CT: Mushak Wants Planning Commission to Coordinate City's Planning Efforts

City departments over the years have hired consultants to prepare plans on matters such as parking, transit-oriented development and bicycle-and-pedestrian pathways.

The city has been less successful in implementing such plans, according to former Norwalk Zoning Commissioner Michael G. Mushak.

On Tuesday evening, Mushak said the city's Planning Commission should take on that responsibility.

"Their main responsibility is planning and coordinating physical, social and economic development in the city," Mushak said. "I think that it's a good time to really think about the Planning Commission expanding its responsibilities into what the city charter originally intended."

Mushak, now co-chairman of the Norwalk Bike/Walk Task Force, cited three bicycle traffic plans, a transit-oriented development plan for South Norwalk and a parking master plan as examples of studies being developed by "silos" within City Hall.

"We're two years behind on the recommendations of the 2012 Parking Master Plan to reduce our parking requirements citywide by 30 percent by 2014 ... to spur affordable housing," Mushak said. "Every structured parking space costs $20,000 that has to be recouped in higher rents or purchase prices."

Mushak's comments came at Tuesday evening's Common Council meeting at City Hall at which council members approved a number of appointments and reappointments, including the reappointment of Torgny Astrom to the city's Planning Commission.

Astrom, chairman of the commission, said Wednesday that the commission's work is guided by the Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD), otherwise known as Norwalk's master plan.

"The City of Norwalk has an established Plan Of Conservation and Development and all work by the Planning Commission is guided by the goals and objectives of the POCD," Torgny said.

From time to time, Astrom said, the commission will try to persuade a city department to move toward a specific goal.

"During the last four years of budget discussions, we have suggested — to no avail — that the (Information Technology) Department commence the revamp of the city website," Astrom said. "However, the Planning Commission has no statutory authority to instruct I.T. or any other city department what to do."

According to its website, the Planning Commission is responsible for amending and adopting subdivision regulations; preparing, adopting and implementing the city's master plan; reviewing and recommending capital projects; and "planning and coordinating the physical, social and economic development of the city."

Norwalk Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Timothy T. Sheehan, whose department commissioned the parking and transit-oriented development plans, said Wednesday that Mushak is "not wrong" in saying the Planning Commission should coordinate planning.

According to Sheehan, however, such coordination already occurs with the Redevelopment Agency.

"We've been brought into work with the Planning Commission on plans that they've been advancing that are in our plan areas," Sheehan said.

Sheehan distinguished between planning studies undertaken by the Planning Commission and those undertaken by the Redevelopment Agency.

"The Redevelopment Agency doesn't plan for the entire city," Sheehan said. "We plan for the plan areas that we have jurisdiction in."

The Planning Commission, he added, has prepared numerous studies for other areas of Norwalk, including the mid-harbor and industrial zones.


Copyright 2014 - The Hour, Norwalk, Conn.

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