The city’s Master Plan of development has been a master migraine in recent weeks from issues involving public hearings to an enterprising community group (Committee to Ungag the People) making lots of noise through silent protests.
Nancy Hadley, the city’s former director of economic development, has sent a letter to City Council members in the hope of refocusing the legislative body on the history and background that has produced the product that she supports having helped guide the process before she left city service. Grab a cup of joe and take a look. Hadley’s letter below followed by a rebuttal from Michael Voytek of the Committee to Ungag the People:
Dear Honorable Members of the City Council,
There is grossly inaccurate information circulating about the Master Plan and its Future Land Use Map. This inaccurate information has, in my opinion, contributed to the ECDC vote last week to reject the Master Plan with comments. As I was the Director of OPED and ultimately responsible to the Mayor and Planning and Zoning Commission (PZC) for the process we used, I offer the following clarification:
1. In 2005, the Urban Land Institute (ULI) completed a week long technical advisory service process including over 250 interviews, three subcommittees involving over 60 volunteers, and a city wide Summit involving over 750 public participants. The Report’s major conclusions were that the city’s land use policies and procedures were so poor that significant growth of the tax base and reduction of the mil rate was severely hindered. Simply put, the economic development policies and procedures of the City sucked big time. The bottom line was clear: If the City wanted quality development and a strong growth in the tax base, a major overhaul of the Master Plan, the Zoning Map and the zoning regs was paramount; one-stop permitting by co-locating the permitting agencies must happen; a geographic information system, permit management system, and fiscal impact capability must be implemented to support the new Master Plan, Zoning Map and zoning regs. Bridgeport could not be competitive without making all of these elements happen.
2. The 2005 ULI report led to the 2006 appropriation of over $1 million to complete the comprehensive overhaul of Bridgeport’s land use policies and procedures. A team of excellent consultants was selected based on approved City procurement standards to provide the city with the best talent to support this important effort.
3. From 2006-2008, the following major elements of the new 10-year Master Plan of Conservation and Development were developed, vetted, and incorporated.
a. The Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) Report including extensive economic analyses to determine where Bridgeport’s economic future would thrive best. This Report was led by a large steering committee composed of Bridgeport residents and businesses.
b. A Housing Policy Report analyzing the city’s housing stock, demographic trends and recommendations to best supply the essential array of housing opportunities from rentals to ownership units. This report was lead by the CAO’s office with a large steering committee composed of residents and housing experts.
c. A Downtown Master Plan and Action Plan that outlined the 10-year plan to grow the downtown. This effort led by the Downtown Special Services District included several workshops before the recommendations were developed, reviewed and finalized. This plan was funded with a $300,000 +/- grant from the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development
d. The City’s First Storm water Management Manual was developed to guide the development process to mitigate future flooding issues as a result of new development.
e. The Neighborhood Revitalization Zone (NRZ)Plans were developed for the five neighborhoods that were getting the brand new eight-acre pre-K to eighth grade schools. Each NRZ Committee consisted of the major stakeholders of the neighborhood including residents, businesses and non-profit organizations. Weekend charettes, workshops and meetings were held to develop community outcome measures and specific recommendations for short and long term improvements. The neighborhood profiles in the Master Plan include those NRZ plans that were ready at the time.
4. The final Master Plan of Conservation and Development incorporated all of these reports and many more under the leadership of a 20+ member Steering Committee co-chaired by Pat Fardy, Chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission (PZC) and Stu Sachs, resident of Black Rock and landscape architect. The steering committee included two city council members as liaisons back to the Council.
5. The Master Plan Steering Committee held over 30 meetings, workshops and public hearings, all open to the public. Meetings were held in several parts of the City.
6. The website www.bridgeportmasterplan.com contained all of the drafts, reports, and final decisions. That website is still operational. Drafts were also sent to the library branches.
7. A full Public Hearing on the Master Plan was held by the Planning and Zoning Commission in November 2007 following submission of 20 copies of the draft report and Future Land Use Plan to the City Council for the statutory required 65-day review. I am told now that the City Clerk put the draft reports and maps in the mailboxes of each councilmember.
8. Following review of the comments received at the November 2007 public hearing, the PZC formally approved the Master Plan and Future Land Use Map in March 2008. The vote was unanimous. The Plan contains 15 chapters, 223 pages and a critical Future Land Use Map (Figure 14-1). In my opinion it provides a comprehensive guide to the City’s future development. It provides the guidance developers and investors need to know as they decide where and how they will develop and grow our tax base. It also tells them where they should not look to develop.
9. The Master Plan is the guide to the City’s future development. There are two major policies that are critical:
a. Intense real estate development should be restricted to the expanded Downtown (the teardrop south to Seaside Park and west to include Knowlton and the Steel Point peninsula) and along the major transit corridors which are the major streets that are served by frequent bus service.
b. The neighborhoods would be protected and basically off limits to development. It is important to preserve the character of our neighborhoods.
10. The March 2008 Master Plan and Future Land Use Map have been the basis of each and every Planning and Zoning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals decision. These are legal decisions that form the basis of the real estate development during the past 16 months. Some of the PZC decisions may have been appealed to the Court. The decisions have provided the basis for the private financing that was needed to start construction. A cloud over the Master Plan and Future Land Use Map would, in my opinion, place a cloud over the PZC and ZBA decisions made in the past 16 months.
11. Due to an apparent technical flaw in the City Council’s 65-day review of the draft plan in the fall of 2007, the City Attorney determined that the correct review would necessitate the City Council formally placing the item on its agenda and referral to the ECDC committee. This review to correct an apparent technical flaw started in June and will end on August 19.
12. This past Monday, the PZC announced that they will hold a second public hearing on the Master Plan and Future Land Use Map on August 24th at 6pm. The City Attorney determined that a second hearing was necessary in order to remove any possible cloud over the adoption of this critical document.
Over the past two months, many speakers have appeared in front the City Council during your public session asserting that the Master Plan is not complete, is not a quality document and should be sent back to the Planning and Zoning Commission for more work. I watched the replay of the Council meetings on the public government channel and couldn’t believe my eyes and ears. In my opinion, nothing could be future from the truth. Hundreds of volunteer, staff and consultant hours were spent, hundreds of people participated and lots of money was spent to develop a solid document and future land use map. Within the speakers comments, and a recent letter to the Bridgeport News from the ‘Committee to Ungag the People’, it is clear to me that the basis of most of their angst has to do with the new zoning map and regulations. There issues are for the most part, not master plan related.
The Master Plan and Future Land Use Map are the guide to how Bridgeport should develop over the next ten years. The implementation of the Master Plan requires the PZC to develop and adopt a new zoning map and regulations. The zoning map and regulations must support the Master Plan and Future Land Use Map. I repeat, the Master Plan and Zoning Map must be CONSISTENT. The preparation and adoption of a new zoning map and set of regulations is a SEPARATE process that has been underway since the adoption of the Master Plan in early 2008. Since I left city employ, this is my understanding of what has transpired:
13. The PZC, staff and consultants developed a draft set of regulations and draft zoning map that was fully consistent with the approved Master Plan and Future Land Use Map.
14. In November, 2008, the PZC held a public hearing on the proposed new zoning map dated July 28, 2008 and draft zoning regulations. Over 400 comments were received at that public hearing.
15. Leadership has changed on the PZC and new members have been appointed in the interim. Training has begun for the new members. In my opinion, continuity was compromised.
16. Each and every public hearing comment was reviewed and analyzed by the PZC from November 2008 until May 2009.
17. When the technical problem surfaced in May/June with the adoption of the Master Plan, the PZC stopped work on the new zoning map and regulations.
18. A new zoning map and regulations have not been adopted by the PZC. However, since the PZC meetings are public, attendees and observers have noticed that a few of the recommended changes to the proposed July 28, 2008 zoning map may not be consistent with the Future Land Use Map of the Master Plan. I don’t know this for a fact because I haven’t seen a new version of the zoning map.
19. The zoning issues are a separate but valid set of concerns that must be referred to the PZC for action. It does not however reflect on the quality of the Master Plan and Future Land Use Map. I was at the PZC meeting last Monday. I asked the Acting Chair whether the PZC’s work on the zoning map and regulations were concluded and whether the zoning map would be fully consistent with the Master Plan and Future Land Use Map. He said that the PZC’s work was not done but in the end both maps would be fully consistent.
I implore you to step back and reflect on these facts. I implore you to endorse and affirm the Master Plan and Future Land Use Map. If you want to recognize the concerns raised by those that have zoning concerns, send a message back to the PZC that the Zoning Map and Zoning Regulations must be fully consistent with the Future Land Use Map. You might suggest, as Mayor Finch has done, that the PZC hold a second public hearing on the changes they propose to make to the 2008 version of the zoning map. I am sure the PZC members understand the requirement for consistency, but it won’t hurt to reemphasize the point. The article in the CT Post included one Commissioner suggesting this second public hearing on the zoning map.
Here is why I took the time to lay out this set of facts:
A. Within the new zoning regulations and new map are dramatic improvements to the zoning for the Downtown. It is called a Downtown Village District (DVD). The financing of developments in the downtown have been waiting since the 2005 ULI report for these new regulations to become effective. Four years is a long time, way too long in my opinion. Banks will not close on deals on the promise that the new map and regs will become effective. Federal and state grants/loans will not be awarded until the new regs are adopted. Small businesses that have struggled to open in the downtown have been subject to the old zoning regulations which are convoluted and severely outdated. The downtown will not grow without the new map and regulations. If the downtown doesn’t grow, the tax base doesn’t grow. The DVD requires PZC adoption of the new map and regs. It also requires at least four ordinances to be enacted by the City Council to implement key components of the DVD.
B. Potential developers and investors in Bridgeport are national. For example, the bank that financed the Arcade and 144 Golden Hill, US BANCORP is based in St Louis. The last thing the City needs is a headline Tuesday morning that states that the City Council rejected the Master Plan. The ripple effect would be detrimental to the confidence required for quality development to happen.
C. It is paramount that the PZC finish all of the elements of the Round One Land Use Updates. In my opinion, it must reaffirm the Master Plan and Future Land Use Map. The zoning map, the zoning regs and the four ordinances necessary to implement the Master Plan, Future Land Use Map and especially, the DVD must be adopted quickly. Once Round One is done, Round Two can begin. A petitioner can go to the PZC and officially request a change in the Future Land Use Map and zoning. It would be an open and transparent process, subject to the requisite public hearing. In my opinion, Round Two changes should not start before Round One is finished. If some of the comments you are hearing are in effect a second bite at the apple, they can be considered as part of Round Two. Round One needs to be finished first!
The Committee to Ungag the People! disagrees with her assertions on the Master Plan regarding Main Street’s commercial corridor changes affecting the Old Town Road and Wentworth Street areas generally. She is right on some aspects, too; however, the information she is basing her assertions on with respect to what we are asking for is based on a prior point in time AFTER: (a) we met with certain ECDC members and McCarthy on the Sunday before the ECDC committee meeting and clarified these matters; (b) we had over 75 people at the recent ECDC Committee meeting and Anastasi gave the advice that if comments were to be made on the Master Plan as we had recommended the Master Plan as a whole would need to be rejected (legal advice as an attorney I vocally disagreed with at that meeting) – the ECDC then unanimously rejected the Master Plan and made the comments we had asked; and (c) we had unraveled a bit more the confusion that surrounds and has surrounded the Master Plan and Zoning map and regs (the PZC kas also admitted confusion on these matters – and the Zoning Map on the Master Plan website still does not show the Testo’s, Greenwood St and Anton Drive changes we are challenging). Her information is therefore not current and is incorrect at this point.
Bottom Line: the Committee is asking that: (A) the Master Plan be changed on the two Main St commercial corridor areas and on Madison Ave; (B) that the Zoning map be changed to keep as residential the Testo’s, Greenwood St and Anton Dr areas; and (C) the zoning regs do not be changed to have a 250 foot setback. This should be that simple. It does not need to be overly complicated by bureaucrats, former bureaucrats and politicians.
Because the City Council may still be similarly confused and we were unable to get any speaking slots at Monday night’s meeting, we are asking City Council members to meet with us this Sunday to discuss these matters.
Bond Rating Dropped
A key Wall Street rating agency has dropped the city’s bond rating. The worse the rating the more the city pays to enter the bond market. News release from the mayor’s office below. This is not good news and as noted in the release city officials are not happy so kudos for them releasing this.
Fitch Drops City’s Bond Rating to BBB+; Outlook Rated ‘Stable’
BRIDGEPORT, CT (July 31, 2009) – Fitch Ratings has notified the City that it has downgraded the rating on the City’s approximately $654 million general obligation bonds to BBB+ from A-. The City’s rating outlook will continue to be classified as ‘stable.’
“The City was caught in the economic downturn that began in 2008, which caused a significant drop in revenue, coupled with a budget which included one-time revenues that were not realized,” said Michael Feeney, Chief Financial Officer. “The City was able to turn those trends around in 2009 by closing a very large budget gap and our budget in 2010, as noted by Fitch, is on track to reflect the fiscally conservative moves we have made in the past two years.”
“It is unfortunate that they [Fitch] chose to downgrade us now, especially so, since we’ve closed the current year’s $20 million shortfall and have corrected and balanced 2010’s budget,” Feeney added.
In order to balance the coming year’s budget the City has eliminated more than 150 positions, with another approximately 70 left vacant; won concessions from unions on wages and health insurance premiums; curbed departmental spending, and raised some fees. The City’s 2010 budget does not include one-time revenues from land sales that were budgeted in past years but failed to materialize.
The ‘stable’ rating, according to Fitch, reflects its view that “although the City’s financial flexibility has weakened, City officials were proactive in correcting fiscal 2009 budgetary imbalances.”
The Tax Fight
Republican Governor Jodi Rell wants to raise sin taxes and corporate taxes to help finance the budget. Democrats say that’s not good enough. Soak the wealthy.
And on and on it goes. Rell trying to carve out a compromise with a Democratic legislature that continues to do what it does best: raise taxes. The highest taxed state in the country–income taxes, sales taxes, gas taxes, sin taxes, corporate taxes, business entity taxes (freaking taxes just for the privilege of forming an LLC) to go along with property taxes and car taxes on the local level–is gearing up for more.
Yeah I know, the Dems say there’s no free lunch. All so they can say we saved this for you, we saved that for you (while we picked your pocket). Oh, that’s right, we only pick the pockets of the wealthy. We enjoy penalizing success. We’re Democrats; if we can’t tax you … well, we’ll just print money! All of this makes for an engaging showdown for the 2010 gubernatorial cycle. Can’t wait to hear from my friends at My Left Nutmeg on this!
Okay, I see where Joel Speedy Gonzalez has his back up a bit because the local GOP bypassed his request for a slot on the Board of Education. Now that Rob Russo is poised for a congressional run, he’ll be withdrawing his name from the BOE endorsement. That means party pols must fill that slot. They had rejected incumbent BOE member Sauda Baraka claiming she was not committed to the task. Sauda was looking at challenging the endorsed slate in a primary. Could they give her the slot now? And if not will Joel run with her?
Speedy says he’ll be taking out papers to petition his way on the ballot. Signature time. It’s not easy finding Republicans in the city.
News release from Gov. Rell
Governor Rell Offers Third Budget Proposal
$36.9B Plan Reflects Governor’s Core Principles: Cutting Spending, Reducing Bloat of Bureaucracy, Positioning State for Economic Success
Governor M. Jodi Rell today presented a third state budget proposal, one that reduces state spending by $1 billion. The Governor’s proposal also calls for $391 million in new revenues by increasing “sin taxes” on alcohol and cigarettes and a temporary, three-year surcharge on corporate taxes, compared with $1.8 billion in new and increased taxes contained in a plan unveiled earlier today by majority Democrats.
“We all know the economy has worsened – and we still don’t have a budget,” Governor Rell said. “We need a budget. We need to work together and do the job that the people of Connecticut elected us to do.
“The proposals offered by the Democrats today are unsustainable and unaffordable,” the Governor said. “Their budget calls for $1.8 billion in new or higher taxes while cutting just $130 million in state spending – just three-tenths of one percent of their $37.9 billion budget. Their proposals will lead to red ink and pink slips.”
Governor Rell’s plan actually shrinks the state budget by 1.3 percent in the first year of the biennium and spending would grow by just 1.2 percent in the second year.
“I offer this plan in the spirit of compromise – to get a budget passed into law and to help the working families of Connecticut as they struggle in this economy,” the Governor said. “I would have preferred not to raise taxes at all. But it has been clear for months – and it remains clear – that the Democrat majority cannot, will not, cut state spending. I could cut more – but they cannot. And we need a budget.
“I am showing the leadership we need to get us to the finish line,” Governor Rell said. “In that vein, I have invited the legislative leaders to join me in compromise – and to join me in negotiations starting Tuesday. I hope we will be able to reach an agreement soon and bring a budget to a vote.”
Hey, what’s going on with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Amann? Check this out courtesy of David Smith and Stephen Krauchick.