The Shelton Herald sent questions to each Planning & Zoning Commission candidate. These are the responses by the commission candidates. Candidates are in alphabetical order. Incumbents are noted.

Nancy Dickal (D)

1. What is your opinion of the present Planning Development District regulations? If you feel changes are necessary, why? And what changes should be made?

Planning Development District (PDD) regulations can be an effective tool for guiding development in ways that can support community goals and priorities. Zoning should always preserve residential property values and that would make a better place to live.

2. What are your thoughts on downtown at present, particularly parking? Many charge that parking is limited, so what is needed to solve the issue — changes to regulations, parking garage, something else?

Parking downtown is limited due to current development. Access to a parking garage.

3. React to claims of overdevelopment in the city. What are your thoughts on managing proper growth while protecting more rural areas from larger developments?

We should be working for a balance in development. We need to be proactive with preserving open space, listening to our constituents, and maintaining traffic flow throughout Shelton.

David Eldridge (unaffiliated)

1. What is your opinion of the present Planning Development District regulations? If you feel changes are necessary, why? And what changes should be made?

No changes are needed. Instead thorough reviews of each individual project cause and effect should be reviewed. Look at the negatives and positives, including open space, parking, buffer zones, adjacent property and other details that are specific to each project.

2. What are your thoughts on downtown at present, particularly parking? Many charge that parking is limited, so what is needed to solve the issue — changes to regulations, parking garage, something else?

Downtown is a mess. Lack of planning has resulted in inadequate parking. Infrastructure was sidestep to accompany substandard development and developers. Canal Street parking is embarrassing. A parking garage is needed, centrally located, with enough to handle the overflow that was created for residential and increasing business traffic.

3. React to claims of overdevelopment in the city. What are your thoughts on managing proper growth while protecting more rural areas from larger developments?

Overdevelopment is a problem in recent years. People do have a right to develop private propriety. The city should show leadership and purchase strategic property and/or work with developers to benefit the city not the developer like the current administration has done on Canal Street. A strategic downtown infrastructure plan that has the P&Z, BOA, business leaders all involved.

Virginia Harger (R), incumbent

1. What is your opinion of the present Planning Development District regulations? If you feel changes are necessary, why? And what changes should be made?

As noted in a report issued in July 2006 by Kevin McCarthy, principal analyst for the State of Connecticut’s Office of Legislative Research, a “…planning and zoning commission can establish planned development districts within a special development area designated on the zoning map. The commission can establish such districts when it finds it necessary and appropriate for the purposes of developing tracts to be developed or redeveloped.” A recent court decision confirmed that PDDs are, in fact, zone changes, fully authorized in Section 8-2 of the C.G.S. and therefore legally permissible.

A PDD proposal has to comply with Shelton’s PDD regulations which include being “beneficial to and consistent with the character of the city and the long range improvement of the neighborhood … or to accomplish an appropriate transition between dissimilar land use areas…and when another zoning district could not be appropriately established to accomplish such purposes.” Since adoption of a PDD is a legislative action of the commission, the PZC has broad discretion in rendering a decision, as compared to a proposal in an established zoning district which must be approved if all applicable and specified standards are satisfied.

The city’s PDD regulations give the PZC greater oversight on a particular proposal, and the PZC has begun discussions to further restrict the locations of a PDD, which I endorse.

2. What are your thoughts on downtown at present, particularly parking? Many charge that parking is limited, so what is needed to solve the issue — changes to regulations, parking garage, something else?

It may come as a surprise, but a recent calculation by PZC office staff calculated close to 500 public parking spaces — both curbside and in parking lots — in the downtown area from White Street to Hill Street and Coram Avenue to Canal Street. In some locations, parking may not be available immediately adjacent to the location being visited, similar when visiting a shopping mall. However, recently approved and current residential development proposals for the downtown area have on-site parking and meet current parking requirements. Discussions are ongoing with the city’s parking authority regarding the expansion of parking sites and the commission is contemplating an increase in the required residential parking ratio.

3. React to claims of overdevelopment in the city. What are your thoughts on managing proper growth while protecting more rural areas from larger developments?

It is understandable that some residents will react negatively to a new development proposal if it is adjacent to their neighborhood or if they feel it will impact their travel throughout the city. More than 50 years ago a decision was made by city officials to designate the Bridgeport Avenue corridor for commercial development. The PZC has further refined this concept with the preparation and adoption of the Route 8 Corridor Plan. If that is the area where the claims of overdevelopment are situated, the city and the PZC are being consistent in following those long-established plans. Any proposal for a large residential development in a “rural area” needs to follow established zoning regulations already in place.

Charles Kelly III (R), incumbent

1. What is your opinion of the present Planning Development District regulations? If you feel changes are necessary, why? And what changes should be made?

The purpose of a PDD is to permit tracts of land to be redevelop and be consistent with the character of the town and long range improvements. It should be consistent with any comprehensive plans of development adopted by the commission. The PDD regulations and standards that are listed in my opinion are adequate with maybe a few minor changes. That being said and whatever changes are made it is still up to the commission to follow the regulations in place by a yes or no vote for each individual project presented to the board.

2. What are your thoughts on downtown at present, particularly parking? Many charge that parking is limited, so what is needed to solve the issue — changes to regulations, parking garage, something else?

Parking at this time is not a major problem. Our regulations require that off-street parking is provided for each apartment complex being considered by the board. We have various public parking throughout the downtown district. I am sure that if a parking problem becomes a issue, our city government will take the proper steps to solve that situation.

3. React to claims of overdevelopment in the city. What are your thoughts on managing proper growth while protecting more rural areas from larger developments?

As a commission it is our responsibility to enforce as best as possible all the regulations within each district. This will make sure that each project is the right fit for that district. If we do this, we can manage the proper growth within our city. Projects that change the intent of a district should be the exception and not the standard.

Elaine Matto (D), incumbent

1. What is your opinion of the present Planning Development District regulations? If you feel changes are necessary, why? And what changes should be made?

Planned Development District (PDD) zoning regs have generally worked well for the city, over many years. They allow for more control and flexibility by the commission over the aesthetics of the architecture and landscaping, lighting, sidewalks, size and type of projects. However, the commission has lately been reviewing those regulations with the view that the locations where this kind of development can take place should be more strictly defined, and protect residential areas. This kind of review and updating makes sense and I support it.

2. What are your thoughts on downtown at present, particularly parking? Many charge that parking is limited, so what is needed to solve the issue — changes to regulations, parking garage, something else?

Parking downtown: My late husband, Ralph Matto, was passionately involved in the betterment of downtown Shelton, and invested heavily in that effort, beginning in the 1980s. It was mostly an uphill battle, and stalled until recently. He would be thrilled to see what is happening now.

The vision of a thriving, walkable, balanced (housing, commercial) downtown is generally shared in Shelton, and by me and my colleagues on the commission. But parking is one of our shared concerns, and one we have raised frequently. Development, ideally, is synergistic: housing supports commerce and vice versa. The attitude of the administration has been, if I understand it correctly, that the issues about parking get worked out as development progresses. However, I think a more focused and proactive approach is called for. First, I think an expert analysis is needed.

Lots of people throw out ideas (such as requiring developers to provide more parking: sounds reasonable, but might kill development. Parking garages? No one loves them. Who pays? I believe there are areas in town, because of our hilly topography where two-decker parking could be created — but I am not an expert).

I believe the city should make an investment in a parking plan, by an expert consultant. Start there. Then also consider a financial investment in parking, based on that expert analysis. It may be revealed that a financial investment by the city would support the development of that thriving (and tax generating) downtown the we all want to see.

3. React to claims of overdevelopment in the city. What are your thoughts on managing proper growth while protecting more rural areas from larger developments?

Overdevelopment: Regulation of development is highly complex. One person’s overdevelopment is another person’s property right, a housing or business opportunity, an addition to the grand list and supportive of the lower property taxes that Shelton residents enjoy. Shelton has been blessed, and perhaps cursed by having a lot of open land compared to other Fairfield County towns. That together with an ideal highway network has contributed to the fact that Shelton has had so much commercial development. That development underpins our low taxes. However, there comes a point where people are understandably concerned about the rapid development, the changes that brings, and the worries about the success of these projects. Planning & Zoning commissioners work together to give each proposal a fair hearing. We cannot arbitrarily deny a proposal and our reasons for a denial must be based in the facts and the regulations. When we err in that process we get taken to court and we lose.

However, I am wholly sympathetic to those who want less congestion, less traffic, less. I would like to see more cooperation with the administration and the aldermen about the possible purchase of more land in town. When a new generation decides that they don’t want to hang on to the family property they will find a way to sell that property for development. Planning & Zoning can guide that development and ensure that it meets zoning regulations and is consistent with the Plan of Conservation & Development. But we cannot arbitrarily abridge an owner’s property rights.

There are costs and benefits to development, winners and losers. Planning & Zoning cannot be the only, or even the most effective, arbiter of these issues. A broader conversation and participation is warranted, involving the administration and Board of Aldermen.

Ned Miller (R)

No response

Quinn Weber (D)

1. What is your opinion of the present Planning Development District regulations? If you feel changes are necessary, why? And what changes should be made?

My opinion on the current PDD regulation is it has a good intention but the commission has been too unwilling to stake out a real vision for how exactly they want to use them and is not discerning enough about what they approve and what they deny. If any changes were to be made, I would take a look into what places around town are considered a Special Development Area for the purposes of a PDD.

2. What are your thoughts on downtown at present, particularly parking? Many charge that parking is limited, so what is needed to solve the issue — changes to regulations, parking garage, something else?

I believe that downtown can be a successful restaurant and shopping district, but parking is too limited. Having spoken to residents, and being a resident myself, of Howe Avenue it is hard to accommodate all the people that live there in addition to the people coming downtown for various reasons. The things we can do at the margins would be making the last few empty lots on Howe Avenue, like the one adjacent to Shelton Pizza Palace, a full lot, making downtown more pedestrian-friendly by decreasing the speed limit and doing something as simple as adding bicycle racks to encourage people who live close enough to bike downtown to do so. A parking garage is probably the best course of action to make the real, needed changes. As to where it is located and how big it is will depend on how much we think downtown can hold, though the block that adjoins Bridge Street and Howe Avenue would be the most central location.

3. React to claims of overdevelopment in the city. What are your thoughts on managing proper growth while protecting more rural areas from larger developments?

In my talks with people around the city, everyone I have talked to has expressed concerns that the city is starting to seem too crowded. While Shelton is a great community and I am happy to welcome people into it, I think developers have been driving the process rather than the Planning & Zoning board. One way to take back control is to get more developers into building more affordable housing. We need to do what Milford has done and get in line with the state standards for how much of the city’s housing stock is considered affordable under 8-30g and then we will be able to better control what gets built.