The Cheshire Planning and Zoning Commission is tasked with assuring that all new development in Cheshire meets with the community’s zoning rules and regulations.
As members, they spend countless hours reading regulation guidelines and interpreting laws to ensure that every business that tries to establish itself in town is doing things the right way.
For the incumbents running this year, such as Republican Earl Kurtz, III, who currently serves as chairman, the goal is to continue offering expertise acquired over years of experience.
Kurtz, who has served on the commission for the past 18 years, is determined to keep his position at the head of the commission.
“I have been doing this for several years. I think I have a really good idea of things that work for this town and things that don’t,” he began. “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, and he credits his knowledge of the zoning rules and regulations to his many years of experience in town and as a business owner.
“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.”
Another Republican, Tom Selmont, who currently serves as an alternate, has seen many controversial plans come to the Commission and has been impressed with the way he and his peers have been able to work together despite their differences.
“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, and there were some issues that were just out of our hands as members of the PZC.”
Despite the difficulty, Selmont and the rest of the Commission ultimately approved the subdivision with only two dissenting votes.
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. When you vote at the ballot box, you vote for me and the way I think.”
For Republican incumbent Sean Strollo, the ever-changing landscape of Cheshire is something he has been keeping an eye on for a long time, and he is hopeful Cheshire 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 the open spaces in town, and hopes that Cheshire will begin the process of recycling older properties to serve more modern needs.
“We are running out of open space to just blindly build properties on,” he said. “Cheshire has a lot of properties that can be recycled, like the building across the street from Stop &d 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, and hopes that her life experiences can give her an alternative perspective when she is on the Commission.
“We work really well together and we all listen to each other, which is very important,” Downes added. “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 new challengers think that it’s time for a change from the status quo and some would like to see the PZC represent the younger generation of Cheshire residents. Greg Wolff, who works by day as a picture framer, thinks he can adequately represent that population.
“My family has lived in the big red house across the street from BelláGio’s forever, and on that street you can see how much Cheshire has changed in the past decade,” said Wolff, who is running for PZC alternate. “New faces bring new ideas, and our town has a lot of new developments coming in. We need new, fresh ideas to keep us competitive.”
Wolff, who currently serves on the Public Safety Commission, believes he understands how government works and 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. I am interested in finding out what the public wants. I have no personal agenda like some people who are more seasoned might.”
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 and would like to add to its successes.
“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.
“We had a woman on Cook Hill find an injured owl, and someone else who lives nearby is going to rehabilitate it and release it back to the wild. We need to keep our natural spaces intact or we will lose the environment around us.”
John Hilzinger, another Republican challenger for Planning and Zoning alternate, could not be reached before the time of publication.