P&Z chair comments on the evolution of commission dynamics

Planning and Zoning Chair Ruth Parkins said she was happy to see longtime city official Frank Osak’s face in the July 13 issue of the Herald, but that her feelings changed after reading his comments on how he thinks the dynamics of the commission have changed over time.

“I have much respect for Frank and in fact, I was on the nominating committee that selected him as a recipient of the prestigious 2016 SEDC Raymond P Lavietes award for leadership and vision for the City of Shelton,” Parkins wrote in an email to the Herald. “However, after reading the article, I must say I was very disappointed and confused with Frank’s comments.”

In the article about Osak published in the July 13 edition of the Herald, it said that Osak was a P&Z official for 60 years, but that was incorrect. In actuality, his service spanned over 60 years, but was only a members of the commission for approximately 28 of those years.

“[Which is] a very commendable term of public service to say the least,” said Parkins before explaining that there was actually a 28-year gap from when he last served on P&Z in 1985 to when he returned to the Commission in 2013 as an alternate. “[Which was] a time during which downtown was experiencing a rebirth and the Bridgeport Ave. corridor began to see significant growth.”  

Parkins speculates that Osak’s return to the P&Z in 2013 was a result of his work “not being done” as he said the story that was published on July 13.  

“However, he returned as an alternate, a position I believe he grew increasingly frustrated with due to the inability to participate in discussions and votes unless filling in for an absent member,” said Parkins. “Frank admittedly did not believe in mixed-use development and felt that a lot of things that happened on Bridgeport Ave. from the middle 1990’s to present day would not have been done in the 80’s – a thought process that perhaps influenced his way of thinking throughout the years and made it difficult for him to adapt to new market trends.”

Mayor Mark Lauretti shared the same sentiments expressed in Parkins’ speculations.

“Society has changed, Connecticut has changed dramatically, so if anyone thinks that there’s going to be an office building on every piece of property up and down Bridgeport Ave., I’ve gotta tell you that they’re not building office buildings in Connecticut because our businesses are moving out,” said Lauretti. “That negative trend takes decades to reverse. If you want to sit around and wait for these office buildings to come back, good luck. I’m getting the results and i’m going to continue to do that. I’m going to stay current with the times.”

Parkins continued to explain that she feels the commission actually doesn’t operate much different than when Osak initially began his service in 1962.

“At a February 2017 Board of Aldermen Workshop on the POCD update, Frank recounted that back when he served, they had a six-page policy and he and Ole Severson would meet and talk to a developer,” said Parkins. “They would explain what they were looking for and what they weren’t looking for and if it was contrary to regulations, they said no. They realized the developers wanted to know if they had a chance to be successful in an application that cost a lot of money to put together.

“Perhaps Frank is unaware that the process is not much different today, except Shelton's regulations are now much more than six pages.”

Does Lauretti ‘pull the strings’?

Osak admitted that of all of the mayors that have been in office during the span of the 60 years he has witnessed Shelton’s planning and zoning, he has had the least interaction with Mayor Lauretti. In the article published in the July 13 edition of the Herald he claimed that the city’s mayor of 26 years “pretty much controls it (P&Z commission) and pulls the strings.”

Parkins disagrees with Osak about Lauretti overstepping any boundaries.

“The Mayor is the City of Shelton’s economic development agent so it only makes sense that a developer would request to meet with the Mayor to discuss their proposal,” Parkins wrote to the Herald. “And the Mayor is certainly entitled to his opinion of its benefits to the City. The developer may also request a meeting with P&Z staff and the P&Z Chair if available. During these meetings, the merits of the project and applicable regulations are discussed. Again, similar process as described by Frank.

“During my eight years as Chairman, I have never heard a developer say they have the Mayor’s approval; nor has the Mayor given a directive to approve a project.  He certainly may share his opinion and on occasion has attended a P&Z meeting to express his viewpoint.”

Lauretti confirmed that indeed there are times where he does meet with developers before they approach the P&Z and he doesn’t see an issue with it. He said Osak’s comment was “unfair.”

“Everyone’s entitled to an opinion. There have been times where the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Wetlands Commission and the Board of Education have gone in a different way than I have believed in. Nothing’s ever 100%,” said Lauretti. “Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t meet with them. There hasn’t been another mayor that’s been in office for 26 years. So, yes, things have changed and some people do want to know what my opinion is. What would downtown be without my opinion?

“In the earlier years people used to criticize me for micromanaging and I’m okay with that. I accept that criticism. I ran with the intent to cause change and be involved. I was involved and I am still involved.”

Parkins said she believes the values of the current P&Z commission are virtually the same as when Osak joined.

“Frank has stated that, ‘The biggest goal was to add to land use things that produce the greatest amount of tax revenue with the smallest amount of tax liability and cost.’ One only has to look at the current tax roles to see that development in Shelton over the years has continued to meet that goal,” said Parkins.

Osak played a part in development of Shelton

Lauretti said Osak’s comments didn’t phase him and he recently attended his retirement party where he spoke highly of his lengthy career within the City.

“He’s had great insights to the progress that Shelton has made over the years and he has a placeholder in history,” said Lauretti.

Parkins said despite being disappointed in Osak’s comments, he can rest rest assured that the Commission continues to makes its decisions with only good intentions.