Questions Raised about POCD Enforcement

Diana Stricker PhotoHow does Branford put some “teeth” into the proposed 10-year Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) which is basically an advisory document.

“A major problem seems to be implementation and enforcement, and actually putting teeth in the POCD,” said Greg Ames, an architect from Stony Creek. “How do we do that?”

“I think it’s up to each community to find what works for it,” said Glenn Chalder (pictured) of Planimetrics, the consulting firm hired to oversee the POCD updating process.  He said one recommendation is re-activating Branford’s Strategic Review Committee, which helps implement the POCD.

The Strategic Review Committee was formed in 2009 “to advise and assist the Board of Selectmen in matters of long-term planning.” At some point it became inactive.

Chalder said it’s not the words in the plan that give it teeth, it’s the people who give it strength.

“The written word will not make any of you do something,” Chalder said, but it can get the conversation started.

“I want all of you to pick up this ball and run with it,” Chalder said, suggesting people volunteer for committees or attend municipal meetings. “Because that’s the way we can make it happen.”

About 40 people attended a public workshop Wednesday at the Blackstone Library to discuss the proposed draft of the plan, which the state requires be updated every 10 years. People have until the end of June to send comments to pocd@branford-ct.gov

Wednesday’s workshop session is available for viewing on BCTV, and the complete draft of the POCD is on the town website. A public hearing will be held in the fall to discuss the proposed final version of the POCD.

POCD and Development

Diana Stricker PhotoChalder (pictured) outlined the draft Wednesday and then opened the workshop to public comments. He listed the comments for discussion at committee meetings.

Janet Reisman, a member of the Branford Citizens for Responsible Development, expressed concern about enforcing the POCD, especially in regard to development.

“The POCD is pie in the sky and has no teeth,” Reisman said.  “Essentially the POCD becomes toothless without enforcement capability,” she said, adding that the POCD should be tied more closely to the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission.

“The challenge that we have is that land use is a very delicate balance between people’s property rights and the public interest,” Chalder said.
He said the POCD has suggested some possible changes to P&Z regulations.

“The plan doesn’t make the regulations happen,” Chalder said. “But that’s where we all get involved in implementing the plan and urge and encourage those regulation changes get made, so we have the best rules possible.”

Chuck Andres, who chairs the P&Z, said a POCD does have some teeth.

“Yes, it can make a difference, and it has made a difference, and it can continue to make a difference,” Andres said.

For example, he said recommendations from the 2008 POCD were used to revise zoning regulations. “Based on the discussion in the 2008 POCD, we actually decreased coverage requirements,” he said. That means a proposed building and parking lot could not cover as much of a percentage of the site as was previously allowed, resulting in smaller developments.

Five-Year Check Up

The POCD is evaluated five years after its approval, to check on implementation. The 2008 POCD and the 5-year evaluation are all on the town website.

“It was heartening to me to see how much implementation has occurred,” Chalder said at the workshop.

Phil Carloni, chair of the POCD Steering Committee, said there will hopefully be a good implementation committee that can take recommendations to P&Z, the Representative Town Meeting, or the state legislature.

Carloni is a long-time member of the Town Center Revitalization Review Board, which is an advisory board.  The board meets with individual developers and makes suggestions about their plans. “We have a lot of influence in the center of town even though we can’t make them do it,” he said.

Carloni said he was disappointed with the low turn-out at the workshop. About 220 people attended the first workshop in November, but only 40 were at Wednesday’s meeting.

“We should have a whole lot more people here,” Carloni said. “We would love to have any and all of you involved to help with the implementation.”

A Wide Range of Comments

Diana Stricker Photo—- Jay Pottenger, a clinical law professor at the Yale Law School, said affordable housing issues were not adequately addressed in the POCD.

“I’m disappointed that this draft plan doesn’t put more emphasis on opening our town to other people who want to share and take advantage of what we have,” Pottenger said. “And by that I specifically mean by welcoming affordable housing, especially for people with lower income, into our town.”

Pottenger said there is a political, legal and moral duty to take into account housing diversity and housing choice, especially for people with low and moderate incomes. 

“I urge that the final plan make access to truly affordable housing a high priority,” Pottenger said.

—— Peter Maresca, chair of the Economic Development Commission, said it’s vital to address the I-95 exits in regard to potential development. He said a recent meeting with DOT consultants about Exit 53 revealed it will take at least 10 years and millions of dollars to correct the incomplete interchange at Exit 53, depending on the availability of state and federal funding.

Maresca said Exit 56 is one area that can be developed. He said the draft POCD suggests more industry as opposed to mixed-use. “I believe, and the Economic Development Commission also concurs, that it is much better as mixed-use,” he said.

Maresca said the current PDD that was approved for Exit 56 strategically limits the number of curb-cuts, and it filters traffic wisely. “If that (plan) doesn’t come through, are we back to industry again, or can we still keep it mixed-use that would invite some retail, some industry, some office, and restaurants,” he asked.

—— Michael Pascucilla, Director of the East Shore District Health Department, said it’s important to reach out to young people and involve them in town planning.

“With a plan like this, we’re talking about our future. How do we engage our children?” Pascucilla asked. He said if young people are more involved in planning, “they’re going to feel invested and more likely to stay in the community and not move elsewhere.”

—— Ted Ells,  a member of the executive board of the Stony Creek Association, said the POCD suggests it’s important to maintain Stony Creek as a focal point of Branford.  He said Stony Creek has a multitude of tourist attractions, but that has caused a strain on the village.

“What can the town do to help us with the growth pains that we have, such as parking, and all the things that are straining us right now,” Ells asked.

POCD Issues

The draft was prepared with input from residents, online surveys, phone surveys, listening sessions, and meetings of the POCD Steering Committee.

File PhotoParticipants at the first workshop selected coastal issues as the top concern, particularly the impact of rising seas and frequent storms.
The Steering Committee discussed coastal issues and sustainability at several meetings, including one in February.

All of the chapters include specific recommendations or suggestions to implement the goals. For example, the POCD recommends the town appoint a committee or working group to address coastal vulnerability.

“If we only do one thing as far as this plan, and we certainly hope we do much more, we think that’s the issue that Branford really needs to focus on,” Chalder said.

Some important aspects of the 2018 plan include addressing coastal vulnerability, improving Exit 53, improving bicycle and pedestrian access, promoting transit‐oriented development, supporting economic development and tourism, protecting natural resources and open space, and promoting sustainability.

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posted by: scjerry on June 20, 2018  3:45pm

We, here in the Creek, just finished a contentious debate on a toilet trailer and where it should be placed. This without considering the root cause of the perceived need for such a facility. I agree with Ted Ells that one of the stated objectives of the POCD is an emphasis of placing the Creek in the limelight in Branford, but without addressing the stress this places on the residents of the village. See p. 83 of the POCD and the quote:  “Continue to support businesses and activities in the Town center and other village areas in order to create vibrant, pedestrian‐friendly areas.”  with a picture of Stony Creek. This to be taken on by the EDC. Therein lies the issue. The inclination is for the Town of Branford to treat Stony Creek like a quaint eccentric child (the legendary “idiot village”) at the expense of residents, with the one of the highest real estate tax assessments in the town. I once asked a senior financial town official if there was any documentation on the impact of tourism on the grand list. He had no recommendation. Stony Creek’s plight is legion; parking, traffic, speeders (many are residents), kayakers, beach goers, tour boats, pedestrians with strollers and kayaks walking down the middle of Thimble Islands Road, Legacy Theater, Thimble Island residential visitors, and the Stony Creek Museum, not to mention retail shops, two eateries, and a boat launching ramp. Pedestrian-friendly… it is not and there are no plans to make it so. Stony Creek needs a POCD with teeth, i.e., specifics and a timeline. To drive this home, let’s take the rumored proposal for a tourist shuttle. See (p. 122)  “Investigate the potential to operate a shuttle, especially in the summertime, connecting Branford Center with the Harbor area, the train station, and other destinations.” . No timeline, no commitment from either the Town nor the EDC. No idea if it is even economically feasible. Without teeth, in 10 years Stony Creek will continue to be pedestrian-hostile.