2015 Community of the Year

Town of Lebanon

In 2012, the Town Lebanon took control of its destiny by dissolving its Conservation Commission, which was originally formed in 1972, and replacing it with a Conservation and Agriculture Commission. This deliberate and intentional action was based on the desire to protect Lebanon’s natural resources but also in recognition of the role agriculture had played in the Town’s economy and its contribution to the Town’s quality of life—and the desire to continue this mission. Since this time, Lebanon has led Connecticut in agricultural preservation. Lebanon’s land use commissions, town planner, residents, and town leadership have ensured that its’ Plan of Development, land use planning and resulting decisions reflect the importance of an maintaining an agricultural-based economy and the quality of life gained through the protection of the very same resources that sustain it.

As a result of this effort, Lebanon has over 5,000 acres of permanently preserved farmland, representing 12% of all farmland preserved in the State and the number of Lebanon farms has increased dramatically over the past decade, reversing an overall state trend.

2015 Implementation Award

Town of Canton Plan of Conservation and Development Implementation

Canton clearly is a community that sees planning as a tool not a process that ends once the plan is adopted. In updating its POCD, the Town opted to develop a separate Implementation Plan to create an inherent structure to get things accomplished. From the onset, the POCD Committee assigned responsibilities to POCD elements and established metrics to gauge results. The town’s Board of Selectman created a Plan Implementation Committee – a group of town leaders and staff– to monitor progress. They have met monthly with those responsible for specific implementation actions to track progress.

With the Plan adopted in 2014, this year marked the first annual reporting to the Board of Selectman. The results were nothing short of astonishing. Out of the 49 Priority Implementation measures that were slated to be addressed in the first four years, 36 measures showed documented progress and four items have been successfully completed. And, in the heat of election season, both candidates vying for the First Selectman’s seat actually read the document and met with the Town Planner as both were intent on continuing to pursue implementation as part of their respective administrations.

2015 Innovative Housing Award

CHFA Small Multifamily CDFI Loan Pool

Approximately 10% of all housing units in CT are in buildings with between 5 – 19 units. Nearly three-quarters of these buildings are owned by small business individuals, often performing their own administration and maintenance, and often with limited if any access to financing. Recognizing the unmet demand for smaller and more affordable housing developments and the need for financing, the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority (CHFA) capitalized on its strong partnerships with Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) which are federally-recognized non-profit lenders, to develop a funding program to assist with acquisition, rehabilitation, construction, and/or permanent financing for up to 20 years; transform vacant and blighted multifamily properties into affordable units; and participate in the revitalization efforts in low- and moderate- income neighborhoods.

CHFA provided the loan pool to the Hartford Community Loan Fund and the Greater New Haven Loan Fund as a source of very low cost funds that can be blended with other CDFI programs and products. Since its launch in April 2014, the Small Multifamily CDFI Loan Pool has already financed 24 small multifamily properties and one mixed-use property, resulting in 97 units of housing. On average, the loan pool has provided 75% of the financing for each property at an average cost to CHFA of $29,900 per housing unit. To date, all properties financed by the loan pool are located in low- or moderate-income census tracts and have required significant amounts of rehabilitation.

2015 Outstanding Planner Award

Margot Burns, Lower Connecticut River Council of Governments

In 2008, Margot Burns initiated an innovative and sustainable planning project for the Lower Connecticut River Valley. The project was to develop a sustainable link between the local, regional conservation community, and the Regional, State, and Federal land use planning process. Margot had the vision and insight through her work on conservation easements to recognize the need for coordinated policy and management support for towns, their conservation commissions, and their land trusts as it pertained to protected lands, future acquisitions of protected lands, and unprotected open space lands.

Her vision and leadership led to the creation of the Lower Connecticut River and Coastal Region Land Trust Exchange. This consortium provides regional education and planning for environmental and landscape protection and promotes regional landscape linkages and data acquisition. It enables collaboration and cooperation towards the creation of trails and greenways, protection of habitat, water quality, and scenic and cultural landscape corridors. All of this has been done with sensitivity towards local land trust and individual property owners’ interest and rights.

A major outcome of her work was the establishment of an 18 mile long regional greenway that functions as a wildlife and multi-use corridor. She has also spent the last two years working for the Exchange in writing, mapping, and drafting the first regional conservation plan: The Lower CT River and Coastal Region Land Trust Exchange Natural Resource Based Strategic Conservation Plan. This plan provides comprehensive mapping and data analysis of natural resources and targeted areas for preservation, and provides a conservation baseline for the COG’s Regional Plan and serves as a model for future conservation plans for towns, regions, and the state for analysis of natural resources, water quality, wildlife corridors, and forestation.

2015 Regional Plan

Route 1 Corridor Plan, Lower Connecticut River COG

Route 1 is a 12-mile stretch of extremely busy roadway used by thousands of residents and commuters, and in the warmer months, by tourists. Although the road connects Saybrook, Westbrook and Clinton, the COG and its team knew that regional transportation could not be the only focus. The plan would need to reflect the multi-functional role the roadway plays in each town—all of which are small and quiet and each with distinctive character and unique desires.

The challenge was to balance transportation needs with community assets and goals. The plan had to consider the historic context, quality of life, and environmental and recreational resources of each town while addressing seasonal traffic and the need for multi-modal transportation. Given the impact of Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, climate adaptation and resiliency needed to be addressed. Economic development goals were also considered.

Recognizing the potential for competing interests, a series of mobile visioning workshops, on-line surveys, a two-day design charrette, workshops, and public meetings were organized to fully engage the public and vet issues. With this input, the team successfully developed a plan that strikes a compromising balance among competing interests, and went beyond the singular focus of transportation and traffic issues. The Plan has spurred several champions to take up the recommendations and begin implementation as well as launch new initiatives.

2015 Special Chapter Award

Neil Pade

Neil chairs the Connecticut Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Board. He was recognized for his involvement and commitment to improving policy and planning for bike and pedestrian safety across the State.