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Board of Selectmen Meeting of May 20, 2021

Approvals

The Board of Selectmen held what it hopes is its last Zoom-only participants regular meeting on May 20th. The board approved the minutes from its May 6th meeting and approved one tax refund as recommended by the tax collector. We also approved the release of a driveway bond as recommended by the deputy director of public works.

Health District Representative

After considering five extraordinarily well qualified candidates, the board named Doreen Collins as our representative to the Westport Weston Health District. Doreen has vast high level management and human resources experience with GE. The health district had indicated that this skill set is just what its board needs at this time. Congratulations to Doreen and thank you to all who expressed a desire to serve.

Hemp Farm Pilot Project

The board decided not to pursue the proposal for a one year hemp farm pilot project on the South Park Avenue property. While all board members spoke favorably about the concept, the project did not have the support of the South Park Avenue Advisory Committee and there is not enough time left before the start of the growing season to fully vet the project. While no actual vote was taken, it was the clear consensus of the board not to pursue this project at this time.

Diversity and Inclusion Task Force

The board appointed Kevin Oliver to a vacancy on the Easton Diversity and Inclusion Task Force. Thank you to Kevin for agreeing to serve.

Reopening Plans

First Selectman David Bindelglass announced that town hall will reopen to the public next week but urges people to call ahead and make an appointment. He said town hall employees have learned that they can better serve the public by appointment. Therefore, while anyone can come into town hall starting May 24th, preference in service will be given to those with an appointment. Masks are required for those who are not vaccinated.

He also reported that the governor has extended the public meetings pandemic rule until June 30, 2021. The town will direct boards and commissions to follow the requests of their members in moving towards a return to regular proceedings. Board chairs will have the option to use some form of hybrid public meetings during the transition period between now and June 30th.

The Board of Selectmen will allow the public to attend our meetings in person from now on and will continue to offer Zoom participation as a supplement to our regular meeting procedures. Masks will be required for the time being as our regular meeting room is rather small and is especially narrow.

Sport Hill Road Pathway

The chairman of the Board of Finance has decided that he would support a new request to fund the pathway on Sport Hill Road, provided all materials, documents, maps, cost and other information about the project is posted on the town website. The First Selectman and the chair are meeting to determine which materials should be posted. In the interim, the Board of Selectmen has formally asked the Board of Finance to reconsider the pathway. As reported to the selectmen by the First Selectman, an important factor in this new development is the determination by the finance chair that there is no viable path elsewhere as he and others had hoped. If the Board of Finance chair changes his vote and no other votes change, there would be a bare majority to send the decision to a town meeting and, likely, to a machine vote referendum which would then be binding. As you may recall, the prior vote was advisory only. Our system requires any such expenditure to have the approval of the Board of Finance and then the approval of the town meeting.

Passing of Anthony Ballaro

Sadly, our town building inspector, Anthony Ballaro, passed away suddenly several days ago. The board expressed its condolences to his family. He was a well-liked and dedicated employee and will be deeply missed.

Building inspectors from Orange, Fairfield and Westport have graciously agreed to cover the building inspection business for our town while we sort out a new course for the department. This should mean that homeowners will not experience any disruption in projects they may be working on as a consequence of this tragedy.

Planning and Zoning

The Planning and Zoning Commission has requested that the Board of Selectmen offer comments on a proposal to amend the Town Plan of Conservation and Development and the Easton Zoning Regulations in advance of a public hearing to be held on July 26, 2021. The most significant change relates to a proposal to allow what would essentially be boarding style housing for seniors. These changes do not address the important current topic surrounding non-farming accessory use of farm property. That will likely come at a later date.

Public Comment

The board received comment at both the beginning and end of its meeting from several people.

Grant Monserrat wondered why the ethics ordinance revision and land use ordinance proposal are not on the agenda.

Several people spoke on the proposal for hemp farming on South Park Avenue. These included: Jeff Becker, Dana Benson, Grant Monserrat, Beckett Tagonna, June Logie, Dwight Senior, and Griff Conti (a partner in the hemp farm project).

Dana Benson and Dan Lendt spoke about the pathway on Sport Hill Road.

Jeff Becker informed the board that the net zero high speed internet access is moving forward nearby. The First Selectman said Easton still needs about 400 people to formally express an interest in this service before we can expect a company to consider this high speed internet service for Easton.

Dana Benson reported that the recent flier from his organization, Save Our Town/Save Our Schools mistakenly included the return address of the group CRG. That was a printer’s mistake.

June Logie urged that EDIT be disbanded.

Kevin Oliver thanked the board for its work and for his appointment to EDIT.

Maureen Hanley spoke in opposition to the school survey and urged the board to stop it. The First Selectman explained that our board has no authority over the schools as those boards are independently elected and act on their own regarding all aspects of the school system.

June Logie reported that Andrew Kupinse, the son of the late Bill Kupinse, may pick up the work his father was doing on the Land Use Ordinance at the time he took ill.

Easton 175 Committee

Selectman Lessler reported that the Easton 175 Committee will have a table at the library during the Memorial Day Parade and ceremony to distribute literature about various town organizations. In fact, while the 175th anniversary of the founding of the town has now passed and the committee has completed its work on this task, the members want to continue to be of service to the town by hosting a new website which they hope will become the “go to” spot for finding information about town businesses, organizations, farms, clubs, non-profits, and other entities. It may be called “the06612.com”. He welcomed news of the loosening of pandemic restrictions and expressed his condolences on the passing of Anthony Ballero.
Selectman Sogofsky said she echoed the sentiments expressed by Selectman Lessler.

Organizations for Donations

The First Selectman picked up on an idea first raised at our last meeting by resident Dana Benson. Mr. Benson said he would address the issues of health inequities in race by donating to related organizations serving Bridgeport. The First Selectman will ask EDIT to develop a list of such organizations and encourage all residents to donate to them as a means of expressing support and acknowledging that actions sometimes speak louder than words.

A video of the entire meeting can be accessed on the Channel 79 website and at https://vimeo.com/showcase/7815363/video/553186795.




Resilience and Unity Mark Easton’s 175th Anniversary

The year 2020 will be memorable for many reasons. It will likely appear in history textbooks with a negative slant due to the outbreak of Covid-19. The town of Easton, however, was determined not to let anything dampen its spirits this year as it celebrated its 175th anniversary.

The Easton 175 Committee, who organized and planned the anniversary events, was the brainchild of Selectman Robert Lessler.

“I just took it upon myself to reach out to as many people as I could think of who had the skills, the interest, the creativity and the desire to help pull something together,” said Lessler.

Lessler originally invited about 25 people to the initial zoom meeting. Those people in turn reached out to people they knew, who would have the passion, ideas, and know-how to make such an undertaking possible in the midst of a historic pandemic.

Easton 175th drive-in movie on the big screen at Samuel Staples Elementary School

“The project took on a life of its own as people wanted to do something to celebrate the town and to make this horrible, no good, terrible year a little better,” Lessler said. “This is what has made being a part of this project so special and has filled me with such pride in the people of this town.”

In June, a contest to create the logo for the 175th pre-empted the events with a design by Brooke Alexander Caprio being chosen as the winner. A logo by Hayden Goldstein won the kids’ submission contest, and Makeda Is Ra El Ali Bey’s logo took first place among young adult submissions.

“I love how the ‘theme’ of Easton depicted by today’s residents is very likely what residents would have felt 175 years ago … trees, water, farming, and community,” said Allison Taylor, who manages the Easton 175 website. “The only standout being the images of a tractor here and there, a modern advance that I’m sure would have been more than welcomed 175 years ago!”  

The festivities kicked off in earnest on July 11 with a drive-in screening of ET at Samuel Staples Elementary School. The following month Easton Park and Recreation organized another drive-in event, a family trivia night at the school on Aug 14.

September featured the most ambitious and impressive event yet: a socially distanced town party hosted by the Ashler-Aspetuck Masonic Lodge No. 142, followed by a fireworks show presented by the Easton Volunteer Emergency Medical Service.

Easton First Selectman David Bindelglass called the fireworks show his favorite event. “They were just spectacular, and more importantly, the town pulled it off with everyone doing the right thing, staying in their cars, getting in and out safely, and everyone got to enjoy a great show.”

Easton celebrates its 175th anniversary with a town party and fireworks. — Tomas Koeck Photo

Health and safety were of course paramount during these events. The town party had rigorously enforced social distancing guidelines and mandatory masking, whereas the fireworks were yet another drive-in event.

The rest of the fall featured a virtual 5K/10K run, Halloween trivia, a historic tour of the Gilbertown Cemetery, and an Easton photography contest.

Easton’s 175th Anniversary featured more than just events, however. Nanette Dewester, a member of the Easton 175 Committee as well as the Easton Cemetery Committee, came up with the idea of doing oral histories of the town. Fellow Easton 175 Committee member Lynn Zaffino and the Easton Public Library organized the Oral History Project.

“I enthusiastically agreed to pursue the Oral History Project, as it was something that I had always had in the back of my mind to initiate,” said Zaffino. “I eventually handed off the day-to-day details to a committee of three staff members: Ryan Tice, Kevin Krug, and Debby Holland.”

The interviews were conducted primarily by local middle school and high school students, including Penny LaMastro, Iris LaMastro, Lincoln LaMastro, Abby Bonoff and Avery Young. Local radio host Dolly Curtis also conducted interviews for the project, which were edited by Sheila Weaver.

“I think it went well,” said Dewester. “I’m hoping we could expand the idea later to working with students who research the lives of those buried in town, like an Easton Our Town project.”

As a difficult year winds down, it is important to look back on the positives. The Easton 175th Anniversary celebration certainly was one of them. Easton is a special place and its residents came together to overcome challenging obstacles.

“The Easton 175 Committee exemplifies what makes this community so special,” Lessler said. “It is the story of people coming together with friends, acquaintances and people they did not know at all to create something bigger than any one person.”

The new year will not spell the end to the festivities. Easton’s 175th Anniversary celebration will continue through June 30, 2021, marking a full year since the logo contest began.

Dewester called Easton’s story one of resilience. “Easton spun out from a bad divorce from Weston— the town didn’t even get the name it wanted. But it grew over time and trial to the thriving, uniquely preserved pocket of natural resources, prosperous farms, and quiet evergreen beauty that’s an oasis in Fairfield County.”

That resilience is the true nature of Easton. That is why despite all the slings and arrows of the past year, Easton’s 175th Anniversary was one that will not be forgotten any time soon.