Borough board nixes conservation commission

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NAUGATUCK — After months of discussion, the Board of Mayor and Burgesses rejected the creation of a conservation commission.

The board voted 7-3 against forming the commission at its meeting last week.

“We need non-partisan, non-special interest people on our boards and commissions, not a commission that’s designed for a specific goal that will have people trying to get the government to do something specific. It’s sort of like having your own lobbyist in town government. I just don’t think it’s a good idea,” said Burgess Ron San Angelo, who felt the commission would be a divisive one.

The commission was proposed by Mayor Robert Mezzo. The proposal was for a seven-member board, which would oversee and research issues related to open space and natural resources in the borough. The commission would have no authority to buy land or make final decisions as to what to do with land, according to the draft ordinance that would have created the commission. Rather the commission would make recommendations to other borough boards.

In response to San Angelo’s comments, Mezzo said the Board of Mayor and Burgesses would choose the members of the commission, and it would only be as good as the people it was made up of.

“If you put seven people on here who have a very extreme view of the world, there’s probably not a lot that the commission is going to accomplish. That’s up to us to ensure there’s representation from people of different perspectives,” Mezzo said.

Mezzo, who voted in favor of the commission, said a lot of research and work has gone into the proposal for the commission.

“There’s been a lot of work that’s gone into this. To think that it’s just done without process or requests for information or gathering of information, which we did extensively with [Connecticut Council of Municipalities], that’s just not accurate,” Mezzo said.

Burgess Robert Neth, who had voiced concerns over the formation of a conservation commission since it was brought up earlier this summer, brought up the legal battle that ensued between sports and open space advocates when the town purchased the Gunntown property.

“I was part of the group at the time when we purchased the Gunntown property. … We as a community purchased that property for specific reasons, and for years and years and years we battled in court over what we wanted to do with that property,” Neth said. “We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on court fees to battle that parcel of property.”

Neth told the board that he found it discouraging that, even though the borough owned that property, it did not have a say in what would be done with it.

Neth explained that he did not want the conservation commission to be set up in such a way that the borough would have to go through another court battle when it decided to use more land.

“Now we’ve just purchased a parcel of property up on the hill and I don’t want to see that same thing happen again,” Neth said.

As the board debated the matter, Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi wondered if the proposed conservation commission could be a conservation sub-committee, which would be a branch of an already formed commission.

Neth felt the formation of a subcommittee was a good way to begin. Neth pointed out that the Long Term Capital Subcommittee, which he is part of, has been in existence since 1999.

Rossi said if the town forms a conservation sub-committee it can be changed in the future.

“There would be nothing to prevent us, after a year or two years, we find its really working well, we make it into a commission. Then we have the opportunity to go through the process. We have our plan of conservation and development updated,” Rossi said.

Ultimately, Neth and Burgess Michael Ciacciarella were the only board members to join Mezzo in voting for the commission.

Mezzo did not discuss the possibility of creating an ad-hoc subcommittee for conservation after the vote was cast. On his blog, Mezzo urged the board to reconsider the decision.

“Unless the matter is reconsidered, Naugatuck will remain without this valuable resource in the community,” Mezzo wrote in his blog. “I would urge the [board] members who voted no to reconsider their rejection of the concept and truly research the value that such a commission would provide to the borough. While simply creating an ad-hoc committee is an alternative option, the most productive and sustainable model is the formal commission authorized by Connecticut law.”