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Partisan Lines Drawn in Planning Commission Turf Vote

Southington planning commission members approved an 8-24 referral this week, allowing the town to move forward with the installation of artificial turf, but not before Democrats questioned the finances behind it.

A project to install synthetic turf at received the go-ahead from the Planning and Zoning Commission, but not before concerns over the financial aspects of the project led to a split vote along party lines.

Democrats Kevin Conroy and Ryan Rogers voted against an 8-24 referral this week, citing concerns over how the project will be funded and whether it should go to referendum before the measure passed by a 5-2 vote. All five votes in favor were cast by Republicans.

“It’s not the turf project I voted against, I fully support it,” Rogers said. “My issue is that I do have some disagreements with the way the Planning and Zoning Commission received this request. This is not a necessity and it was pushed outside the budget process. That’s why I voted no.”

Rogers and Conroy each expressed concerns that at the amount approved, $960,000, the project is just $40,000 shy of needing to go to referendum. There are ongoing discussions regarding exactly how the project will be funded, but the Board of Finance last week unanimously approved a motion to make bonding an option.

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After a lengthy process, which included several public hearings, it would be in the best interest of the town to move forward with the installation of artificial turf.

Planning Commission Chairman Michael DelSanto and Vice-Chairman Paul Chaplinsky  each said Thursday that they were disappointed by the vote because an 8-24 is designed only to have commission members determine whether it meets the town’s plans and regulations.

Each said financial aspects should not have been part of the discussion.

“An 8-24 is a procedural referral necessary for any change in municipal use,” Chaplinsky said. “It appeared to me that the folks who took issue seemed concerned that they did not like the process or financing aspects of it. That’s not what we are charged to vote on.”

Rogers said, however, that if the process were followed in a different manner, one which would have allowed the project to go to referendum first, then the commission would not even have been asked to vote on the issue.

DelSanto said he can’t speak for those who voted as to whether it was politically motivated, but hopes politics will not be a factor in planning commission votes, now or in the future.

“One thing I have enjoyed most on the planning and zoning commission, over the 10 years I’ve served and my three and a half years as chairman, is that there is no politics involved,” DelSanto said. “I’m disappointed in looking at this vote because I think politics reared its ugly head.”

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WindsorRocks June 22, 2012 at 12:01 PM
looks like dollar tree. Only in Windsor it's Mr. Simon (D) who is pushing it through with all his might like it's just a few bucks and no big deal.
Arthur Cyr June 22, 2012 at 01:00 PM
A 8-24 approval is designed only to have P&Z commission members determine whether it meets the town’s zoning regulations. Did it? Yes. Period. End of discussion.
John Moise June 22, 2012 at 02:19 PM
Mike, how can it be politically motivated when the council voted 9-0 and the BOF voted 6-0. If it were 6-3 and 4-2 then you would be onto something. How about it is simple as they have concerns and that is why they voted no. An 8-24 is simple not monetary but regulatory, that said any elected official can vote in the best interests of all of their constituents. It as simple as that. If this was done properly it would have gone to referendum and still may. If more people on both sides looked into the details of North Center maybe it would be done by now instead of looking like an eyesore on route 10. Remember it was supposed to be done in November, January, March, June, and is now going into July. If we are lucky maybe September...
WhiskeyTangoFoxtrot June 22, 2012 at 02:46 PM
Whats wrong with plain old grass? It's a high school not the NFL
Joanne Kelleher June 22, 2012 at 03:11 PM
If the work on the field happens in the fall and the field can't be used, shouldn't the total project estimate include any additional costs incurred to relocate school activities? For example, there will be facility rental fees and bus costs to hold the home football games and Music of the Knight marching band competition (October 27, 2012) at another school's football field.
Kevin Conroy June 22, 2012 at 05:01 PM
Let me start by stating that I take offense to the suggestion that my 'no' vote was for political reasons. I couldn't care less about being re-elected, over three years from now. A caucus of two is not some political voting block, it's two people disagreeing with the majority, some clearly with politics at the forefront of their consciousness. I support the turf field project and would vote for it in any referendum, but I have serious reservations as to how this was approved. As a planning board, we are charged with protecting the long term interests of the Town as it relates to development. Ad hoc capital projects are not consistent with that philosophy. Section 8-24 gives no criteria on the method of evaluating a proposed municipal improvement. This proposal does not appear on the Town's POCD, nor did it appear, until just recently, on any list of capital improvements. The Town just completed its annual budget without including this project, though it was well known it was being fast-tracked. Anyone interested in good governance would agree that with a long list of initiatives and limited dollars, we should proactively plan both short term and long term expenditures in a logical and deliberate manner. I commend the members of the turf committee for their diligence in vetting the various options. That does not change my feeling that this project should have been scrutinized under the budgeting process along with every other expenditure proposed by the Town.
Kevin Conroy June 22, 2012 at 05:01 PM
With regard to the referendum, it is my view that the purpose of the $1M threshold is to allow the Town to perform its routine business and respond to emergencies in a timely and efficient manner. The same holds for capital projects that are evaluated within the framework of the budget process. Some appear to take pride in the fact that a referendum will be avoided since the projected cost is below $1M. I believe that since this project generated a great deal of public discussion and given that it is neither routine capital spending, nor an emergency repair, it should have been put to the public for a vote whether it met the threshold or not.
Steve Kalkowski June 23, 2012 at 12:16 AM
I only wish Ryan had expressed his concern for the Turf Field in his own words instead of simply reading a prepared statement obviously given to him by someone else. As a member of the P&Z Commission, I am focused on making sure that projects that come before us meet our regulations or are appropriate for our town and its citizens who I try my best to represent. I also trust that our Board of Finance and Town Council will do the right thing for our citizens as well and that is certainly the case here as both approved the project unanimously. Regarding the North Center School project that came before us, Paul and I expressed concern about the potential impact to our Central Business Zone (CBZ) if we moved the Planning Departments there. Working collaboratively with the Town Council which created the North Center School sub-committee and with our Town Manager who approved a consultant review of the potential impact to our CBZ, we were able to get the necessary data to feel comfortable approving the use of North Center School. We did not discuss the sale/leaseback agreement in any way, and if memory serves me, I believe the D’s on P&Z once again voted against the North Center School project because they did not like the financial arrangement which P&Z should not bring into our decision making.
Steve Kalkowski June 23, 2012 at 12:16 AM
Let’s move on here and concentrate on supporting this wonderful project to bring a turf field to our town and provide more opportunity for our children and for the town to potentially host state and regional games which would draw large crowds and revenue which would go toward the annual maintenance and future replacement costs.
Kevin Conroy June 23, 2012 at 12:45 AM
Steve, since you were on the other side of the table, you obviously wouldn't have the benefit of knowing that Ryan was reading his own hand written notes. Something you also do. I question why you would make such a comment on a public forum? So, now voting your conscience and reading are political tactics? Being new to this, I have apparently have a lot to learn.
Pensive June 23, 2012 at 02:10 AM
The P&Z Commission’s realm is for Planning and Zoning; not funding or budgetary advice. Financial opinions belong elsewhere. They can be true but not appropriate to Zoning Regulations. Stick to the subject
Walter K June 23, 2012 at 09:49 AM
Yes, I agree with you WhiskeyTangoFoxtrot, aka WTF. But you have some very influential sports enthusiasts thinking they are Jerry Sandusky doing what they want while the silent majority are silent.
Walter K June 23, 2012 at 09:53 AM
The voice of reason speaks! You couldn't be any righter, Kevin. This is not a routine project and propriety should dictate to the Council and others a town-wide referendum was needed. Talk about political, the way this was handled was down-right irresponsible and back-room politics. Run again -- you'll be the one guy I vote for!
Steve Kalkowski June 24, 2012 at 12:07 AM
Thanks Kevin. Quite honestly, I have lots to learn as well and my time on ZBA and P&Z has been extremely educational and rewarding. I respect everyones opinion on our commission and you bring a high degree of expertise to our discussions and decision making. All I am saying is let's keep our focus to where it belongs and entrust our other elected officials to do their best to represent our citizens.
Ryan Rogers June 25, 2012 at 05:41 AM
Wow. Talk about not getting political, pointing fingers, or mudslinging accusations about reading off the prompter. Steve you and 4 others voted the way you thought was best for Southington. Kevin and I voted the way we both felt was best for Southington. I voted my conscience, and I would do so again if given the opportunity. I can echo a lot of the same thoughts Keven did in previous posts, but I'd rather be short and directly to the point. I feel that evading what should be a certain referendum, is not in the best interest nor does it fit the direction I think the town of Southington should move toward. It is a avoiding the intentions of the language in our town charter, and therefore preventing the taxpayer a choice that should be afforded to them.
Arthur Cyr June 25, 2012 at 12:42 PM
There are people in this town that want the dollar amount for voter referendum raised to TWO million and also people that want it lowered to $500,000 and yearly voter approval of Town budgets. BUT right now the number is $1,000.000 and that is for the the Town Council and Board of Finance to determine - NOT the Planning & Zoning Commission. As any sitting member should know, if a regulation says the limit is 100 or 1,000, that's what you rule on. You don't get to change the rules whenever you want. And that is NOT "evading" a referendum, its playing by the existing rules. Nowhere does it say "within the framework of the budget process", it says over $1 million. And anybody that did any serious reading on the issue quickly comes to the conclusion that changing to artificial turf is indeed in the best short term and long term interest of the Town of Southington. Maybe we should allow the Board of Finance to second guess some of the stipulations P&Z puts on some projects and see how you all feel about that?
Ryan Rogers June 25, 2012 at 05:39 PM
Art, you are very right in all you just said. I hope I made my self clear enough is saying I believe the intentions of the charter are being avoided. Best analogy I can think of: If my fiance and I decide to buy a fridge, she may tell me clearly that she does not want to spend over 1,000 dollars. Now if I go out and find a nice deal, that is our best option, is energy efficient so will save us money in the long run, but is 960 dollars, I am still going to give her the ability to say no to that fridge...even if I know its not over the limit and I believe she'll say yes.
Lucy June 25, 2012 at 07:04 PM
In the end, given the town's track record with public projects, even an ostrich with its head buried in the sand, knows the proposed improvements to the high school football field and track will exceed one million dollars. What happens when the project does go over budget and meets the threshold for a referendum remains to be seen.
Arthur Cyr June 25, 2012 at 08:07 PM
To Ryan Rogers - Please go back and reread MY post. Because the rule right now is $1 million, the voters do NOT get to vote. I do NOT believe the Charter is being avoided! "She" should say "Okay, under the limit, let's move forward." And the people who's depth of knowledge in matters is reading or hearing news clips need to realize that the Town does many many projects that get done on time and under budget. To say this project WILL go over budget is WRONG. The Stonegate sewer repair was completed correctly and under budget. The renovation of Plantsville was completed correctly and under budget. Building a brand new South End School was completed correctly and under budget. Last year's Town budget ended with a surplus, not a deficit. And to Joanne (above) this project can be done in two months - July & August into September. No additional costs needed into October.
Lucy June 26, 2012 at 01:42 AM
Laning Street reconstruction, Pondview Pump Station, Jeanette Drive, Strong School, South End School...to name but a few projects...the delays with the reconstruction of South End Road due to a dispute regarding the state vs. Town's share...
Arthur Cyr June 26, 2012 at 01:54 AM
Lucy - You got most of them correct - BUT South End School was completed on time and under budget. And those you listed are OLDER previous projects that went badly and were not on time and over budget. (You missed Sewer Assessment #34, which was a whopper.) BUT we can not simply look back at older projects that went badly - the recent projects that I listed above went much better. You also should realize that we have new people in many Boards and Commissions and in Town Hall staff.

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