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P&Z testing email questions at public hearings

Photo by File Photo

Planning and Zoning Commission members have decided that, for at least a trial period this spring, they will accept emailed questions from the public about appllications on their public hearing agendas. Here, P&Z members Catherine Walsh, Chip Stephens and Jack Whittle discuss an application at a meeting last year.

The Planning & Zoning Commission has launched a trial period for accepting questions from residents via email during its public hearings.

The commission agreed to adopt the policy at its April 10 meeting.

The trial period began at the commission's meeting last week and runs through June. After the trial, the P&Z will evaluate how to proceed with email questions during meetings in the future, Chairman Chip Stephens said in a news release.

Previously, the only way to ask questions about items discussed during a public hearing was to attend in person at Town Hall during the commission meetings. Recognizing the difficulties this might pose for some, the commission has decided to test the effectiveness of taking emails during the hearings, Stephens said.

"The purpose of this effort is to provide a mechanism to allow those who are not physically able to attend public hearings in Town Hall, but are watching either on public-access television or on the Internet, the convenience of sending a question via email," Stephens said. "Those who are able to be present at the meeting should still plan to attend the hearing."

The use of email questions is not designed to eliminate or reduce the normal procedure requiring and encouraging attendance in person at commission public hearings and meetings. All interested parties are encouraged to continue to attend and participate. The use of email questions is intended to be a limited accommodation to those who are unable to attend, but wish to ask a basic and factual question.

The following policies apply to emails received by the P&Z for comment at public hearings:

- The email questions be limited to basic questions of a factual nature and cannot provide speculative information or facts that cannot be verified during the hearing. Similarly, the email questions cannot be argumentative or used to articulate a position in favor of or against the proposed application.

- Email questions will be accepted only during the public comment period of the application currently on the agenda.

- All email questions must have the name and address of the Westport resident making the inquiry.

- Email questions will be limited to 25 words or less. No photos or attachments will be accepted.

- Email questions that have offensive, abusive or insulting comments will not be accepted.

- There is a limit of three email questions per item on the agenda. No follow-up questions will be allowed. The commission, acting through the chairman, reserves the right to not accept any email questions if time or any other considerations dictate.

- The applicant and any intervening parties will have the opportunity before the public hearing is closed to respond to any email questions, if so desired. If necessary, the applicant has the right to request a continuance if the information raised in an email cannot be answered during that meeting. Read Full Article 

- The chairman and the planning and zoning director, together, reserve the right to not accept a particular email question deemed inappropriate or not pertinent to the application at hand.

- The commission reserves the right to suspend the acceptance of email comments at any time.

- Emails that are read aloud during the meeting will be printed out the next day and added to the file.

All emails should be sent to PANDZ@Westportct.gov. For questions related to the new email policy, call the Planning & Zoning Department Office at 203-341-1030 or by email at pandz@westportct.gov.

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