By KAITLYN NAPLES
Last year, the state’s Municipal Opportunities & Regional Efficiencies (M.O.R.E) Commission began discussing the possibility of condensing the 14 regional planning agencies into eight councils of government. This included the Central Connecticut Regional Planning Agency (CCRPA) that oversaw 14 municipalities including Bristol.
Also last year, the state’s Office of Policy Management (OPM) came up with a preliminary recommendation for new regions on Oct. 1. Under this preliminary recommendation, OPM put CCRPA in the Hartford region, which is the Capital Region Council of Governments (CRCOG). However, CRCOG told the CCRPA they did not want the entire region joining its agency as a whole, but contacted the towns within the CCRPA to see which would express interest in joining CRCOG. Plainville and Southington voted to join CRCOG last year.
At a special City Council meeting last week, it was unanimously approved to join a council of governments in the Naugatuck valley, which is expected to be newly formed by the end of the year.
When Councilor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu asked Mayor Ken Cockayne if the Hartford agency was asked to attend the special meeting, Cockayne said they were “aware of this meeting, and made it clear they are in support of us going the other way.”
At last week’s meeting, the council voted to appeal OPM’s decision to have Bristol join the Capital Planning Region (Hartford) so it can join the Naugatuck Valley region.
Executive Director of the Council of Governments of the Central Naugatuck Valley Region Sam Gold attended the special meeting and said it makes sense for Bristol to join the Naugatuck Valley region, especially since rail could ultimately be connected with Waterbury.
“There are many Bristol residents who work in Waterbury,” or in the Naugatuck valley, as well as valley residents who work in Bristol, Gold said, adding that connecting the rail lines would ultimately benefit ESPN, which has many people coming in and out from New York.
Once OPM approves Bristol’s appeal, the city then will need to adopt an ordinance allowing the connection with the Naugatuck valley region. By Jan. 1 of next year, the new Naugatuck valley council of governments would take on the regional planning responsibilities for Bristol.
Alan Weiner, Bristol’s city planner, said one of the components for the revitalization of the downtown area is the desire for passenger rail. He said connecting Bristol to Waterbury would be more likely, than connecting Bristol to Berlin.
“Casting our lot with the new ‘COG’ (councils of government) seems to make more sense,” particularly because of the potential to have rail in the city, which could take longer if the city joined the Hartford COG, Weiner said. He added Bristol has more in common with the towns in the Naugatuck valley, especially in terms of its industrial heritage.
Zoppo-Sassu said she wants to make sure Bristol still maintains its relationships with other towns, even though it would be part of a different planning agency. Cockayne said those relationships still will remain strong.
While the planning portion would be shifted to the eventual Naugatuck valley COG, Bristol will still remain part of the CCRPA’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, which deals strictly with transportation and funding from the federal government. Gold said that relationship will remain until it is decided where to proceed with the new regions.
By KAITLYN NAPLES