Wednesday, September 25, 2013
By James Lomuscio
Amid word of the resignation of the head of the Downtown 2020 Committee, the Planning and Zoning Committee of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) Tuesday night recommended the full legislative body approve $65,000 for phase one of a controversial downtown master plan study.
But members made clear in a 4-1 vote with 1 abstention that in recommending a phase one partial funding of a town wide, base line traffic study they also wanted it quickly followed by approval of a phase two—the balance of the $204,000 original request for the plan championed by the Downtown 2020 group.
RTM member Don Bergman dissented, saying that he wanted the committee to recommend the RTM immediately fully fund the $204,000 study request by restoring the balance denied by the Board of Finance (BOF) Monday night.
The BOF action –- following months of controversy involving the Downtown 2020 Committee and the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) over the proposed downtown study—prompted Lou Gagliano, chair of Downtown 2020 since its founding in March 2012, to submit his resignation, First Selectman Gordon Joseloff unexpectedly told the RTM panel.
With RTM members visibly surprised by word of Gagliano’s action, committee member Lois Schine advised against asking immediately for the full amount for the study. She pointed out that it would require 70 percent of the RTM members present at next Tuesday night’s meeting to vote in favor of full restoration of the funding request.
She and others said the RTM desire to fully fund the study might fare better after the finance board considers the balance of the request at its Oct. 2 meeting, which it promised to do as it denied the full request Monday night. (See WestportNow Sept. 23, 2013)
Members said the balance of the funding study could then be taken up at a special Oct. 22 RTM meeting.
That meeting has been newly scheduled to consider overriding last week’s P&Z denial of a request to move the 1885 Kemper-Gunn House to the Baldwin parking lot (See WestportNow Sept. 19, 2013)
The Downtown 2020 Committee, many RTM members, and all but one member of the public had recommended approval of the house move at an earlier P&Z meeting.
Joseloff told the RTM committee at the outset of tonght’s meeting that he would initially only ask for RTM approval of the $65,000 pared down study amount granted by the BOF, with additional funding to be considered later.
Downtown 2020 members had explained to the P&Z and BOF there was a timing urgency to fund the initial traffic study amount, saying it could only be done in the fall or the spring.
Joseloff and Downtown 2020 members had expected the finance board to approve the full amount Monday night since the P&Z at its Sept. 19 meeting had unanimously passed a sense of the meeting resolution approving that amount.
But in an eleventh hour email to Board of Finance Chairman Avi Kaner Monday afternoon, P&Z Chair Catherine Walsh stated that a majority of her commission—meaning the four Republicans who had joined three Democrats in the public P&Z approval—really did not want the full funding after all, only the traffic study.
“She has in my mind backtracked,” Joseloff said as he disclosed the Gagliano resignation.
“Where we go beyond that, I’m not quite sure,” Joseloff said. “She (Walsh) wants to control the spending and control the agenda, so it becomes her project.”
Bergman asked Joseloff to reconsider his not asking the RTM to immediately fund the full $204,000 study amount. Then Eileen Flug, RTM moderator who was in the audience, informed the committee that the RTM itself could push for the restoration.
“It has been a tortured, tortured process,” Bergman said about the P&Z’s battles with Downtown 2020. “The P&Z, in my opinion, is not in support of doing a full town plan.
“Just to have a traffic study is not useful,” he added, echoing what Gagliano and other Downtown 2020 members as well as its chosen consultant, RBA Group, has repeatedly told P&Z and BOF members.
Speaking from the audience, P&Z member Velma Heller said that if the committee voted to recommend the RTM approve the $65,000 for the traffic study, that it only be recommended as phase one.
“It has to be clear that this is phase one,” she said. “Without that context, the traffic study is meaningless.”
The committee agreed.
After the meeting, Joseloff said he deeply regretted Gagliano’s resignation but that he understood his frustrations.
“Lou has worked diligently over many, many months to build consensus and demonstrate the need for this study,” he said.
“To finally reach an agreement and secure public P&Z backing of the full funding only to have it derailed at the last minute by backroom maneuvering seriously undermines public confidence in our governmental process. It makes us all look bad. I don’t blame Lou for resigning.”
Posted 09/25/13 at 09:59 AM Permalink
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Did the P&Z vote in public on a “re-sense” of the meeting resolution to recommend limited funding? Or was the P&Z chair speaking only for herself, which is all she could legally do?