Expressing frustration with zoning commissioners whom he appoints, Mayor Bill Finch tells CT Post reporter Brian Lockhart it’s time zoners build bridges for job growth. Is the mayor communicating with commissioners he appoints? Story below:
Mayor Bill Finch wants zoning commissioners to speed up economic growth and that includes approving a medical marijuana farm.
“We’ve got to move things quicker,” Finch, a Democrat, said in an interview Wednesday following his weekly “brown bag lunch” with constituents.
During the lunch, students from Housatonic Community College asked the mayor what his administration is doing to create more jobs in Bridgeport. Finch spoke at length on the challenges faced by the Parks City and also criticized the Planning and Zoning Commission.
“We don’t want the zoning board creating road blocks,” Finch said, adding: “Part of it’s my fault. I appoint them.”
Asked afterward to elaborate, Finch said, “I just think in general zoning in every city takes too long. And people get way far afield.”
He referred to the commission’s rejection Monday of Fairfield resident Rob Schulter’s request to locate a “hydroponic plan cultivation business”–a pot farm–in leased space at a warehouse at 50 Hastings St.
Schulter wants to take advantage of Connecticut’s recent legalization of medical marijuana and grow and sell weed wholesale to treat symptoms of cancer, AIDS and other debilitating diseases. The Department of Consumer Protection is still drafting the regulations. But Schulter is moving ahead with his business plan and seeing local permits so he can be one of the first in line for a $25,000 state license.
All but one commissioner voted to reject Schulter’s proposal, which has the backing of the Finch administration, on the grounds there are still too many unknowns. Some raised concerns about security at Schulter’s facility and whether employees could steal the pot.
“I saw some of the comments … about a use for a building on Hastings Street that made them uneasy. It’s a legal use,” Finch said. “We’ve got to give the private sector who’s wanting to spend their money here the assurance that these things are not going to languish and people are going to go way off topic into areas that they’re neither qualified nor empowered to get into.”
The zoning chairman–Republican Melville Riley Jr.–could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.
Finch has come under criticism for not keeping the membership of such a crucial committee current. Of the nine regular zoning members appointed by the mayor with City Council approval, two had their terms expire in 2008 and a third in 2010.
Two other members’ terms are up on Dec. 31. Also, one of the three alternates has not had their membership renewed since 2008.
Asked why, Finch said, “I don’t know what terms have expired and what haven’t.”
The city attorney’s office has said commissioners can conduct city business until their replacements are named.
“I’m always looking for good people … to bring new blood, new points of view,” Finch said. “I wouldn’t say there’s anybody I’m disappointed with, but I am looking for people … for all kinds of commissions.”
The mayor and City Council President Thomas McCarthy, D-133, said the lengthy background checks required of all applicants are a problem.
The work is done by the police department’s internal affairs office, which is also busy doing checks on new police and firefighter recruits.
“They have an enormous amount of work to accomplish,” McCarthy said.
Although he would like to speed up the background reviews for appointees, McCarthy said they are important.
“I am a very strong supporter of having the information in front of the council. I don’t want to re-up someone on a commission that all of a sudden owes us $30,000 in back taxes or in the meantime got arrested for doing something awful,” he said. “Some commissions have significant power over how our city runs and we have to be clear who is filling those (positions).”