Selectmen deny zoning commission, wetlands board split

The Planning and Zoning Commission and Inland Wetlands Board are staying together.

That was the decision the Board of Selectmen made at its July 25 meeting, narrowly opposing the proposed Charter Revision Commission change to separate the two boards with a 3-2 vote.

Selectman Steve Zemo, who suggested that the two agencies should continue to be joined, said that the Charter Revision Commission should examine how training on aquifer protection could be mandated for all new commissioners

The members of the Inland Wetlands Board also serve as the town Aquifer Protection Agency.

The selectmen also adopted a suggestion that town voting ballots should include information for voters about the commission, and the fact its members serve multiple roles

The split was originally proposed by the town Conservation Commission. It was advanced forward by the Charter Revision Commission as part of it’s four-year review of possible changes to the town charter.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi and selectwoman Barbara Manners both voted in the minority to follow the recommendation of the town Charter Revision Commission, which called for splitting the two boards and electing the members of the Inland Wetlands Board.

Manners argued that the two agencies should be split and that the members of the Inland Wetlands Board should be appointed. Doing so would allow the town to appoint qualified “scientists,” she said.

“My feeling was that if it’s going to remain elective, then it should remain as it is,” she said, noting that as the amount of land up for development in town continues to shrink, the parcels that remain will likely contain more environmentally fragile land. Appointing scientists, she said, would be “farsighted and in the long term good for the town.”

But Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark said those same scientists could run for election on the Planning and Zoning Commission.

“It kinda hit me today, someone who is a scientist, or has that leaning, has to run for the Planning and Zoning Commission and Inland Wetlands Board,” she said. “That’s our form of government, and that’s very important … I would not support appointing, I would have to go to election.”

Selectman Bob Hebert argued there was no need to change a system that has worked for the town for decades.

“They’ve proven their ability to defend their positions,” he said.

He noted that there were “no documented instances” that suggested the commission’s decisions as a wetlands board were not sound.

Marconi argued that the decision on whether or not to separate should go to the voters.

“And I’m not just grandstanding … I just happen to believe in the voters of this town,” he said.

He said he was concerned that the commission’s current workload, including the increase in building applications once the town moratorium on state-protected affordable housing developments expires in the fall, would prevent it from studying environmental risks the town faces — including the buildup of salt in clean water aquifers from the use of road salt.

“I think if we are going to separate, we should really look at a board made up of professionals,” Marconi said.

Manners also voiced her concerns.

“The reality is that more and more developers seem to be going onto the board,” she said. “There is an inherent conflict of interest between one and the other — between regulation and property rights.”

The Charter Revision Commission will meet Monday, July 30 to discuss the selectmen’s alterations. The possibility remains that the commission could choose to ignore the selectmen’s recommendations, and keep the language for splitting the agencie in their final report, which goes before the selectmen at a special meeting on August 13.

The selectmen then have the ability to vote line-by-line for or against the final recommended changes to the charter.

Editor's note: an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the review period for the Charter Revision Commission. It reviews the town charter every four years, not annually.