After the Town Council delayed the Long Range Planning Committee's Phase II presentation for one week, the Council tabled its vote and scheduled a public hearing on the matter.

The hearing took place Thursday night at Town Hall, after the News went to press.

While there have been a number of public meetings and workshops surrounding the plan, this marks the first hearing devoted to funding the studies.

The discussion surrounding the LRPC presentation and possible approval was marked by a bit of controversy as some Council members took exception to having the presentation on short notice after last week's delay. The presentation to Town Council was originally scheduled for March 16. However, in the interest of time, Chairman Mark DeWaele thought it would unfair to begin discussing such an important issue late at night after budget talks and sidewalk discussions. For that reason, DeWaele rescheduled the presentation for March 23. The controversy arose when residents thought a vote would be made on the issue after all the rescheduling. Council members were also a bit confused and took exception to all the meeting changes, thinking a vote may be in the works too soon.

"I think the notice may have been a legal notice," Town Council member John Emert said. "But it really didn't pass, in my mind, the smell test of being a reasonable notice to interested parties."

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However, DeWaele made it clear, that as of now, the Council does not plan to vote on the $175,000 appropriation for Phase II until April 13.

Council members also touched upon community reaction regarding the Council's handling of the LRPC presentation.

"What is disturbing to me now is that the verbiage is getting very vitriolic and personal," Town Council member Kit Devereaux said. "It seems like the vote on the wrong side of the issue is the equivalent of being a bad person rather than just holding a different opinion."

It was after the discussion of the public reaction and how best to approach the approval that Chairman Dr. Mark DeWaele shed some light on the ongoing process.

"The process for the Long Range Plan will be similar to the process we employed for the Main Street sidewalk discussion," DeWaele said, citing the three public meetings already held on the sidewalk issue as evidence. "As for the Long Range Plan, there will also be three meetings where the Town Council will here from the Long Range Planning Committee and welcome public input. We will schedule more if necessary."

The Board of Finance and the Board of Selectmen have already approved the LRPC Phase II initiative.

As previously reported, the facilities included in the scope of work are Town Hall, the fire department, the teen center, Vine Cottage, the movie theater, Irwin Park, Waveny Park, the Highway Department building, the police department, the library and the school administration offices as well as various parking lots and sidewalks.

According to the presentation, the consultants will analyze the existing facilities and develop possible alternatives in terms of location, renovation, operational efficiencies, traffic and parking impacts among other issues. They also expect to hold a public workshop evaluating possible alternatives. When that's complete, a draft master plan will be developed for a public presentation before the final document can be produced.

Council Member Christine Hussey questioned the LRPC at the end of its presentation as to the shelf life of the plan as well as cost estimations.

"It does not have a shelf life is the brief answer," LRPC Chairman Christine Wagner answered. "When you do cost estimating to the best extent you can, you look at long-term trends, account for escalation and building costs ... estimators take quite a bit of information into account before they get the numbers. They start with existing conditions and look at trends coming into the future."

In terms of funds, there was some initial confusion from the public as to where exactly the money comes from. Budget Director Jennifer Charneski explained that the money, if approved by all three town bodies, would be appropriated from an account called the "undesignated fund balance." It is essentially money the town has accumulated over time through extra revenue she said. The $200,000 was also put into the normal budget as a placeholder to keep it on the radar. If the measure is approved then that placeholder is removed. If, for some reason, the money is not approved, it then becomes a budget issue, Charneski said, that would be decided upon in the future.

Read about Thursday night's public hearing online at www.newcanaannewsonline.com.