TO THE PEOPLE OF NEW MILFORD
After a 40-year career practicing law in New Milford and having lived in the area for the same period, I have some opinions regarding various subjects affecting the town of New Milford.
By way of background, I have, in addition to practicing law, been a town attorney, a selectman, a member of the Board of Directors of The New Milford Bank and Trust Co.(a publicly traded company) for 10 years, a member of the Executive Committee of the New Milford Hospital for 23 years and chairman for 4 years.
I have also served on numerous other boards and commissions.
My intent is to, if nothing else, start a dialogue on the issues I will discuss hereinafter.
Is the Mayor-Council the best form of government for New Milford?
As it is presently used, the answer is “no.” The town of New Milford is a $100 million business and should be run as such by PROFESSIONALS and not by a group of politicians who individually and collectively are not qualified to manage such a business.
Any private company of similar size would have a CEO, COO and executive vice presidents in the areas of finance, human resources, planning, etc.
What would I suggest?
1. The chief executive position should be for a four-year term.
2. A professional town manager, well-paid, with a long-term contract to eliminate political pressure.
3. Eliminate the Board of Finance. It is anachronistic and is too often politicized. Establish a Finance Department headed by a well-paid professional with an adequate staff, who reports directly to the town manager.
4. The existing Mayor-Council should act more as a Board of Directors. It is too involved in minutiae, micromanaging, pandering and petty politics.
Any good Board of Directors should spend 75 percent of its time looking over the horizon. The Mayor-Council should relegate itself to establishing a mission statement and vision for the town.
It should be creating a five-year long-range plan and a similar capital plan.
It should monitor management to assure compliance with the budget and long-range plan.
It should not be involved discussing skateboarding, signage, individuals raises, or any other issue normally delegated to management.
Its meeting agendas should eliminate public participation, which in my opinion has no place on a board agenda. If people need to complain there should be a process at the VP level. It is clearly a monumental waste of valuable board time. I believe its genesis was purely political.
5. To the extent that what I suggest is inconsistent with the Town Charter , the Charter should be revised.
Any Charter Revision Committee should consist of individuals who are familiar with governance documents, preferably weighted in favor of individuals in the private sector with Board of Director and management experience. Unqualified old politicos should not be members.
New Milford is the largest town landwise in the state. It came late to land use, planning (subdivisions) in 1959, and zoning (uses of land) in 1971.
The regulations have been sporadically modified over the years. However, these regulations are at best a1970s retrofit trying to direct action in a 2010 time frame.
The Planning Commission is charged by law with modifying the master plan every 10 years. This process is time-consuming, cumbersome, little understood, and probably not read by more than 50-100 people in the entire community.
The mission statement, vision, long-range plan and master plan should all dovetail and direct community action.
What would I suggest?
1. Combine the Planning and Zoning commissions into a joint commission. This the model in most communities.
2. Eliminate the Inland Wetlands Commission and delegate its jurisdiction to the Conservation Commission or fold it into P&Z.
3. Create a true planning department headed by a well-compensated professional planner with an adequate staff.
4. Make all land use commissions appointed and not elected (to the extent permitted by law).
5. Mandate professional orientation for all land use commission members that educates them in the proper performance of their duties.
There has long been a culture in the town’s land use commissions that their job is to design projects; substitute their judgment for that of professionals; bring primarily an anti-development bias to their votes; and generally to ignore the regulations as a mere nuisance.
A commission’s sole purpose is to determine whether the application meets the regulations, and not whether it’s popular. The commissions should look to staff as to whether the application meets the regulations.
6. Start from scratch with a new land use map and new zoning regulations that are not punitive but complementary to the orderly development of the community in accordance with plan of development.
Our 1970 land use map assumes our industry would be concentrated on Route 7 South. That was before the adoption of Inland Wetland regulations in 1974 which rendered the industrial-zoned land not buildable.
The failure of the Zoning Commission to accommodate property owners in the Village Center Zone with viable permitted uses is the direct reason that the town’s entryway is scarred with a used car lot and body shop better suited to another location.
Another example of land use stupidity is the Restricted Industrial Zone, which was created by the then-director of development to specifically prevent development.
This happened notwithstanding the fact that the vast majority of property owners in the zone were opposed to it. The zone has NO permitted uses. Great planning!
Ever since the early 1970s, the need for an east-west connector from Route 7 North across the Housatonic and over to Route 202/109 has been recognized.
It was in the plan for the original Route 7 improvements, again in the early 1970s.
Since that time it has been resurrected several times but quickly scuttled as a “hot potato” politically.
As one of my good clients noted several years ago, the “major traffic control device” in New Milford is the Village Green.
If anyone disagrees with that, I suggest trying to get from Veterans Bridge to Route 109 during peak traffic times. With the improvements to Grove Street and Route 67, this situation will only become more exacerbated.
If you are still unconvinced, then just look at what happened on June 1, 2009, when the state DOT decided to conduct a surprise inspection of the Veterans Bridge at 12 p.m. The entire downtown became instant gridlock.
It is time for the powers-that-be to come out from under the rocks and move this issue forward. If they don’t, then you the electorate will be the ones who suffer.
Right now both political parties are afraid of the vocal minority, left-wing, Merryall and monied anti-development cabal, led by a land trust (which is really a PAC disguised as a land trust ) and the Friends and Neighbors of Historical Merryall , another anti-development organization, and PAD, yet another anti-development group headed up by a couple of newcomer Manhattan NIMBYs who live on Treasure Hill in South Kent.
These groups somehow think that owning 10 acres with a view gives them the right to control all the properties within their viewshed.
Unless you, the real owners of the town of New Milford, start putting pressure on your elected officials, then you will be relegated to sitting in traffic whenever you are in the center of town.
OUR TOWN IMAGE
All you need to do is drive from Gaylordsville to Brookfield, or vice versa, to note that our town is becoming visually impaired. If I were looking for a town to settle in and drove Route 7, it wouldn’t be New Milford.
We now have essentially four closed and/or obviously distressed car dealerships along Route 7.
The Docktor Brothers’ old shopping center and car wash are a graffiti-filled disgrace, if not a downright health hazard.
The developers are not from New Milford, and what do they care?
Again, our town officials, including but not limited to the mayor, council, zoning, building and health officials sit by and do nothing while these eyesores are observed by 15,000-plus cars a day.
What about the moonscape behind Rite-Aid? Why were they allowed to open up the entire site and then leave it?
If the economy remains bad for another five years, are we going to look at these abominations for years?
If the developers of these sites are shelving their development plans, then make them put the sites in respectable condition while they wait. Believe me, they do not care about New Milford, but our officials sure should.
If Scott Melatti of Scott’s landscaping can improve Route 7 as he has over the past several years, every other owner should be encouraged and/or compelled to do so.
The heart and soul of New Milord and for that matter the surrounding communities is the Village Center, and it should be.
Yet for reasons known only to the powers-that-be, the Village Center is on life support.
Failed restaurants and revolving-door businesses abound. Many tenants are on half rents trying to survive.
What are the problems and solutions?
First: Read the master plan and modify it to encourage good high-density mixed uses of property within close proximity to the Village Center, such as the Old Bleachery property on West Street owned by Hal Fischel. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have represented Mr. Fischel in the past .)
I believe the master plan already encourages these uses. Let’s make it unequivocable.
Develop a spring, summer, fall series of events such as concerts, antique shows, farmers’ markets, bluegrass, kids’ events.
Make these events pedestrian-friendly by closing off the Green or parts of it, as well as Bank Street. Provide event parking and transportation.
Make Bank Street a pedestrian zone at least on weekends.
Encourage, don’t discourage, the restaurants and shops to utilize the sidewalks for dining and display of wares.
Provide children’s entertainment such as clowns and face-painting.
Provide various forms of music genres such as country, ensemble, classical.
Provide evening events to encourage evening use of the downtown.
All paid non-elected positions, including school district positions, should have annual compensation reviews based upon performance standards, which should be created by an HR department or consultant that are specific to each area.
For example, for the Board of Ed, from the superintendent on down they should each be measured by performance standards applicable to them.
For instance the superintendent’s department should be measured against a peer group of similarly sized schools throughout the state or region. Then measure performance such as graduation rates, SAT or ACT scores, college placement, etc.
The same types of performance compensation should be developed and applied to all other departments, such as Public Works, Parks & Rec, etc.
(My comments on the proper role of the Mayor and Council should likewise apply to the Board of Education. That board should be setting the performance standards.)
Where are we on this?
From the outside looking in, all I see are vacant buildings and failing businesses.
How much new development has been brought in by the town’s development team over the last five years?
How much (if any) has the grand list been increased by this development?
It seems to this author that the municipal development effort has historically been woefully inadequate.
From the days 30 years ago when the Economic Development Commission met monthly for lunch and martinis to the David Hubbard fiasco years to the present, very little has been accomplished proactively, although much has been accomplished negatively.
Take the infamous “Restricted Industrial Zone” championed by Mr. Hubbard and approved by the Zoning Commission over the objections of those persons in the zone.
As noted earlier, this great piece of legislation has NO PERMITTED USES. Great planning for attracting industrial or businesses to our community.
Historically, the 1970s land use map had the vast majority of industrial and business zones located on Route 7 South. In 1974, the enactment of the Inland Wetland laws rendered the vast majority of this land not usable for its zoned purpose.
So what have we done about it? Fundamentally nothing.
Instead, our municipal leaders have condoned a culture of stop development at all costs.
Denied the industrial zoning of 200 acres of the old quarry now owned by O&G.
Denied the shopping center with Wal*mart as its anchor, where we now have the Faith Church on this property with no income to the town.
Continue to deny Hal Fischel’s attempts to retrofit the old Robertson’s Bleachery into a mixed-use high-density project when it has access to sewer and water, and the Town Plan of Development suggests that this is where the high-density uses should be.
Couple these follies with the anti-business tone of the zoning regulations, such as “Restricted Business Zone,” “Restricted Industrial Zone” (remember from above, the zone with NO permitted uses?), and “Industrial/Commercial Zone” (the whole Route 7 South corridor).
If you review section 060-040 of that regulation entitled “Building Requirements,” any fool can see they are designed to discourage, not encourage, business or industrial development, especially the last requirement of no retail buildings over 40,000 square feet.
I hope you see my point.
New Milford is not and never will be “a quaint village” such as Bridgewater. New Milford has been historically and should be the nexus for the surrounding towns to provide the wants and needs for both shopping and jobs.
Again, the residents of New Milford must throw out the Old Guard who have dominated the thinking of the administration and land use boards that have caused New Milford to flounder. The small town of Kent is more vibrant then New Milford.
Where are the forward thinkers — the visionaries who will lead the town to be what it can and should be?
As I said in other sections of this document, we need professionals running the community, not a group of people the vast majority of whom have never run a business or created a job.
Wake up, New Milford. It’s not too late.
While I am committing professional suicide, I might as well go whole hog. The press does not escape my criticism.
The local newspapers have spent way too much space on feel-good issues, such as local sports, weddings, local petty politics and very little time (in my opinion) doing investigative journalism.
Why should a local politico known to all the local power brokers to be a resident of Brookfield while we educated that person’s children gratis be left unscathed?
In fairness, there are some reporters who have over the years done good tough reporting. However, they are the minority.
Too many of the press are beholden to special interest or political groups and rely on spoonfeeding for their stories. The fifth estate should be the watchdog for the community and not asleep on watch.
NEW MILFORD HOSPITAL
I have been involved with this great institution for over 30 years, including 23 years on the Executive Committee and four years as chairman. I think that qualifies me to make some comments.
The hospital is at least the second largest employer in the community. It has in the neighborhood of 700 FTEs (full-time equivalents).
Studies show that for each hospital employee two additional jobs are created in the community. So when we discuss the hospital we are talking about 2,000-plus jobs.
That being said, I can tell you that the relationship of the town fathers and the hospital has not been cordial. Additionally, The Trust for Historic Preservation has made it a mission to stop the hospital from a natural expansion.
The hospital will never be relocated to a new campus. It must be allowed to grow so as to provide new services as they come along.
How many of our town’s and our neighboring communities’ residents have received outstanding radiation and medical oncology services over the last 10 years?
Where would they have to go to get these services if they were not here?
It is time for town of New Milford to stop being paranoid about New Milford Hospital.
The town needs to support the hospital by encouraging the entire community to use it.
The town must also be willing to help financially, as should the surrounding towns.
Whatever decision the hospital board makes should be supported by the community to ensure that a viable, full-service hospital remains in New Milford.