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Newtown The Suitor



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Newtown The Suitor

In its tense courtship with the military over the possibility of locating an Army Reserve training center in town, Newtown may have wanted to present itself as a George Clooney kind of suitor, but frankly when it comes to savior faire, the town has looked more like Napoleon Dynamite.

Both the Economic Development Commission (EDC) and the Conservation Commission, which have been jousting over the past year over the future of the town’s Tech Park off Commerce Road, were pressed by First Selectman Joe Borst to come up with recommendations on whether the military training center would be a good use of the Tech Park site. Mr Borst had proposed to military officials the possibility locating the training center at that site last month after the prospect of locating the facility at the Army Reserve’s apparent preferred site, the High Meadow at Fairfield Hills, was greeted with a chorus of gasps and anxious complaint from environmental groups and individual citizens. The first selectman wanted a response from the two town boards by Thanksgiving, which was the reply date requested by the military. The deadline gave the boards each a day or two to formulate a recommendation.

Wisely, both the EDC and the Conservation Commission balked at rushing out recommendations until they had more information about what the military had in mind. Both groups, however, were skeptical that the plans for the training base would fulfill either of their often-divergent missions of economic development and conservation. They made it clear they would not be fulfilling their responsibilities to the town by rushing into recommendations.

On the surface, it seems unreasonable for the US Department of Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC), the federal agency driving the training center plan, to demand such quick action by the town, since the proposal only came to light early last month. The deadline seems a little more reasonable, however, when we find out that BRAC first approached Mr Borst to discuss a possible military base in town on January 2, 2008, just a month after the first selectman took office. He neglected to inform even his fellow selectmen until last month.

The Board of Selectmen this week agreed to a meeting with military officials, at a date yet to be determined, including representatives of the EDC, Conservation Commission, Planning and Zoning Commission, and other land use officials to discuss in general terms what benefits a training center might bring to Newtown. In an effort to slow things down a bit, the selectmen have specified that the session will not get into a discussion about specific sites for the facility, but will focus on objectives and goals for both the Town of Newtown and the Army Reserve. This is the meeting that should have taken place last January.

Newtown’s steps to this point have been awkward, uncoordinated, and unproductive. They serve as a model of how not to present the town to those interested in local development.

This week, we learned that Newtown now has another opportunity for courtship. ATMI, a global technology firm currently based in Danbury, is considering investing $20 million in property on Edmond Road to be vacated by the departing Pitney Bowes for use as a corporate headquarters and laboratory facility. Armed with information gleaned from private talks with company officials, the Legislative Council and EDC have already authorized enhancements to the local business tax incentive program to help lure the firm to Newtown. Their informed cooperation reflects the kind of coordination that in the long run may help seal the deal, bringing investment, job opportunities, and long-term tax revenues to Newtown.

George Clooney, look out!

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