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Addressing concerns about influence of NHCOG

CORNWALL — Looking toward finding appropriate solutions for an imbalance in housing options throughout the town, the Board of Selectmen decided on a date for a townwide Housing Forum at their regular meeting on Tuesday, April 20, conducted on Zoom.

The Housing Forum will be held on Monday, May 24, beginning at 7 p.m. Plans for the forum will be considered initially at the next meeting of the Housing Plan Committee,  which was held on Monday, April 26, on Zoom.

“Community input is essential,” First Selectman Gordon Ridgway said, describing housing as one of the major progress points in the 2020 Town Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD). Affordable housing is one of the key goals assigned to the selectmen by the plan, Ridgway said.

In another announcement, Ridgway expects that the town’s share in American Rescue Plan funding will be around $100,000, disbursed over two years. 

Town officials are awaiting details about the requirements, but they understand that the funds are intended to pay for expenses incurred related to the pandemic, and also to provide assistance to nonprofit organizations impacted by the pandemic.

Public comments heard at the meeting focused on concerns about planning and zoning regulations now undergoing review by the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z), particularly in regard to home businesses. 

Because the role of the Northwest Hills Council of Governments (NHCOG) continues to be an issue for some residents, Ridgway sought to clarify the relationship between area towns and NHCOG. He declined to comment on the home business regulations, feeling that the P&Z is the proper authority on that issue.

Responding to residents’ concerns about perceptions of interference by NHCOG in town affairs, Ridgway sought to clarify points of misinformation that are circulating.

“Cornwall is unique,” Ann Zinsser said, opposing what she saw as “imposition” of a NHCOG planning document that she felt might have influenced P&Z regulations unduly.

Reviewing how NHCOG came about originally, Ridgway recalled that in the 1960s, the State of Connecticut abolished county government throughout the state. In the 1970s Cornwall joined with nine other towns to form a regional coalition devoted to representing local interests in state issues. Eventually the nine towns grew to the 21 towns that form today’s NHCOG, each town’s first selectman serving on the council and attending regular meetings.

“It’s been a great assistance to the town,” Ridgway said, noting that the NHCOG serves the town and the region well.

“Each town keeps its own authority,” Ridgway assured residents. He said that NHCOG gives the town a voice with the State of Connecticut that it would not have on its own.

“They are strictly advisory to the town,” Ridgway explained.

Resident Joanne Wojtusiak repeated a call for greater transparency, requesting a copy of the audited financial statements from NHCOG, which Ridgway agreed to try to provide. Resident Caroline Nastro echoed her concerns about any degree of influence from NHCOG, concerned about what she termed a possible “regional agenda.”

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