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For the Record

The POCD Needs Your Help

Bob Capazzo

The contents of the POCD as specified in our charter reads: “The POCD will show the Planning & Zoning Commission’s recommendation for the most desirable use of land within the Town for residential, recreational, commercial, industrial and other purposes;  for the most desirable density of population in the several parts of town; for a system of streets and drains, for parks … public property, buildings, including schools [and] public utilities.The statement adds the following open ending: “Such other recommendations may be made by the Commission and included in the [POCD] as will, in its judgment, be beneficial to the town.”

Indeed, the 1998 POCD went beyond the areas specifically mentioned in the charter and addressed water resources and environmental issues, both inland and coastal; historic and architectural preservation; and included the ever-present problem of transportation and parking. It also achieved some important goals, among which was extending the application of floor-area ratios (FAR) to two- and four-acre zones.

Creating the POCD is a major undertaking for the P&Z. The commission will be seeking input from the BET, the first selectman’s office, town department heads, various standing committees of the RTM, and the public. In order to have a master plan that truly reflects what we as citizens and taxpayers want for Greenwich in the decade ahead, commission chairman  Don Heller and veteran town planner Diane Fox emphasize the importance of public participation. To this end, a series of public meetings are being scheduled at various schools that will cover all RTM districts and include neighborhood associations.

The five members of the P&Z Commission bring with them years of experience in architecture, real estate and land planning. Although they are ably assisted by Diane Fox with a professional staff of four, the project requires such in-depth study and analysis that they have retained the urban-planning firm of Planimetrics, which has done similar work for other Connecticut municipalities including Shelton, Wilton and Westport.

Many of the overall goals of the 2008 POCD will be similar to those in 1998, such as preserving the town’s predominantly residential character, and those perennial chestnuts: providing  affordable housing; preserving open space; managing inland water resource problems, coastal waters and the Long Island Sound eco-system; and solving transportation problems. A significant new area of study and recommendation should be a plan for our central business district, with a recommendation for the future of the Havemeyer building and its possible conversion with private funds into a proposed arts center.

Town planners today have an important new tool for obtaining an accurate picture of land use throughout the town. The Geographic Information System (GIS) based on satellite imaging was not available when the present POCD was initiated, but now allows us to map all of Greenwich precisely and has corrected previous errors. This is a priceless benefit in estimating potential build-out, a primary ingredient in the POCD that tells us how much land is still available for new homes or condominiums, and how much is still available for potential new commercial, municipal and institutional development. The results of the study will have a direct bearing on zoning, traffic and parking, school facilities, water resources and public utilities. By providing a more finite picture of present land use, the GIS helps us plan and prepare for growth.

Some believe the POCD should be a precisely detailed master plan for development capable of implementation; others view it as a broad vision of the way we would like to see development take place without the expectation that everything in the plan can be exactly defined or even accomplished. However we look at it, the POCD is an important road map, pointing out the directions we believe the town should take. It should also guide where our financial resources should be allocated in order to preserve and enhance the livability of our community.

There has been a difference of opinion between the legislative and the administrative branches of town government over how much specific detail should be included in the plan of development, and how and to what extent it should be linked to the formulation of the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). The RTM’s Land Use Committee, chaired by Franklin Bloomer, will undoubtedly have the greatest influence on the final version of the POCD to be approved by the RTM. Bloomer has already initiated significant legislative changes in the content and application of the plan of development. In the October 2006 meeting of the RTM, he introduced a resolution on behalf of his committee, which was subsequently passed, requiring the POCD to describe all capital improvement projects that appear in the POCD, that it be periodically revised and updated, and that a special committee of the RTM be established “to consider how best to ensure that the capital plan prepared annually in connection with the town’s annual budget be consistent with the POCD as revised and updated from time to time.”

Bloomer’s contention that the CIP should be tied closely to, and be consistent with, the POCD appears reasonable and logical. By extension it means that items not in the plan of development should not appear in the CIP, and he has cited the case of the proposal to install traffic lights on Greenwich Avenue that the RTM turned down, in part because this was not mentioned in the current POCD. He calls this a bottom-up approach versus the present top-down method.

As with many regulations, problems often arise in their application. The Land Use Committee wants to see more detailed descriptions of anything in the plan of development that calls for a capital expenditure. (There continues to be a requirement for RTM approval of any supplemental capital expenditure over as little as $5,000!) However, the POCD is a long-range strategic plan — a guide reflecting public desires and priorities. And, ‘It’s very difficult to draw a line on how much detail is practical,” says Diane Fox.

First Selectman Jim Lash, while agreeing in principle that CIP should not conflict with the POCD, has some serious reservations about the October resolution. He believes that if items in the CIP had to be too closely linked to the POCD, it would allow the RTM to assume a new role and responsibility in the creation of the CIP that is not in our charter. He is concerned about opening the door for micromanagement of the CIP budgeting process by the 230-member legislative body. Waiting for items not specifically mentioned in the POCD to make their way through the RTM to be included in the CIP budget would cause frustrating delays, he says, and potentially added costs and missed opportunities. In fact, as of this writing, this is still an open issue at the RTM and is being studied by a special committee composed of members of the Land Use and Finance committees.

The P & Z Commission, for its part, believes the resolution granting so much oversight of the planning process to the RTM is at odds with the charter and marginalizes the commission. In its view, the inclusion of POCD items (which the RTM subsequently approves) in the capital improvement plan implies approval of those items prior to municipal improvement approval and the required public hearings that are the responsibility of Planning & Zoning. In which case, they believe this would be a violation of the charter.

The Planning & Zoning Commission and the Land Use Committee of the RTM are in agreement that the POCD should be reviewed and revised periodically as needed and should be linked in some way to the CIP to avoid conflict. Both also agree on the importance of public input in order to ensure that the Plan of Development truly reflects the needs and desires of our residents. All Greenwich citizens are urged to attend the meetings and submit their ideas in person or in writing to the Planning & Zoning Commission in Town Hall. This is our opportunity to take lessons from the past and determine the future of our town.

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