From Town Center to Long Range Planning - Top story of 2010
Published 3:55 pm, Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Names can change, but it is often the purpose behind those names that people really care about. Ever since First Selectman Jeb Walker commissioned a group (Formerly called the Town Center Planning Group and now known as the Long Range Planning Committee) to engage in a study that would develop a master plan for the major municipalities in town, the initiative was met with skepticism and controversy until recently.
The group's efforts to hire a consultant were largely seen as an attempt to completely revamp the town without public input. Resignations by key members like Jim Beall and Mike Hobbs only added to tumultuous relationship the committee had with the community.
In a 2-1 vote on Oct. 12, the Board of Selectmen approved a request to hire a consulting firm to assist with the town's master plan. Selectman Rob Mallozzi was the dissenting vote.
Mallozzi voiced his concerns with paying an outside firm when he believes that "the long-range planning issues are more clear now than they ever were ... I don't know why we're rushing to hire consultants."
Tanya Bickley, a New Canaan resident and business owner, felt strongly about not approving this contract.
"I think I'm boiling mad in a very controlled way," she said. "I'm asking you to table this vote until the Board of Selectmen holds a large public meeting," adding that she thinks it's "foolhardy" to refuse to allow the public to speak. She said the committee would "incur the wrath of the town."
Needless to say, the consultants were hired. Perkins Eastman, an international consulting firm with offices in Stamford, has begun Phase I of the study, which is expected to be completed by the end of January and will cost the Town $25,000.
"A comprehensive plan would do more than just solving pieces of a puzzle," Christine Wagner, Chairman of the LRPC, said.
Walker echoed those sentiments and said, --I think the whole notion of having a professional on board to hear those comments from the public is the reason that the committee has come forward to ask for Phase I. I personally believe that this investment to get that kind of input is worth it."
The projected cost for the consulting firm of Phase I and II is estimated to be around $98,000. That figure includes the recently approved $25,000. Perkins Eastman proved to be considerably cheaper over other firms that were offering costs ranging from $100,000 to $175,000, according to the LRPC.
The Phase I plans included a variety of committee meetings, a public forum and a public workshop, two of which have already occurred, to aid in the input for the final scope of work.
It was not until the first public forum on the issue on Nov. 22 at Town Hall that the community and LRPC started to repair their dismal relationship.
"It's a blank piece of paper," said Christine Wagner at the forum. "There are no preconceived notions here."
That tone of transparency and cooperation finally hit home at the hearing on an issue that had long been seen as controversial.
"I feel better now than when I first came in tonight," Roy Abramowitz, a New Canaan resident who originally felt uneasy about the issue, said. He, along with many others throughout the night, even commended the committee on its job so far while also voicing their concerns on the issues.
More than 180 residents packed into Town Hall on Nov. 22 to listen and discuss matters concerning the library, Town Hall, the Teen Center and other municipalities.
"I think we were able to dispel some of the rumors out there about the library and other issues that were not really true," Wagner said after the forum. "I think it was a positive evening."
After months of confusion and hearsay, residents poured out their ideas with hopes that the committee will take them seriously as members move forward.
The consultants will now take the input from the residents and continue analyzing issues and opportunities through January. Then, they will hold a public workshop on Jan. 19 with the residents that will include roundtable discussions. The consultants expressed that the forum was an opportunity for them to listen to the public while the workshop will be a time for both the public and consultants to work together.
"The success of this project will be measured by the input of the community," Wagner said. "We do want everyone to be satisfied with the process even if they are not satisfied with the specifics."