New Canaan residents speak out against funding master plan
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.
Perkins Eastman, an international consulting firm with offices in Stamford, will work on Phase I of the study, which is expected to take between eight and 10 weeks and will cost the Town $25,000.
The small and usually empty board room at Town Hall was fairly crowded for Tuesday morning's BOS meeting. Concerned citizens made time in their schedules to make sure their voices were heard about the newly named Long Range Planning Committee's agenda. After LRPC Chairwoman Christine Wagner broke down the request for a contract, confusion and anger were heard from the audience.
George McEvoy was the first to voice his opinion. He believes the committee should be focusing more on the Town's constituents rather than the municipal buildings. McEvoy also highlighted concerns about whether the LRPC hopes to deal with issues in the fire and police departments.
"We haven't had any interaction with the committee," Williams said. "At what point will you seek the input of the fire department?"
LRPC chair Christine Wagner responded by saying, "The planners that we bring on are in tune with those needs," adding that once Perkins Eastman is fully onboard, they will sit down with the fire department to understand their needs.
Resident Beth Jones had complaints about planning itself.
"I don't think we need a 30-year plan in the world we have today," she said. "The world is changing way too fast to know what it will look like in 10 years."
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."
Arnold Karp, who was approved as the newest member of the LRPC, also added to the conversation.
"I think a hired consultant can help manage the process." He said. "They can help moderate and put everyone's thoughts on paper. It's probably a small price to pay to help manage the process."
First Selectman Walker echoed Karp's sentiments by saying, "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.
Later, in a phone interview, Bickley expressed her frustration. "They're hiding behind the skirts of methodology at the expense of public opinion," she said.
Most of the issues brought up by the audience and Mallozzi during the meeting stemmed from their belief that the committee was rushing to hire a consultant for the planning.
Wagner defended her group's plan of action.
"A comprehensive plan would do more than just solving pieces of a puzzle," Wagner said. In a document detailing what the $25,000 for Phase I would entail, the LRPC highlighted four main points.
The complete scope of work that would be done in Phase Two, which is the actual production of a master plan, would be one priority. The overall timetable, in terms of meetings, workshops and public sessions, would be another point. The final two points are deliverables and an official cost proposal for Phase II.
"We plan on submitting a final scope of work after getting as much collaborative input from the consulting firm and the town," Wagner said after some questions from the audience.
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.
Throughout Phase I, a variety of committee meetings, a public forum and a public workshop will occur to aid in the input for the final scope of work.
Selectman Sally Hines reiterated concerns that the regular LRPC meetings not be accessible to all.
"What is the thinking going forward?" she asked.
Wagner stated, as she had before, that the meetings can be made to accommodate other people who might want to attend. "We would be willing to have some day time meetings or night time meetings."
Audience concerns then proceeded to the nature of the proposed public forum. Wagner reiterated that the forum would not be convoluted by presentations from Perkins Eastman and would include mostly public input. Audience concerns also focused on a fear that there would not be enough time for the public to speak. "We will stay there until all the concerns are heard or we fall asleep," Wagner responded.
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."
Mallozzi then brought up the library.
Wagner responded by saying that "there isn't any plan" in place for the library and that they have only conducted some research through a survey. However, she did mention that the library had deferred planning for good location ideas to the LRPC. Wagner wanted to make clear that they are only meant to recommend ideas and that it would be up to them to go forward from there.
First Selectman Walker also discussed the plans for potential library locations.
"They have simply explored four locations," Walker told the New Canaan News. "The first is the lumber yard. The second is their current location, which has certain logistical drawbacks. The third is the Center Street lot across the street from their current location and the final is at the top of hill on Park Street." He wanted to make it clear that there is no official decision as to what location would be best.
At the meeting itself, Walker said, "I think that the location of the library, almost by default, is devolving down to their current location or Center Street. Which is pretty much what they considered in the first place."
Mallozzi continued to show wariness with the hiring of Perkins Eastman because he believes residents are aware of what needs to be done in terms of adjustments and renovations.
"We live here everyday; I think we see what we need," he said. "I don't see that there's any need to spend money on the consultant now."
He also mentioned that the rush to get this contract approved "scares the heck out of [him]."
The board also approved the name change of the Town Center Planning Group to the Long Range Planning Committee (LRPC). First Selectman Jeb Walker said that the name was to "simply clarify the mission of the group" to focus on planning rather than a specific location.
In addition to the name change, the board also approved the appointment of Arnold Karp to the Long Range Planning Committee as recommended by Walker last week. Karp's approval came to a 2-1 vote with Selectman Mallozzi again voting against the approval. Mallozzi stated that his vote was not indicative of Karp's talents and qualifications but of the process with which he was recommended by First Selectman Jeb Walker.