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Letter: The Town Should Stop Giving Developers a Break and Wasting Residents’ Time

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To the Editor:

West Hartford needs a new process that doesn’t waste residents’ time so that developers can catch a break! Monday afternoon at 5:30 p.m., 50 to 60 residents gathered at a public hearing in the Town Council chamber to voice their opinions about the development proposal for 1700 Asylum Avenue, the east parcel of the former UConn property. After more than an hour of waiting, the Mayor announced that the meeting could not be held and would instead be postponed until April 15. What?!

The Mayor didn’t give a reason for the postponement – she just said that the meeting couldn’t take place (does the public not deserve to know?), but residents who pressed town officials afterward finally learned the reason: the developer wasn’t ready!  They were supposed to have provided all final, required information by end of day Friday, March 8. But the town allowed the developer extra time – from end of day Friday until 5 p.m. Monday, which meant no advance notice when the developer failed to deliver that information.

The developer was previously not ready for scheduled public hearings of the Planning and Zoning Commission on Sept. 6, Oct. 3, Oct. 23, and Nov. 6 of last year, so the “not ready” was in character. Those delays were publicized in advance, so there was less disruption, but they were a clear signal about the developer’s pattern of behavior. Then, in December, the developer complained about the process taking longer than expected!

So what could have been different Monday night? How could the situation have been salvaged?

First, the opinions and time of citizens is more valuable than those of the developer, and we should have had an opportunity to present Monday night. We didn’t need to hear another lengthy presentation by the developer. Did you know that the developer gets to speak first in a “public” hearing and that they could have used the entire scheduled two hours presenting information that’s available online and many of us have heard previously? Isn’t the point of a public hearing to hear from the public?

And second, the close dealings between the town and developer are raising suspicions among residents.  The town staff’s unfailing professionalism and efforts to have a productive working relationship with the developer through this proposal process are being taken advantage of and can have the appearance of favoring the developer and shutting down public participation. A clear explanation of processes and what went awry were unfairly absent Monday night, leaving the public stunned and frustrated – did we all really prepare and then wait politely for more than an hour only to be dismissed without an explanation?

The process and/or its execution need to change. The developer should have been held to a deadline sufficient to allow for people to be informed with a notice in this newspaper plus a conspicuous notice on the first page of the town’s website. The public hearing should be a time for the council to hear from the public. The developer could present to the Council in an open meeting format (public present as observers or watching the meeting on West Hartford Interactive TV) that doesn’t result in the public comment time being the equivalent of second class citizenship.

Christine Feely
West Hartford

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  • It is becoming abundantly clear that the town council and mayor do not care about the opinions of residents when it comes to these monstrosities. Similar situation happened with the former synagogue on N Main, not one resident in the immediate area spoke in favor of the proposal. If we wanted to live in a city we would have bought houses somewhere else. Eventually this will destroy the town, but we’ll have moved away by that point. Oh well.

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