New commission focuses on conservation

From left, Christine Yanelli, Melissa Leonard and Felipe Flores are sworn in by Mayor Robert Mezzo as new conservation commission members Nov. 4 at Naugatuck Town Hall. This is the first time Naugatuck has had a conservation commission, which will look to preserve open space and protect the environment in other ways. –REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

From left, Christine Yanelli, Melissa Leonard and Felipe Flores are sworn in by Mayor Robert Mezzo as new conservation commission members Nov. 4 at Naugatuck Town Hall. This is the first time Naugatuck has had a conservation commission, which will look to preserve open space and protect the environment in other ways. –REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

NAUGATUCK — The borough has formed a conservation commission with the intent of preserving open space and natural resources in the community.

During a special meeting Nov. 4 at Town Hall, the Board of Mayor and Burgesses appointed seven people to the inaugural commission: Felipe Flores, Melissa Leonard, Shagufta Zahid, James Ayash, Christine Yanelli, Michael Turmin and Brian Vaugh.

“I think this will help encourage the town to purchase more property to preserve as open space,” Leonard said. “I think now that (N. Warren ‘Pete’) Hess has been elected (as mayor), and we have his whole smart-growth plan, that preserving open space is part of that, at least I hope he sees it that way.”

Current Mayor Robert Mezzo has long been an advocate of a conservation commission, which he said will be a general committee that can look at preserving resources and land, managing open space, potentially acquiring open space and making recommendations about environmental or conservation policy.

The commission will make non-binding recommendations to officials. The commission will have no powers unless the Board of Mayor and Burgesses chooses to delegate some.

Mezzo first brought the idea before a former board in 2012, which voted it down 7-2 because it was worried that the commission’s work would overlap work of existing land use boards. Those who voted it down also worried that the commission would cause an impediment to development, though Mezzo said that is not the case and has pointed to other towns, like Shelton, that have similar commissions but still have strong development appeal.

There was no controversy about the commission last Wednesday. The board, which was elected Nov. 3, voted 9-0 to appoint the new commission members.

Leonard, who has pushed for the commission for years, said she hopes the commission will have a say over whether the town should purchase open space on Andrew Mountain or off Rubber Avenue Extension. Burgesses have tabled discussion of the potential purchase for the past few months.

In general, Leonard said, the committee will have a role in recommending property for the town to preserve. Another goal is to take inventory of all of the public and private open space in the borough.

“I just think so many towns overlook open space as a benefit, and a lot of them are waking up to seeing that building houses and educating kids is actually a financial burden,” she said. “A lot of towns are getting smart about that. … Studies have shown that open space also increases property values and the desirability of an area.”

Yanelli, who has also been heavily involved in conservation and preservation efforts in the borough for years, said she believes the commission’s work will “help with the future progress and growth and development of Naugatuck.”