OPINION: Wallingford wrestles with warehouse proposal

OPINION: Wallingford wrestles with warehouse proposal

The Wallingford Planning & Zoning Commission held its December 10 meeting. The principal topic, of course, was the continuance of a public hearing concerning the proposal to place two large warehouses on the 180-acre Bristol-Myers Squibb property. This was the third consecutive monthly meeting in which this public hearing was held, and, as expected, the meeting was lengthy.

The hearing has concluded, and, by statute, a decision must soon be made. This is hardly a rush to judgment, as rarely does a public hearing on a P&Z issue extend to three meetings. Furthermore, this proposal has been researched by every Town of Wallingford department that might have had questions, and two dozen extra conditions — many of them at the insistence of residents — have been demanded by the municipal government and accepted by the applicant.

As a review of the process that we have all seen take place, there are two subjects this column would like to address: the legitimacy, transparency, and fairness of the regulatory process itself and the history and purpose of the zone in which the project is planned.

Regulatory process: Long gone are the days when such development decisions were made behind closed doors, where relationships between town officials and developers often decided the fate of proposals. Zoning regulations are drafted in an open process, with as much public input as the interested parties might avail themselves of. Every ten years, a Plan of Conversation and Development is written, often with a great deal of public input. From that general document, zoning ordinances are developed — again, with public input in the form of hearings held — after which these regulations are voted into law.

Once these regulations become effective, each and every site plan must be weighed against these very specific guidelines. If the applicant’s project follows each relevant rule, then P&Z, having made the guidelines, must approve the application.

But there are projects, such as this one, which require further analysis and approval, and thus a Special Permit is required. In this case, it was traffic volumes that demanded the enhanced scrutiny. With this project, the Town government has taken the opportunity to address dozens of additional issues – many way beyond the original traffic concerns. In each case, the developer has agreed to these conditions.

But the Special Permit process is not a blank check allowing the Town to pile on condition after condition until such time that the applicant gives up and goes away. There is language in state law that gives all property owners equal protection and that disallows “arbitrary and capricious” rulings to be made if all relevant regulations have been followed and conditions met.

That protects all of us, residential property owners and developers alike.

History of the Industrial Expansion Zone: At the risk of alienating some friends who are opposing this project, I have to mention that this IX Zone has been in existence in one form or another since 1971. It was designated a Research & Development Zone in 1971, and changed to an Industrial Expansion Zone in the early ‘80s, even prior to the construction of either the BMS complex or most of the residential properties abutting this zone. And part of the attraction of the location of this IX Zone is the natural buffer on the east side of the IX Zone in the form of a steep slope.

The zone was created by the Town in order to promote commercial and industrial development — which, in turn, generates many millions of dollars in tax revenue. This tax revenue is used to build the town infrastructure and provide the services we all require, most especially the funds required to educate the children of all of the residents of the community. It is a rare community whose residents have the financial wherewithal to carry the burden themselves. Wallingford is certainly not among them.

So very soon, a decision will be made concerning this large project. As happens so often with significant P&Z decisions, not everyone will be satisfied with the results. But it must be said that, regardless of the outcome, a decision will have been made only after a thorough, transparent, and above-board process was completed. One of the bedrock principles of our Constitution — that of due process — has been carried out here in Wallingford for all of us to witness and in which we all were able to participate. In this era of skepticism concerning our political system and who benefits from it, this is indeed refreshing — and comforting.

I wish you all a holiday filled with peace and joy and a new year filled with promise and prosperity.

Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.


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