Kyle Langan, Democratic City Council candidate for the West Side 132nd District, raises questions about the role of the Planning & Zoning Commission regarding the Downtown theater project.
On Monday July 31st there was supposed to be a regular meeting of the Planning and Zoning commission at 6:30 p.m. at Lyon Terrace–it never happened. The main item on the agenda was the Land Disclosure Agreement (LDA) between the city and Exact Capital which proposes to sell 23 city owned properties including the Majestic Theater and Savoy Hotel to New York based developer Exact Capital. This meeting should have served as a public vetting by the Planning and Zoning commission of a major land use proposal that will impact downtown Bridgeport for years to come. Because not enough members of the commission showed up and no quorum was reached, this public questioning never occurred. This is troubling on a number of levels and leaves many questions to be asked.
On the most innocent level, the lack of quorum was a dereliction of duty for the members that were not present. While I understand that life happens, we’re all human and may miss a meeting, it is still unacceptable there were not enough members for a meeting that was planned well in advance. I have not seen any public statement from absent members taking responsibility for their inability to show up on time or any statement saying that another meeting is planned.
When one considers the context of the commission and this potential $400 million development deal, the questions that beg to be asked become more alarming. First, a disturbing trend in Bridgeport’s commissions is revealed. According to the Planning and Zoning commission’s website, there are at least two vacancies on the commission and there are a number of commissioners serving on expired terms. Unfortunately, this is consistent across our city. Why is there such a high number of commissioners serving on expired terms? When a commissioner’s term expires, she/he sits in the position until someone is appointed to replace them. Who benefits from this system? Does this reality create bias and distortion in decision making? Is there something that can be done to fix this system that places our commissions in unlawful standing? All these questions are valid in an environment in which important meetings are missed and no public explanation is given.
And the problems go deeper … State statute section 8-24 states that anytime a municipality desires to sell property, it must first submit the proposal to the Planning and Zoning Commission. It also states that “The failure of the commission to report within thirty-five days after the date of official submission of the proposal to it for a report shall be taken as approval of the proposal” (CT State Statute 8-24). That means that the clock is ticking. If the commission does not act on this proposal by Sept. 5th, it will be deemed approved and move into the contract phase. Was the absence of some members deliberate in order to gain approval through this clause? If so, why the effort to push this major project through in such clandestine fashion? Is there something hidden or something else we should be worried about?
This project was described by someone in City Hall as “simple and straightforward,” but a nearly half a billion dollar renovation to historical landmarks that anchor one side of our downtown is anything but. It is imperative that this project be vetted in public through the appropriate channels of the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Council.
When you add to these troubling developments up, there are more questions than answers around the project and its movements. We as a community in solidarity should call for questions around these commissions and these meetings where there are no answers to be found.