Putnam will hold a town meeting Monday night on a plan to disband the zoning and planning commissions and merge them into one new commission, a plan that has been criticized as a ploy to get two controversial developments approved.
Barney Seney told the Bulletin the change is good for economic development. “I think it will make it easier to developers to have one commission,” he said, adding that other towns have a similar setup.
But the single-commission approach is drawing fire from activists who oppose the expansion of Wheelabrator Technologiesâ€™ ash landfill in the southern tip of town, saying that it will help the project get approved.
“Our fear is that if the Board of Selectmen abolish the current zoning board and replace it with a board composed of members of which they essentially cherry pick that that board will now reflect their beliefs, that this Wheelabrator expansion is good for the town,” said Martin Fey, one of the leading neighborhood activists. “Basically, it will grease the skids for Wheelabrator.”
Fey says he has joined forces with other neighborhood activities in East Putnam who worry that the new combined board would approve a project they donâ€™t want â€” a gravel excavation at Cady Pond by Rawson Materials.
In a flier Fey is distributing in advance of the meeting, he criticizes the Board of Selectmen for rushing the charter change and asks why it wasnâ€™t made during the charter revision study in 2018. In an interview, Seney denied that there has been any rush, saying that itâ€™s been three months since he first brought the idea up. He said the charter revision study took place under another administration.
Seney also noted that current zoning and planning commission members will have the opportunity to re-apply for the new, combined board.
But Fey worries that in the application and reappointment process there is a risk that the new commission may lose its more experienced members. Plus, he notes that the current zoning board has appointees from different administrations, reflecting a diversity of viewpoints. He fears the new commission wonâ€™t have that.
Both Wheelabrator and Cady Pondâ€™s proposals have run into some resistance from town boards.
In October, the town Inland Wetlands Commission dismissed Wheelabratorâ€™s plan for expanding its landfill, forcing it to reapply. Wheelabrator would have also needed the approval of the townâ€™s Zoning Commission.
Likewise, on Dec. 19, 2018, the Zoning Commission rejected Rawson Materialsâ€™ excavation proposal. Rawson Materials challenged that decision in court, but the record of the zoning meetings was incomplete due to a missing tape, leading to a rehearing before the Zoning Commission on Dec. 18, 2019, according to the minutes of that meeting.
The hearing ended up not going very far when it was pointed out that the new combined commission may not have the same commission members, making the current hearing unfair. The Zoning Commission ended up voting unanimously to recommend that Rawson Materials withdraw its application and wait to hold a hearing before the new commission, according to the meeting minutes. The company promptly did just that, saying it would re-apply later.
The town meeting on the merger of the zoning and planning commissions is 7:30 p.m.Â Monday at the Putnam Board of Education offices at Putnam High School off Woodstock Avenue.