Shelton planners, businesses welcome return of downtown committee

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Tickey

Tickey

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SHELTON — Downtown development is booming, and one Planning and Zoning commissioner is calling for his board to once again become engaged in the planning process.

The commission has a Downtown Subcommittee — consisting of commissioners Charlie Kelly, the subcommittee chair, Jimmy Tickey and commission Chair Virginia Harger. The group met regularly before COVID halted its sessions, with its last meeting in February 2020.

Now, Tickey wants them back on the agenda.

“The Downtown Subcommittee should meet to discuss all the activity with downtown, hear from business owners, developers and continue the commission’s engagement in downtown,” Tickey said.

Anyone in Shelton can see the growth happening downtown, Tickey said.

“The Downtown Subcommittee work is critical to ensure we are planning properly, hearing from people and responding to the needs of downtown residents and businesses,” he added.

Tickey first raised the issue at a P&Z meeting earlier this month. He has since reached out to Kelly to request a meeting be held. To date, no such meetings are planned. Kelly did reply to a request for comment.

While COVID forced many city meetings to be held virtually, Tickey said after months of such online gatherings, everyone has become acclimated to virtual meetings. The Planning and Zoning Commission has met via Zoom for months.

“Over two years without a meeting is much too long,” Tickey said. “We should meet and be engaged in the future of our downtown with the commission at the table.”

The Downtown Subcommittee was established around 2004-05 at the suggestion of then P&Z Administrator Rick Schultz, with the full support of then-Commission Chair Alan Cribbins, as developers had begun to approach P&Z staff with development proposals for Canal Street.

Harger said staff felt that redeveloping Canal Street would be complex and such an enormous undertaking that reviewing a concept before a subcommittee, rather than the full commission, would be a better way of managing the time of the full commission.

So the subcommittee was established as an advisory committee of the full commission. It was understood that the subcommittee did not have any authority to issue directives, she said. The attendees at the initial meetings were the subcommittee members, P&Z staff and the potential applicant.

As time went on, others began attending, including Ward 2 aldermen, economic development staff, developers, downtown property owners, store proprietors, and representatives of the downtown condo associations.

While a meeting schedule has to be filed yearly with the town clerk, monthly meetings were held only when the P&Z administrator felt a proposed concept or an approved project needed to be reviewed.

The last subcommittee meeting was held Feb. 14, 2020. On March 10, 2020, the full Planning and Zoning Commission held a regular meeting. Then the pandemic began to take hold and commission meetings were suspended until April 23, 2020.

Starting in April, the commission began meeting almost every week, but with a shorter agenda which seemed to work out well, Harger said.

“Because of the lack of new building proposals and the slow-down of commercial activity in the downtown area, it really has not been necessary to hold (Downtown Subcommittee) meetings,” Harger said. “Staff has kept the (commission) informed of downtown activity and issues through its staff reports which are on each month’s regular meeting agenda.”

However, this past summer, Harger, Kelly and staff discussed the resumption of DSC meetings in the fall and staff was asked to reach out to downtown developers to notify them of our desire to do so. Harger said staff reported back to her and Kelly that while all developers were receptive to resuming meetings, they were not available in the immediate future.

Tickey said the subcommittee has in the past met with developers for public but informal discussions, reviewed their plans, and provided feedback in a way that allows for developers to alter development plans before coming to the full commission for a vote.

“Residents and businesses often attend, and we would hear about their needs — often hearing how we need more parking,” Tickey said. “Not holding meetings eliminates a part of the process that invites ideas and feedback outside of a formal process.”

The subcommittee also reviewed downtown land parcels to discuss what the best use would be.

“We have even brought in a consultant to review what downtown could look like with good planning,” Tickey said.

Ultimately, all planning and zoning issues come before the full commission, he said.

“If a business meets all regulations, they simply open with a (Certificate of Occupancy) from the P&Z office,” Tickey said. “These meetings are helpful to foster coordination in addressing the needs of downtown, to hear from residents and businesses, and to bring other stakeholders — such as the aldermen and other town agencies — to the table.”

Harger said, over the past few months, the full commission has stayed in touch with downtown developers and has toured completed projects, including Cedar Village at Carroll’s, the Lofts, and Bridge Street Commons II.

Harger said the visits were “more beneficial than hearing about completed projects in a meeting format.”

In the coming weeks, the full commission will tour 502 Howe Ave., Cedar Village II and the newly renovated six-family apartment house at 289 Coram Ave.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com