After 15 months in the works, the Planning and Zoning Commission voted Tuesday to adopt the 2014 Plan of Conservation and Development, a state-mandated document that will guide growth in New Canaan for the next 10 years.
With little discussion, which mostly dealt with the grammar in the document, the commission unanimously approved the plan and decided to make it effective Aug. 1.
Throughout a series of public meetings and changes made to the document since February 2013, the commission faced both support and opposition from residents, many of whom were concerned with maintaining the town's village character.
Commission member Dick Ward noted that the POCD is not legally binding and does not dictate what the town must do in the next decade.
"I think people should understand that the approval of this document does not amend or modify existing zoning regulations," Ward said. "And I certainly have no sub-rosa, under-the-table intent to slip by the town through this document. There have been some accusations of that, and I find them totally unfounded."
In recent public hearings, the commission was accused of adding vague language to the document to make it easier for developers to pursue multistory or higher-density structures.
P&Z Chairman Laszlo Papp has denied the claims and said the language was appropriately crafted to give the commission the final say in any upcoming changes or special permits.
"It has to be emphasized that this document is the direction we'd like to go," he said Tuesday. "And when we take steps in that direction, there will be specific proposals coming to the commission, public hearings and (much) discussion."
The document does suggest, however, that other types of housing are considered. In its "Senior Friendly Housing" section, for instance, the plan states that "the overall goal is to promote a variety of housing types, styles and prices to meet a variety of present and future housing needs."
When it comes to downtown, the document proposes considering increasing the allowed limits on building height, encouraging mixed uses (residential and business) in certain areas, creating a new zoning district on the west side of the business area, and expanding parking.
The POCD was compiled by Town Planner Steve Kleppin and Glenn Chalder, president of the Avon-based consulting firm Planimetrics, who has said the plan "sets the stage" to deal with issues that are affecting the community today and may affect the community in the future instead of letting "things happen by chance."
The document was last updated in 2003. The new plan is broken down into two sections: the "Strategic Element," which deals mostly with "big picture" strategies, and the "Implementation Element," which tackles "specific steps intended to help implement the overall strategies," according to the town's website.
After a request by the Town Council, which endorsed the plan in May, the Planning and Zoning Commission has decided to create a committee to work on the implementation part of the plan. Papp suggested Tuesday that the implementation committee include two members from the Planning and Zoning Commission, one member from the Town Council, one member from the Conservation Commission, one member from the Chamber of Commerce, two people from the public, the downtown captain and the first selectman as an ex-officio member.
A downtown captain, as the POCD describes, would be responsible for coordinating the overall maintenance of the area.
"Having a specific person identified with downtown maintenance will elevate the overall importance of this function and help businesses and property owners and others coordinate efforts," the document states. "This person would be responsible for scheduling maintenance activities (trash barrel pickup, sidewalk cleaning, street sweeping, littler pickup, weeding, etc.) and coordinating public and private efforts to address these issues. It would not be this person's responsibility to do the work, but it would be this person's responsibility to see that the work is done."
Other suggestions in the POCD include undertaking a parking study, increasing public access to open space and regulating institutional use in residential areas with a "planned development district" approach, or PDD, which would give the commission "the maximum amount of discretion in reviewing institutional uses."
The latest version of the document can be found on Planning and Zoning's page on the town's website, www.newcanaan.info.
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