IWWC Meetings Explained
The Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission’s (IWWC) agendas serve as public notice of pending meetings. Agendas for IWWC meetings are posted on the Town’s website; filed in the Town Clerk’s Office; and posted on a bulletin board on the ground floor of Town Hall.
Special meetings can be scheduled by either a supermajority of seated commissioners at a meeting or at the call of the Chair of the Commission. Special meetings can be held at any time on any weekday that Town Hall is open, although meetings concerning items of public interest and public hearings will generally be scheduled Monday through Thursday after 7:00 pm to be as accommodating to the public as possible. Special meeting agendas are posted in the Town Clerk’s Office 24-hours before a special meeting and unlike a regular meeting agenda, items cannot be added to the agenda by a vote of the sitting commissioners.
Order of Meetings
The IWWC generally operates under Robert’s Rules of Order for conducting and maintaining order of meetings. At the Chair’s discretion, the rules of order can be relaxed or strictly adhered to as needed, such as when formally voting on an application.
The IWWC meeting agendas serve as public notice of a pending meeting and establish the order of business to be conducted during a meeting Agendas for IWWC meetings are posted on the Town’s website, filed in the Town Clerk’s Office, posted on a bulletin board on the ground floor of Town Hall, and e-mailed to subscribers of the planning and zoning Public Notice Registry on or before the Friday prior to a regular meeting. A limited number of agenda copies are available in the meeting room on the night of a meeting as well as a single public display copy of the entire agenda package received by the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission (IWWC).
An addendum to the agenda is typically prepared by the Planning Department on the day of the meeting to include items received after the posting of the agenda. The IWWC may vote to add new items of business to a regular meeting agenda, either from the addendum or at the request of a commissioner, Town staff member, or the public. In addition to agendas and a public display copy of the agenda packet, display boards visible to the public and the IWWC are used to post plans and documents pertaining to agenda items, which can be examined prior to a meeting.
Call to Order and Roll Call
Regular meetings open promptly at 7:00 pm with The Chair calling the meeting to order and asking for a roll call of commissioners present.
During public communications, members of the public can approach the Commission and submit materials and/or address any wetlands issue that is not pending before the Commission. The Chair typically limits each person to three minutes.
Conflict of Interest and Recusal
Beyond this point in the agenda, most items of business involve the development and use of property: some of which may affect members of the Commission in a personal or financial way. In the event that any commissioner has a personal or financial interest of any kind in a matter before the Commission, as defined by the Connecticut General Statutes, Section 8-11 and Section 8-21, he/she must disclose his/her interest before the matter is heard and be disqualified from voting upon the matter and the recording secretary will record their recusal in the minutes. The recused commissioner should leave the meeting room until the next item of business, at which time they may be reseated. The Chair will select an alternate commissioner to sit for commissioners who recuse themselves for any reason.
The Chair will open the public hearing portion of the meeting by asking the Secretary to read the published legal notice.
Postponement of Hearings
If allowed under statutory time limits specified in CGS Section 8-7d, applicants may ask the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission (IWWC) to postpone the opening of a hearing. In these cases, the Chair will notify the audience at the opening of the public hearing portion of the meeting that a particular application will not be heard that evening and that their attendance is no longer necessary. The Chair will provide the new date of the hearing so that interested parties in attendance can note the date and attend. New legal notices by mail, sign, and newspaper are not required to be repeated, as anyone interested in the application would already be in attendance and notified of the new hearing date.
At the beginning of each public hearing, applicants and/or their agents (attorneys, biologists, civil engineers, soil scientists, etc., hereafter referred to as “applicants”) will address the IWWC by approaching a provided microphone and presenting their proposal. A display board is provided behind the microphone for applicants to refer to application materials. During the applicant’s presentation, the Chair may recognize commissioners or town staff so that they may ask questions of the applicant.
At the conclusion of the applicant’s presentation and any further questions by commissioners or staff, the Chair will open the hearing to the public. The IWWC values public input because citizens often have unique knowledge of safety hazards, traffic, drainage issues, and other neighborhood conditions that are important for the IWWC to understand in making their land use decisions.
The Chair will first invite all speakers in favor of the application to present their statements. When all of the speakers in favor have been heard, the Chair will then ask for speakers in opposition. When the IWWC has heard all of the speakers opposed to the application, the Chair will invite questions and comments from speakers who wish to speak neither for nor against the application. Like the applicant, citizens may present their own case, rely on a spokesperson to speak on their behalf, or hire an agent to represent them. Speakers from each side are entitled to the courtesy to proceed without interruption from the other and the Chair will enforce this courtesy if necessary.
All persons wishing to speak, including the applicant, must be recognized by the Chair. After being recognized, each speaker should approach the provided microphone and give her/his name and address for the public record. Since public hearings are for the benefit of the IWWC to hear public input, speakers should address the IWWC and not the applicant or audience. All questions of the applicant or other speakers should be directed through the Chair, who may ask the applicant or other speakers to respond directly to a specific question or concern if he/she thinks that doing so will expedite the hearing. Otherwise, the questions will be answered by the applicant during rebuttal. The Chair will provide an opportunity for every person to speak and may limit the time allowed to all public speakers equally, except that she/he may grant additional time to a speaker recognized as a spokesperson for a portion of the audience, or for expert witnesses or other agents employed by citizens presenting evidence in support or opposition to the application. The Chair may limit speakers to one appearance but may allow a second appearance or rebuttal after all other speakers have been heard. The Chair may limit the arguments of any speaker on the grounds that the remarks are beyond the scope of the hearing, or repetitious of previous testimony. To limit a pattern of repetitious testimony, the Chair may call for a show of hands among those in attendance to indicate concurrence with a statement made to the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission (IWWC) by a speaker.
While petitions are welcome as evidence of broad opposition or support to an application, the IWWC is generally free to weigh their value based on the merits of the information contained in the petition. While there is no official protocol for petitions, the following recommendations are suggested. The top of each page of a petition should clearly identify the application or project that is the subject of the petition and contain a concise statement(s) as to why the undersigned favor or oppose the application. Signatures should be in ink and it is helpful to the IWWC and town staff if they contain the printed name and address of the signatories. A photocopy should be kept by the petitioner, as the original must be entered into the public record.
At any time up to the close of the public hearing, the IWWC may receive letters, written statements, photographs, maps, charts, sketches, petitions, reports of other agencies or other tangible evidence, with their receipt noted on each item. The Planning Department will mail all materials received one-week prior to a meeting to the IWWC in their agenda packages, which affords their thorough review prior to the meeting. Subsequent materials may be included in an addendum to the agenda, which is delivered to the IWWC at the meeting, or may simply be distributed individually to the commissioners at the meeting. Depending on the number of correspondences, the Chair may poll the IWWC to determine whether they have read any or all correspondences and forego reading them into the public record. Otherwise, the Secretary and/or another commissioner will read all correspondences and reports of other agencies into the public record.
All presentation materials used during a public hearing must remain with the IWWC as evidence until after the appeal period for a decision has passed, or in the case of an appeal, after the appeal has been decided and can be returned upon request at that time. These materials are available for public inspection in the Planning Department during normal business hours.
Following public input, the Chair will request input from the Planning Department and other town staff. The Inland Wetlands Agent may summarize the staff review of the application, noting any outstanding issues that have yet to be addressed by the applicant; put the application into perspective with respect to policies and regulations; suggest conditions or modifications to mitigate concerns raised during the staff review or hearing; and recommend for approval, denial, or continuation of the public hearing to receive additional information, or may make no recommendation. The Inland Wetlands Agent or the IWWC may call upon other town staff or professional consultants to provide the commission with information to corroborate or rebut testimony of the applicant or members of the public.
At the conclusion of staff input, the Chair will ask the applicant to answer any remaining questions, make any final statements, and/or rebut any comments raised during the hearing. At the discretion of the Chair, rebuttal may also be heard from representatives of the opposition on new facts presented in the applicant’s rebuttal. However, the applicant always has the right of final rebuttal.
Recess or Withdrawal
The applicant may ask for a recess or withdraw an application at any time up to the close of the public hearing. If the 35-day time limit in CGS Section 8-7d will expire before the IWWC can continue the hearing, the applicant may grant the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission (IWWC) up to an additional 35 days to complete the hearing.
At the conclusion of the applicant’s closing statements, the Chair will ask the remaining commissioners if they are ready to close the public hearing. If the IWWC has unanswered questions, needs additional information, has requested significant changes that they wish to review further, or the applicant has asked for a recess to address significant issues; the IWWC may recess the public hearing to another date, which may be a special meeting or the next regularly scheduled meeting if statutory time limits in CGS Section 8-7d allow. If necessary, the IWWC can request an extension of time from the applicant to close the public hearing, which must close within 35 days of opening. When a recessed hearing is reopened and the same commissioners are not seated, alternate members may sit for the remainder of the hearing if they have been in attendance for the entire hearing or have familiarized themselves with the hearing record to date.
Closing a Hearing
If there is no reason to continue the hearing, the Chair will close the public hearing, ending any testimony by the applicant and the public. After the close of the hearing, the IWWC cannot ask for clarification from the applicant or members of the public. However, the IWWC may ask town staff for legal and procedural advice as well as for clarification of technical information already presented during the public hearing, but they cannot open a new line of questioning. The IWWC will typically deliberate on the facts of an application immediately following the closing of each hearing unless they table their decision to a later date.
In cases of design development detailed plans, planned urban developments, site plans, special uses, or changes to non-conforming uses, the IWWC may table their decision, approve, approve with conditions, or disapprove an application with a simple majority vote of 3-2. In the case of subdivisions, resubdivisions, or zone boundary changes, and text amendments,, the IWWC may table their decision, approve, approve with modifications, or disapprove an application, also with a simple majority vote.
The IWWC typically votes on applications at the close of the public hearing but under CGS Section 8-7d, they have up to 65 days from the close of the hearing to act unless specifically extended by the applicant. Whether stated under deliberations or in the motion, reasons for decisions are recorded in the official minutes. Each commissioner has one vote and the vote of three seated members present at any meeting attended by a quorum of its members is necessary to decide any question, unless otherwise specified by law, charter, ordinance, or regulation (e.g. CGS Section 8-3).
The IWWC is only required to take testimony offered during a public hearing into consideration and is not required to vote in accordance with the majority of those speaking for or against an application.
The Business Meeting is reserved for all Commission business other than public hearings.
Following public hearings, the IWWC reviews and approves the draft minutes of the previous meeting. The minutes are a written summary of a meeting, including attendance, a brief synopsis of each application, and the actions taken during the meeting. Minutes are not intended to be a verbatim transcript of a meeting and will not reflect discussions held during an executive session. In accordance with CGS Chapter 14 Section 1-225, also known as the Freedom of Information Act, draft minutes are prepared within seven days of a regular meeting or within seven business days of a special meeting, and are posted in the Town Clerk’s Office as well as online here. A notice of all actions taken during a meeting are posted in the Town Clerk’s Office as well as online here within 48 business hours of a meeting in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act. Approved minutes are filed in the Town Clerk’s Office and posted online here.
After the minutes, the next agenda item is new business, which includes the receipt and review of new applications. Applications are presented with a brief description by the applicant or their representative agent(s). In most cases, the applicant presents a site plan as well. The Commission will ask questions pertaining to the application and at the close of the presentation, will make findings as to whether the application is likely to have a significant impact on inland wetlands or likely to generate public interest in the protection of inland wetlands. While the public is welcome to observe these proceedings, there is generally no opportunity for public input during this portion of the meeting. Depending on its finding, the Commission has several options: they can delegate the application to the agent for approval; hold the application for further review and/or act on it at the next meeting; or schedule a public hearing for the next meeting. In any event, the Commission cannot act until 14 days after a new item of business is offiically received according to CGS Section 22a-42a in order to accomodate petitions that may force a public hearing.
Delegating to the Agent
Delegation to the agent is permitted under CGS Section 22a-42a, provided that the agent and at least one commissioner have completed the DEEP Municipal Inland Weltand Commissioner Training Program. This option is available to the Commission when there is no proposed activity in a wetland or watercourse, it determines minimal or no impact to wetlands or watercourses is going to occur, and it is not of likely to have interest to the public. What delegation essentially does is return the application to the agent to perform an agent approval. If the agent approves the application, the applicant is required to publish a notice in the newspaper, citing the approval, and the public has 15 days from that publication to petition the decision and request a public hearing. After the initial review of the application, the Commission has granted the agent the authority to make the decision to approve the application or put the application back before the Commission.
Following any new applications, the Commission addresses re-approvals, revisions, and modifications of previously approved applications. The Commission can extend the time for commencing activity on a time critical applications, and approve minor revisions or modifications to approved application. While the public is welcome to observe these proceedings, there is generally no opportunity for public input during this portion of the meeting.
Occaisionally, a prospective applicant will request a pre-application scrutiny to test ideas before the Commission. Pre-application scrutiny allows a potential future applicant to make a non-binding, informal presentation to the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission (IWWC) to determine the feasibility of a project prior to making the financial commitment of preparing and submitting an application. Under CGS Section 7-159b, commissioners can speak freely about a proposed project without prejudging a potential future application, but should not make prejudicial remarks nonetheless. While the public is welcome to attend the pre-application scrutiny of a project, there is generally no opportunity for public input during this portion of the meeting.
Old business is typically applications that were reviewed or heard at a previous meeting but the decisions were tabled. On applications involving a public hearing that the IWWC has closed and tabled the decision, the IWWC can receive legal and procedural advice as well as technical input from town staff; clarifying evidence presented during the hearing, but cannot hear from either the applicant or the public under any circumstances, including correspondences sent subsequent to the public hearing, unless the correspondence is of a procedural nature, such as a request to withdraw the application or grant a further extension of time for the IWWC to deliberate. If the IWWC takes a decision off the table and all of the same commissioners that heard the application are not seated, alternate members may sit for the deliberation and vote if they have attended the entire hearing or have otherwise familiarized themselves with the hearing record.
For items such as tabled applications that did not require a public hearing, the applicant can present new information, such as modified plans, and town staff can present a full report on the new information received. The Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission (IWWC) will then deliberate on the evidence and vote as described above.
This part of the meeting is reserved for business that the Commission must conduct from time to time, such as the re-affirmation of the Code of Ethics, the election of officers, notices of upcoming training opportunities, distribution of educational materials, the appointment of an agent etc.
Authorized Agent Actions
If the Wetlands Agent has finished the State of Connecticut’s comprehensive inland wetlands training program, the Commission may grant the agent authority to act on its behalf in approving certain minor applications, The statutes require the agent to make a brief presentation to the Commission on each approval he or she grants. This provides a check on the agent’s authority to ensure that the agent is acting appropriately and in the best interest of the Commission.
At this time, the agent will report on ongoing projects, inspections, violations, and new information from ongoing training as well as discuss regulation interpretation issues and suggest regulatory changes.
Executive sessions are closed to the public and any recording devices are turned off so that the IWWC can discuss pending litigation, personnel issues, or other matters that are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. No actions may be taken by the IWWC during an executive session and upon ending an executive session, the IWWC will resume recording of the meeting and will typically acknowledge that they took no action during the executive session.
Petitions from Commissioners
Commissioners have the final slot on the agenda. This is the time where they can bring up any concerns that they have or discuss issues brought up to them by the public. The Agent may have to take that question or information, research it, and report back under the Agent report in the next meeting.
Following petitions from commissioners, the Chair will call for a vote to adjourn the meeting. After adjournment, the IWWC cannot discuss pending applications with members of the public.