The Town of West Hartford is in the process of updating its 10-year ‘Plan of Conservation and Development,’ and there are multiple opportunities for public input.
By Ronni Newton
Every 10 years the Town of West Hartford updates its “Plan of Conservation and Development” (PODC), a document that serves as a vision statement, a roadmap, and a set of guiding principles used for zoning decisions, and public input in the process is being invited and encouraged.
Connecticut General Statutes require all municipalities to either prepare or amend – and adopt – a POCD at least every 10 years in order to be eligible for discretionary state funding, and West Hartford’s existing Plan is for the 10-year period from 2009-2019. When West Hartford’s 83-page POCD was adopted in 2009, Blue Back Square was in its infancy, CTfastrak construction had not yet begun, transit-oriented development was not yet a popular buzzword, The Corbin Collection was not on anyone’s radar, and very few restaurants had outdoor dining.
And while the community was invited to be part of the process of developing the existing POCD, the methods of obtaining input a decade ago were far less sophisticated than they are today.
“There was public engagement, but not like the methods we’ve currently come to adopt,” Town Planner Todd Dumas said. “Public input is critical … We want this to be hands-on, to get people engaged.”
The process of updating POCD began about two months ago, Dumais said, and the town is working with Hartford-based planning firm Fitzgerald and Halliday Inc. to assist with the work.
A project website has been established, and the first step in the POCD update process is a survey that all residents and business owners are invited to complete. The survey, which takes about 5-10 minutes to complete, asks some general questions about what people like and don’t like about West Hartford, why they chose to live or work in town, what they feel should be changed and what should not be changed, and what concerns they have for the future. The opportunity to provide an open-ended response for the vision of West Hartford in the future is also provided.
Survey respondents are also invited to delve deeper into topics of economic development, housing, transportation, town services and facilities, open space and recreation, and sustainability and the environment. Click here to complete the survey.
The results of the survey will be revealed at a Community Workshop scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 30 from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Town Hall auditorium, 50 South Main St. Dumais said that the format of the workshop will be similar to events held for the creation of the West Hartford Center and UConn campus vision statements, with a combination of a short presentation, an interactive survey, and breakout sessions.
The Town Plan and Zoning Commission (TPZ) is the ultimate author of the plan, Dumais said, and it becomes the Commission’s guiding principles. “When zones are changed they must be consistent with the POCD, and capital improvements must be consistent with the POCD,” he said.
“The TPZ weighs in on important questions each month, but the POCD is arguably the most important responsibility entrusted to us by the General Assembly and the Town Council and we all take this work incredibly seriously,” TPZ Chair Kevin Ahern said. “I am extraordinarily lucky to work with this group of commissioners and a town staff who continually impress me with the breadth of their knowledge and their dedication to the success of this special community. As it is on each individual application before the TPZ, my role will be to help manage the conversation – but not lead it – and help drive us towards a product that reflects a thorough review of the issues as well as the bests interests of the community.”
The existing POCD states: “The Plan shall serve as guide in the land use decision process and therefore all such decisions should be measured and evaluated in terms of consistency with this Plan of Conservation and Development. Furthermore, if the Plan is be fully realized, it must also serve as a guide to all residents, businesses, developers, property owners, agencies and individuals interested in achieving a sustainable community.”
As the TPZ develops a new initiative for the next 10 years, they will look at the strategic goals and vision statement of the current POCD and how well they have been met.
When asked what he thinks will need to be changed the most from the existing POCD, Ahern said, “I am looking forward to getting the answer to that question myself!”
TPZ will be receiving input from as many sources as possible, from a broad swath of the community, over the next few weeks, Ahern said. He is hopeful that there will be plenty of responses to the survey, and a good turnout at the Community Workshop.
“The POCD is truly a community vision statement. … One of the things that makes me most proud of this community is that we step up and make our voices heard. Post a question on [the Facebook page] Neighbors & Friends in West Hartford about the best pizza place and you’ll see what I mean,” Ahern said.
“That engagement is absolutely crucial in this process,” said Ahern. “The stakeholders – residents, business owners, town staff, the Town Council, etc. – will give us these answers and we look forward to engaging with each of them.”
Ahern said he is looking forward to having a key role in this process. “I am humbled by the opportunity and I’m really excited to be a part of it,” he said.
Dumais said that the goal will be to have a draft of the new POCD ready in early 2019, at which point there will be a public hearing on the Plan. He is hopeful that the Town Council will adopt it in March or April of 2019.
To review the existing POCD, click here.
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