Lachat and farming are hot topics at Weston P&Z debate

At the deabte, from left, P&Z candidates Sally Korsh, James Carlon, Tom Failla, Howard Aibel, and Britta Lerner. —Margaret Wirtenberg photo

At the debate, from left, Planning and Zoning Commission candidates Sally Korsh, James Carlon, Tom Failla, Howard Aibel, and Britta Lerner. —Margaret Wirtenberg photo

ElectionButton1Farming, the Lachat farm, and regional planning were some of the main topics of discussion at the Planning and Zoning candidates debate held Wednesday, Oct. 23.

The League of Women Voters of Weston sponsored the debate. It was moderated by Jean Rabinow.

The panel of candidates were Britta Lerner (R), an incumbent; Sally Korsh (D), who is filling a vacancy on the board; Tom Failla (R); and Howard Aibel (D). Those four candidates are running for three spots.

They were joined at the debate by James Carlon (R), who is currently filling a vacancy on the board and is running unopposed to fill the remaining two years of the vacancy.

Some of the key debate questions and responses were as follows.

Are there some possibilities for growing Weston’s tax base without changing zoning?

The only thing that might result in an increase in the property tax base, Ms. Korsh said, was to consider more commercial development. However, during public discussions about the Plan of Development revision in 2010, most people did not want more commercial development, she said.

She said the town could also consider the sale or leasing of some town properties, which might result in additional income to the town.

Other possibilities are cluster housing and business development, but any changes to zoning would result in a fundamental change to the community, she said. “One of the things people treasure in Weston are the vistas and the two-acre zoning. It puts a burden on people to pay for schools and municipal services, but people elect to be here for those things,” she said.

Mr. Carlon said since Weston is zoned for residential and farming use for most of the town, there weren’t many options for increasing the tax base without changing zoning. The only possibilities he saw were perhaps developing Weston Center further and developing the property behind Weston Center.

Dr. Failla said people make a choice to live in Weston. He said water is important. “It’s a bonus from nature done through the  environment,” he said.

Mr. Aibel said the short answer is “no.”

“Even if we change zoning it will produce just marginal additions to the tax base, and weighing the costs and the benefits, obviously we’ve all come down on the side of no,” he said.

Ms. Lerner said the town has to balance the needs of commercial property, residential property,and open space to keep the town fiscally and socially sound from a land use perspective.

Would you support the development of a town farm at Lachat? Could the P&Z process be fast tracked so we can plant this spring?

Mr. Carlon said commissioners can only be as flexible as the regulations allow them to be. “If individuals come forward with a proposal, I would give it due consideration,” he said.

Dr. Failla said he knew Leon Lachat and since farming is permitted in the zone he doesn’t know why the commission couldn’t entertain a proposal for a community garden.

As long as the commission was consistent with adherence to the regulations, Mr. Aibel said he didn’t see any reason why the commission couldn’t speed up the process if an appropriate proposal was presented.

Ms. Lerner said Lachat is a town issue and money still needs to be raised to move the project forward. “If the plan came before P&Z, I would review it with an open mind and would move it with the same speed as any other application,” she said.

Ms. Korsh noted that the Lachat property is owned by two separate entities which will need to get together to make the development happen. “P&Z would work with them cooperatively,” she said.

In approving a special permit application can P&Z demand a site plan from an applicant even if none is specified in the regulations?

“Yes,” said Ms. Lerner, depending on whether a situation warrants it. For example, she said, the commission required an A2 survey for the Valley Forge Bridge project. “The land use perspective is to protect the community and the neighborhoods,” she said,

There are legitimate reasons to ask for a site plan, Ms. Korsh said; for example, so neighbors know how they will be affected.

Mr. Carlon said one function of the commission is to make sure land and open space is protected, so a site plan could be useful.

Dr. Failla said yes. Fact finding is a big responsibility, and having complete plans before the commission is essential.

Mr. Aibel said when he was on the Conservation Commission he frequently asked for site plans. “They are often essential in determining the facts so we can judge the impact on neighbors, waterways and the community at large,” he said.

How will you protect citizens from neighbors who contaminate shared groundwater with dangerous pesticides, herbicides and lawn chemicals?

While P&Z is concerned about water quality, Ms. Korsh said, P&Z doesn’t enforce the laws, but it could work with the Conservation Commission on those issues.

Mr. Carlon said If ground water is contaminated it is not P&Z’s jurisdiction to punish the perpetrator. He said the commission could call the matter to the attention of the proper agency. “P&Z is not all things to all people, the commission is limited,” he said.

Dr. Failla said the Conservation Commission and Weston Westport Health District would handle those issues. He said there was a water study done in town in 1993 and he would like to update it.

Sometimes there is difficulty sorting out how to determine responsibility for code and regulation compliance, Mr. Aibel said. The same issue arose when he was on the Conservation Commission.

Ms. Lerner said pesticides on lawns is not one of the things P&Z regulates.

Can Weston maintain its two-acre and farming zone if there are no farms? Should we encourage farming here?

“My feeling is farming is an appropriate use in town and people should be allowed to farm,” said Mr. Carlon. He said P&Z recently passed a new farm stand regulation which allows farm stands to sell produce.

Dr. Failla said farms, particularly organic farms, are a good thing. “Eating fresh is healthy. Weston does have a farming legacy and the regulations permit it,” he said.

Sustaining two-acre zoning is based on the requirement of pure water and the safe disposal of waste, Mr. Aibel said. “You can’t have a well and septic tank in close proximity.”

Ms. Lerner said farms are allowed in town, and the recent issue before P&Z involved a farm stand which was classified as an accessory regulation and was deemed allowable.

Ms. Korsh said you can have a farm on any piece of land in Weston and now farm stands are allowed. “I want to encourage farming as an activity for everyone,” she said.

Does regional planning in its present advisory role have any power? Is this a good thing? Do you think regional planning might become mandatory in the near future and how might it change your role?

Mr. Aibel said the state has mandated that regional planning be accomplished through boards such as SWRPA. “The town retains its autonomy while working in the best interest of the regional group [and] preserving the environment,” he said.

Ms. Lerner said SWRPA, the regional planning agency which Weston belongs to, is being mandated by the state to merge with another regional planning agency to form a larger group. “We would have one vote and Weston could get swallowed up as a small fish in a big pond. I also fear regional taxing,” she said.

Ms. Korsh said planning agencies are required to consolidate and Weston would like to merge with towns to the north. “Things are in flux, so we can’t make a determination now,” she said.

“Regionalization could be a disaster,” said Mr. Carlon. He said the regionalization statute was hard to figure out. “It is going to be expensive. It is a mandate. There will be administrative expenses the town will have to incur which will take money from the schools and other initiatives,” he said.

Dr. Failla pointed out that he served on SWRPA and there were some benefits to regionalization. However, he said it is a “slippery slope” and has to be watched.

The P&Z debate was filmed and produced by Margaret and Al Wirtenberg and is available on demand on Weston Government Access Channel 79, daily at noon. It is also available on the League of Women Voters website, lwvweston.org.

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