperative efforts to reduce vehicle traffic in this already over-congested area. Transit planning around major developments should be an automatic regional concern and initiated before any additional construction begins.

Westfarms mall owners should drop their lawsuit aimed at blocking construction of Blue Back Square in West Hartford Center. The innovative and thoughtful redevelopment of several moribund blocks will add to the vitality of the center. With intelligent marketing, Westfarms and Blue Back could complement each other and compete together as a regional shopping attraction.

On a related point, West Hartford officials should work to create an enforceable neighborhood design ordinance for the Elmwood section to protect it from ill-fitting development. Many neighborhood activists have strong ideas about Elmwood's growth and should be involved in discussions of its future.

Regional Impact

A number of local issues will have regional effects and could use a boost in the new year.

Now that the attention of the owners of the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam has turned back to putting an additional theater in town rather than shifting up the Connecticut River to Middletown, efforts should be redoubled to get started on the project. A new theater will allow for more ambitious theatrical productions, but opening a second venue should not mean leaving the restored, historic opera house dark. The magnificent riverfront building is a signature landmark that benefits from the vitality of use.

Keeping momentum going for the redevelopment of Rentschler Field in East Hartford means generating important revenue for the town and expanding the job base for the region.

South Windsor has a chance to make a regional connection by building hiking and bicycling trails to link up to similar routes in Manchester and Vernon. A trail near the Evergreen Walk shopping center would be a good place to begin.

Reuse and renovation top the list of jobs to do in many municipalities, along with efforts to make new construction blend in with the old. Ellington has a chance to get control of such decisions by making its ad hoc design review board a permanent commission. Stafford can get on the same track by continuing work to make its downtown more attractive to businesses. Bristol could benefit from taking a comprehensive look at the proposals for revitalizing downtown along with an overdue effort to refurbish its beautiful city parks.

Old buildings that need to be renovated or simply put to a good use offer opportunities in many municipalities. Enfield officials should focus on finding a new role for the old senior center. Manchester has dawdled too long over making a decision on the future of Bennet Middle School. Glastonbury has let another year pass without finding a purpose for the vacant Academy School. Vernon must finish the renovation work on its town hall.

Wethersfield should install lights at Cottone Field so that working parents can get to see more of their children's games. Careful installation can reduce the effect on the neighborhood and minimize disruption for nearby residents. And how about finally getting serious about improving the hideous appearance of Silas Deane Highway? In Simsbury, it's time neighbors of the Metacon Gun Club reached an accord over use of the firing range. The 50-year-old club appears to be on firm legal ground to operate with proper safety procedures and a strong safety record.

Lasting Ties

Cities and towns in Connecticut will not flourish by pursuing separate goals. Their hope is in developing cooperative ties that transcend borders. Only by pulling together to push for less reliance on property taxes and for coherent regional land-use policies will towns be able to maintain services while leaving a legacy of preserved open space and with intelligent development.

In a state where home rule is cherished to a fault, local independence may ironically rely in large part on a willingness to join with other municipalities to solve vexing property-tax-driven problems such as sprawl and pressure to cut school budgets even as student enrollment increases. Regional cooperation requires strong local leaders willing to look for new ways to operate.

Continuing down the same rutted paths that, in some cases, were carved decades ago will have a predictable dead-end result. Finding practical, common- sense solutions to nagging and costly problems will in many cases involve going beyond a municipality's borders.




Monroe may bail from health district; council set to vote
By TONY SPINELLI tspinelli@ctpost.com
Article Launched:12/02/2006 07:34:56 AM EST

MONROE — The Town Council may vote soon to pull out of the Trumbull-Monroe Health District, which some officials say is shortchanging the town with poor communication and weak representation.  The council is scheduled to vote on the prospect of leaving the health district when it meets at 8 p.m. Dec. 11 in Town Hall.

"Communication has been horrible," council member Steve Rugh said of the health agency. He said he is leaning in favor of pulling out, but will make a final decision based on what is the best choice for the citizens of Monroe.

Questions about communication problems between health district officials and town officials were hashed out at a joint meeting in October.

No serious problems have arisen since then, said Enid Lipeles, chairwoman of the council, but council members have been discussing among themselves that perhaps Monroe would be better off hiring its own health staff.

"We want to decide Dec. 11 because we have to give them six months' notice if we are leaving," Lipeles said.

The Trumbull-Monroe Health District was established two years ago.

If Monroe leaves the district, Trumbull would be in a predicament, said Trumbull First Selectman Raymond Baldwin.

"No, Trumbull is absolutely not interested in leaving the health district, so it does put us in a bit of a dilemma," he said. "I hope the Monroe Town Council will consider staying in the district. There are concerns they have; we have them as well. But I don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water."

Trumbull also would be forced to hire its own health staff, Baldwin said, if the regional agency were dissolved.

"You need at least two" towns to establish a regional district, said Dr. Larry Dinkes of Trumbull, the chairman of the health district.

He said the agency has responded to all requests from Monroe and Trumbull, despite concerns there was a communication breakdown.

Earlier this year, Monroe council members became alarmed when they saw a newspaper article about how health district officials were considering closing the Monroe branch office, though no one consulted them. Town Council members said they want to be kept better informed about such developments. The office closing did not occur, but communication was lacking, they said.  Some council members also expressed concern over whether the town is getting good dollar value for the services it receives.

Trumbull officials said they have similar questions.

In the current fiscal year, Trumbull paid $191,000 and Monroe contributed $107,000 to the district for health services, including mosquito control, restaurant inspections, hair and nail salon inspections and well water tests.

The remainder of the district's $561,000 budget this year is funded by the state, several grants and fees.

Judy Wrenn, the health director, could not be reached Friday for comment.

The agency has six full-time staffers and one part-timer.


Red Cross chapters weigh mergers
Greenwich TIME
By Hoa Nguyen
Published June 25 2006

In a move that brings up the idea that some American Red Cross chapters should consider merging, the Greenwich chapter is helping to respond to disasters and provide emergency services in Stamford.

Following the departure of Stamford's director of disaster and emergency services, the chapter struck a deal with its counterpart in Greenwich for help in running the program.

"It's been going on since April," said Kerri Hah, the Stamford chapter's assistant executive director. "It's been doing fine. It's still using Stamford volunteers. They're still on call and they're still responding to local Stamford calls."

Greenwich, which has two employees trained to run the program, is under contract to assist disaster relief and emergency response in Stamford, primarily during the weekday business hours when Stamford lacks a staff member who can coordinate the activity. Stamford volunteers are available at night and on weekends to coordinate, though members of the Greenwich chapter are available for backup.

Sharing services between two chapters is common, but this particular arrangement is unique because it deals with disaster and emergency response services -- a core Red Cross activity that all chapters must provide if they are to operate independently.

The Stamford chapter has existed on its own for 92 years, though officials there and at other nearby chapters are discussing the possibility of a merger. Officials said such discussions have occurred several times over the years, though each time the board of directors for both chapters decided against it.

"The conclusion was the discussion was a nice discussion, but no action was taken," said Brook Urban, who served on the Greenwich chapter's board of directors before taking over as executive director in 2003. "Each of the chapters were doing well at what they were doing, and just decided they were going to continue in the way that they were going."

But officials said the chapters may now be more amenable to the idea of a merger, especially because there are vacancies in several key positions.

Stamford's chapter not only went without a disaster and emergency services director but also lacked an executive director until recently when Madeline Piccolo, a financial and office manager for the chapter, was appointed to the position. The chapter now employs five full-time staff members and two part-timers.

Greenwich has more than double that number of staff, though Urban has announced she is leaving her position at the end of this month to work in Eagle Hill School's development office. Her successor has not yet been chosen.

"Obviously when there are changes in staff, you think about those conversations re-opening," Urban said of the possibility of mergers.

Tom Stark, a former board vice chairman of the Greenwich chapter who has worked on several national disaster response efforts, recently resigned because he said he was disenchanted with the Red Cross system and what he saw as its unwillingness to change.

"I've worked hard on some projects and there's no movement," he said.

Stark said area chapters should have moved forward with a merger years ago so that they could capitalize on the efficiencies gained by having one set of staff. He also said that the way the chapters are organized now, funds raised in a wealthy community such as Greenwich, appear as surpluses at the end of the year, instead of going to help pay for needed programs in cash-strapped chapters.

"People in Greenwich only want to give money that only goes to Greenwich and the areas that have more need, get less," Stark said.

In response, Urban said, "He's no longer on the board and so he's unaware of what is and what is not going on."

Jim Schwarz, vice chairman of Stamford's board of directors, said he has researched the possibility of a merger and finds that the chapter would not benefit as much as he thought it might.

"The cost savings are not as obvious," he said. "The chapters are running really efficiently now. You look at Stamford, we don't have a lot of non-service delivery people. We don't have any ... people we would eliminate."

Schwarz said he started looking at the idea of a merger about four years ago and though the concept stalled, he believes there will eventually be some consolidation among chapters.

"The board are just being really scrupulous about are we doing the right thing for the community," he said. "I do think there's good operational reasons to do it. Ultimately, I think yes, there will be some consolidation. I don't know who will be involved."


Darien, New Canaan study combining health departments
Stamford ADVOCATE
By Lauren Klein, Special Correspondent
Published February 21 2006

A committee formed by New Canaan and Darien will examine whether a combined health program would be cheaper and more efficient for both towns.  The effort comes after Norwalk halted a similar plan with New Canaan last year.  New Canaan approved a motion to form a joint health district, but Norwalk's Common Council did not.

"It was disappointing, but there was too much resistance," New Canaan First Selectman Judy Neville said. "We look favorably toward working with Darien."

The New Canaan-Darien committee, which has 12 members, will look at possible budgets, the pros and cons of combining the health departments and similar health districts elsewhere.

Each town has a population of about 19,500, but their health programs must provide the same services as big cities, including restaurant, sewer, septic tank and nail salon inspections, and must be prepared to handle SARS, Avian flu, the West Nile virus and other emergencies. Each department has a staff of about four.

"There are a lot of things you have to be responsible for, and you can't do everything," said John Crary, a Darien town administrator and health committee member. "It's not just about a bigger program, because bigger isn't necessarily better."

The committee wants to determine whether a joint district could provide better services at the same cost or less, he said.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the state requires municipal health departments to provide protection for bioterrorism without additional funding, which is difficult for small departments with limited resources, said Dr. David Reed, director of the New Canaan Health Department and co-chairman of the committee.

"Ultimately, what we're trying to do is get to a level where we can deal with new public health threats," Reed said. "The only way to deal with it is to grow larger through a new health district."

Darien First Selectwoman Evonne Klein said the idea of a health district was introduced about five years ago, and residents followed the meetings held last year between Norwalk and New Canaan.

"This is truly the first time that the community has engaged in this discussion," Klein said. "Ultimately the big question is, 'Is this the right thing for the Darien community?' "

A joint health district would serve about 40,000 people, which would make it eligible for more grants, Reed said. Health district employees would be able to specialize in skills needed for better inspections, officials said.

If committee members decide the idea is worthwhile, the aim is to adopt it by June 30, which would allow the towns to receive double funding from the state for the last fiscal year, committee members said.

Each town now gets 49 cents per capita in state grants. The state is pushing for municipalities to create joint districts, so the New Canaan-Darien rate would increase to $1.69 per capita. The joint district would receive an extra $47,268 per year from the state.

Klein hesitated to give an opinion about the health district proposal, but Neville said it would benefit both towns.

"It's very cost-effective for both towns, you can expand your services, especially to the seniors," Neville said. "It makes perfect sense."


A New Canaan-Darien health district would be the second in Fairfield County. Westport and Weston formed one in 1966.

There are 88 health departments in Connecticut and 19 health districts, said Bill Gerrish, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Health.

The committee held its first public meeting earlier this month in Darien. Three meetings will be scheduled in the coming weeks.

Darien members of the planning committee, appointed by Klein, are Selectwoman Susan Young, Town Administrative Officer John Crary, Human Resources Director Alison Graham, Social Services Director Judy Morrison, Board of Finance member Barbara Cook, Representative Town Meeting member Philip Weyhe and Social Services commission member Nancy Herling.

New Canaan members, appointed by Neville, are Director of Human Resources Cheryl Jones, Director of Human Services Carol McDonald and Board of Finance member John Laird.

Reed and Peggy McLaughlin, Darien health director, are the committee's co-chairmen.


Critics attack merger
By ROBERT KOCH, Hour Staff Writer NORWALK
June 28, 2005

Anticipating Common Council action tonight, critics stepped up their attacks on a proposed Norwalk-New Canaan re- gional health district, as representatives of four municipal unions representing Norwalk Health Department employees sat down with Mayor Alex Knopp on Monday. Peter Thor, director of police and planning for Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees Council 4 Locals 1303 and 2404 afterward described the differences between the city and unions as broad.

"We're looking to protect the quality of the jobs and services provided to the city of Norwalk, and we don't believe the proposal the city has put on the table comes close," Thor said. "The issues are associated with the protection of the jobs. We're talking about pension, health insurance and wage issues." Knopp, later Monday, announced that he will ask the council tonight to table action on the proposal until questions concerning the public health benefits are answered.

Under the merger, the 28 full-time employees of the Norwalk Health Department would move from working for the city to working for the district -- and return to working for the city if the district were dissolved. As district employees, they would remain in the city pension plan and keep their salaries and benefits. Employees are concerned about what will happen to those salaries and benefits when their contract expires in June 2006.

During the two-hour meeting, Knopp said the city made counter proposals to union requests. He characterized their discussions as "serious and constructive in which there was both agreement and disagreement." "We have agreed to meet again in two weeks to give both sides the opportunity to review the proposals and so that Norwalk can discuss these proposals with New Canaan, as the unions have requested that New Canaan be a party to whatever memorandum of understanding on collective bargaining issues may be negotiated," Knopp said. Lewis D. Brey, the Westport attorney representing the Norwalk Municipal Employees Association, like Thor, refused to discuss details of the meeting, but said afterward that no resolution was reached.

"Clearly, this wasn't going to be settled in one sitting. We entered that meeting with fundamental disagreements, and at this point nothing has been resolved," Brey said. "The mayor asked that we meet again, which of course we will do." In a related matter, Council 4 enlisted Dr. Fred Hyde, a health services consultant, to comment on the proposed health district. In a 10-page report e-mailed to council members over the weekend, Hyde challenged the conclusions of a task force formed last fall to study a merger.

The 11-member task force, comprising health officials from Norwalk and New Canaan, concluded unanimously that forming a regional health district would boost state reimbursement and improve health services in both communities. Hyde, citing demographical differences between Norwalk and New Canaan, concluded otherwise.

"In the short term, if the citizens of New Canaan are enamored of the services available in Norwalk, let them purchase more of those services. They can afford it," Hyde wrote. "But if the citizens of Norwalk want to retain the focus and perspective of a larger health department, turn this proposal down." Councilman Bruce I. Kimmel, who was poised to vote against the merger, defended Hyde's credentials and conclusions. Kimmel said his wife, an assistant to the president of the Service Employees International Union Local 1199, is familiar with Hyde's work.

He praised Hyde's report. "It raised a number of issues that people have been raising in a very persuasive way, such as whether or not there will be real savings in the long run for Norwalk, and whether the level and kind of services that Norwalk requires will be there," Kimmel said. "And whether the level of services will be to our satisfaction down the road."

Knopp and at least one Norwalk Board of Health member expressed regret that Hyde's letter and other concerns were not raised earlier. The task force met seven times. All meetings were open to the public, as was a public hearing before the Common Council's Public Health & Welfare Committee and three subsequent committee meetings.

"Mr. Thor's letter addressed in the most part what is good for the union and not what is good for the citizens of Norwalk and New Canaan," wrote health board member Dr. Jack John McNamara, in an e-mail to city Health Director Timothy J. Callahan and forwarded to Knopp. "I would assume that Dr. Hyde was paid by the union for his statement. ... Stick with it Tim, you have done your job well"

The Norwalk chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, meanwhile, held a special meeting last Thursday to address the merger. Board members voted to oppose it for now. "We agreed that we would oppose the merger at this time," said the Rev. Lindsay E. Curtis, chapter president and board chairman.

"My board just felt that we just didn't have enough information to endorse it. What does the city of Norwalk get out of the merger? It seems it is to the advantage of New Canaan."

Diane Lauricella, a Norwalk resident and environmental consultant, said she is not opposed to the concept of a regional health district, but urged the council not to approve the current proposal. She said key stakeholders, including the African-American community, were not invited to discussions about the merger. Lauricella maintains that the Norwalk Health Department is not providing mandated services. She described the proposed merger as an 'outsourcing' with shortcomings that have not been addressed. "All we're hearing about is a beautiful shiny penny," Lauricella said. "They're not admitting there are any downsides, and that leads to suspicion right away."



One thing that Rell thinks is worth extra funding: regionalization 
DAY
By Karin Crompton 
Published on 2/5/2009

In a day marked by deep cuts, one of the only areas where Gov. M. Jodi Rell suggested a budget increase came in her $50 million push to encourage towns and cities to band together.

That idea of regionalism factored heavily in the proposed budget, from new bonding money (the $50 million) that cities and towns can apply for to work and purchase together, to Rell's proposal to consolidate probate court services and health districts.

RELL'S PROPOSED REGIONALIZATION EFFORTS


Source: Governor's Budget Summary


The governor's proposal also went so far as to suggest allowing towns to negotiate inter-municipal contracts for town employees and teacher unions.

”It's time regionalism was more than just something we talk about. It's time for it to be a reality,” Rell said during her budget address.

The new bonding money includes $40 million in Regional Incentive Grants towns can apply for jointly to consolidate such things as technology upgrades, animal control or administrative functions.  An additional $10 million would be put into a grant program aimed at helping municipalities in their capital purchases - items such as dump trucks or sanders - as long as the equipment has a “useful life” of at least five years. The state would cover up to 75 percent of municipal costs up to $250,000.

Also, while the total pool of money contained in two key areas of state aid to towns - the Local Capital Improvement Program (LoCIP) and town road aid - remains the same, the structure of them could change.  Rell suggests that towns that meet the criteria could receive a 10-percent “bonus” those two areas, while towns that don't participate could see their aid decrease.

The governor has also proposed regionalizing local health districts, a move her budget office said would save $2.6 million in fiscal year 2010 and $2.8 million in fiscal year 2011.

”If a municipality wants to have their own health district, God bless them, but they'll pay for it by themselves,” Robert Genuario, Rell's budget chief, said during a budget briefing held before Rell's speech.

Locally, most mid- to large-sized towns in southeastern Connecticut already belong to the Ledge Light or Uncas health districts. Some smaller towns still run their own health departments and argue it is more cost-effective for them.  The governor also took a swipe at the state's probate courts, whose system of 117 courts, according to her budget summary, “is unwieldy, inefficient and too costly.”

Rell proposes consolidating the 117 courts to 36, using judges who must be attorneys with at least 10 years of experience. Judges would still be elected. The new, regional courts would be open 40 hours a week.

”It would offer a better service for the public and a more professional service for the public,” Genuario said.


Towns wary shared services lead to loss;  Cities, towns wary that shared services would lead to losses
Stamford ADVOCATE (as well as Greenwich TIME)
By Brian Lockhart, Staff Writer
Posted: 02/01/2009 01:34:16 AM EST

HARTFORD -- Norwalk and New Canaan considered merging health departments in 2006 to recoup an estimated $84,000 annually in additional state funding.

But that was not enough to overcome concerns among members of Norwalk's Common Council that they would be sacrificing local control of health services.

The merger died.

Democratic legislators in Hartford launched a new push last week to encourage the state's 169 cities and towns to consolidate more services, ideally shrinking local government and reducing local property taxes during the economic crisis.

But several current and former officials in lower Fairfield County said so-called regionalization is far easier said than done.

"You have a bunch of towns that are hard-wired to oppose consolidation for fear it will lead to consolidation of things they don't want," said Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy, a Democrat. "This fear -- if we start doing anything voluntarily it will lead to something else -- has been enough to stifle cooperative efforts."

Unlike many states, Connecticut abolished county governments -- structures that typically encourage or require municipal cooperation. Instead, Connecticut has 15 bodies that are councils of governments -- groups of local elected officials who meet regularly. And it has regional planning agencies whose members are appointed by elected officials or municipal planning commissions.

In Fairfield County, the Southwestern Regional Planning Agency was created in 1962. Much of its work is focused on addressing regional transportation issues, though SWRPA has purchasing pools for sand and salt, as well as for diesel fuels and gasoline.

Some state lawmakers and other proponents of regionalization want SWRPA and its fellow planning agencies transformed into councils of government to foster better cooperation.

"With no disrespect to the regional planning agencies, their focus is much narrower than a council of governments' would be," said James Finley, head of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.

Councils of government also are considered more accountable to voters because local elected officials play a more direct role, Finley said.

Malloy and former Westport First Selectwoman Diane Farrell have unsuccessfully encouraged neighboring towns to agree to turn SWRPA into a council of governments.

"I felt it would give us strength in terms of our relationship with Hartford," Farrell said. "It went nowhere. There was a general suspicion about the loss of individual identity."

Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei, a Republican, said he has no problem working with neighbors or seeking advice on how they handle issues in their towns.

But he said he is satisfied with SWRPA and does not see the need for a council of governments.

"I think the decisions that are made best are done at the local level by individuals who understand the needs of a particular community," Tesei said.

Norwalk Finance Director Thomas Hamilton, who worked for Stamford in the past, said the reluctance is not just at the executive level.

"You have departments -- managers and other people in charge -- who may not want to give up their control over certain operations," he said.

Finley acknowledged the problem is common throughout New England.

"We're a Yankee 'go it alone' heritage," Finley said, noting that the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities is a relatively young organization, having been founded in 1966. Similar groups nationwide formed in the late 1800s.

Farrell said state lawmakers must offer credible incentives to encourage regionalization, particularly during tough financial times.

Legislative Democrats last week proposed sharing portions of the state sales tax with cities and towns that partner. But with the state facing a budget deficit in the billions of dollars, they could not promise how much money might be available or when it would be provided.

"It's too ambiguous," Farrell said. "I'd be surprised if anybody jumped on the bandwagon."

On the other hand, state legislators expressed reluctance to pass any laws requiring regionalization, which Malloy agreed would not be welcomed in Connecticut.

"I don't think anyone's going to agree to be forced into doing anything," he said.

But municipalities in lower Fairfield County work together on some issues.

For example, Norwalk and Stamford are part of a statewide consortium of 15 communities that purchase prescription drug coverage and life insurance.

But Democratic lawmakers are suggesting more ambitious endeavors, such as regionalized collective bargaining with municipal unions to better control labor costs.

"That sounds to me like a pretty daunting undertaking," Hamilton said. "One community might be interested in keeping wages as low as possible, and another might be interested in taking on retiree health insurance."

He said it would make more sense to instead have a regional government that provides regional services.

Democratic legislators last week also suggested municipalities forge no-compete agreements on economic development. But Joseph McGee, vice president of public policy for the Business Council of Fairfield County, said that was unnecessary.

"What does it mean? If you're an economic development official in Norwalk, you can never talk to a company in Stamford? That's not realistic," McGee said. "You want some competition. You want one town pushing another."

McGee said the state would be better served by being more conservative about providing tax breaks and other incentives for businesses that relocate from one town to another.

"That is absolutely wacko," he said. "The only way those become palatable is if the company is legitimately going to move out of state. You have to figure out if that is 'the game of bluff' or real."

But municipalities have recognized the benefits of regionalization in emergency services.

Norwalk Fire Chief Denis McCarthy and many neighbors have established a joint HAZMAT team that none could afford individually.

But McCarthy pointed to failures. Soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, emergency responders and chief elected officials met to discuss creating a single communications system and dispatch center.

"Once you do that, you're just moving pieces around on a single radio frequency, and you can mix and match resources very easily," McCarthy said.

It never moved forward.

McCarthy also has explored building a new fire station to serve Norwalk's Cranbury neighborhood as well as areas of Westport and Wilton.

But at a time when some municipal officials might begin to recognize the financial savings of a shared fire station, their budgets are stretched too thin to finance the project.

"When times are good, no one has the compelling reason to discuss any type of regionalization," McCarthy said. "When times are bad . . . there's no money to do it."


Norwalk, New Canaan consider new health district
By Christiana Sciaudone
Stamford ADVOCATE Staff Writer
November 28, 2004

Connecticut did away with county government in 1960, but as health departments consider merging into health districts, a reverse trend toward regional governance is returning to the state.

There are 19 health districts of varying sizes statewide, and Norwalk and New Canaan are considering the possibility of creating the 20th in Connecticut and the second in Fairfield County.

"We know that there is a need and an advantage to working on a regional level," said Norwalk Health Director Timothy Callahan. "You look at some of the regional diseases we've had to deal with. . . Those things do not understand town borders. Another reason is that there is a financial benefit to districts."

"We've really tried to encourage multiple towns to become a district," said William Gerrish, a spokesman for the state health department.

The districts are a way for two or more departments to combine services. A health district receives more money from the state than individual departments do; it offers comprehensive health staff for smaller towns that did not have such expertise before; and it offers economies of scale with more potential to provide services to the public.

Connecticut has 96 health departments , including 40 that are part time, 37 that are full time and 19 health districts.

"The process of creating it is tough," Gerrish said. "There is some sense of a loss of control," particularly for smaller municipalities.

But as times change, , a regional approach is requisite, according to health officials, to address issues ranging from bioterrorism to the flu.

"Public health problems don't tend to be localized to one area," Gerrish said. "These are issues that cut across municipal borders."

Jennifer Kertanis, the executive director of the Connecticut Association of Directors of Health, said Connecticut's health departments are different from other states.

"In Connecticut, unlike the majority of the country, local public health departments are very small," Kertanis said. "Other places are much more county-based and therefore more capable."

The Westport-Weston Health District was the first district in Connecticut, established in 1966, according to Westport First Selectwoman Diane Farrell.

"It's been a good working relationship with Weston," Farrell said. "I think any attempt at regional coooperation is very, very important."

Westport, with nearly 26,000 residents, is about 2 1/2 times the size of Weston.

"I would say there is an economy of scale for a small town like Weston to participate in a larger entity," said Weston First Selectman Woody Bliss.

Baker Salsbury, president of the Connecticut Association of Health Directors and director of the East Hartford Health Department, said state law mandates municipalities have at least a part-time director and a full-time sanitarian in their health departments. Part-time directors tend to be local doctors.

"The problem is that many of these towns can't afford both," he said. "It doesn't make sense to try and deliver public health services with one half-time health person in every town. You get scattered crisis-oriented services and that's not public health, that's emergency response."

Another district, the Ledge Light Health District, was founded in 1993 and consists of the city of Groton, the towns of Groton, Ledyard and Waterford. The district covers more than 73,000 people.

Ledge Light Health Director Francis "Sam" Crowley said the towns have benefited from having a full-time director -- they previously had part-timers -- and where the departments once received $1 per capita, they are now getting $1.66. The funding increases because the state rewards districts since they are more effective in addressing health issues.

"A lot of these small communities, all they do is environmental health enforcement," such as septic system issues and food inspections, he said. "These districts permit a vehicle for financial and, structure wise, provide better, more comprehensive services."

When it comes to some cities, though, health districts are not seen as an option.

"When you get a city the size of Stamford," Crowley said, "they can afford to pay for all the services because their population base is high enough."

Dr. Johnnie Lee, health director of Stamford, said he sees Stamford staying on its own.

"I don't think you will ever see Stamford as a part of a health district," Lee said, " because the towns that immediately surround us have full-time functioning health departments."

Greenwich Health Director Caroline Calderone Baisley said that geographically, a health district would not work for Greenwich since there are no other small, adjacent municipalities needing its resources.

The New Canaan-Norwalk task force charged with examining the possibility of a health district must submit a recommendation in April on whether to establish it.

The health department of Norwalk, a city of 80,000, currently receives $79,079 from the state . New Canaan, with 20,000 people, receives $9,669, Callahan said.

If the municipalities merged into a district, they would receive a total of $172,409 from the state, Callahan said. They would receive an additional $30,000 for the public health component of emergency preparedness. New Canaan currently receives no emergency preparedness money.

New Canaan's three-person health department has an annual budget of about $300,000, officials said. Norwalk's health department has a staff of 25 and a budget of $1.5 million, according to city officials. No layoffs would accompany the district.

"I don't see any negatives," Callahan said. "The public health system in the area would become a lot stronger by putting the two towns together."

The task force will meet Thursday to hear from two health district directors. The meeting at the Norwalk Health Department will be open to the public. 



Videotape can be made available of this Symposium
Regional Planning Organizations:  Better Use of a Hidden Asset

The Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations ("ACIR") sponsors the following meeting: a half-day symposium for Municipal, Regional and State Government stakeholders on issues related to enhancing the roles and functions of Connecticut's Regional Planning Organizations.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004
8am - 12:45pm
Holiday Inn, North Haven
Exit 12 off I-91

Agenda

Registration Form


 




NEWS:  The Legislature approved this Plan the following session...when SWRPA adopted its new Regional Plan of Conservation and Development in February of 2006, it used maps from the State Plan of C&D 2005-2010.

TO:  Citizens of Connecticut
FROM: W. David LeVasseur, Undersecretary, Intergovernmental Policy Division
DATE:  May 11, 2004
SUBJECT:  Recommended Conservation and Development Policies Plan for Connecticut 2004 - 2009

The purpose of this memorandum is to inform you that the General Assembly has postponed the adoption of the Recommended Conservation and Development Policies Plan for Connecticut 2004 - 2009 until the 2005 legislative session.  The General Assembly believed that the Continuing Legislative Committee on State Planning and Development should take more time to consider public comment.  Until the General Assembly adopts the Recommended 2004 - 2009 Plan, the 1998 - 2003 Plan will remain in effect.  Accordingly, please be advised that specific project reviews will continue to be based on the 1998 - 2003 Plan.

Pursuant to House Bill 5522, as amended, the Office of Policy and Management will re-submit the Recommended Plan to the Continuing Legislative Committee on State Planning and Development on or before December 1, 2004.  The Continuing Legislative Committee will hold a public hearing on the Recommended Plan within 35 days of the first day of the 2005 Session.

I thank you for your interest in and support for the Plan.  I would also like to thank you for your comments that we received during the Office of Policy and Management's two year revision process. The public input we received has been overwhelmingly supportive, constructive and insightful.  The Recommended Conservation and Development Policies Plan for Connecticut 2004 - 2009 is an outstanding document that constitutes a balanced and relevant guide for state conservation and development investment policies.

Any further comments you may have should be sent to the Continuing Legislative Committee on State Planning and Development, Attention Steven Azzara, Legislative Office Building, Room 2100, Hartford, CT 06106.  I would also ask that you provide a courtesy copy to Dan Morley of my staff at The Office of Policy and Management, Intergovernmental Policy Division, 450 Capitol Avenue, MS#52ASP, Hartford, CT 06106-1308.

I look forward to your continued support for the adoption of the Recommended Plan by the General Assembly during the 2005 legislative session.

Cc: Members of the Continuing Legislative Committee on State Planning & Development
Members of the General Assembly
Marc S. Ryan, Secretary, OPM
 

David A. Kalafa, Planning Specialist, Office of Policy and Management, Intergovernmental Policy Division
450 Capitol Avenue - MS52ASP
Hartford, CT 06106-1308

Phone: 860 418-6301
Fax: 860 418-6495
E-Mail: david.kalafa@po.state.ct.us



Aquarium redesign to focus on river, Long Island Sound
Stamford ADVOCATE 
By Matt Breslow, Staff Writer
Published December 26 2006

NORWALK -- Like a molting lobster, the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk is preparing for a new look.

A master plan is under way for the SoNo attraction that will shape it over the next 15 years.

Tom Hennes, principal of Thinc Design, provided a glimpse at Wednesday's annual meeting of the Maritime Aquarium Authority and Board of Trustees.

Goals include heightening the profile of Long Island Sound and capitalizing on the aquarium's proximity to the Norwalk River.

The redesign also aims to make the aquarium more inviting to passers-by, particularly given the increased pedestrian traffic that redevelopment projects are expected to bring.

Officials also hope to make the aquarium a more attractive destination on sunny days by increasing outdoor activities.

Hennes, whose Manhattan firm is crafting the master plan, spoke of "branding" the Sound at Wednesday's meeting.

Explaining the concept in an interview Friday, aquarium President and Chief Executive Officer Jennifer Herring, who described the Sound as the "front yard of Connecticut," said other bodies of water are more evocative in people's minds, citing San Francisco Bay and the Hudson River.

The aquarium should communicate to visitors that the Sound "and its watershed are alive with rich and diverse wildlife, tightly interwoven with human life," according to Hennes' PowerPoint presentation.

"It's a really important ecosystem," Herring said Friday. "It's not just any body of water."

The aquarium always has focused on the Sound, Herring said, "but there isn't very much that tells you that." As a result, aquarium visitors sometimes don't know that certain animals live in the Sound, she said.

The aquarium, which opened in 1988, attracts more than a half-million visitors annually.

Hennes' presentation covered the first phase of master planning. Thinc, hired for $191,000, began work in October and is expected to finish in March or April.

The first phase consisted of fact-finding, identifying problems and seeking ways to expand the aquarium's appeal, Hennes said.

During the next phase, which is under way, Thinc will develop ideas for exhibits and changes to the building. The firm will examine the potential for attracting visitors to exhibits and costs for potential changes, Herring said.

"The finished product will be a narrative description of the future aquarium, with drawings, diagrams and renderings to show what it might look like," she said in an e-mail.

Hennes said the project is meant to create a sustainable increase in the number of visitors.

In his presentation, Hennes suggested the aquarium should take advantage of its position on the bank of the Norwalk River.

The site has "a great river, so why not use it?" Hennes said.

Urban redevelopment around the aquarium will increase foot traffic, Hennes said. The aquarium feels "closed off" from the neighborhood and should appear more welcoming to potential visitors, he said.

"We want to be part of the streetscape, and we want to make the aquarium inviting when you walk by on the street," he said.


Master Plan revisions enter final lap
By ROBERT KOCH, Hour Staff Writer
December 23, 2006

NORWALK — The overdue revision of Norwalk's Master Plan of Conservation and Development — the city's blueprint for zoning regulations — is entering its final lap.

Chan Krieger & Associates, the Cambridge, Mass.-based planning firm hired by the city to assemble Norwalk's new "master plan" met last week with department heads, school officials, members of the Planning Commission, as well as neighborhood association representatives and Mayor Richard A. Moccia, to solicit input and update the various parties on where they stand in assembling the new plan.

"They had some very, very detailed questions concerning the direction the mayor wants to go, as far as philosophy and what I thought," said Moccia, recapping his discussions with the Chan Krieger planners. "And they had discussions with other departments. (Residents) are concerned about over development, neighborhood preservation, zoning issues, land conservation, things of that nature."

A municipality's master plan guides zoning regulations. State law requires municipalities to update their master plans every 10 years. The updated master plan is five years overdue.

For several years, the Planning Commission, with input from residents, neighborhood associations and consultants has worked to update the Norwalk's master plan — last revised in 1990. Walter O. Briggs, commission chairman, anticipates the new plan will be more comprehensive than the plan it will replace.

"There is no draft yet," Briggs said Friday. But "I think (the final plan) is going to be very comprehensive in that it will (about) 50 pages long. It will give a comprehensive overview of what is needed, what development should be, and how we think development should occur in the city."

Briggs said the Chan Krieger consultants will return to Norwalk in January, or early February, with a more defined document. Planning commissioners will review that document, make corrections or changes as fit. A preliminary and later final draft will emerge. The Planning Commission then will schedule two public hearings.

From there, the new master plan will go to the Common Council's Planning Committee, then up to the full council for approval or rejection. Moccia, as mayor, must sign the approved plan.

In September, the Common Council approved paying Chan Krieger & Associates, the firm that prepared the Mid-Harbor Planning and the South Norwalk Planning studies, $82,126 to assemble the new master plan.

Over the last week, Chan Krieger Principal Alan Mountjoy and Senior Planner Kimberly Jones met with city officials and others, as Mountjoy put it, to "get an overall cumulative (idea) of where the city is headed."

"Part of our goal is making this into something that is understandable by the community and is a useful document in sort of setting the tone for Norwalk," Mountjoy told Planning commissioners Tuesday.

Jones said Chan Kriegesr are drawing upon three sources of information when assembling the revised master plan: Interviews with city department heads and their "wish lists," current plans and documents, including the 1990 master plan, and planning principles developed by the Planning Commission.

Earlier Tuesday, representatives of several neighborhood associations, including the Eastern Norwalk Neighborhood Association, met with Mountjoy and Jones. The Eastern Norwalk Neighborhood Association, among other neighborhood groups, has submitted its own "mini-master" plans to be incorporated into the larger master plan. The discussion Tuesday touched upon neighborhood uniqueness, zoning regulations and development concerns, according to ENNA President Laurel Lindstrom.

"We emphasized the uniqueness and history of neighborhoods. There are unique neighborhoods throughout Norwalk that need to be protected," Lindstrom said. "We really had a concern about the trend toward overdevelopment and that it doesn't end up destroying neighborhoods."

Mountjoy, speaking to Planning commissioners later Tuesday, acknowledged that issue.

"There were still concerns about small-scale development in neighborhoods," Mountjoy said.

Residents' concerns about over development have ranged from several-unit condominium developments in residential neighborhoods, such as along Stuart Avenue last year, to large projects running in the range of several hundred units, which have been proposed for along commercial corridors.

Moccia, while acknowledging that development concerns will continue, added that the potential for overdevelopment may be limited, given the fact that few large tracts of land remain in the city.

"There are not too many more Norden or Pepperidge sites left, so I think it's going to be more smaller projects in neighborhoods, maybe like we had on Stuart Avenue, that cause concerns," Moccia said.



Greenwich zoning board adopts 10-year plan
Greenwich TIME
By Colleen Flaherty, Staff Writer
Posted: 02/04/2009

The Planning and Zoning Commission has adopted its new 10-year Plan of Conservation and Development, despite continued criticism from residents and town agencies.

Chairman Donald Heller said Wednesday that the document has been received well enough by the community and he can't please everyone.

"We're not looking for unanimity of opinion," said Heller. "We've been out there with this for two years and at a certain point in time, you've got to say, 'Let's wrap it up.' "

Published every 10 years, the Plan of Conservation and Development serves as a framework for zoning and municipal improvement decisions made during the next decade. In a July draft of the document, the commission prioritized drainage improvements, conservation of air, water and land resources, meeting state requirements for affordable housing and developing downtown Greenwich as an arts and cultural center.

At a public hearing in September, the draft was praised for its focus on the environment but criticized for being vague in its conservation goals, overcommitted to affordable housing and resigned to Greenwich becoming a regional shopping and arts center, as well as insufficiently linked to the budgeting process.

It was called poorly organized and difficult to read.

The commission released a new, final draft of the document last week. The term "work-force housing," or affordable homes for town employees, was removed from the housing section of the document.

It also no longer suggests developing downtown Greenwich as an arts center. Instead, the new draft recommends that the first selectman appoint and oversee citizen committees responsible for further exploring these issues.

The new document also recommends that the first selectman create and oversee three other committees: Traffic and parking, mixed use development around train stations and implementation of the plan.

"We're a big believer in leadership," said Heller, commenting on the first selectman's potential new responsibilities, should the plan be adopted by the Representative Town Meeting next month. "Who's the leader if not the first selectman?"

That sentiment bothered Franklin Bloomer, chairman of the RTM's Land Use Committee.

"The Planning and Zoning Commission has two responsibilities -- planning and zoning," said Bloomer Wednesday, after speaking at a public hearing on the document held at Town Hall on Tuesday night. "Planning is not the responsibility of the first selectman, who is the executive officer of the town."

Bloomer said he doubts the RTM will approve the plan as it is now.

Also critical of the plan Tuesday night was Jennifer Boone. The Riverside Association president said she opposed the plan's support of mixed-use, including industrial, development around train stations. Such construction around the Riverside station, she said, would threaten the residential character of the village.

Connecticut League of Women Voters spokeswoman and town resident Cheryl Dunson added that the plan hadn't been written with as much collaboration among town agencies, including the Conservation Commission, as necessary.

Town Planner Diane Fox said Wednesday that until the RTM approves the new Plan of Conservation and Development, the commission will continue to operate from its 1998 plan.

Heller said no substantive changes will be made to the document before that vote.