Westonites Speak Up about local and national issues

Selectmen Chris Spaulding and First Selectman Nina Daniel at Speak Up — Gregory Menti photo

Westonites packed the library last Saturday for Speak Up, a question-and-answer session with local officials and state legislators.

Among the topics discussed were the town’s zoning regulations and the issue of cluster housing, the state construction project on route 57, and President Trump’s cabinet nominees.

Speak Up was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Weston and was moderated by Laura Smits. It lasted nearly two hours, and 20 members of the public asked questions.

Cluster housing

Margaret Wirtenberg of Wilson Road asked Planning and Zoning Chairman Tom Failla about “possible changes to the zoning regulations” regarding alternative types of residential development, such as cluster housing.

Failla said, “We have before us a concept called open space residential development, sometimes it’s known as cluster development, and that is in the recommendations from the 2010 town plan.” He said P&Z is considering holding public hearings about cluster housing in April.

“If we want to move forward with it we want to hear from you,” he said. “We’re not moving forward without total transparency.”

State Sen. Tony Hwang (R-28), who co-chairs the Housing Committee in the state General Assembly, said he would like to see more focus on senior housing.

“What happens with empty nesters and people who love the community they live in but are downsizing and don’t have the resources?” he asked. “I think that’s something we need to work hard on.”

Bob Machson of White Birch Road said the town needs to do its best to “preserve its empty nesters.”

“The empty nesters, those of us who have been in the school system and love the town, are an incredibly vital and important part of our town,” Machson said. “They are the ones who volunteer, appear on the boards, provide wisdom and provide judgment. … If we were all gone, I don’t know who would be running the town.”

Bob Machson asks about empty nesters — Gregory Menti photo

Machson said it isn’t easy to get old in Weston, adding that things are far away and can get expensive.

“The idea of building housing where we can be closer to each other, our expenses can be reduced, we can walk, we can recreate, is terribly important,” he said. “I think that needs to be weighed against the value of this town. It’s important that we keep the look and beauty and the open spaces.”

Ruth Glazer of Nimrod Farm Road asked Failla how P&Z is going to reach out to the public and ask for their opinions on potential zoning changes.

“We will solicit letters, emails, all the ways we can bring information in,” Failla said. “We want to hear from you. It’s a work in progress and we are going to deliberate and be absolutely open.”

Route 57 construction

Marc Karasu of Kettle Creek Road said the Department of Transportation (DOT) construction project on Route 57 was an eyesore and a danger to commuters.

“Entire cities are built in the time it is taking to put a culvert under a piece of property on a major thoroughfare,” said Karasu. “Enough is enough. When is this project going to be done?”

Weston police Sgt. Matthew Brodacki said the town and the police have been advocates in trying to address this concern. “We call the DOT weekly. We’re just hindered by their process at this time. We are as frustrated as you are,” he said.

Sgt. Matthew Brodacki addresses concerns about Route 57 construction — Gregory Menti photo

Karasu said he wants to start a campaign to pressure the DOT to finish the project. “I suspect if a couple hundred people in town were to put some pressure on, this would get fixed in a week,” said Karasu, who added that he is going to post the contact information on the Facebook group Parents in Weston.

First Selectman Nina Daniel said she endorsed Karasu’s idea. “They [DOT] were doing nothing. It seems like they started, left their equipment there, left us with a dangerous situation and walked away from the project.”

Richard Wolf, a member of the Building Committee, called the DOT “incompetent” in the way it is handling the project.

“I spent 40 years in the construction business. If I built a project like this my client would have fired me a long time ago.” said Wolf. “As elected officials you are responsible for looking out in the interest of our town and that means getting the road finished immediately.”

National issues

Coming on the heels of a heated 2016 presidential campaign, Westonites had a variety of questions and comments regarding the current national political climate.

Andrea Chase of High Acre Road asked the state elected officials if they agreed with the Trump administration’s executive actions and cabinet appointments.

“I don’t agree with all the nominees,” said Hwang. “I strongly oppose the nomination of Mrs. (Betsy) DeVos for secretary of education.”

Hwang said a few years ago the legislative body in the U.S. Senate changed the necessary majority for executive nominations from 60 senators to 51 senators.

“We changed the law to allow a 51-person majority and whichever party did it changed the institution of power,” he said. “As unhappy as you are, you need to ask the question of who changed the law.”

State Rep. Adam Dunsby (R-135) called the recent executive action regarding refugees “a clumsy approach to a serious problem.”

Dunsby said while President Trump can bring in the team he wants to work with, he wouldn’t have brought in all those people, specifically DeVos.

State Sen. Toni Boucher (R-26) avoided the question. She said she wants to focus on the state of Connecticut and the problems it is facing.  

Similarly, Daniel chimed in to say she believes all politics are local. “We’re here on this stage to answer the needs of this community directly. It’s not a litmus test to see how we feel on a federal level,” she said. “The state has more impact on us than the federal government does.”

Chase called the answers of the elected officials “very political.”

“It’s too easy to say that we just have to put our heads down, and what’s happening in the federal government isn’t our business,” she said. “If you represent the party of government in Washington that is taking these stances in their executive actions and their cabinet appointments, then I think it should be addressed,” she said.

Library funds

Reg Bowden of Stonehenge Road asked if the town is prepared to increase its financial support to the library.

Weston invests $5.60 per capita in materials, personnel and programs in the library,” Bowden said. “Redding invests $10 per capita and Easton invests $10.60 per capita. Is the town prepared to increase its support level to the library?” he asked.

Amy Sanborn, chair of the library board of trustees, said she has had “good conversations” with town officials about helping to fund the library.

Daniel said getting Weston up to the funding of other communities isn’t “going to happen overnight” but the library is seeing an increase in funding in the upcoming budget.

“We heard loud and clear the requests made by the library board; we’ve done what we can do this year,” said Daniel. “We were asked for an additional $9,000 and we granted $8,000.”

Daniel also praised Karen Tatarka, library director who recently announced she is leaving for Newtown on Friday, Feb. 10, for completing the recent library renovation project with “great success.”

Sustainability committee

Deirdre Doran of 10 O’Clock Lane said she was “very happy” that a Sustainability Committee was being re-formed. Doran was chair of the previous committee, which was disbanded.

The selectmen have been conducting interviews for membership of the new committee.

Doran asked if the town plans to fund the committee to help it get future initiatives completed.

“At this point we need to see what they come up with and evaluate it on a case-by-case basis,” said Selectman Chris Spaulding. “We can’t give a blanket statement of ‘we will’ or ‘we won’t’ unless we know what they want the money for.”

Daniel said the committee is “going to need to wait in line” for funding.

“We’re eager to see what ideas they come forward with and we’ll see what happens in the future,” she said.

Speed hump height

Adria Bellport of Birch Hill Road asked whether there was any way to lower the height of speed humps in Weston Center, the shopping center on Weston Road.

“I’m aware of and respect the fact that we need speed humps to regulate traffic and the speed of traffic,” she said. “But I’ve noticed that the speed humps built in town center are considerably higher than the other ones in town.”

Police Sgt. Brodacki said the town can’t officially take action because the speed humps are on private property, but suggested that Bellport assemble a petition to give to the appropriate people in Weston Center.

Respect

Toward the end of Speak Up, Vivian Simons of Lyons Plain Road said it would be more beneficial to the town if people were “more positive” in person and online.

“I’ve seen so much negativity on social media where people will bring other people down. Whether they’re a doctor, or a chef, or a politician, or a teacher, it’s just very nasty,” said Simons. “It adds more negativity to the town and isn’t good for everyone. We should lead by example for our children; people are being bullies.”

A full video of Speak Up may be seen on Channel 79, and online at lwvweston.org.

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