The Importance of the Plan of Conservation and Development
Connecticut State law requires that every town must prepare a Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) every 10 years. A town’s Planning Commission is responsible for this effort. The tasks associated with preparing the plan are substantial as they must:
The plan is intended to be a working document to guide the Planning and Zoning Commission in making decisions regarding land use, transportation, public improvements, recreation, open space, natural resources, business growth, and housing, over the next decade. It involves an assessment of current conditions and projections about future growth. The Plan also discusses certain capital improvements relating to areas such as roads, sewers, and the construction of new or improved town facilities. The plan can set the stage for future capital investments.
Many rural and suburban towns in Connecticut adopted their first plans in the 1950s and 1960s followed by the adoption of Zoning and Subdivision Regulations. These are the main tools used to implement the recommendations of the plan. The POCD is in fact a statement of policies and goals that relate to both the development of land and at the same time the preservation of significant community assets such as open space and farmland. It recognizes that growth must occur to serve the future needs of the community. Many of the positive attributes that exist in Connecticut towns today such as a good network of local roadways, town parks and recreation areas, the preservation of natural assets such as wetlands, floodplains, and ridgetops, commercial and industrial opportunities, and housing choices did not occur by chance. Rather they often trace their origins to these plans where goals and policies have been adopted and then implemented by the town over the past several decades.
The effort to complete a POCD usually takes place over a 12 to 18-month period. The preparation of a plan is a significant undertaking. It should involve other town agencies who also have decision making authority related to land use, such as the Economic Development Commission, Inland Wetland Agency, Zoning Board of appeals, Zoning Commission (if separate from Planning), Water Pollution Control Authority, and Conservation Commission. Each of the agencies is prescribed a unique set of responsibilities by state law and operates with its own set of town regulations. In certain instances, during the conduct of their business, these agencies must seek input from other agencies under state law. However, often decisions are made in accordance with the agency’s regulations but without consideration of the mission of other town land use agencies. The POCD process presents an opportunity for each of these agencies to get together, hopefully think outside the box, discuss opportunities to work cooperatively and set and goals that will benefit the community.
The preparation of the Plan also includes a substantial amount of public outreach. It often begins with a community survey and public forums where the residents and various groups of stakeholders may express their thoughts on issues relating to development and preservation. Our experience working in many rural and suburban towns is that this commonly results in strong preferences toward “preserving community character”. Related to this is often a desire to slow growth and preserve open space. This seems to be a basic aspect of human nature that reveals itself on a regular basis. It requires an education to all participants in the process that Connecticut law does not simple allow towns to halt the growth process using a POCD or set of Zoning Regulations. The Planning and Zoning Commission does not have the legal right to simply stop development. Rather the POCD and Zoning Regulations must provide opportunities for the “reasonable” development of privately-owned property. Otherwise, in the event of a legal challenge, Connecticut courts will overrule the Commission with a finding of a “taking without just compensation”. Of course, growth must also occur to accommodate the needs of current and future residents and to permit gains in the town’s grand list necessary to fund town schools and services.
Many towns in Connecticut hire an outside consultant to assist in preparing the plan because of the amount of work involved and because of the expertise and objectivity that an outside firm can bring. The Planning Group at Goman+York includes Don Poland and Steve Kushner who offer the skills that come with decades of municipal planning experience.
Don has worked as a Town Planner in CT and as a Planning Consultant for more than 25 years. He has worked on numerous planning projects in Connecticut where his clients have been municipalities as well as private developers. Dr. Poland has taught and continues to teach planning, tourism, and urban geography at a number of academic institutions. Steve has a 35-year career in Town Planning including 26 years as the Planning Director in Avon, CT. Steve’s leadership and the implementation of two Plans of Conservation and Development over this timeframe helped shape Avon into a very desirable community.
Goman+York is currently working with the Town of Ellington in the update of their POCD. The new plan includes innovative measures to preserve rural character. It includes a recommendation to adopt a Transfer of Development Rights program. Under this approach certain parcels of undeveloped land are designated as a high priority for preservation while others are selected for a greater density of development than would otherwise be allowed. A prospective developer may then acquire two parcels of land and transfer development rights from a more rural part of Town to an area targeted for development. This approach permits the Town to preserve open space at no cost to the taxpayer and achieve a somewhat higher density of housing where it deems appropriate (on more heavily travelled roads, access to public sewer and water, etc.)
The plan also includes a strategy to develop a compact village scale mixed use development in the center of Ellington. This area already includes many important municipal buildings such as the Town Hall, Senior Center, High School and a limited amount of commercial uses. A significant amount of undeveloped land in this area presents an exciting development opportunity. During our public outreach residents expressed a clear preference for an enhanced village center.
The task of preparing a Plan of Conservation and Development can be daunting. However, it forces the town to think about ways to preserve community character, while at the same time accommodate future growth. It provides an opportunity to bring together many town agencies, listen to input from the public, and provide a tutorial on the realities of land use planning.
This paper was written by Steve Kushner. His bio can be found here.