CHESHIRE — The Planning and Zoning Commission is tasked with assuring that all new development in Cheshire meets with the community’s zoning rules and regulations. Members spend countless hours reading and interpreting regulations.
For incumbents such as Republican Earl Kurtz, III, who currently serves as chairman, the goal is to continue offering expertise acquired through years of experience.
Kurtz has served on the commission for the past 18 years.
“I think I have a really good idea of things that work for this town and things that don’t,” he said. “Cheshire is a great town and we are trying to make sure that the things we approve will be a good fit for Cheshire, not just right now, but in the future as well.”
Kurtz comes from a family of farmers who have deep roots in the community.
“I have a stake in this town, like many residents do,” he added. “My family is here, and I will ensure that the businesses that come here will continue to add to Cheshire’s prosperity.”
Republican Tom Selmont, who currently serves as an alternate on the commission, has seen many controversial plans come before the commission, including a subdivision on Wallingford Road called Whispering Oaks.
“Whispering Oaks subdivision was probably one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make on the PZC,” he said, referencing a controversial development proposal recently passed by the commission. “A lot of people had a lot of different opinions on what was best...”
Selmont prides himself on his ability to listen to members of the community, regardless of party lines.
“PZC is not a partisan thing,” he said. “It’s not about Democrat or Republican, it’s really just about what is best for the town and the residents living here. I think I have the ability to listen to all sides...”
Republican incumbent Sean Strollo is hopeful the town is headed towards a more business-centered mindset.
“I feel really good about the job that I have done on the commission,” he began. “I am here (in Cheshire) for life. I care about what happens here, because I see what goes on day in and day out. Cheshire is and will always be my home.”
Strollo values open spaces in town, and hopes the town will begin the process of recycling older properties.
“We are running out of open space...” he said. “Cheshire has a lot of properties that can be recycled, like the building across the street from Stop & Shop, which is turning into a bank.”
The only Democrat running for re-election this year is Casey Downes, who currently serves as an alternate but is seeking be a full member of the commission.
“I have fully retired from my teaching position, so I have much more time to dedicate to the town and I think I can finally be ready to be a fully-fledged member of the group,” she said. “I really am interested in giving back to this town, and the issues that come up in planning and zoning are ones that genuinely interest me.”
Downes is the only woman on the PZC.
“We work really well together and we all listen to each other, which is very important,” Downes said. “I think I have a lot to offer the PZC in terms of perspective and in terms of what businesses we really want to see. I think the new Starbucks is a great addition to the town and I would love to see more of that.”
The four challengers think it’s time for a change. Some would like to see the PZC represent the younger generation of residents better. Greg Wolff, who works by day as a picture framer, thinks he can adequately represent that population.
“New faces bring new ideas, and our town has a lot of new developments coming in,” said Wolff, who is running for PZC alternate. “We need new, fresh ideas to keep us competitive.”
Wolff, who currently serves on the Public Safety Commission, would like to see a shift in focus from traditional development to more innovative projects.
“Status quo is what the PZC is all about,” he said. “I would love to see things like bicycle access be considered more in the planning process, or even just considering the younger generation, because these businesses all have a stake in our future.”
Chris Affie, who attempted a Board of Education run two years ago, thinks the Planning and Zoning Commission might be a perfect fit for him.
“I like that the PZC is governed by a specific set of rules and laws at the end of the day,” Affie said. “My biggest concern is regarding marijuana regulation, and I think Cheshire needs to be ready to tackle this issue head-on.”
Affie, who supports future cannabis businesses coming to Cheshire, sees the issue as solely economic.
“Obviously, it should be regulated like alcohol is, but I think that the current PZC is headed toward a moratorium on marijuana, and I don’t agree with that,” he said. “We should look at the issue holistically and consider all of the benefits before we decide on something.”
Anita Blake, a Republican challenger running to be an alternate, believes that the current PZC has been doing a good job.
“I think our PZC has done a great job of keeping Cheshire’s ‘rural’ charm, and I have no intention of changing that,” Blake said. “Cheshire is a community of neighbors helping neighbors, and I want to continue that on the PZC.”
Blake, who lives on Cook Hill Road, has firsthand experience regarding the “quaint” nature of Cheshire, and how important it is to keep forests and wildlife intact as much as possible.
John Hilzinger, another Republican challenger for Planning and Zoning alternate, could not be reached before publication.