P&Z elects new chairman, who emphasizes respect

WESTPORT — The town’s primary elected body overseeing land-use issues, the Planning and Zoning Commission, experienced a changing of the guards last week when it elected Paul Lebowitz as chairman, replacing Cathy Walsh.

Lebowitz, a Democrat, has served on P&Z for two years and before that was a District 6 Representative Town Meeting member for three years. “The mission of the Planning and Zoning Commission is to enhance the orderly development of the town, and my job will be to facilitate that. I’ll want to make sure we maintain the quality of the neighborhoods and the business districts, but also to enforce the regulations that protect the town from over-development,” Lebowitz said.

Fellow Democratic P&Z Commissioner Danielle Dobin nominated Lebowitz for chairman at Dec. 7’s P&Z meeting and called his election “very exciting.”

Dobin, who was elected the P&Z’s vice chairman at the same meeting, said Lebowitz was the unanimous choice for chairman on the Democratic side. The final vote for Lebowitz was 5-0-1. Commissioner Chip Stephens abstained.

“He’s always open-minded, polite, and respectful of everyone who comes in front of the commission. We chose him because we feel he’ll do a great job in making everyone’s voices heard,” Dobin said. “It’ll be a real difference to have him there.”

Lebowitz concurred his chairmanship represents a sea change toward a tone of respect on the P&Z. “I think there’s a desire on the part of the people to be treated respectfully, to be treated fairly, and my job will be to make sure that happens. Everyone gets a voice,” Lebowitz said.

In the last P&Z session, the seven-member body was composed of four Democrats and three Republicans, the same as the current composition. However, last session the P&Z elected a Republican, Cathy Walsh, as chairwoman.

Walsh, who has served as chairwoman of the P&Z for about three-and-a-half years, reflected on her time as chairwoman, saying, “What I’m most proud about is assisting the developers in pushing ahead the redevelopment of downtown, in particular, Bedford Square.”

Also among her proudest accomplishments, Walsh cited legislation to help homeowners after Hurricane Sandy, and rezoning of large swaths of land to open land, in particular at the Baron’s South property, and completion of the town’s new Plan of Conservation and Development.

“I guided the POCD through many obstacles to a completed product, which I’m very proud of, despite the criticisms of it that occurred, which I understand as opportunistic, considering the election year,” Walsh said.


mediact.com; @SophieCVaughan1