Two former Planning and Zoning Commission members are organizing a new political party focused on land-use issues, with the goal of fielding candidates for the P&Z in this year's town election.
The new group, Coalition for Westport, has been formed by David Press and Michael Nayor. On May 2, they filed an application to reserve their party designation with the Secretary of the State, one of several moves needed to secure a place on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Together, Press and Nayor have more than a decade of zoning board experience. Press served as a Republican member of the panel from 2003 to 2011. Nayor was a Democratic alternate from 2002 to 2005. They said that coalition's candidates would focus on the P&Z's planning functions and look to appeal to a broad range of voters.
"People who are familiar with the process and know what's going on felt there was something that needed to be added to the planning process in Westport that was not presently there." Press said in an interview with the Westport News. "We start by talking about the fact that things such as Longshore Club Park or Parker-Harding Plaza, it took people who had a vision for the town, and I think that's what we're trying to rekindle in the planning process."
The duo said they would like to run two or three candidates on the Coalition for Westport ballot line. The three P&Z seats that will be contested this year are held by Democrats Ron Corwin, Nora Jinishian and Howard Lathrop. They have not yet announced whether they will run for new terms.
Press and Nayor said the group's emergence does not indicate dissatisfaction with the incumbents.
"We're not in a critical mode against any town government entity," Nayor told the Westport News. "The point is we see a void and we want to fill that void. There is a tendency to say, `Westport's a wonderful town; let's keep it that way.' But that doesn't anticipate the needs and desires of town government, retail and commercial enterprise, residents of all ages."
The coalition could field registered Democrats or unaffiliated voters as its candidates this year, but not Republicans because the town charter does not allow more than four members of one political party on the P&Z. The seven-member P&Z already has four GOP commissioners, none of whom are up for re-election in November.
Press, now an unaffiliated voter, said his prospective candidacy on the Coalition for Westport's ticket is "an open question." Nayor said he probably will not run this year.
"In my eight years, I was really nonpartisan in the way I viewed things," Press said of his P&Z experience. "It doesn't come across as a heavily partisan board in terms of its issues."
If the coalition files a nominating petition by Aug. 7 and a statement of endorsement for its candidates by Sept. 4, its ticket would appear on the ballot.
The group does not have any candidates yet. Press and Nayor said they plan to start vetting interested individuals during the next month. A Coalition coordinating committee, which includes Press and Nayor, will choose nominees.
"I think it's unusual that they've done something when they don't know who the Democrats are running," he said. "The Democrats have shown a concern for the town, and we manage growth in a careful and methodical way."
If the coalition's candidates collect more than 1 percent of the votes cast for P&Z commissioners, it would then gain "minority party" status. Minority party candidates do not need a nominating petition to appear on the ballot.
Press and Nayor also expressed confidence that coalition candidates, if elected, could help to drive the P&Z's agenda, despite their minority representation on the board until at least 2015.
"We would be very hopeful that two or three people from our party would be a persuasive influence on the commission," Nayor said. "It doesn't necessarily mean that they have to have a majority to do that."
Desiree Soli, the Republican Town Committee chairwoman, had no comment on whether she has a preference for Democratic or coalition commissioners serving alongside the GOP members.
"It's going to be an interesting year for the P&Z," she said.
Save Westport Now, a P&Z-focused party that endorsed the four Republican commissioners in the 2011 election, has not yet announced whether it will back P&Z candidates this year.
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