Election 2017: Zoning Board of Appeals candidates answer questions

For the Zoning Board of Appeals there are a series of separate races — two for regular board seats, one to fill a vacancy, and two for positions as ZBA alternates — featuring five candidates.

The Press posed questions to the candidates, and asked them to respond in writing, within word limits. The questions and the candidates’ answers follow, with answers appearing in the order they were received.

The five-member appeals board has staggered terms beginning at different dates, and is also the only elective board in town to have alternates.

For a full four-year board term that begins Nov. 21, 2017, Republican incumbent Carson Fincham is facing Democrat Terry Bearden-Rettger.

For a four-year term starting in November 2018, Republican incumbent David Choplinski faces Democrat Mark Seavy, who is currently an alternate on the board.

Seavy is also on the ballot for three other appeals board positions: He’s unopposed to fill out a one-year vacancy on the board, and is also unopposed for to fill a vacancy for a three-year stint as an alternate.

And, Republican John McNicholas is facing Seavy to fill a two-year ZBA alternate’s vacancy.

The charter prohibits people from holding more than one elective office at a time. so should Seavy win more than one position he’ll have to choose which one he wants to serve in and resign from the others — allowing the board to fill the vacancy with another member of the Democratic party.

There is one exception to this: Seavy could win the one-year board vacancy (which he is unopposed for) and also the board seat that starts in 2018 (where he’s running against Choplinski) and serve both terms, since the one-year vacancy ends when the four-year term starts.

  1. What should a Zoning Board of Appeals member consider when deciding whether to grant a variance of zoning rules that apply to other properties? (150 words)

CARSON FINCHAM (R): The factors that a ZBA member must consider when deciding whether to grant a variance to the Zoning Regulations are well established by law. Variances can only be granted if there is a “legal hardship.” What constitutes a “legal hardship” is defined by a thick body of case law. When I apply these rules, I seek to do so in a uniform and consistent manner, and I also endeavor to leverage any legally available options to benefit landowners. The Zoning Regulations are certainly strict, and I believe they should be varied in the right circumstances to assist those in town that seek to better their surroundings. Understanding the applicable case law is critical however, to avoid exposing the town to unnecessary lawsuits. Taxpayers deserve protection from avoidable legal expenses and landowners deserve flexibility in managing their properties — this is a fundamental balance that must be considered by the ZBA.

JOHN McNICHOLAS (R): I believe a Zoning Board of Appeals Candidate should be thoroughly of the the file on appeal. The candidate must make every effort to attend all meetings so that all the facts are known before the file goes to appeal. The candidate should confer with P&Z counsel and should compare other prior matters already decided as a basis to the appeal, court decisions relating to this appeal at hand should be reviewed and finally the candidate should listen to both sides’ arguments for or against the appeal and how it may or may not affect the parties and ultimately the town. The candidate should also be mindful that legal precedents are some time made from your decisions on the ZBA.

MARK SEAVY (D): In deciding whether to grant a variance of local zoning law, a Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) member should take into consideration the many aspects of a project. The variance requested by a homeowner or business should be weighed against the impact the project will have on the surrounding neighborhood or business district. In making that decision, it is critical that a ZBA member have a full understanding of the zoning laws governing that residential or commercial district in order to apply them in an unbiased manner. This requires an on-site review of each application to make sure the ZBA is fully versed in all aspects of each project and what the impact of granting the proposed variance will be. Zoning laws are critical to Ridgefield’s future and variances should only be granted when they are in the best interests of the applicant and town residents.

TERRY BEARDEN-RETTGER (D): When a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals is considering whether to grant a variance request they should first remember that the zoning regulations have been established to maintain the safety, character, and community of Ridgefield. Requesting a variance is asking permission to be excused from these important rules. In evaluating a request a board member must determine what hardship exists. Is this hardship unique to the physical structure of the property or an inconvenience? Ridgefield is a community that has been recognized nationally for its quaintness and charm and all decisions regarding variance requests should consider the long-term prospects of our community as a whole.

DAVID CHOPLINSKI (R): ZBA members are required to consider all federal including ADA, state, and local laws, and balance them against the hardship presented when deciding upon the variance application.

  1. Why should voters choose you? (50 words)

CARSON FINCHAM (R): Voters should choose me for my consistency and for my qualifications. I have spent the past three years learning and applying the rules of the ZBA, I am formally trained in both civil/environmental engineering and environmental law, and I am an attorney that handles administrative law issues daily.

JOHN McNICHOLAS (R): Voters should choose me for election as I have lengthy experience in the workings of town government, have a great ability to review legal issues and understand legal jargon not always clear to the the public. In this process, I hope to maintain the charm of the Town of Ridgefield while resolving landowner appeals in an equitable manner that will benefit the landowner as well as the town. I will remain open to all issues and not pre judge an appeal basing it solely on prior cases and the impact on landowners and the benefit of the town.

MARK SEAVY (D): Having served on the ZBA as an alternate, I am ready to take on the challenge of a full, five-year term. I will apply the zoning laws in an even-handed manner taking into consideration how an applicant’s goals mesh with those of the community.

TERRY BEARDEN-RETTGER (D): The Zoning Board of Appeals’ role is to uphold the zoning regulations, but also to recognize that there are sometimes circumstances where the regulations do not fit. As a 25-year resident and homeowner I can bring a balanced perspective to the decision making process that will benefit the Town of Ridgefield.

DAVID CHOPLINSKI (R): I believe I am a good candidate for the position based on my time and experience on this board, listening skills, as well as zoning knowledge and compassion for individual land owner’s rights.