The LRPC and the road to Phase II
It may have been too good to be true. For the past few months, the LRPC had been devoid of much controversy, relatively speaking. However, the Board of Selectmen's recent decision to approve $175,000 to fund Phase II of the planning project has been met with additional issues and a more reactionary public.
The BOS approved the special appropriation Long Range Planning Committee's Municipal and Public Use Facilities Master Plan in a 2-1 vote last Tuesday.
Selectman Rob Mallozzi voted against the appropriation.
It marked the second appropriation for the group's plan since last year's approval of $25,000 for Phase I bringing the total to $200,000. However, the appropriation must still be approved by the Board of Finance and Town Council before the LRPC and its consultant, Perkins Eastman, can move forward.
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 that the town has accumulated overtime 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.
The final document showcasing the scope of work from Phase I had not been completed at the time of the Board of Selectmen meeting but is now complete and available on the town's website. It was the absence of that report that most residents had an issue with.
"It seems inappropriate to approve $175,000 for Phase II on this Master Plan work when Phase I findings haven't even been reported on," resident Dan Radman said.
Fred Chang, a New Canaan resident, brought two signs to last week's meeting showing his staunch opposition to the LRPC and its spending in particular. He also believed that there was not a clear understanding as to what came out of Phase I.
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"In my humble opinion, the town does not need to spend that type of money," he said. "I did not see much of any substance being reported as to what came out of Phase I."
Chang was referring to a presentation the LRPC and consultants made to the Board of Selectmen outlining their request for Phase II. The presentation included all the facilities and results they expected to include in the final scope of work as well as what is expected to take place in Phase II. Christine Wagner, chairman of the LRPC, has said that the powerpoint presentation essentially outlines the draft scope of work that would be undertaken for Phase II.
As stated before, the facilities include Town Hall, the fire department, teen center, Vine Cottage, movie theater, Irwin Park, Waveny Park, highway department building, the police department, 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. Once that's done, a draft master plan will be developed for a public presentation before the final document can be produced.
"The report contains the same information in terms of the final scope presented at the BOS meeting and, of course, all the background, process, comments, etc.," Wagner said.
Wagner and her committee stressed that a large benefit to the final master plan will be the cost aspect, where recommendations for construction or renovation will have an estimated cost attached to it as well.
"Prior studies had no cost details on how to get those recommendations to move forward," Arnold Karp, LRPC member, said at last week's meeting. "That is the difference."
In fact, out of the $175,000 requested, $10,000 is devoted to cost estimation while $3,500 is geared towards budget planning. Still, residents like Radman are calling for a bit more patience before moving ahead with Phase II.
"It would be good to know the road we're going down before we buy the car and agree to pay for the six lane interstate to be built," Radman said. "Especially when it may end up that we would be just fine with a two lane country road."
The LRPC is expected to present its Phase II request along with the Phase I scope of work to the Board of Finance on March 1 and the Town Council on March 16.