Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
PZC criticizes report urging separate wetlands panel

By Christine McCluskey
Journal Inquirer
December 12, 2006

MANCHESTER - Members of the Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday blasted the Conservation Commission for not telling them directly of its belief that the PZC shouldn't be acting as the town's wetlands authority.

In a June report that was issued to town staffers last month, the Conservation Commission says that Manchester should have a separate wetlands commission and that it should increase the buffer area around wetlands from 50 to 100 feet.

The PZC concentrated on the first recommendation Monday because town staff members plan to cover the buffer-area issue next month, when they present to the PZC possible revisions to wetlands regulations.

Manchester is one of only five towns in the state where the PZC's responsibilities include regulating and permitting use of inland wetland and watercourse areas.

According to the Conservation Commission report, of the remaining Connecticut municipalities, 112 have independent wetlands commissions and 52 have made their conservation commissions the wetlands authority.

The other four towns where the PZC is the wetlands authority are Farmington, Ridgefield, Union, and West Hartford.

The state Department of Environmental Protection and the Connecticut Association of Conservation and Inland Wetland Commissions recommend that towns have one commission for planning and zoning and another for wetlands.

"The DEP feels that both the planning and zoning and inland wetland needs clash as both commissions have opposite goals and agendas," Conservation Commission member David Raby wrote in his commission's June report.

PZC member Horace Brown said he has trouble with this idea of competing goals.

"I don't think the agendas are opposite, I really don't," Brown said.

He said the report implies that the PZC isn't following regulations and that this is "objectionable."

"Is this really what's best for Manchester or just power-mongering?" PZC member Joseph Diminico asked.

Diminico said he disagrees with any implication that the PZC is influenced by pressure from developers.

"We're not under pressure - no way," he said.

PZC member Eugene Sierakowski said that while Manchester likely has a reputation as being easier to develop in than other towns, in recent years the PZC has gotten tougher in its reviews of proposed development, including those proposals that affect wetlands.

Sierakowski added that for the past 15 years he has supported creating a separate wetlands commission.

But that doesn't mean the PZC hasn't been doing a good job, he said. And he said he was disappointed in the lack of communication between the PZC and Conservation Commission on this issue.

Brown agreed with Sierakowski, saying the two commissions need to meet with each other.

"I think we've got to step back and talk with that commission in a positive vein," Brown said.

Diminico criticized PZC alternate Mark Connors, who also sits on the Conservation Commission, for not bringing the matter to the PZC earlier.

So did PZC alternate Rudy Kissmann, who said it was "appalling" that the PZC didn't hear about the Conservation Commission's report directly from Connors.

Connors said he believes any organization must evaluate itself from time to time.

The question of whether to form a separate wetlands commission has been brought up in years past, Connors said.

He said that with only four other towns giving both their wetlands and planning and zoning duties to one commission, and with the DEP recommending towns not do this, Manchester should consider a change.

"At least there's going to be some discussion on the topic," he said.

Town Planning and Economic Development Director Mark Pellegrini told the PZC that the way things work now is more efficient that what the Conservation Commission is suggesting.

Pellegrini also said he doesn't agree with the Conservation Commission's assertion that wetlands issues are not receiving appropriate consideration without a separate commission.

At the end of Monday's meeting, the PZC decided to request that the Board of Directors, which will discuss this issue tonight, form a subcommittee of PZC, Conservation Commission, and Board of Directors members to consider the possibility of creating a wetlands commission.

©Journal Inquirer 2006