Coalition: Let’s Notice P&Z Proposals

The North Avenue water tanks. The Daybreak property. The excavation behind Compo Acres Shopping Center.

All 3 proposals — and many others — were legally noticed by Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission.

But not many Westporters read the teeny-tiny, buried-in-the-back legals in newspapers like the Norwalk Hour.

Or subscribe to email notifications from the town.

Or open the letters that get sent to the nearest neighbors.

Some neighbors were surprised by excavation work done in 2014 behind Compo Acres Shopping Center.

The P&Z knows this is an issue. They’re exploring additional ways to spread the word about upcoming applications.

The Coalition for Westport hopes to push them along.

The ad hoc, town development-focused group has filed a proposed text amendment with the P&Z. It would require posting a physical sign on any property subject to upcoming debate. It would be similar to the signs erected by restaurant owners when they request a liquor permit.

The P&Z will discuss the Coalition’s idea on February 1, at Town Hall.

You’re reading about it here because it’s not yet law. Also, because you don’t read the Hour. 

Plus, there’s no property on which to put a sign about it.

29 responses to “Coalition: Let’s Notice P&Z Proposals

  1. Matthew Mandell

    Yes, the Coalition proposed this new text amendment, kudos. But at the same time the P&Z had set up a sub-committee to look at this issue and would meet in January. Also the RTM P&Z Committee had announced it would be meeting in January also to discuss noticing. There two groups would meet jointly as well.

    Due to these two groups meeting and due to rules against P&Z meeting outside on a subject on a pending agenda, the Coalition was asked to pull their proposal back. They did.

    Their idea was to have a sign on a property that is in play to let people know. Good idea. But there are more ideas in this day of social media and digital innovation and more is better. So now everyone can meet; the P&Z, RTM P&Z and the public including the Coalition, Save Westport Now and others, to all work on something that is non partisan and important to all.

    The dates will be noticed. 😉

    Matthew Mandell
    Chair, RTM P&Z Committee

  2. Thanks as always Dan. You are the BEST! Put yourself in for person of the week! Mike 👋

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  3. This reminds me of when the Westport Pizzeria was moving from Main Street to the new location on the Post Road. We tried everything we could think of to get the word out. Local papers covered the story, Channel 12 covered the story, posts on social media, local interest sites, and even a sign in the window.
    To this day, over three and a half years later, not a week goes by without someone coming in and saying, “I didn’t know you moved!”
    The point being, that despite the best efforts, not all interested parties will get the word.

  4. We need more forms of public noticing because we’re all helpless children. I suggest the P&Z/RTM committees reviewing this very serious problem consider participation awards for residents.

  5. Someone receives/gets/reads The Hour?! 🙂

    • Arline Gertzoff

      I know I am a rare breed as I have been reading The Norwalk Hour since I could read.Since it was sold and become a better more open minded paper it is a great source of info It is no longer called The Hour and reverted back to The Norwalk Hour.Digital is fine for quick bits but there is nothing better than a good cup of coffee and a real newspaper.I read 18 newspapers a week

      • Sadly, the Hour just regurgitates the Hearst feeds, like the CT Post, New Haven Register, and Stamford Advocate. The Hartford Courant gets it’s non-local news from the Tribune’s desk. Newspapers and print media is struggling. Outside of a sign on the property or signing up for a “listserv” like the Town of Westport has, we have limited choices. Putting public notices in the Hour is very limited exposure. At least ten or more years ago I subscribed to the Hour. We finally stopped it because of cost and limited information. Still get the Times in print and the Courant as an e-paper.

  6. Dan, just a small correction. The Coalition for Westport is not an “ad-hoc group ” . It is a minor political party which has a strong town committee made up of many well known and active members of the community. Its focus is on “smart” development and intelligent planning for the future.

  7. Michael Calise

    Citizen participation is the responsibility of the Citizen not the town.

  8. Citizens have the right to be Informed about town decisions and policy and to expect information to be made public in appropriate venues. Placing notices concerning Westport in a Norwalk newspaper does not serve our community with open and fair disclosure . The Coalition for Westport’s proposed amendment hopefully will ignite change on the part of the RTM and the P&Z in the future.

  9. Michael Calise is exactly right. The responsibility for providing notice is and should be the citizen/applicant’s. That’s one reason why requiring the applicant to post a sign is a good idea.

  10. Regarding the suggestion to post a sign on properties affected by pending zoning changes. While additional notice, in many forms, is a good idea, many zoning changes affect more than one property. Would a sign have to be placed on every possible affected property or just the property initiating the request for a change? Who would be responsible for posting all the signs? I can imagine a property owner affected by a zoning change initiated by someone else being very surprised to find a new sign on his or her property. And while we’re thinking of making changes to the notice rules, why not require a better description in the notice of just what the change can do? Just saying the change is from Zone XYZ to Zone ABC doesn’t do much for the average reader who doesn’t know what Zones ABC or XYZ permit in the first place.

    Peter Gold
    Member, RTM District 5

    • What if I’m texting while driving past the sign? What if I can’t understand the notice because I’m so ill-educated? What if I can’t get a baby sitter so I can attend the hearing? This is, like, totally outrageous. All applicants should have their lawyers post lay explanations in a Q&A format on FB and supply babysitters as needed. We have a rights. I’m just not sure where they’re written down.

  11. Morley, I’m not sure what your point is. I’m not suggesting people shouldn’t take responsibility for finding things out; I’m merely trying to point up a potential issue with regard to the use of signs. As you very ell know, many text amendments affect more than one potential property so, presumably all would have to be posted with notices. Depending on the type of change, this could potentially affect many, many properties. Further, since existing laws require that notice be given, why not go further and actually make the notice usable and understandable by the average person? Even if they are texting while driving by the sign.

    • I’m completely agreeing with you, Peter.

      This is clearly a crime scene that requires lots of meetings. I mean, what if there are no sidewalks near the sign? What if I can only drive by when it’s dark? What about sight impaired individuals? What about deaf individuals? Will there be someone signing at the hearing? What about non-native speakers? How will they know that this notice could apply to them? What about undocumented immigrants? Think they want to show up at some place with big white pillars? That’s not a safe space. Oh, and one other thing; apropos one of the big issues from our last local election: we need to “streamline” the whole permitting process for applicants. Too much red tape we were repeatedly told by people who like to use the word “smart” as a modifier.

      OK, I’m not agreeing with you. I’m just demonstrating the absurdity of the issue by being absurd.

      Cheers.

      • Your sarcasm is borderline petulant and does not continute to a costructive discussion.

        • I’m making a constructive point with humor. Peter and I know each other. He’s a good guy and, as you can see, is pretty good natured too.

  12. Peter Gold raises a very good point and let me add another element to his comment. The posting of a sign on the particular property could imply and reinforce the concept of “spot zoning”. There is a very critical difference between a text amendment and a site specific permit. So posting a physical sign is not a good solution for text amendments in my opinion. Either way I agree wholeheartedly that we need to move to a more modern noticing approach. Personally I find that the email listserv approach works well for monitoring the meetings of interest to the Greens Farms Association. So subscribing to the town provided service is pretty effective, and like it or not email is still more ubiquitous and standard than other the various social media choices. More promotion of this approach would help, and will be the subject of a future column in the Greens Farms Association magazine, “Greens Farms Living”. The emails could be enhanced to have links for more detail on a particular agenda topic, but that exceeds the noticing requirement we are debating here. We look forward to the outcome of the P&Z and RTM collaboration on this important topic and appreciate the contribution by the Coalition For Westport.

    Art Schoeller
    President
    Greens Farms Association

  13. I don’t think finding a good way to let people know what’s going on that might affect them is an absurd issue.

    • Your intentions are good, Peter. It’s the premise that’s possibly problematic.

      And there’s no limiting principle that I can detect.

      For instance, you probably would have to agree that certain decisions of the Traffic Authority have the potential to affect many more residents than the average text amendment. And even the Traffic Authority has lately been astonished to see things done in its name that it never passed upon. Who knew that Parks and Rec. has the authority to just rope off on-street parking and declare it only for those who have beach stickers? My taxes pay for the maintenance of the roads. What gives?

      So shouldn’t you also be advocating for the posting of signs in neighborhoods wherever traffic changes are contemplated?

      • I think transparency in government is always a good idea and, to paraphrase Tomas Jefferson,
        an informed citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.

        • No one would argue with “transparency” in government any more than anyone would argue against peace. But being informed about what your local government is really up to starts with an individual choice to do so in the first place.

          • Yes, I agree that people have to make an effort to be informed. But we should make it as easy as possible for them to do so.

            • Excellent. Using the easy-as-possible standard and assuming that “we” means the RTM, will you will be requesting, in your capacity as an RTM, that BoS post signs in advance of any proposed future traffic changes which directly impact residents?

              • Signs regarding potential traffic changes may not be the best way to inform people about a meeting of the Board of Selectmen acting as Traffic Authority. But the principle that people should have an easy way to be made aware of these potential changes would apply though the mechanism may differ from that used for P&Z notices. But as you have pointed out, even with an easier, more user friendly method of providing notice, interested parties will still have to make at least some effort themselves.

  14. Reading this thread reminds me of “Newhart”, or “Romeo and Juliet”.

  15. Matthew Mandell

    All. The sign in one answer. There are many and that is why the P&Z and RTM PZ will be meeting to brainstorm and figure out how best to inform the residents.

  16. How about starting with a simple, permanent list on the town web site to serve as a permanent reference? – Chris Woods