Harbor management mission begins to take shape

FI-greenwich-town-sealThe waters remain a bit murky, but the prospect of some smooth sailing for a Harbor Management Commission for Greenwich is more likely than ever.

The Board of Selectmen began hearing from town officials, the harbormaster and members of the boating community last week as it started developing an ordinance to create the commission, a key step in formalizing an actual harbor management policy for the town’s waters. Nothing has been finalized yet and no commission members have even been named, but the ship has been launched, so to speak.

First Selectman Peter Tesei stressed on two occasions at the April 25 meeting that what has been put down on paper on the topic is “at best a working draft” put together by Assistant Town Attorney Amina Ahmad and that what was before the board was only meant to begin the discussion. The preliminary document called for a five-person commission serving three-year terms that would be tasked with developing the town’s harbor management plan based on existing plans in nearby communities like Stamford.

Mr. Tesei praised Ms. Ahmad’s work but said there was a lot more to do.

“Clearly there is a lot of elements that are going to require significant input from a number of entities,” Mr. Tesei said. “We anticipate it will take some time to develop this to the point where we are comfortable presenting it to the Representative Town Meeting.”

Currently the town has an advisory committee, but not a formal commission that would be able to develop the policy, which many in town have been calling to be developed for years and was a part of the recommendations of the most recent town Plan of Conservation and Development. To start things off, Greenwich resident Wayne Keeney, a defense attorney and chairman of the state’s judicial council, was appointed by the selectmen to lead an ad hoc group to start making concrete suggestions. He said he would be happy to act as “go between” for all the various interests in play.

It is expected that names will be suggested for the ad hoc group at a Board of Selectmen meeting in the near future, likely on May 9.

Mr. Keeney said despite the clear differences between Greenwich and Stamford waters, the Stamford Harbor Management Plan would serve as a good template for Greenwich and that this could be done to “dispense with a lot of the irritants and problems that we see now on the waterfront.”

“I don’t want to denigrate my profession, but there’s been very few new thoughts in the legal profession since the Magna Carta,” Mr. Keeney said. “A lot of it is, ‘OK, that’s a good way to go. We have a boilerplate. Now we adjust it.’”

Mr. Keeney said the management of the policy would be what determined if it works or not and added he was fully aware of the importance of the task.

“A lot of people are here because of Long Island Sound,” Mr. Keeney said. “It draws people here and is a sizable industry. I have a big sailboat but I also have a power boat, so I am not going to favor one over the other. I keep a boat in a slip in Byram and have a mooring at Tod’s Point. I’ve been up and down this waterway and I understand.”

Both Mr. Keeney and Bob Brady, a member of the Board of Estimate and Taxation and a longtime sailor in town, suggested increasing the proposed five-person commission.

“With the amount of work to be done, a five-person group is on the small side,” Mr. Brady said. “We have many boards and commissions in town where nine seems to be the magic number.”

Mr. Tesei agreed, given that “it’s a broad area we’re talking about” and there had to be people of different skill sets and disciplines.

Mr. Brady said he believed the group should be made up of Greenwich as a whole and have the ability to work with the various town land use agencies and boards, an area he said would need a lot of work and clarity. That’s where he said there is a “big red flag” that would have to be addressed.

“You don’t want it to be representing just boaters or just a yacht club or what have you,” Mr. Brady said. “I think you can get too narrow a view, especially because there’s an element of this that’s a land use component and a development component for properties adjacent to the Greenwich Harbor area.”

Town Planner Diane Fox told the selectmen that Mr. Brady “raised an excellent point” and said there had been situations in the past with land use concerns over piers and docks, particularly in Old Greenwich, where the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission had rights of review, and approval would also be needed from the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). She agreed that people working on the policy would need to have experience dealing with land use agencies and be aware of all the many regulations out there in town and in the state, and she raised a question of her own.

“The way this is worded, it doesn’t sound like anybody else gets to review their plan,” Ms. Fox said after looking at the initial draft. “To say it’s consistent with DEEP policy, with the Planning and Zoning policy and the Plan of Conservation and Development and with the Coastal Area Management Act and flood zone regulations if there’s no other review by any other agency, we could end up with some conflicts. I’m not saying we would, but it does raise some questions.”

Town Director of Parks and Recreation Joe Siciliano, whose duties once included harbormaster, said he believed all of these issues could be worked out but it would be better to deal with them now to avoid conflict and frustration in the future.

Mr. Tesei did pledge to hold a public hearing on the development of the ordinance, but no date has been set yet.

“We will bring forth all of the reasons and justifications for doing this,” Mr. Tesei said. “As I’ve learned over the last several months, you almost have to assume the position of an opponent to the proposal and say, Why should the town of Greenwich do this? What’s wrong with the way we’ve been conducting business and managing affairs on the water today? We have to show why this would add value and improve overall efficiency.”

 

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