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Zoning Commissioners Hope to Avoid Political Partisanship at Next Meeting

Board members Molly Salafia and Stephen Devoto say the appointment of Middletown Democrat Dan Russo could prevent them from being elected officers on Wednesday.

On the heels of last month's zoning board controversy during which the first meeting since the election was canceled after a Republican member walkout, officers are to be elected Wednesday.
On the heels of last month's zoning board controversy during which the first meeting since the election was canceled after a Republican member walkout, officers are to be elected Wednesday.

On the heels of last month's zoning board controversy during which the first meeting since the election was canceled after a Republican member walkout, officers are to be elected Wednesday.

The common council was expected to appoint former commissioner Dan Russo to fill the planning and zoning spot vacated by Carl Chisem last month at a meeting to assign them to committees. The item was removed from the November agenda after Republicans questioned the legality of doing so during an organizational meeting.  

Russo lost the Democratic primary in September to Stephen Devoto, whose party failed to nominate him. Elected members are Democrats Russo, Devoto, Joyce Rossitter, Richard Pelletier, Republicans Jeremy Clark, Robert Simpson and Molly Salfia and alternates Democrats Beth Emery and Gary W. Faraci and GOP member Phil Pessina.

At the regular council meeting earlier this month, Russo was named to the zoning board along with former councilman, Pessina as an alternate despite objections from his own party caucus which didn't support him in the November election.

Chisem, who had been sworn in as a common councilor, showed up to claim his seat. Within 20 minutes, the meeting was adjourned for lack of quorum after the three Republicans, including newly elected commissioners Clark and Simpson, left council chambers.

The maneuver prevented the planning board meeting from taking place, including the expected election of Devoto as chair. 

"I'd like to see someone new and the board moving in a new direction," says Salafia who will float her name Wednesday for vice chair. "I haven't seen that in the last two years."

Past chair Pelletier, she says, did a good job but failed to uphold Middletown's charter, which says meetings should be held twice a month — the first focusing on planning issues, the second on zoning.

A recent influx of zoning requests, many of which are for subdivisions, Salafia says, calls for adherence to the charter.

She cites two lawsuits under Pelletier's tenure — brought by Dainty Rubbish and Jennifer Proto — that could have been avoided if zoning members were run more effectively.

A bipartisan chair such as Devoto, Salafia says, "will maintain a proper tone and force the board to adhere to the bylaws and Roberts Rules of Order." 

"Devoto would also work on a plan on development and more planning for the future," she believes.

Salafia would like to see the next chair work with the vice chair and Republicans, a minority on the seven-seat board that includes three alternates, two Democrats and one member of the Middletown GOP.

Devoto and his supporters, including Salafia, have charged that with Russo now on the commission, four Democrats will vote for the chairmanship of Pelletier. They argued that if the election had taken place at the November meeting, Emery — sitting in for Chisem's vacancy— would have the deciding vote in his leadership seat.

A public hearing will also be held Wednesday on four proposed subdivisions on Crystal Lake Road, Country Club and Massa Tom roads, Congdon Street West and Ridgewood Road, and Mile Lane at the former Nike Missile site in Middletown. Individual comments are limited to five minutes. Residents may also speak to the commission about the proposed zoning code amendment to allow a medical marijuana dispensary in town.

The meeting takes place at 7 p.m. in council chambers at city hall, following the Design Review and Preservation Board at 6 p.m.

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My Opinion December 11, 2013 at 08:16 AM
TOO much growth for the area and it's schools for the P&Z to be screwing around on Politics!

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