NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk’s eight Planning Commissioners don’t draw much attention but wield power in City government.
Any project that would cost Norwalk $10,000 or more can neither be started nor contracted for without prior consideration by the Planning Commission. Even if Norwalk’s Board of Estimate and Taxation has approved a project’s funding, that project must still be scrutinized by the Planners.
Additionally, no land subdivisions can occur without Planning Commission approval.
Every year, the heads of each City department appear before the Planning Commission to present a line-by-line capital budget request. After extensive deliberation, the Commission then formulates a recommended budget and forwards it to the Mayor.
And most significantly, the Planning Commission is the primary author of Norwalk’s Citywide Plan, also known as the Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD). This massive 395-page tome states parameters and guidelines to be overlaid upon all proposed projects that require City approval.
Who are these powerful Commissioners?
They are Mayoral appointees who serve four-year terms, and whose appointments are approved by the Common Council. No more than four of the Commissioners can be registered members of any one political party. The Mayor is an “ex officio member” who votes only in case of a tie.
Here is the present lineup of Commissioners:
- Fran Di Meglio (Chair) served over 20 years as Manager of Communications and Legislative Affairs at Northrop Grumman Norden Systems, and now works for the law firm of Gunn, Godfrey and Allison.
- Nora King (Vice Chair) owns Nora King & Co., a real estate appraisal company.
- Brian Baxendale was Group President at Pitney Bowes, and is now retired.
- Steve Ferguson is Assistant Vice President-Business Development Officer at First County Bank
- Tammy Langalis is a Sales Associate at William Raveis.
- John Lesko owns Hoyt-Cognetta Funeral Home.
- Mike Mushak, Licensed Landscape Architect, is founder and Design Director of Tuliptree Site Design Inc.
- Mary Peniston, M.P.A. is Chief Program Officer at Child First
The Commissioners all live in Norwalk.
NancyOnNorwalk conducted a brief email Q & A with longstanding Planning Commissioner/current Chairwoman Fran Di Meglio:
What factors prove most helpful in achieving the Commission’s goals?
- “There is no set answer to this question. A city that is unified in their goals and believes in the direction of the Citywide Plan, will have a better chance of realizing those goals.”
What obstacles might impair realization of goals?
- “The biggest hurdle is probably unforeseen circumstances such as a pandemic or an unforeseen financial crisis. For example, will the present pandemic lead to unforeseen changes in how we live, work, commute, etc. Or, if there is a severe economic downturn, that will delay tasks within the plan and stall or postpone projects.”
Do the other Commissions sometimes refer a matter to you before having voted on it themselves? If so, what would be an example of this?
- “Yes, that is required in several instances. For example, if there is a proposed change to the zoning regulations or zoning map, the Zoning Commission must refer it to the Planning Commission for a determination of consistency with the Citywide Plan. A negative vote, would require the Zoning Commission to have a 2/3 vote to pass the amendment. Similarly, under CGS 8-124 (urban renewal policy statute) certain municipal improvements must also be referred to the Planning Commission for a determination of consistency with the Citywide Plan. A negative vote, would require the Common Council to have a 2/3 vote to pass the amendment.”
Describe the process of creating the new Citywide Plan (POCD).
- “This is hard to summarize. The City is mandated to have an updated plan in order to be eligible for discretionary state spending. In early 2016 the Mayor began putting a group together to look at the existing plan and evaluate the progress made as well as discuss an updated plan. The City hired Steve Kleppin the Fall of 2016 and Steve, in conjunction with the Planning Commission and a broader oversight committee, began working on the plan update. An RFP was put together and the consulting firm Stantec was ultimately chosen to prepare the plan. It was a little over 2 years from start to adoption.”
What is the relationship between the Planning Commission and the Redevelopment Authority?
- “City staff and the Commission work with the Agency on planning issues within the City’s urban core and seeks to ensure that our efforts coincide for the betterment of the City.”
The last two years of Planning Commission minutes show very few motions being denied. Is there a reason for this?
- “Without going back and looking at the minutes, it should be pointed out that there are not very many subdivision applications that come before the Commission. It should be pointed out that subdivision applications are a matter of right if the applicant meets all the requirements for subdivision. So the Commission has little discretion there. Similarly, with the 8-24 referrals and zoning referrals the Commission is making a finding of consistency with the Citywide Plan and not approving or disapproving an application.”
According to the City’s website, your term ends July 1 of this year. Do you expect to be reappointed?
- “It is the Mayor’s prerogative to appoint and reappoint. I would not presume to speculate.”