In the next 10 years, Branford hopes to deal with issues of sustainability and coastal resiliency.
The Steering Committee for the Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) discussed those issues, and several others, during a meeting Thursday at Fire Headquarters. The state requires municipalities to update their POCDs every 10 years.
Other topics Thursday included establishing a coastal vulnerability commission; and increasing freeboard, which is the amount of space above the flood line.
The next meeting will be held March 14 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the basement conference room at Town Hall. It is anticipated the results of the online surveys will be discussed then. There will also be a telephone survey in March.
The POCD serves as an advisory document, unless the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission ties POCD recommendations to specific zoning regulations.
One of the goals of the POCD is to promote sustainability and resiliency.
Strategies include evaluating and implementing ways to reduce energy usage; encouraging residents and businesses to reduce energy usage; promoting water conservation; promoting waste-reduction and recycling; and continuing to educate residents about sustainability.
“This is probably one of the most important things we will be talking about in the next 10 years,” said committee member Catherine Lezon. She said the POCD should strongly promote these goals. “I think we ought to be pro-active,” said Lezon, a member of Branford’s Economic Development Commission.
Committee member and local environmentalist Bill Horne (pictured) said he thinks the POCD should strongly suggest that the town support the state’s goals of reducing greenhouse emissions. He also said the town’s Clean Energy Taskforce should be reactivated.
Resiliency is described in the POCD workbooks as “the community’s ability to withstand, respond to, and readily recover from sudden changes or adversity.” It suggests the town should continue participating in the regional Hazard Mitigation Plan.
Branford is in the process of updating the regional Hazard Mitigation Plan which the town approved in 2014. The plan identifies potential natural disasters and ways to reduce or mitigate their effects. Once the plan is in place, communities may apply for FEMA grant money for mitigation projects.
Possible strategies to promote sustainability are identified in the POCD workbooks, which are also on the Town’s website.
Glenn Chalder of Planimetrics, the consulting firm hired to oversee the POCD updating process, said sustainability can refer to many issues, and it’s important for the town to “start the dialogue today.”
The POCD draft workbook describes sustainability as “the philosophy of encouraging activities that allow present generations to meet their needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”
New Coastal Vulnerability Commission?
The Steering Committee has been discussing the merits of establishing a commission or board to deal with coastal issues, especially because Branford has one of the longest coastlines in the state. At one of the first POCD meetings, numerous residents expressed concern about rising seas, severe storms and climate change.
The issue Thursday was whether the POCD should recommend establishing a new commission or perhaps expanding the goals of the town’s Flood and Erosion Control Board. The state requires towns to have Flood and Erosion Control Boards to deal with ways to combat flooding and erosion through physical structures like seawalls, dams and drains.
Committee member Peter Bassermann, who is also the chair of the Inland Wetlands Commission, said perhaps the POCD should first define the responsibilities of a board or commission that would deal with coastal vulnerability.
Chalder pointed out that the POCD can recommend a new commission, but it would be up to the town to create it.
Freeboard, which was originally a nautical term, is used by FEMA to refer to the amount of free space above the Base Flood Elevation (BFE), which is the height of where floodwaters would reach. So 1 foot of freeboard would be 1 foot above the BFE.
Chalder said many communities are adding freeboard height because of the increase in severe storms and coastal flooding.
Connecticut currently recommends 1 foot of freeboard for homes in coastal or riverfront areas for new construction, substantial renovation, or when elevating a home.
Horne said he supports adding additional freeboard because of rising seas. However, he said the POCD can recommend the increase, but it would be up to the town to enact it. “This is the first step,” he said.
Chalder said “the issue of freeboard is a sensitive one to people …but it’s probably a good idea for Branford.”
Elevating homes is a complex issue because of the expense and also because of changes to the viewscape for other neighbors.
The town’s Coastal Resiliency Plan, a 50-page report that was adopted in 2016, addresses multiple issues, including the possibility of increasing the amount of freeboard. The plan is on the Engineering Department’s page of the Town’s website.
The Steering Committee also discussed the importance affordable housing issues; and the practicality of creating a design review board to evaluate new commercial projects.
Chalder said the committee will continue discussions over the next few months and hopes to have a draft prepared by June. There will be a public information session to discuss the draft, which will be posted on the Town’s website. A public hearing will be held in the fall to discuss the final version of the POCD.
The Steering Committee members are: Town Planner Harry Smith, Phil Carloni, Bill Horne, Gavin Renz, John Lust, Joe Chadwick, Marci Palluzzi, Terry Elton, Barbara Ricozzi, Cathy Lezon, Peter Bassermann and Vinnie Hanchuruck.
Chalder can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org