Letter: Herbst distorts P&Z actions

First Selectman Tim Herbst has been busy this week spreading misinformation about the 2014 Plan of Conservation and Development and last month’s vote to allow a modified form of office development on Lower Main Street.

Regarding the zone change on Lower Main Street, the first selectman at a Town Council meeting this week theatrically described a P&Z party-line vote at 1:15 a.m. last month allowing large office buildings in a residential zone. That’s not the real story.

The meeting lasted late in the evening, that part’s true. But the vote came after years of study. It came after many public hearings. It came after a report was commissioned and produced by a consultant. Herbst neglected to say the report confirmed that current conditions on Lower Main must be changed. Or that area residents agree on that point. He didn’t mention that there is unanimous commission consensus on the need to change that area, because quality of life issues are severe for residents.

The first selectman neglected to say that Lower Main Street is not a residential zone now. It’s a Planned Office Overlay Zone, meaning that office structures are already allowed. What the Planning and Zoning Commission really did was act in its planning capacity and attempt to fix a failed zone (created by Tim Herbst’s P&Z back in 2008) and improve the quality of life for the residents of the area residential streets. In short, we:

  • allowed larger, but far fewer office structures in the area;

  • capped the size of the buildings at 8,500 square feet;

  • provided adequate buffering for the residential homes;

  • kept the traffic egress off the side streets, pending DOT review;

  • ensured that sidewalks will be added to the east side of Lower Main;

  • attempted to guide development so it works in harmony with the coming expansion of the mall property.

Now the POCD. The first selectman said repeatedly at the Town Council meeting that the Planning and Zoning Commission “reviewed” the 2014 POCD. He gave the impression that updating the plan was his initiative. He’s wrong on both counts and he knows it, but he’s just hoping other folks will take what he says at face value. Here’s the truth.

State law gives the P&Z sole responsibility for updating the POCD. It provides no role for the first selectman, and the role Mr. Herbst played in 2014 was minimal. The Planning and Zoning Commission wrote the 2014 Plan, working with the planning director and a consulting firm. The observations, goals and priorities were the P&Z’s, not Tim Herbst’s.

I pushed in public and at meetings in 2011-13 to update the 2006 POCD, which proved inadequate. Thankfully, the commission agreed, and the first selectman got on board too.

I thought a full explanation was needed to counter the first selectman’s distortions on these points.