Letter: P&Z should halt public hearings during pandemic
To the Editor:
I would like to propose that the public hearing for phase II of the Cedar Village apartments scheduled for May 27 be postponed while the risks and restrictions associated with the pandemic are still high. The hearing can be rescheduled to a date in which the state has lifted all restrictions and there are limited risks for people who want to participate in person at this hearing.
Considering the current environment of reduced office hours at city hall (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), social distancing, and reduced ability for people to leave their home (working from home, homeschooling or caring for children, caring for the elderly or other loved ones who are at high risk) or being an essential worker who needs to continue to go to their work location; it seems like the ability for people to attend this hearing and express their concerns in person is extremely limited, in addition to the risks associated with leaving the house and gathering with other people. I recognize, though, that efforts are being made to offer live video streaming or submitting questions in advance.
For those impacted by this proposed project to truly have an opportunity to be part of this public hearing process and effectively be heard and counted, I think the right thing to do is to postpone this public hearing. I am concerned that the current date set for this hearing may force people to choose between taking care of their health and their family or participating in the hearing, which in a tangible way could limit the amount of people who would participate under normal circumstances.
I believe the governor has provided via executive orders or other means, the ability for the P&Z Commission to extend the deadline on public hearings and associated applications; so the time window to hold this hearing would not be the reason to do it at this time, and it can be done in a manner where people don’t feel like they need to risk potential exposure to the virus or make the choice to not participate because of the above listed circumstances derived from the current pandemic.
As an example, I am currently still required to work the full 40 hours each week, my kids require homeschooling, and I care for loved ones who are at high risk for Covid-19. I imagine other people may be in similar circumstances.
Additionally, the application and plans will not be available online until late this week or early next week; and people would have to make two trips to city hall: one trip to review the application and plans, and a second trip for the actual hearing; in order to have time to evaluate the proposed project. The timing of the availability of the plans online also limits the time for anyone to review the information in advance of the hearing which is scheduled for May 27. It definitely feels rushed.
One more item to consider is that the land on the subject property was cleared this week of all trees, even though the public hearing has not yet taken place. This gives the impression that there is implied approval of the project prior to the public hearing or that the commission has already made up its mind on this application before hearing questions or concerns from the public. Is the public hearing then just a formality? Is the process being followed? Can the Planning & Zoning Commission postpone this hearing and give people the opportunity to attend in person and express their concerns without having the additional burden and worry of the state restrictions and risks associated with the pandemic? There were a number of issues and concerns raised about this phase II project when it was originally introduced. Can people be given adequate time and safe opportunity to review the changes made to this project that has been resubmitted for consideration? This project could significantly impact the lives of the people in the area. Can the hearing be postponed and allow people to evaluate the changes that are being proposed and the impact this project can have on the city of Shelton, the properties around it, and their daily lives?