Saying a subcommittee of the Planning & Zoning Commission appeared to have overstepped its charge—developing a town-wide strategy for wireless communications rather focusing on more specific areas such as screening and height—officials last week dissolved the group.
P&Z Chairman John Goodwin said in an Aug. 17 email that the commission has made “very good progress on this complicated and contentious issue” since the question of specifics on wireless in the New Canaan Zoning Regulations came up last year.
Yet “the process has become more politicized than would have been ideal,” Goodwin said.
“While in many public statements, we have stated that the commission should not be the entity to be developing a wireless strategy for the town, we have tended to wander into that realm in some of our discussions. As can happen, I also think some statements have been taken or reported out of context. Personally, I feel that Town Council and the Board of Selectman as directly elected entities should have that charge with the Utilities Commission as the expert advisor. And in that process, broad input should be taken from all of New Canaan.”
P&Z as a full commission will work on updating its regulations and address “any wireless application” that comes before it, Goodwin said.
The comments come as the Utilities Commission—after receiving negative feedback on an original proposal for cell towers at Irwin Park and West School—looks for other places that infrastructure could be placed in order to boost service in parts of New Canaan that don’t have it.
Asked about the question of cell service, First Selectman Rob Mallozzi noted that the major question facing the town right now is how New Canaan will replace its current set-up of antennas, including for emergency responders, that sit atop the water towers at Waveny. The owner of the property where those towers sit, Aquarion, has said it will not keep antennas on them after next year.
“Right now the Utilities Commission is working diligently to find out a replacement or strategy that works up at the Waveny Park area for the eventuality of that tower not providing service, and they are looking all other things but the immediate task right now—as important as any task in town—is to work on the Waveny site.”
In terms of how the town gets to a place where it’s improving cell service in areas such as western and northern New Canaan, Mallozzi said, “I still expect P&Z involvement, for sure, and welcome it and has to be a very important component.”
“But I believe some directions of the subcommittee were going beyond that and talking about philosophical issues on how to achieve cell service, and the fact is the town has endorsed a way forward that got broad support from leadership,” he added.
The P&Z Subcommittee on Wireless included Dan Radman, who had taken a lead role, Elizabeth DeLuca, Jack Flynn, Bill Redman and Kent Turner.
Goodwin said that Town Planner Steve Palmer, who is to step down from his role Sept. 15, expects to be able to produce “draft regulations” for P&Z to consider prior to his last day.
“Ultimately, I feel that it is in the best interests of all involved to dissolve the subcommittee,” Goodwin said. “I am sure some of you will view this as premature and may even question my motivations. I can only say that I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about this and I had to make a decision as to the best next step for the full commission and our town.”