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Letter: Why Not Grow Hemp?

To the Editor:

For over three months, I’ve been trying to get the Board of Selectpersons to say yes to my pilot proposal to grow hemp. It is legal to grow, and there are others who are growing it in town. I offered the town 20% of net revenues, after expenses.

This is the only proposal that has been brought to the town in my 22 years here that was revenue positive for the town, with no risk or cost to the town, and continues the town’s farming tradition. There are no reasons why this shouldn’t be approved.

The land is vacant, and as a member of the South Park Advisory Commission, I know that there currently are no other proposals for use of that land. At the BOS meeting of June 3 I and others asked for a specific reason why they would not approve this use of the town-owned land at South Park. We got no answer.

Jeff Becker

Easton




Message from the First Selectman

Updated 5/21/2021

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Good afternoon,

Great news on the Covid-19 front! Easton has had no new cases in the two weeks ending May 20, 2021. That is a first since last year and it bodes well for our finishing our school year.  The new Executive Orders this week deal with meetings and mask wearing. Starting Monday, we will change our policy regarding Town Hall. We will open Town Hall to the public on Monday, May 24, 2021. However, one of the things we have learned during the pandemic, is that we are more efficient and provide better service to our residents if they make appointments and we are prepared to see them. I would prefer that we continue that way. People who walk in will be taken care of but, people with appointments will have priority. If folks are not vaccinated, they will be expected to wear a mask.

The Executive Order concerning board, commission and committee meetings was extended to June 30, 2021. The Board of Selectmen will allow the public to attend in person and will also keep meetings on Zoom.  Other boards and commissions must provide a virtual option unless all commission members are comfortable attending in person.

With the passing of Anthony Ballaro, our Easton Building Inspector, we have been working with a collection of inspectors from other towns who have volunteered to pitch in and do the inspections at this unusually busy time. My goal is to make us a responsive town which is user friendly to our residents who are building or updating their homes and properties. I hope that there will be no hiccups while we look for a new inspector.

Last night at the Board of Selectmen meeting, we discussed proceeding with a demonstration project to grow hemp on part of the South Park Avenue property. After receiving input from the Board of Finance and South Park Advisory Committee, we did not approve the project. I would like to ask the people of Easton to consider a suggestion that I derived from the comments of one of our residents, Dana Benson. While he had publicly voiced his disapproval with the Resolution on Race as a Public Health Crisis, he stated that he had come to realize that there were inequities in the health of different segments of our population and his personal action would be to donate money to health-related charities in our region. I thought this was a great idea and so would suggest this for people to consider. Since I have personal ties to some healthcare organizations, I would ask the EDIT Task Force to come up with a list of health-related charities that people could donate to.  We also named Doreen Collins our Town Representative to the Westport Weston Health District.

On Wednesday, I was invited by State Senator Tony Hwang to participate in a panel discussion on affordable housing with Representative Ann Hughes and leaders from other towns in his district including Ray Martin of our Planning and Zoning Commission.  I was struck by the unanimity in our approach to this sensitive issue. We were uniformly in agreement with the fact that decisions with regard to affordable housing needed to be made at the local level. Each of our towns, and all the small towns in our state, have unique features that need to be taken into consideration. We vowed to continue to work together.  Thank you to the Senator for organizing this thoughtful, as well as fruitful, discussion.

Work on the South Park Avenue bridge is proceeding nicely. Please remember to drive responsibly when detouring around the area.

This week we celebrate the 75th anniversary of Easton EMS and Emergency Medical Services week. Easton EMS also received a special award from Bridgeport Hospital for service excellence. Congratulations!

We also recognized five new Eagle Scouts, all of whom did projects to enhance our town. We are proud of them and grateful for their efforts.

Lastly, our prayers go out to Val and Derek Buckley who are both hospitalized following a scary automobile accident last evening.  Both are doing well and we look forward to their speedy recovery.

Have a great weekend.

Dave Bindelglass




Board of Selectmen Meeting of July 16

The board met once again with public participation largely limited to online platforms. The board approved the minutes of our June 18 meeting. No opening public comment was offered.

A routine approval of a driveway permit release of bond for 17 Tatetuck Trail was granted. The board approved the award of the bid for a new police car to Gengras Ford LLC in the amount of $33,586.00. There was one other bidder which was for more money but was for a 2021 vehicle.

The board appointed Frank Pagliaro to the Cemetery Commission to fill the unexpired term which runs until Dec. 1, 2022.

Diversity and Inclusion Task Force

A draft charge for an Easton Diversity and Inclusion Task Force (EDIT) was presented by resident Lise Fleuette. The task force is an outgrowth of the heightened awareness of racial bias in our country and the sense that every community has a duty to do its part to address the issue. The proposal calls for a five-member body with two alternates. The body would be charged with helping the town and the boards of education in addressing various aspects of racial bias and how it impacts our community. Many towns are looking into adopting similar entities.

Racism — Public Health Crisis

Resident Elaine O’Keefe presented the board with a request to adopt a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis. About a dozen towns around the state have already done this or are actively considering doing so. Easton would be the first town in the southwestern part of the state to do this. She will provide the board with proposed language and she will contact Westport and Weston to gauge their interest since we will shortly be associated with them in the Westport Weston Health District. The first selectman indicated the town of Westport is already looking into something similar.

Flag Policy

Selectwoman Sogofsky proposed adopting a flag policy. The basic notion would be that only the United States, state of Connecticut, or town of Easton flags may be flown at Town Hall, absent approval of the Board of Selectmen. The other selectmen expressed support for the concept. Sogofsky will provide a draft policy for a future meeting. She will look at the policy on the use of the town seal as a template.

Park and Recreation ordinance

The board further discussed the proposed revised Park and Recreation ordinance. Sogofsky reminded the board that her research shows that most towns house field maintenance in the Park and Recreation Commission, but noted there are various ways to structure how the field maintenance is completed. For example, some towns hire private contractors for the field maintenance and some others have staff that is employed less than 12 months of the year. However, almost all have field maintenance under the jurisdiction of the Park and Recreation Commission.

Selectman Lessler repeated his prior comments about accountability for field conditions needing to be under the jurisdiction of the organization that is responsible for the field, i.e. the Park and Recreation Commission. First Selectman Bindelglass pointed out that some members of the Board of Finance have expressed a strong sense that field maintenance should be moved to the Department of Public Works. The first selectman will arrange to have the views of the Board of Finance presented to the Board of Selectmen so that the selectmen have a clear understanding of the concerns of the Board of Finance.

Westport Weston Health District

The board approved the contract with the Westport Weston Health District and the Memorandum of Understanding. Easton will receive public health services from the WWHD beginning Aug. 1. The term of the agreement is for one year, but could be extended upon agreement of the parties. Easton will receive the full panoply of public health and sanitarian services from the WWHD, although we will not be formally joining the district at this time. WWHD staff will be on site in Easton at least two mornings per week, usually Mondays and Wednesdays from 8:30 to 11:30. These hours correspond to the current days and hours of the town sanitarian. There will also be a more extensive on-site support staff presence.

Land Use ordinance

The board further discussed the proposed land use ordinance which is intended to require town meeting approval for the sale, purchase or lease of town-owned real property. Lessler and Sogofsky continued to express reservations regarding including lease proposals. The major concerns are this could politicize business opportunities and limit interest in renting space from the town. The board debated whether there is any need for a town-wide vote as to purchases since approval for funding already requires a town-wide vote if the cost is in excess of $20,000. This leaves only the issue of sales of town-owned land. There was a sense that a land use ordinance limited to town-wide approval for sales over a minimum acreage and a minimum sales prices may be appropriate for consideration by the Town Meeting.

Emergency Services consultant

The first selectmen updated the board on discussions regarding the hiring of an emergency services consultant. The Board of Finance and the fire chief have indicated they would like to fund this project in this budget year. Among other considerations, this project could streamline emergency services in town and reduce insurance premiums for residents in the three-acre zone. In prior conversations, members expressed concern about making this expenditure during a budget year kept unusually lean by the Board of Finance due to uncertainties surrounding the impact of the pandemic on town finances.

South Park Avenue property

The town has submitted to the state the proposal to sell approximately 19 of the 29 acres of the South Park Avenue property to the Aspetuck Land Trust. If approved, the state would provide substantial funding for the purchase to the Aspetuck Land Trust. The appraisal for the sale came in at $470,000, which is less than expected. There were concerns about the timing of this plan. However, the South Park Avenue Committee has endorsed the plan to sell this portion of the property now and is not overly concerned about its impact on the value or marketability of the remaining portion.

Other matters

The first selectman updated the board on plans for a revised nuisance ordinance, but there was no significant new information to report. The first selectman reports that playgrounds are now open, the library is open in a limited fashion, the Town Hall is open for the public to make tax payments, the schools are actively working on re-opening plans, a search for a new superintendent is moving forward, and plans for a pickle ball court are under consideration.

CLOSING COMMENTS

Closing public comment was received from two residents. One expressed the hope that the board would allow some version of a land use ordinance to come before the Town Meeting for its consideration. This person expressed the view that the public hearing process is not sufficient because sometimes boards ignore the clear majority sentiment at a public hearing. This person also wants leases to be included in an ordinance. This resident also urged caution in pursuing a nuisance ordinance and recalled the strong opposition to such a proposal the last time it came up. Another resident wanted to know if we could have outdoor town meetings at this point.