Interview with Eric O’Connell – The Harbor News – August 24, 2017, 10AM
What makes you the best candidate for First Selectman?
I’ve spent years learning the governance of Clinton and I will represent our citizens and businesses with ethics and honesty. I will make Clinton the place to do business, and attract new businesses to our town to increase the grand list. I will lower taxes through economic development and Smart Growth initiatives, and fight for the vitality of our community by harnessing under-utilized business opportunities such as Unilever, Old Morgan, downtown Clinton, Stanley Bostitch, and the other brownfield sites. As an experienced Project Manager, I also will facilitate communication and appropriate long-term strategic planning with the various boards and commissions.
What are your short-term goals?
We need to send a signal to developers we are open for business. To accomplish this, we need a fulltime Town Planner to guide the Planning and Zoning Commission and Land Use Office in the zoning changes set out in the Town Plan of Conservation and Development.
Specifically we need to create design standards and increase density in the under-developed areas on Route 1, the Unilever site, and downtown; allow for mixed-use retail/business development; explore wastewater options for the Unilever site to facilitate growth and
expansion into downtown; build the Clinton Greenway to attract millennials and young families; and utilize state and federal funding opportunities for our brownfield sites while protecting our small town character, open space, and our fragile coastal environment.
The Town Plan calls for this and many other initiatives to stimulate economic development. I will bring project management to the implementation of the over 200 specific action items in the Town Plan.
We also need to do a better job helping those on fixed incomes. Currently in our community there is a 8.7% poverty rate and 23% are considered ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, yet Employed). Working with the Board of Finance I will make more people eligible for the Senior Property Tax Program to help those who want to stay in our community.
What are your long-term goals?
Building on the focus of the first two years will be a continued drive for professionalism.
The referendum on the Town Charter plays a role in future governance, but does not change the need for a long-term plan for infrastructure investment. Our core municipal policy needs to focus on increasing the grand list. The Town Plan action items focus on this long-term goal as means of increasing revenue, lowering taxes, rebuilding our infrastructure, and supporting the Police Department, Volunteer Fire Department, Public Works, Parks and Recreation, Social Services, and Clinton Public Schools.
Over a 10 year period the Clinton grand list shifted from 65% to 75% residential. A healthy commercial and industrial grand list is critical to keeping taxes in check. A comprehensive strategy through redevelopment and revitalization in areas with existing infrastructure is needed to address this imbalance and stimulate economic development.
I will encourage attractive, well-designed commercial development in appropriate locations that provides convenient services for residents, attracts businesses and industries that do not rely solely on the local population for customers, diversifies the tax base, and furnishes employment opportunities in a way that is supportive and reflective of Clinton’s community character and fragile coastal resources.
I will work closely with Clinton’s Board of Finance and Economic Development Commission, in conjunction with the Office of Business & Industry Development – part of the Connecticut Economic and Community Development Department – to preserve and expand existing businesses through transparent tax incentives and other forms of stimulus.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
My proudest accomplishment is managing the Town Plan of Conservation and Development, which was adopted in November 2015 by the Planning and Zoning Commission and endorsed by the Board of Selectmen as the Town’s guiding document. The Town Plan was developed through a five year process of engagement with every Town board and commission, civic organizations, and public outreach, plus incorporates numerous studies on attracting new businesses to Clinton while preserving and protecting our community character.
To realize Clinton’s potential, coordination between Town boards and commissions is a major expectation of the Town Plan. It is essential for the implementation of the over 200 specific action items in the Plan.
What plan would you implement for the Old Morgan?
First and foremost, I would look at successful developments in the region and engage with those developers. Who better to comment on the direction of the property and who might be interested? A similar approach would be utilized for Unilever and other brownfield sites in Clinton. When we found an interested developer, I would vet them properly for both their finances and experience.
The existing zoning regulations also need to be reviewed. These have been adapted multiple times for the Mill Pond Development, which was selected by the Board of Selectmen as the “preferred developer”. The zoning regulations also deviate significantly from what the Town originally proposed in the guidelines for the Interchange Development Zone (IDZ) as a publicly owned property. The original guidelines were created through public input and the regional marketing recommendation from Clinton’s Vibrant Communities Initiative report.
Two other important points to understand are that we have been marketing a 38-acre site. However the developable portion of Old Morgan is actually a lot less because a major portion of it is in an Aquifer Protection Area, which protects our public water supply. The zoning regulations also need review because developers get bonuses as an incentive for providing amenities to the Town. However the Town does not yet have any specific amenities tied to those bonuses. This needs to be resolved.