Log In

Reset Password

Contentious Participation At Economic Development Commission



Text Size

The Economic Development Commission (EDC) met at Newtown Community Center on February 20, relocating from a small meeting room at the municipal center in order to accommodate a large expected turnout on the part of the public. This expectation proved correct, as dozens of Newtown citizens filled the chosen room to capacity.

From the beginning, the dynamic between the public and the commission was palpably confrontational, with individual members of the public intermittently talking over the proceedings. It was clear that one item on the agenda in particular had drawn such fierce attention from these attendees: “Strategy and negotiations relative to a sale of town-owned property at 6 Commerce Road.”

Although the commission had scheduled discussion of this item under executive session, which bars participation and observation of the proceedings in question on the part of the public, the public in attendance voiced its opposition towards commercial development of the six acre property, which borders the popular Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary.

The commission quickly moved into public participation in order to allow the eager public the chance to voice their concerns. Commission Chair Jeff Robinson attempted to enforce a two-minute timer on each member of the public, but this regulation was quickly dropped after audience members spoke out vigorously against it, offering to cede their own time on behalf of whoever was speaking.

Charles Zukowski, chair of the Bike and Trail Committee, opened participation by reminding the commission that “there’s some important trails on this property. Al’s Trail goes along Deep Brook right along the edge, and there’s sort of an informal trail that connects that over to the area where Reverie and Starbucks are.”

While not offering direct opposition to the prospect of development, Zukowski urged the commission members to consider these trails within the negotiation process. He suggested that at minimum, easements should be secured during negotiations so as to safeguard the integrity of the trails should development move forward.

Dave Ackert spoke next, on behalf of the grassroots Newtown Conservation Coalition. He claimed that, “the State Department of Agriculture granted Newtown this land to be used for economic development without understanding how environmentally damaging such development could be — damage to the drinking water for half of Newtown, to the natural trout habitat nearby, and to the endangered species that live there.”

He went on to narrate an account of the recent history of the commission’s attempts to sell the 6 Commerce plot in the past. He stated that all of these plans produced by the EDC in the past were universally “rejected by the community and state and local authorities, including our Conservation Commission, the state DEEP, the EPA, and even the Department of Agriculture that granted the land.”

In conclusion, Ackert urged the commission to hold a formal public hearing and to learn from what he understood to be their “previous mistakes.” His comments were received with raucous applause and cheers on the part of his fellow audience members.

Jennifer Hubbard, president and executive director of The Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary, also made her voice heard during public participation.

Referring to the interactive map established to solicit public input for the 2024 Plan of Conservation & Development (POCD), she commented that “the meadow received the most comments on the POCD heatmap, and 90 percent of those comments are against that meadow’s development.”

She argued that the town should renegotiate the terms of the property’s deed with the state directly in order to review and realign the “18-year-old” intentions of the state grant, which have since — in her view — become out of touch with the wishes of present-day taxpayers.

“If we can put humans on the moon,” she concluded, “we can renegotiate with the state.”

Many other members of the public also voiced similar concerns, displaying a common goal of opposing the sale of 6 Commerce Road to a commercial developer as well as a shared frustration in what they perceived as a lack of transparency on the part of the board.

Commissioner Jeff Robinson insisted that the commission had “adequate reason” to discuss the matter further within the confines of an executive session, despite reassuring the public that there was no specific deal with any developer on the table for consideration at present.

Executive session was entered on the grounds of discussion of “a lease, sale, or purchase of real estate by the state or a political subdivision of the state where publicity regarding such a site would adversely impact the price of such site.”


Reporter Owen Tanzer can be reached at owen@thebee.com.

Members of the public raise their hands to indicate their desire to offer public comments at the February 20 Economic Development Commission meeting. —Bee Photo, Glass
Jennifer Hubbard articulates her perspective on why public opposition to development should be strongly considered. —Bee Photo, Glass
Comments are open. Be civil.

Leave a Reply