Garrity takes over as P&Z chair

Trumbull has a new chairman for its Planning and Zoning Commission — and for the first time in 20 years, it’s a Democrat.

Commissioner Fred Garrity was unanimously elected to fill the post previously held by Republican Richard Deecken at a public hearing meeting on Dec. 16.

“I look forward to working hard to maintain Trumbull’s character and quality of life while promoting smart growth and development,” Garrity wrote in a Facebook message after being elected to lead the commission in 2016.

In an interview with The Times last Thursday, Dec. 17, the new chairman said some of the issues he intends to address during his one-year leadership term include creating lesser height restrictions on new developments, fixing the town’s parking regulations to allow for side-street parking in some neighborhoods, and developing more uniformity in the zones that make up the town’s several business areas.

“My goal is to make Trumbull more attractive to potential developers, whether they be industrial or commercial,” Garrity explained. “We want to be able to have the right-sized buildings available for developers who are interested in building here in Trumbull. We don’t want them to run away because we don’t have regulations that suit their plans.”

As for the parking situation, the six-year commissioner and former Greater Bridgeport Regional Planning Agency chair said that transparency is the key to alleviating future concerns of residents living in the affected business areas where more parking is required.

“We have to make sure people understand what they can expect in certain neighborhoods,” he said.

“What’s most important is that we continue to listen to the public throughout any process we undertake,” he added.

Garrity said the availability of parking spaces for commercial developments follows a specific regulation that’s based on the square footage of the business; however, restaurants have their own parking rules that stem from the number of possible of occupants, which has created problems around town.

One example the new commissioner gave was at Prime One Eleven on Monroe Turnpike. He sees a similar problem looming over the Madison Village development on Madison Avenue, which includes The Sitting Duck Tavern as well as an incoming pizzeria and bakery.

“It’s only half populated and the parking is still almost full on any given night,” he said.

“We must take a hard look at locations like this and ask, Does Trumbull need a better parking plan at these sites than the current regulations require? And if so, what do we need to address the situation?” he said. “One of those things might be on-street parking in private neighborhoods, but then this becomes a quality-of-life issue. …

“It’s a big question that every homeowner must ask themselves — do you want successful businesses in your neighborhood? If the answer is yes, then you have to begin to weigh the pluses and the minuses to what these developments bring to the table.”

Garrity indicated that while the commission needs to discuss parking regulations, it might ultimately end up becoming an issue for the town’s Police Commission.

“We might even need to put our minds together to create something that helps everyone in Trumbull and benefits the town as a whole,” he said. “We don’t want to inconvenience any residents and their respective neighborhoods.”

Taking politics out of it

The chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission is an important title to hold in Trumbull.

Two of the previous three first selectmen — current town leader Tim Herbst and former selectman Ken Halaby — held the post before running for higher office.

For his part, Garrity doesn’t think the position is one where politics should be a factor.

“My only priority is finding different types of development for Trumbull and getting the community involved as much as possible with any given decision,” he told The Times.

“I want to make sure it’s not one man’s opinion,” he added. “I’m really interested in public feedback.”

As a member serving the first year of his second five-year team on the commission, Garrity said his job remains the same even as chairman: Do what’s best for the applicant while maintaining the same high-level quality of life in town.

“I’m more comfortable taking on this leadership role and I accept that it means more responsibility,” he said. “It’s nice that the baton has changed hands here heading into 2016, but the job we have to do hasn’t changed: We have to hear presentations from applicants and obtain as much knowledge as possible.

“We’re like judges to some extent — we make our decisions based on evidence,” he said. “The difference is that what we decide impacts the visual aesthetics of town — what a certain neighborhood looks like and feels like, and that’s why maintaining a positive relationship with the community is important.”