To the Editor:
I have lived in Old Lyme for 19 years and am deeply committed to its welfare, including its economic
vitality. To that end I have served on the town’s Economic Development Commission and continue to
serve on the Board of Selectmen’s Halls Road Improvements Committee. I am now running for election to the Old Lyme Planning Commission. Decisions made by the Planning Commission and the Zoning Commission are of the utmost importance to our town. They determine how we may use our property and how those uses may change. I want to participate in these decisions and assure that they open- minded, thoughtful, made in the best interests of our residents, respect the rights of property owners, and comply with the law.
In thinking about our land-use approval process, I am aware of concerns expressed by property owners and others that the bifurcated process can be cumbersome, time-consuming, and expensive. I therefore looked into how land-use decisions are made in other towns and found that combining planning and zoning into one commission may produce a better outcome. Most Connecticut towns, especially the smaller ones, do this. Joining them creates efficiencies, better coordination, and quicker decision- making.
Here are some of what I found.
Norwalk decided that combining the commissions: “will save considerable time and costs without the
need to present requests to both commissions….The union of the planning and zoning commissions also
creates a more consistent planning relationship. It gives the commission increased jurisdiction. That
broadened authority results in greater consistency in the planning process.” (Norwalk Tomorrow 3/28/22)
Essex’s First Selectman, Norm Needleman, stated that, “there had been friction between the two
commissions because the Zoning Commission isn’t obligated to implement the Plan of Conservation and
Development drawn up by the Planning Commission (CT Examiner 9/18/20)
Land use attorney Larry Shipman said, “Planning and zoning make sense together because at least you
have people on the commission focused on planning issues, so they can become advocates for the plans
they develop. . . .
I find it easier as an applicant, that a joint commission allows you to accomplish more in less time.” Shipman also thought that a combined commission would make the Plan of Conservation and Development more effective and functional; because the same people who write it are responsible for implementing it. (CT Examiner 9/18/20)
Some towns like Essex are contemplating going one step further by appointing commissioners rather than electing them. Commissioners will be required to have expertise and experience in land use. We, too, might want to explore this approach.
I am aware of a few arguments against combining the two commissions, principally that the workload will be too great. However, this concern can be addressed by increasing the number of commissioners and delegating appropriate matters to the Land Use Coordinator.
I hope you will support my effort to participate in Old Lyme’s land use decisions; this is just one idea about how we might improve the process.