Opinion / Steve Kleppin
Planning for New Canaan's future
Published 5:30 pm, Wednesday, March 23, 2011
As you are probably aware, there is a lot of activity on the planning front. This article will hopefully provide some background and a clear description of the goals and expected benefits of each of these planning efforts.
The State of Connecticut mandates that each municipality adopt a 10-year planning document titled the "Plan of Conservation and Development," which provides goals and recommendations for the entire community. The cost to prepare a POCD is approximately $125,000 to $150,000. Our POCD was last updated in 2003 and is therefore due to be updated in 2013. Coincidentally, beginning in 2013, any municipality that fails to have an up-to-date POCD will no longer be eligible for discretionary state funding.
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The current POCD focuses on residential development while only providing a cursory look at the business zones. The plan recommends a separate study of the downtown which led to the 2007 Downtown Strategic Plan which was also funded by the town. That plan recommended an additional study of the commercial market, which the town is just embarking on as well as several other studies:
Market Demand Study Committee
The budget for this study is $75,000 which is entirely funded through a grant from the State of Connecticut and should be completed by the end of the year. This study looks to assess the mix of businesses within the downtown in order to determine what is appropriate, what business is lost to other towns, and the measures and opportunities needed to ensure desired economic vitality.
Long Range Planning Committee
This study will focus on the appropriate locations and uses for town facilities, including but not limited to Town Hall, fire station and parking lots. Once the optimal uses and locations have been determined, related costs and priorities will be established in order to formulate a capital program for the town to consider. Phase I is complete and Phase II is currently under budgetary review. The total cost for both phases is approximately $150,000 to $175,000. This study is town funded and is projected to be completed by the end of the year.
Incentive Housing Overlay Zone Study Committee
This study is funded by a $20,000 grant that is part of the HOME CT legislation, which looks to slow the exodus of Connecticut's 25- to 34-year-old populace who are leaving in higher numbers than any other state. This study will assess whether specific sites can accommodate the density required by the legislation as well as propose architectural standards. The Planning and Zoning Commission can choose to adopt or not adopt the regulations. It is anticipated that this study will be completed in the Spring.
Senior Health Care & Housing Policy Development Team
This team was appointed by the Board of Selectmen in May 2010 with its conclusions and recommendations accepted in December 2010. The study included both current seniors 65 and older, and "Baby Boomers" that are "rising seniors" over the next 15 years. The first phase of the project analyzed long term trends and identified future needs for senior citizens in the community, with the second phase identifying potential solutions to the issues. Phase III of this project has started with a focus on the potential of building a new in-town senior independent living facility.
The town has also applied for and expects to receive two additional grants. The first grant was submitted in 2008 to study Transit Orientated Development as well as to conduct the Market Demand Study. We have been informed numerous times that the grant was forthcoming, but given the states budgetary shortfall, nothing is certain. Since the Market Demand Study was subsequently funded through a separate grant, these monies could be used to lessen the cost of the Long Range Planning study as well as undertake some other planning initiatives to strengthen and enhance the downtown.
Lastly, the town was part of a broader consortium that sought funding on a larger grant. Our request was to completely fund the 2013 POCD update. While the details haven't been finalized, we're optimistic we'll receive a portion of our request. If monies are received they will be used to incorporate sustainable principles into the updated POCD and we'll look to partner with SWRPA, our regional planning agency which is chaired by our First Selectman, to further leverage funds.
So once all these studies are completed, what happens? Before answering that, it's important to state that each of these studies is not being conducted in a vacuum. There is constant communication between the chairmen of the committees, the First Selectman and this office. At their conclusion, each study will have a series of implementable recommendations as most studies do. Working closely with many of these committees I can assure you that each committee is dedicated to producing a study that will have tangible benefits for the town.
While each study is worthwhile as a stand-alone study, they will ultimately comprise the backbone for the next POCD. There are many other sections that go into a POCD such as conservation and natural resources and community development and fortunately a lot of work in these areas has already been done or is ongoing. As I stated previously I am hopeful we will receive the additional grants which will further reduce the scope of work for our next POCD. If that comes to fruition I would anticipate the town engaging a consultant to not only incorporate sustainable practices into the plan, but to tie together the various studies as well as fill in any missing elements we don't have the expertise to complete. So while the town may be spending town funds on studying the best uses and needs of some of its municipal properties, significantly fewer town funds will have to be expended to complete the next POCD because of these studies and grants.
Additional information on any of these studies can be found at http://www.newcanaan.info/ clicking "government" then "committees" or feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.