Public service can be tiring.

Monday was Standing Committee night and even though we had a fairly full agenda, we managed to whip through the first eight or so items in just under an hour. Then we got to hear about the proposed new Historic District. Last week, we had the Special Meeting that irked many, especially as no one seemed pleased we rushed this and we weren’t entirely thrilled with how things were handled.

As a result, one committee had the Historic District Commission and passionate neighbors for so long we were left cooling our heels. To save time, we combined our hearing with a third committee so the HDC only had to repeat themselves once more for the night. Our room filled up and we were there over an hour hashing through the details and hearing from people on Spruce Street both for and against the block being made a Historic District. I came away concluding that despite most residents living there for decades or their entire lives, they were not a particularly close set of neighbors. Anyway, we wound up around 10 and a long night ended.

Last night, the Special Committee reconvened since April to once more see what we could or should do with the zoning ordinances. In between meetings, I had a letter to the editor published in the two local papers, asking for additional feedback. I got a small deluge of e-mails and phone calls, mostly saying things we had heard but now in greater number and convincing me there was no clear consensus one way or the other.

We had quite the turnout. 28 members of the public showed, several were repeat attendees but we also had many first-timers. As a result, I began the night attempting to explain where we were and what needed to be done. We started by hearing public comment on all three ordinances, which sometimes was passionate, sometimes questioning and sometimes confused. We attempted to answer questions and clear confusion while also trying to direct the commentary, ensuring everyone spoke at least once per ordinance.

Our First Selectman, Ken Flatto, dropped in well after we began and left before we ended but he sat and listened and then spoke, adding a level of confidence in the committee and support for the ordinances in principal if not in word.

When everyone had said their piece, then the committee assessed where we wanted to go and what needed to be done. In two cases, we felt dropping the ordinances and seeking administrative approaches seemed best. For the tension-fraught Demolition Delay, we knew something needed to be done and continued to wrestle with how long a delay, under what circumstances and using what definitions.

In the end, it certainly felt like we had made some progress. Our next meeting will be only about the Delay and with luck that too can be settled so when we’re obligated to report back, we’ll be ready.

Four and a half hours later, just before midnight, we adjourned. By the time I finished talking to people in the parking lot and drove home, it was a new morning. As a result, today feels long. I was very pleased to find some e-mails from attendees awaiting me, with kind words. The reviewers said:

Congratulations on doing such an expert job last night in keeping all parties on focus. You run an excellent meeting.

Well done on chairing the meeting tonite. Patient, courteous, inclusive.

One comment

  • Susan O.

    I follow your HDC reports with interest, as our town went through this a year or two ago. Personally, I’m rather opposed to them, so I wait to see how yours turns out. We have our Historic District around the Green, which is perfectly New England and that’s fine, but they tried to expand it to include new sections of town. Thankfully it didn’t include us personally – few can afford those gorgeous homes – but I would have fought it through every court in the state. Long after I bought my house, you want to 1) change the zoning, 2) increase my taxes 3) tell me, a free citizen, what I suddenly can or can’t do with my property, or make me change it at my expense? No matter how painful, I would have been the first to run out and paint my antique house flourescent pink to protest. In the new zone (which eventually passed, narrowly), there’s a factory that was built @1890-1900. I worked there making clothing buttons for 3 summers while in college. It has been defunct for @ 15 years now. It cannot be torn down, because it is “historic”. It will never be sold or repaired, because it’s full of toxic waste that would have to be cleaned up at ridiculous expense (it priced higher than the value of the property). So instead it sits vacant, rotting into a “Historic” eyesore. There just ain’t no common sense.