Consultant-driven Planning in Old Lyme

The other day, I joked to a friend, that if the Declaration of Independence was signed yesterday, it would have been drafted by McKinsey – a silly way of making a serious point, that so much of contemporary public life, law and policy is written by outside consultants with little local knowledge and less at stake when their best laid plans go awry.

In the case of the proposed regulations for Halls Road in Old Lyme, I don’t think members of the Halls Road Improvements Committee, and Economic Development Commission intended to mislead the public – in numerous comments on social media, in comments to CT Examiner, and in letters to the editor – but it seems pretty clear that they simply don’t have a clear gasp of their own plan.

And that’s no knock on them.  The Halls Road plan might not be the Declaration of Independence, but it’s a heck of a lot longer, proposing a vast set of rules with far-reaching consequences. In my experience, it’s not uncommon for lawyers, and the public, to spend weeks debating even a sentence or two of new law. This is 61 pages.

That advocates of the plan find this review process tedious – and have chosen to skip over the usual steps of winning the support of their own committee, of Planning, and of the public by posting the actual text online when they finished drafting the document months ago – is understandable, but call me unsympathetic.

These are serious regulations, that will significantly alter the direction of development in Old Lyme – a town which has by and large not exemplified the failures of suburbanization, but the successes over the last century of environmental and historic preservation — primum non nocere – first do no harm.

Yes, this plan will benefit from comments and revisions over the next few days or weeks, but let’s be clear: Old Lyme residents should be alarmed by what lawyer after lawyer have described to us as sloppiness, legal liability, inconsistency with state law, and unintended consequences. What would these same lawyers say if they reviewed the other 60 pages?

My own best guess is that the committee has created such a thicket of hazy and arbitrary regulation, that after laying down sidewalks and installing lampposts, the only developers that will bother to take advantage of the new Halls Road, are the ones who can simply sidestep all of these rules – aesthetics, density, retail requirements and height restrictions – by building affordable housing, through 8-30g.

I don’t think that’s the intention here, but if it is, then great, and let’s plan for it.

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