Public weighs in on conservation commission

NAUGATUCK — A month after the Board of Mayor and Burgesses debated the formation of a conservation commission, members of the public voiced their opinions on the matter.

“Many of us believe we should have a conservation commission so we can protect our environment as well as oversee our future development projects,” Naugatuck resident Michael Turman said during the board’s regular meeting earlier this month.

He pointed out the problem the borough has had with wildlife that are in populated areas.

“We’ve had problem with animals, such as deer running through people’s land, running across the street and causing traffic accidents,” Turman said.

Mayor Robert Mezzo envisions the commission to be an advisory board for what the town should do with undeveloped property that it either buys or receives. The commission would be for the preservation, inventory and maintaining of open space.

During the board’s July meeting not all of the burgesses were entirely supportive of the creation of a conservation commission.

“I don’t want an advisory commission to tie our hands on what the future possible uses could be of a piece of land,” Burgess Robert Neth said in July. “I just don’t want us to get handcuffed on property we just purchased when we want to start doing something and, boom, now we have litigation for five, six, seven years because somebody want a baseball field or football field and wants to keep it open space.”

Burgess Ron San Angelo also expressed concern about the commission’s creation at the July meeting.

“I’m not sure I want a board arguing with town leaders as to should we move forward with using the land differently than they might deem beneficial,” San Angelo said at the previous meeting.

For resident Melissa Leonard, a conservation commission could do things for the borough that no other board or commission currently does.

“I see the purpose of the conservation commission as to protect the community’s natural resources. We don’t currently have a commission that does this. The Inland Wetlands Commission protects wetlands and watercourses. It doesn’t protect the air. It doesn’t protect the birds, the fish, the trees, everything that constitutes natural resources. Planning and Zoning don’t cover natural resources at all,” Leonard said.

Leonard felt that conservation and businesses could coexist without one destroying the other.

“…Take a look at Shelton. Anyone who has driven along Bridgeport Avenue recently knows their business district is booming,” Leonard said. “Yet, you would be surprised to know their conservation commission oversees 175 open spaces. They have almost 2,000 acres of open space. Case in point, you can have conservation and development all in one space.”

She pointed out that Naugatuck residents who are interested in conservation, even without a commission, have tried to work with, rather than block, growth in Naugatuck.

“It’s not us against them. People have accused us of being obstructionist. If we were obstructionist, we wouldn’t have supported a field at Fawn Meadow instead of Gunntown. We would have said no, no fields anywhere. We wouldn’t be saying yes, we support artificial turf; we would be saying turn the fields at Naugatuck High School into farmland or gardens or something. We are all about smart growth,” Leonard said.

She said she would like to see a conservation commission filled with people who are concerned about the environment and businesses.

Leonard told the board that she felt it was important for the board to approve a conservation commission as the city grows.

“Considering this town’s history of not protecting the natural resources, for example the destruction of the Naugatuck River by a number of industries as well as our superfund site on the hill up there, I think we need to accept that having a conservation commission is the best way to protect our natural resources,” Leonard said. “Not so that the conservation commission will have the power to obstruct the borough board’s plans … but so that, rather than having three to five minutes once a month to give our opinions, people who have experience and knowledge in these areas can have a full length discussion with people who are making decisions.”

Not all the residents who addressed the board were in favor of a conservation commission, however.

Resident Richard Palizay told the board that he felt the problems with the town would not be abated by more conservation. He said that the town purchased the Gunntown property in 1995, and leaving it as a passive park has not stopped the deer from coming into more developed areas.

“If the deer run amok it’s not because they don’t have open space,” Palizay said.

He also told the board that he was not convinced that deforestation was a problem in the borough.

“As far as decreasing woodlands go, a recent article in a newspaper said that in New England, woodlands are increasing. Now I don’t know about Naugatuck specifically. Maybe there is a survey that would show overdevelopment has depleted the woodlands. From what I’ve driven around and seen in Naugatuck, that doesn’t seem to be true,” Palizay said.

Mezzo said he will present a draft of the creation of a conservation commission at the board’s Sept. 4 meeting to be voted on.

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