Both the draft amendments to the town’s firearms ordinance and an anti-blight ordinance will be part of a public hearing on August 7, beginning at 7 pm in Newtown High School’s lecture hall, the Legislative Council voted Wednesday, July 10.
During the meeting’s initial public comment period, resident Barbara O’Connor expressed concerns with amendments to Newtown’s Firearms Ordinance, which have been the subject of subcommittee meetings for nearly a year.
She questioned the four-hour rule stating that residents must initiate a call to the police to state they would begin shooting and had to stop after four hours. After making a call to notify police, the draft ordinance states that the call, logged and recorded by police “shall begin a four hour window in which such activity shall be allowed …” She indicated that the stipulation was “ridiculous.”
Resident Robert Hutchinson also spoke on the firearms draft, suggesting clearer wording in some areas, definitions of a backstop and potentially siting the backstops on wetlands.
While the council members edged toward discussion on the topics and the draft amendments, council member Mary Ann Jacob argued forcefully that no substantive changes should occur during the July 10 meeting.
She argued that council members could “approve or reject” the draft but “the public should be present for any discussion or substantive changes.
Ms Jacob stressed that a large number or residents both for and against firearms use have been part of the months-long firearms ordinance amendment process. With those people in mind, just several of which were present Wednesday, she said, “We said the next time we deliberate would be after the public hearing and if we make changes here I feel it’s wrong.”
Mrs Llodra agreed with Ms Jacob’s earlier statement that the council’s actions that night were to send, or not to send the draft amendments to a hearing. If a vote failed to send the draft to the hearing, it would have gone back to the subcommittee for discussion. “Changes should not be made here tonight,” Mrs Llodra said. With a vote of 7 - 3 in favor, the draft went to hearing.
Following that vote, Parents for a Safer Newtown member Eric Poupon said he thought the decision was fair. Both he and Mr Hutchinson walked away with the impression that Mr Hutchinson’s suggestions would be reviewed by the town counsel following the hearing.
“I am satisfied with the equity and pace of [the ordinance committee] and I have every confidence that the Legislative Council will approach this in the same fair fashion,”Mr Hutchinson said.
Ms Jacob’s determination that no changes take place without the public “was admirable,” Mr Poupon said.
It was a collaborative effort, he explained – a citizen’s group interested in the firearms ordinance discussions in the last year included the Parents for a Safer Newtown, the Newtown Action Alliance, and members of shooting sports clubs.
Ms Jacob had said earlier, “the public, [people] who have been part of the process should be here.”
Also during the public comment period, Ms O’Connor spoke about a proposed anti-blight ordinance fearing residents “are being legislated to death.”
Remarking on lawns, she said, “If someone wants to let their grass grow, they should be able to let it grow, not be forced to cut it.”
Ms Jacob said the ordinance subcommittee “struggled and came back to what’s enforceable.” Does something pose a threat, is it open to the elements, unable to be sufficient shelter, or is it neglected or abandoned? Considering those questions, she said, “We eliminated some subjective points and kept it to enforceable items by land use and the police department.” She said the proposed ordinance was about safety and welfare.
Council members Neil Chaudhary and Paul Lundquist asked about antique tractors in a neighbor’s field or relics, such as rusted old cars. Subjectivity would have to play a role, and several members agreed they were not concerned about antique tractors, for example, after conversations with Land Use Director George Benson.
Mr Lundquist was concerned about sending the ordinance to a public hearing, saying, “It’s a little overreaching.” He also felt it did not fit the character of the town “where the government can look over your shoulder.” The council approved the ordinance for the August 7 public hearing.
A New SHS
To clarify statements regarding the new Sandy Hook School Building Project made in the third public “Question and Answer” (Q&A) document released July 10, First Selectman Pat Llodra addressed the Legislative Council.
Specifically, she added greater explanation to several statements including: “I have read via social media that the town has received offers for large donations from corporations and individuals, How would these funds be used?”
Her answer, posted on NewtownBee.com states, “We have not received any offers by corporations or individuals to rebuild the Sandy Hook School. However, we have received some generous offers of goods and services related to the new school. These offers are documented and will be evaluated by the Public Building & Site Commission and incorporated into the project as much as possible. Use of donated items will help to offset any funds received from the state as part of the bonding package.”
Of a $50 million dollar funding package from the state through a bonding action late this summer or early fall, $750,000 will be appropriated sooner to begin preliminary work for a new school to be built at the current school’s location.
“There is no rejection of a magnanimous offer,” she said. “We have not had discussion with any large donors. We have a grant from the state.”
Newtown has received “generous offers of services and other things for the school, that “We will incorporate [the offers] however we can,” she said. “Our goal is to be as efficient as possible.” She admitted to council members that “I am learning it is not as simple to gather kindnesses and roll them into a project.” Donations of lighting or other fixtures must meet codes, for one, she said, and design standards. She said, “We will try to honor offers [of services or products] but it is more of a challenge than we thought.”
Answering questions from council members about what materials might be salvaged or reused in the new construction, she said of the old building constructed in the 1950s that its materials won’t meet modern code. Furnaces, generators, and “anything that can be captured,’ could possibly be reused.