Wetlands board will be elected next November
The voters have spoken — the town Inland Wetlands Board (IWB) will split away from the Planning and Zoning Commission (PZC) to become its own agency with seven elected officials.
“The separation becomes effective with the November 2019 election,” explained Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti of the Planning and Zoning Commission. “Candidates will come through the Republican and Democratic town committees for election — just as they would for any other elected position.”
She said there will be no change in how the combined board functions until the next election.
The split was given the go-ahead by residents in a ballot measure on Election Day, Nov. 6, with 8,861 voting for and 2,928 against.
In its current form, the nine elected members of the commission also serve as the wetlands board.
“I was not surprised to see that voters approved overwhelmingly to separate the IWB from P&Z,” said Jon Seem, chairman of the Charter Revision Commission. “This enables future land use questions to have a far more more balanced review between conservation and commercial interests.”
There will be no restrictions on who can apply to be on the new seven-member wetlands board. An earlier suggestion to have the members of the board be qualified applicants who are appointed by the town was voted down as the proposal wound its way through the Charter Revision Commission.
Mucchetti said the wetlands office that supports the new IWB will likely need additional staffing, based on the amount of administrative work the combined board receives.
That includes filing legal notices, filing meeting minutes, and providing “documentation to the public,” Mucchetti said.
That work is currently handled by the planning and zoning office administrator, Aarti Paranjape.
The town currently has one wetlands agent, Beth Peyser, who reports to the planning and zoning office director, Richard Baldelli.
Under state law, the new board will also have to have a recording secretary to take minutes and record votes taken by the new board.
“It’s an extraordinary amount of work to be done,” Mucchetti said. “It would not be feasible for the agent to also be the administrator, there’s just too much work.”
Mucchetti confirmed that the current combined board will be the one that decides on the application for the Ridgefield Winter Club. Under state law, the public hearing for both the wetlands and zoning applications for the club has to close by Dec. 13. The IWB has 35 days to deliberate and make a decision on the wetlands applications, and the PZC has 65 days to make a decision on the club zoning applications.
Mucchetti said that the board will likely make a decision on the winter club application in January.
What’s still unclear is when the combined board will stop taking new wetlands applications. Because applications under the town wetlands regulations can often take more than one meeting to decide, an application submitted in October might carry over into November, after the new wetlands board is elected.
That could mean an application “would have two different groups of people serving in the same capacity reviewing the same application,” Mucchetti pointed out — a situation the commission wants to avoid.