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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Finance Board Hears Plea for P&Z Staffer

By James Lomuscio

Swamped with increased permit applications while down two-and-a-half staffers for several years, Westport’s Planning and Zoning officials made its case before the Board of Finance tonight for a $60,000-a-year plus benefits “permit expediter” position to be included in the 2015-16 town budget.

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Planning and Zoning Director Laurence Bradley (c) and P&Z Commission Chair Chip Stephens (l) make their case tonight for another staffer to Board of Finance members. First Selectman Jim Marpe (foreground) listens. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

The permit expediter, described as one-stop shopping for applicants, would pore over applications large and small to make sure nothing slips through, while at the same time breaking up the log jam due to an estimated 600 applications annually, P&Z officials said.

Planning & Zoning Director Laurence Bradley said the position’s cost would be offset by a 45 percent increase in permit fees, which have been flat since 2003.

He said that with the new fee structure, revenues would jump from around $300,000 to more than $600,000, possibly more. The reason, Bradley said, is that new construction is up in Westport, ranking it fourth in development throughout Connecticut behind Stamford, Danbury and Norwalk.

Bradley said that even with the current fees, revenues so far this year are at $406,000. The new fees, which would have to be approved by the Representative Town Meeting (RTM), would cover would cover 104 percent of the this year’s operating budget for the Planning and Zoning Department, he added.

“The biggest thing is that we’re down two-and-a-half people,” said Chip Stephens, chairman of the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission. “Mistakes have been made, and we’re trying to make it better.

“We need a person; this department’s short,” he added. “It’s overworked. We’re at the breaking point. We need this position.”

Finance board member Janis Collins asked if the P&Z Department could find ways to streamline its practices to avoid logjams and the need for another salary and union benefits being added to the budget.

WestportNow.com Image
Finance board member Thomas Lasersohn said the proposed P&Z position “is something we’ve got to do.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

Finance board member Thomas Lasersohn countered, “This position is something we’ve got to do,” especially in the wake of planned development. Currently, developers, using the state’s affordable housing statute 8-30g,  plan two and possibly three multi-family developments in town.

“Given what’s going on in town, and knowing we’ve made mistakes, it will cost generations of Westporters going forward,” Lasersohn said about the risk of not supporting the permit expediter position. “These are the things that keep me up at night.”

In other matters, the finance board heard a request from Public Works Director Stephen Edwards to increase the contracted tree warden’s hours to 35 per week costing $90,000. The extra hours address town open space concerns.

The board also heard an update from First Selectman Jim Marpe on thee town operations director post, held for the eight months by Dewey Loselle.

The board also heard the Westport Transit District’s (WTD) proposed $292,645 operations budget, which is up 3 percent, due to a $17,714 request to hire a part-time staff person shared with the Norwalk Transit District (NTD), which oversees the WTD.

The finance board also heard about the Wakeman Town Farm’s request for a $677,000 appropriation with bond and note authorization to make needed repairs and upgrades on the 100-year-old structure, as well as to construct a great room for educational classes.

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Posted 02/24/15 at 11:05 PM  Permalink



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