Wading into the alphabet soup of Newtown’s zoning regulations can be hazardous to your wakefulness. But as the Planning and Zoning Commission seeks to move beyond its legally precarious AHD with a MUMI-10 as a buffer against the state’s AHAA, which ultimately led to a court-ordered approval in 2011 of an MIHD in Sandy Hook Center, one distinct message emerges from the accumulating jumble of acronyms: Newtown is trying very hard to stay alert to its obligations to provide a wider variety of affordable housing stock to its residents.
The New Year has begun, bringing with it hopes and resolutions meant to erase the folly of the previous year (or years). It is an annual event, celebrated in this part of the world by the turning of the Gregorian Calendar page from December to January.
The negligence and wrongful death lawsuit filed in Bridgeport Superior Court December 13 by a survivor and the families of nine of the 26 people killed two years ago at Sandy Hook Elementary School hopes to move the discussion of guns and gun violence away from the politically charged precincts of legislative hearings, social media and other freewheeling forums (yes, editorials too) into the more ordered setting of a court room. It is not that courtrooms are immune from the distortions of polemics and grandiloquence, which have distracted this country’s debate on guns. Legal proceedings, in fact, are known for these high rhetorical arts. In courtrooms, however, no matter how high the words are piled, it is evidence that is supposed to tip the scales.
As fall began to take its final bows this week, winter was waiting in the wings, hastening the old season’s slide into history with sleet, ice, and snow. In the early hours of Tuesday morning, it appeared that someone had run Zambonis over the roads in much of the state, turning the morning rush into a cautious creep. Then snow frosted the landscape again on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Winter asserts itself in this way as no other season does. It imposes itself on our pace, on our schedules, and on our certitude. It threatens to break our appointments with its implicit threat to break our arms and hips by shifting the ground beneath our feet and the road beneath our cars. It loosens the connections we have to make, and, at times, cuts us off one from another.
In the ten years since Newtown purchased the state-owned property that served Connecticut for more than 60 years as a psychiatric hospital, the evolution of 186-acre campus at Fairfield Hills has been mostly municipal. The site is now the seat of Newtown’s government. Attempts to stimulate commercial interest there, however, have sputtered. The one notable exception was the opening of the 86,000-square-foot Newtown Youth Academy in 2008. But now, there is even talk of an eventual town takeover of that facility as well.
Now is the season of thanks and of thanks giving. It is also the season that kicks off gift giving, although anyone who has visited a mall or department store in the past six weeks has already been pummeled with jingling bells, fake Santas, and exhortations to buy, buy, buy. Drive here, or drive there to shop here, or shop there. Use the Internet, the phone, or page through that glossy catalog to make sure everyone gets exactly what everyone else in the USA wants. Or, give yourself the gift of time and Shop Small.
When the holidays get started in earnest next week, the town will again embark on a season of heightened sensibilities with a celebration of Thanksgiving. Elsewhere, the fulsome holiday spectacle of twinkling lights and jingling cash registers seems to go a little farther over the top with every passing year. But in Newtown the sense of what we have, etched as it is in high relief by what we have lost, has an authentic value worthy of our deepest thanks. It is this extra awareness of the fragile boundary between having and not having that made a report this week by the United Way of Connecticut about the extent of economic suffering in this affluent state, county, and town so unsettling.
The work of Newtown’s finance authorities is axiomatic: seek economy in the increasingly expensive enterprise of running a town. And in watching the early work of the Board of Finance and the Finance Department impacting the next budget cycle, some actual axioms come to mind. Waste not want not. A penny saved is a penny earned. Less is more. For some residents who may, for example, suffer a bone-jarring commute along some of the town’s more pothole-pocked byways twice a day, the economic zeal of budgetmakers may seem more like parsimony. (More about those potholes later.) It is beginning to look, however, like Newtown’s shrewd financing may be yielding some tangible benefits.
Election day is welcomed and celebrated in this country as the culmination of the democratic process — a system that is supposed to make our representative government accountable and self-correcting. It ensures a government of, by, and for the people. Having just endured yet another election campaign marked by a dizzying amount of spin, misdirection, and hyperbole, however, we understand that the modern practice of democracy may be getting most of its vigor and power not from “the people” but from vast sums of money with indistinct sources and purposes. We take consolation, though, from the words of Winston Churchill: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all those others that have been tried.”
Newtown approaches Election Day this year with a perspective on federal and state government it did not have two years ago. Hartford and Washington, DC, do not seem quite so removed from our community life this time around; our elected representatives both in Congress and the legislature have had many opportunities to come through for Newtown, and for the most part they have done so, often expending significant political capital to secure grants and to enact legislation that directly benefited this community as it worked to recover from the tragic events of 12/14. The performance of these elected officials in the crucible of tragedy has informed our choices in the 2014 election more than the pro forma campaign promises and rhetoric.