TP&ZC Meetings Explained
The TPZC meeting agendas serve as public notice of a pending meeting and establish the order of business to be conducted during a meeting Agendas for TPZC 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 Town Planning and Zoning Commission (TPZC).
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 TPZC may vote to add new items of business to the 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 TPZC are used to post plans and documents pertaining to agenda items, which can be examined prior to a meeting.
Regular meetings open promptly at 7:00 pm and begin with items of new business, which include: public communications and petitions; communications and petitions from TPZC commissioners; a Zoning Enforcement Officer’s Report; CGS Section 8-24 referral requests; pre-application scrutiny; re-approvals/revisions/extensions of applications; site plans; and minutes
Public Communications and Petitions
During public communications and petitions, members of the public can approach the Commission and submit materials and/or address any planning and zoning issue that is not pending before the Commission. The Chair typically limits each person to between three to five minutes.
After old business, later in the meeting, the public has a second opportunity for public communications and petitions. Unlike the first opportunity, citizens can now speak on applications that were pending, if the Commission has taken final action during the meeting.
Communications and Petitions from the Commission
Communications and petitions from the TPZC allow commissioners to report on training and committee activities, as well as to raise issues that are not pending before the Commission.
Zoning Enforcement Officer’s Report
The Zoning Enforcement Officer (ZEO) enforces the Zoning Regulations, investigates zoning violation complaints, and issues cease and desist orders when violations are found. The Zoning Enforcement Officer’s Report provides updates on significant enforcement activities.
CGS Section 8-24 Referral Requests
The Zoning Enforcement Officer’s Report is followed by CGS Section 8-24 referral requests, during which the Commission is presented with capital projects, such as buying, selling or leasing of land or buildings; constructing new public facilities; or making significant improvements to existing public facilities; after which the Commission makes a recommendation to the Town Council.
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.
Pre-application scrutiny allows a potential future applicant to make a non-binding, informal presentation to the Town Planning and Zoning Commission (TPZC) 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.
Following pre-application scrutiny, the Commission addresses re-approvals, revisions, and extensions of previously approved site plans, subdivisions, re-subdivisions and other miscellaneous applications. The Commission can reapprove applications that are scheduled to expire in accordance with the timelines established in CGS Section 8-3 and CGS Section 8-25; approve significant revisions to approved site plans; approve revisions to approved subdivisions and re-subdivisions that do not create additional building lots; and extend the time for commencing activity on a time critical application or for the filing subdivision plans in the Town Clerk’s Office. While the public is welcome to observe these proceedings, there is generally no opportunity for public input during this portion of the meeting.
The review of new site plan applications follows re-approvals, revisions, and extensions. Site plans provide a blueprint for the development of a site and illustrate compliance with the Zoning Regulations. When approving site plans, the TPZC is acting administratively, meaning that if a site plan application meets all of the Zoning Regulation requirements, the TPZC is obligated to approve the application. Under specific conditions, the TPZC has the ability to reduce or waive certain requirements and can defer unneeded parking spaces until needed in the future. While the public is welcome to observe these proceedings, there is generally no opportunity for public input during this portion of the meeting. However, when a site plan application is accompanied by a special use permit application, the TPZC will defer its review until the public hearing portion of the meeting and hear both applications simultaneously. In these instances, the public is free to address the site plan as it relates to the special use during the public hearing later in the meeting.
The site development standards for all site plans are contained in Section 3 of the Zoning Regulations. These include landscaping, lighting, parking, signage, and other miscellaneous standards. Site plans must also meet the general requirements of Section 14 of the Zoning Regulations, which apply to all zones, as well as the specific standards for the zone in which the development is located. Zone specific standards include lot area, building height, required yards or setbacks, lot coverage, and other miscellaneous standards.
Following site plan review, the TPZC 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.
Unless an item under review can be concluded shortly, the Chair will promptly table the business meeting at 7:30 pm until after the conclusion of any scheduled public hearings. 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 Town Planning and Zoning Commission (TPZC) 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, architects, civil engineers, traffic engineers, etc., hereafter referred to as “applicants”) will address the TPZC 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 TPZC values public input because citizens often have unique knowledge of safety hazards, traffic, drainage issues, and other neighborhood conditions that are important for the TPZC 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 TPZC 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 TPZC to hear public input, speakers should address the TPZC and not the 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 Town Planning and Zoning Commission (TPZC) by a speaker.
While petitions are welcome as evidence of broad opposition or support to an application, the TPZC is generally free to weigh their value based on the merits of the information contained in the petition. However, CGS Section 8-3 mandates that when a protest is filed in the form of a petition at or before a public hearing against a proposed zone boundary change, and the petition is signed by the owners of 20 percent or more of the area of the lots included in the proposal, or by the owners of 20 percent or more of the area of the lots within 500 feet outside of the boundary, a two-thirds or supermajority vote is required for approval. It is important to note that the signatures required to force a supermajority vote to approve a zone boundary change must be from the owners of 20 percent of the affected area or 20 percent of the area within 500 feet of the affected area, not the owners of 20 percent of the lots in the affected area or 20 percent of the lots within 500 feet of the affected area. These two groups are also mutually exclusive (e.g. the owners of 10% of the land within the affected area and the owners of 10% of the land within 500 feet of the affected area, or any combination equaling 20 percent, are not cumulatively sufficient to force a supermajority vote). Please note that because design development districts are floating zones that the Town Planning and Zoning Commission (TPZC) can apply over underlying zoning districts, design development concept plans are technically a zone boundary change and subject to the zone boundary change petition provision.
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 TPZC and town staff if they contain the printed name and address of the signatories and are individually numbered and/or tabulated at the bottom of each page. The printed names and addresses of signatories are critical for petitions in opposition to a zone boundary change, so that the TPZC can verify whether the petition contains the necessary signatures to require a supermajority vote for approval. 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 TPZC 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 TPZC 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 TPZC 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 TPZC 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 TPZC 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 Town Planner 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 planning 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 Town Planner or the TPZC 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 TPZC can continue the hearing, the applicant may grant the Town Planning and Zoning Commission (TPZC) 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 TPZC 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 TPZC 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 TPZC 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 TPZC cannot ask for clarification from the applicant or members of the public. However, the TPZC 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 TPZC 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 TPZC 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 TPZC may table their decision, approve, approve with modifications, or disapprove an application, also with a simple majority vote.
However, CGS Section 8-3 mandates that when a protest is filed in the form of a petition at or before the public hearing against a proposed zone boundary change, signed by the owners of 20 percent or more of the area of the lots included in the proposal or by the owners of 20 percent or more of the area of the lots within 500 feet in all directions, a two-thirds supermajority or 4-1 vote is required for approval.
The Town Planning and Zoning Commission (TPZC) 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 TPZC 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.
Continuation of New Business
During application acceptance, the TPZC will acknowledge receipt of all applications that require public hearings and schedule them for the next meeting, generally in the order that they were submitted. However, if the TPZC does not think that all of the applications can be heard during the next meeting, they may schedule more recently submitted applications for a later meeting within 65 days of receipt.
Following application acceptance, the TPZC will address any old business. 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 TPZC has closed and tabled the decision, the TPZC 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 TPZC to deliberate. If the TPZC 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 site plans that do 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 Town Planning and Zoning Commission (TPZC) will then deliberate on the evidence and vote as described above.
Public Communications and Petitions (continued)
Following old business, any public communications and petitions not heard prior to the public hearings can be made. Unlike prior to the public hearings, the public may comment on applications that were pending earlier in the meeting if final action was taken by the TPZC.
Following any additional public communications and petitions, the TPZC addresses miscellaneous items, which might include notices of upcoming training opportunities, distribution of educational materials, summaries of site plan modifications approved by town staff under Section 3.9 of the Zoning Regulations, or an executive session.
Executive sessions are closed to the public and any recording devices are turned off so that the TPZC 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 TPZC during an executive session and upon ending an executive session, the TPZC will resume recording of the meeting and will typically acknowledge that they took no action during the executive session.
Under the Planner’s Report, the Town Planner will report on development activity in town, discuss regulation interpretation issues, suggest regulatory changes to address recent trends, and report on past or upcoming workshops of the TPZC or other agencies.
Following the Planner’s Report, the TPZC will call for a vote to adjourn the meeting. Under the TPZC bylaws, meetings must adjourn by 11 p.m. unless extended by a majority vote of seated commissioners. All applicants are notified by the Chair that if their application is not reached on the agenda by 11 p.m. or is not completed by 11 p.m., the TPZC may postpone, recess, or table the application as appropriate. After adjournment, the TPZC cannot discuss pending applications with members of the public.