Low point for P&Z
As Westport Planning and Zoning commissioners who voted in opposition to the resolution (4--3 decision) to sue the Westport RTM, we are dismayed by the P&Z's actions and embarrassed for the town of Westport. This action makes a mockery of the Planning and Zoning Commission's credibility.
We support the RTM's decision to overturn the P&Z's recent decision to modify the zoning regulations. The zoning amendment was flawed in a number of ways. We welcome the review by the RTM of any P&Z decision modifying the zoning regulations. The checks and balances of our political system are extremely important. If a P&Z decision is overturned by a two-thirds vote of the duly elected RTM, which is a very high bar to overcome and used so infrequently, then rather than suing the RTM, the offended P&Z commissioners should take a deep breath and reevaluate their decision. Clarification of the RTM's review process may be warranted, but the proper venue is not a courtroom but a public meeting amongst these elected bodies.
Recent news reports and statements do not tell the complete story. Some additional points that should be known include:
2. The Four Commissioners explicitly voted against a motion which provided for not to suing the RTM butting sitting down with them to resolve their concerns in a cordial manner.
3. The claim about protecting individual rights should be questioned because the timing of the filing of this suit (within 15 day appeal period) could result in the court reviewing the RTM decision. If the suit was filed after the 15 day appeal period expires then only those concerns about the RTM process would be at issue.
4. The concern of some P&Z commissioners about the power of the RTM has been known for some time. Commissioners Corwin and Lowenstein are on the public record in 2009 stating their concerns with the ability of residents to exercise their rights, under the town charter, to appeal to the RTM certain zoning decisions. They have gone so far as to draft changes to the zoning regulations in a specific way that would intentionally circumvent residents right to appeal to the RTM. The tension between select members of the P&Z and the RTM began well before the RTM's recent hearings as evidence by numerous e-mails in the public record.
5. The resolution brought forward by commissioner Corwin was a surprise to some of the commissioners, having been circulated to the entire commission only an hour before the meeting. This resolution was apparently the result of numerous private conversations amongst a select group of commissioners, which ignores the idea of open and transparent government.
6. Commissioner Corwin's statements about hiring a private attorney to represent the P&Z Commission to be paid for with private contributions is concerning. Who is this attorney? Who would be making the private contributions? Who is soliciting these private contributions? These two commissioners would like to know since we are apparently out of the loop.
7. Commissioner Corwin's statement that one of his reasons for voting for the resolution was that "people gave money and contributed to us to get these things done" is extremely alarming. This should be examined.
We encourage the residents of Westport to take the time to watch the P&Z's meeting of Jan. 21. It can be viewed on the town's Web site with the relevant portion of meeting beginning at approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes. Viewing this portion of the meeting will show how this has become an incredibly low point for a P&Z Commission which must remain impartial in all of its decisions.
We welcome the first selectman's involvement to attempt to diffuse the issue, but all discussions need to be done on the public record. This battle is more about protecting turf, power and individual egos than protecting individual rights. There is much more at stake then what appears at the surface here. We encourage residents to contact the selectman's office and their RTM representatives with their opinions on this matter.
Catherine Walsh, Commissioner,
Westport Planning and Zoning Commission
Michael Krawiec, Commissioner,
Westport Planning and Zoning Commission