Branford’s treasured shoreline is both a blessing and a challenge, according to the majority of people who attended a public workshop to discuss the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD).
About 220 people participated in the workshop which was held in the cafeteria at Walsh Intermediate School Wednesday evening. They selected coastal issues as the number-one area of concern, particularly the impact of rising seas and frequent storms.
But people were also concerned there wasn’t enough time to discuss all the issues needed to update the POCD, which the state requires to be done every 10 years.
Peter Hentschel, (pictured), a member of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) from Stony Creek, said the workshop was a good first meeting, but there should be more opportunities for residents to comment as the process unfolds. The next public comment meeting is not scheduled until the spring when the proposal is in draft form. A public hearing will be held before the plan is finalized in November.
Hentschel also sent a letter to the POCD Steering Committee outlining his concerns. “It is evident from the current meeting schedule of the POCD Steering Committee that very little engagement of individual residents, neighborhood organizations and civic groups is anticipated,” he wrote. He stated “my fear is that this will result in a plan which does not reflect and is not responsive to many key issues in the community.” He made several suggestions for focus groups and public comment sessions.
The meeting was moderated by Glenn Chalder (pictured) of Planimetrics, the consulting firm hired by the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission to oversee the POCD updating process.
“This is something we’ve been talking about,” Chalder said in regard to more public comment sessions. “Our next committee meeting is in December and we’re going to look at ways to increase and improve the opportunities for public comment.”
There were some difficulties with communications at the meeting. The microphones were not working properly, and people complained they could not hear. People were not asked to identify themselves when they spoke, and most did not give their name or neighborhood.
Chalder who was also the consultant for the 2008 POCD said the POCD is an advisory document and not regulatory. “It’s a visionary look toward the future and how we can make Branford an even better place.”
Rising Seas — Rising Concerns
During the first half-hour of the meeting, residents received envelopes with planning points to place in ballot boxes to select and prioritize the issues that mattered the most. The points were tallied by (L-R) Assistant Town Planner Rich Stoecker and Town Planner Harry Smith.
The results revealed that coastal resources were the number-one concern with a grand total of 975 points. The next five issues, in terms of points, were open space; natural resources; community character; walking, biking and bus issues; and traffic and circulation.
“Coastal issues ended up on the top of our list and they weren’t even close to the top of the list 10 years ago,” Chalder said.
He said Branford is blessed with miles of shoreline and coastal neighborhoods like Stony Creek, Short Beach and Pine Orchard, and also
the Thimble Islands. Branford’s 20 mile shoreline is one of the longest in the state.
“Part of the issue is that coastal resources are something that we’ve been blessed with, but it’s changing. Now we’re looking at storm frequency and the possibility of sea level rise and this is an issue that’s going to have some significant impacts on the community,” Chalder said. “It’s both an opportunity that we want to protect and preserve, but it’s also something we need to look at in terms of resiliency overall.”
People were asked to describe in a few words what concerned them about coastal issues. Their responses included rising seas, climate changes, pollution, taxes, property values, and the impact of storms and rising seas on the economy.
They also talked about protecting, preserving and enhancing open space, natural resources, and community character.
One man said issues of coastal resources, open space, natural resources, rising seas and flooding are all connected. “What we do with the plan will have an enormous relationship to our capital investment in town.” He said the South Central Regional Council of Governments and Branford have done resiliency planning to identify potential projects. “The question is — are we going to invest in them or will we just talk about it?” the man asked.
Chalder said there is an implementation component of the POCD which addresses how to make the plans a reality.
Exit 53 Woes
The category of walking, biking and bus transportation elicited comments about traffic problems, lack of sidewalks, the need for bike paths, and the need for a town shuttle. Here one man casts his ballot.
When it came to the topic of traffic and circulation, many people bemoaned the condition of Exit 53, which has only partial access to I-95. There is no northbound entrance and no southbound exit.
“It inhibits the actual utility of that area,” one woman said in regard to the incomplete exit. “It could be vibrant.”
Dan Bullard, president of the Stony Creek Association, said the Exit 53 connections need to be completed to stimulate development in that area, instead of Exit 56.
The 2008 POCD makes the following statement: “At Exit 53, the Town and the State will need to continue to work together to address the deficiencies at this interchange (partial interchange, inefficient routing, railroad bridge constriction, etc.)”
Since then, the Amtrak bridge project received funding in 2009. The project to replace the bridge and widen Route 1 at the so-called Pretzel was completed in 2013. However, the Exit 53 deficiencies are still awaiting funding.
People also talked about flooding on roads, the need for more parking, and the need to for traffic-calming measures to reduce speeding.
What About Development?
Some workshop participants said there was very little discussion about the Development aspect of the Plan of Conservation and Development.
Jacey Wyatt (pictured), who frequently speaks out on town issues, said Wednesday’s session centered on conservation but did not touch on development.
“Branford is not sought out to be a place to build because it’s so difficult to build here,” Wyatt said, adding that the town needs a development plan to support the growing fiscal budget.
“The development in this town is lax because we’re not attracting developers who want to build what we want here,” Wyatt said.
One man was concerned about how Branford can bring economic engines to the community to grow the tax base and create jobs.
“I’m pretty pessimistic about this whole enterprise,” one woman said, adding that implementation issues are important.
Another woman said: “A lot of these issues have to do with a sustainable approach to how we plan for the next 10 years. I think we can agree that we need to manage our natural resources as well as manage the traffic and the business development that comes into town,” she said. “I think that hand-in-hand with that is economic sustainability … I think we need to be more holistic.”
Proud or Sorry
Also at the beginning of the meeting, residents were offered a way to describe what they are most proud of and most sorry about when it came to their town. They put green dots on the Branford map to represent their “prouds” and red dots to represent “sorries.”
Here’s the sign and the box Planimetrics provided.
Areas of pride included Branford Center, Stony Creek, Indian Neck, Beacon Hill, open space and the shoreline.
“Sorry areas” included Exit 53, and areas of dense residential and commercial development.
Here a group of women choose areas they are sorry about.
Blue dots on the map were used to show where participants live. Peter Black, an RTM member from Short Beach, said the meeting was not a true representation of the town because no one from the Brushy Plain Road neighborhoods were at the meeting. That area of town includes numerous condominiums and housing developments.
“The group here is not truly representative of this town,” Black said.
Several people also noted that the workshop attendees were mostly over age of 55, and that few young people attended.
First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove attended the meeting as did several RTM members. Cosgrove did not speak.
Chalder said the next meeting of the POCD Steering Committee is Dec. 13; and that all information about the meetings will be posted on the town’s web site. In the coming months, surveys and discussions will be held with local boards and commissions, and random telephone surveys will be conducted.
The POCD Steering Committee members are: Cathy Lezon, Peter Basserman, Phil Carloni, Bill Horne, Gavin Renz, John Lust, Joe Chadwick, Marci Palluzzi, Terry Elton, Barbara Ricozzi, Vinnie Hanchuruck and the town planner.
Chalder can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Here is the 2008 POCD. It is also on the town’s web site under the listing of reports and publications.
Marcia Chambers contributed to reporting