Garrity: Someone needs to speak for residents, not at them
Someone needs to speak for our Trumbull residents, rather than at them. There needs to be some clarity brought to our residents regarding this weeks’ actions taken by Trumbull Planning & Zoning (P&Z) with respect to the Town’s request to acquire 4 properties located on Old Church Hill Road and S Edgewood Ave, both across from Town Hall.
I am proud of my service protecting the character of Trumbull and supporting smart development. I feel privileged serving 6 years on the Trumbull Zoning Board of Appeals, 2 years as chairman of the 6 Town Regional Planning Agency, and now in my 7 th year, on the Trumbull P&Z Commission and currently the elected chairman of P&Z. In all my years, I have not been as emotionally stricken for a resident as I was at our last Special Trumbull P&Z meeting on July 20, 2016, who expressed great concern for the Town’s pressured Land Acquisition process.
Our meeting was long, (6 hours and 5 minutes) and at points contentious, with residents expressing their views, both for and against, multiple important agenda items. The last items on the agenda were for PZ to vote favorably or unfavorably on a recommendation to the Town Council per the Town’s request of wanting to enter negotiations to purchase 4 properties across from Town Hall (these are called 824 requests).
While there were several inappropriate, yet understandable outbursts of emotion during the evening, thankfully, there were only a few moments as chair that I had to call out and specifically address an individual’s behavior during the meeting in order to maintain decorum without stifling the residents. This worked for most of the evening.
For the last agenda item, now at about 5 and a half hours into the meeting, the Economic Dev Director presented the 4 parcels in their 824 application for review to the PZ commission. Sadly, for my first time, there was one resident I had to stop and ask him to leave, who when it was his turn, lost his composure while at the microphone speaking against the proposed 824 Town Land Acquisition requests. He began loudly screaming vulgarities directed at Tim Herbst our First Selectman who was not in attendance. While the resident was unhappy with the way the the Town was being governed, especially as it related to the Town acquiring the 4 parcels on the agenda, I could not allow that kind of inappropriate conduct.
However, the real heartbreak and true cause for concern came from a resident who also spoke out against the Town request to acquire the 4 parcels. As the woman came up to speak, in a frail soft voice, she stated that she was the owner of one of the 4 properties on the agenda proposed for acquisition by this administration and she didn’t know what to do and she felt greatly pressured to sell. When I asked, if she wanted to sell her home she replied, “no, I don’t know what to do, or where I would go”. [Story continues below video]
Next, she dropped a bombshell. The resident said “she was afraid of what would happen and didn’t know what to do, because when she was at a meeting in Town Hall, with a person she was afraid to name”(not the Economic Development Director), she was told, “we would never want to go down the road of eminent domain!” She was certain that it was presented as a veiled threat to take her home.
And when asked again who, this resident out of clear and absolute fear refused to name the Town official who was pressuring her. She is now afraid that if she refuses to sell her home it will be taken by our Town government. This is simply not right.
No resident should ever be made to feel threatened, actually be threatened, or live in fear of retaliation from a Town Official for any reason, but, it is particularly offensive where a person’s residence is the subject of questionable tactics.
This meeting is recorded for public access, and unfortunately it is 6 hours long and these events did all occur in the last hour of the meeting. The videos are already online and our public access television has broken it up into 4 video segments, so you will not have to sit through the entire meeting to see these events. Please watch for yourself.
I voted not to support any favorable recommendation of the four properties requested for acquisition, for three reasons: 1 - There was no financial backup, no actual plan for justifying the purchase of these properties, no cost benefit analysis for supporting the Town spend up to $1.5 million on unknown uses, 2 – Several residents had no notice, and showed up to voice their fear of the unknown, as the Town is not subject to PZ regulations and can build at will on land once they own it, 3 – the troubling testimony that was presented claiming a Town official used undue pressure and fear tactics insinuating eminent domain, made it unacceptable to me.
Commissioner Silber (D) also voted against all 4 properties, Commissioner Helfrich (D) voted favorably for two of the properties along with Commissioners Choury (R) Preusch (R). None of the Commissioners voted to recommend acquisition of the property of the woman who testified to feeling pressured, or the property adjacent to hers. Final votes on the 4 properties were 3 in Favor and 2 not in Favor for two of the properties, and 5 not in Favor unanimously against 2 of the properties.
These actions taken by PZ are only referral votes, meaning that Trumbull Town Council has the final voting authority on Town land acquisition, The PZ vote for favorable or unfavorable only determines whether the the Trumbull TC needs a simple majority vote or a super majority vote to pass the amendment. Right now the Trumbull Town Council is 17 (R) to 4 (D’s) , so that point is almost always muted.