Easton is among a handful of small towns that have unknowingly been drawn into a Middlebury lawmaker’s move to prevent the construction of a food distribution complex near his home.
According to the CT Mirror, Republican State Rep. William Pizzuto, who represents Middlebury and Waterbury, stealthily tucked a state zoning mandate into Gov. Ned Lamont’s state budget that prohibits the construction of a warehouse or distribution facility in towns with populations between 6,000 and 8,000. Middlebury clocks in at 7,600.
The other small towns are Beacon Falls, Durham, Essex, Killingworth, Lebanon, Marlborough, New Hartford, Old Lyme, Thomaston and Westbrook. Easton’s population stands at 7,543, according to its Connecticut Department of Economic Development Town Profile.
For Easton’s part, there is no desire to build such a facility, but there is a sense of impingement on the home-rule control over local zoning among the very few who even know about the provision.
“It is an unfortunate part of the legislative process [in which] acts that cover multiple small things get in at the last minute,” said First Selectman David Bindelgass. “That’s the way the legislature does business. It seems to me that it’s oftentimes done without representatives knowing about it.
“This particular case in all likelihood has no relevance to us,” Bindelglass added, as he cannot imagine the town wanting to build a warehouse facility.
One representative who did know about it is state Rep. Tony Scott (R-112), who represents Monroe, and parts of Easton and Trumbull. “I did hear it was part of the budget,” he said. “It was stuck in there. I did vote for the budget, but I am not happy with this one piece. It is super frustrating. I don’t love the idea of it affecting Easton.”
Scott maintains that neither political party finds the provision acceptable, and he hopes the legislature will take it up in February “to see if there could be some tweaks.”
Meanwhile, the issue appears to be a moot point, said Verne Gay, president of Citizens for Easton, which is dedicated to preserving Easton’s small-town characteristics.
Easton doesn’t have so-called “commercial districts” where a warehouse could theoretically go; simply put, it’s not zoned for a warehouse of any sort. Moreover, most of the town is class 2 and 3 watershed — also negating such development, according to Gay.
“I haven’t heard anyone mention this,” Gay said in an email, “but it does take a while for news to travel down here.”
State Rep. Anne Hughes, who represents Weston, Redding and a portion of Easton, had only read about the move in a published report.
“It’s not a good provision at all. I don’t know who made that sausage. Our town already has pretty strict policies around the purchasing of land. We bring it to the voters,” said Hughes.
As originally proposed, the provision would have included all towns with populations under 8,000, affecting zoning in as many as 58 of the state’s 169 cities and towns. But an East Granby representative, Tami Zawistowski, foresaw a headache: That town of about 5,000 borders Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, where undeveloped land is ripe for warehousing. An amendment then set the lower end at 6,000, which leaves Easton among the 11 remaining towns affected by the provision.