WESTPORT, Conn. For the past three years, Westport resident Catherine Walsh has played a pivotal role in helping shape the town's zoning regulations as a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission. This November, she hopes to secure her spot on the commission for four more years.
Although an experienced commissioner, this will be the first time Walsh, one of four Republican candidates, appears on a ballot. She was appointed to the commission in 2008 after Helen Martin Block resigned.
A mother of two Staples High School graduates and a 21-year resident, Walsh works as an executive in the steel industry. She recently took the time to answer some questions about the upcoming election. The following are her responses.
Question: What to you are the biggest planning and zoning issues facing the town?
Answer: There are a couple large issues. The largest issue is how to grow while maintaining the small town character of Westport. I think, in the past three years, we've loosened regulations sufficiently to allow growth to happen, like outdoor dining, the abolition of the 1,500-foot rule and outdoor music. So, I think we're on the right track already.
Another large Planning and Zoning issue is one that's separate from downtown issues, and that is the process we have in place to evaluate how we go about municipal projects. Planning and Zoning is the only commission that can authorize the sale or lease town property, and I think we need to have a broader financial view before we're asked to make a decision. The first selectman tends to do a sidestep dance before putting numbers on table, and I think it's ludicrous.
Q: Where do you stand on the proposed development of Baron's South?
A: As a seated commissioner, I can't comment on the Baron's South project. However, I have been very vocal about the process, and I think the process needs to be re-evaluated.
Q: What are your thoughts about a movie theater in downtown Westport? If you support the idea, what suggestions would you propose to make sure it keeps with the town's characteristics?
A: Absolutely, put a movie theater downtown. I think Westport Cinema Initiative should consider looking at properties they can build without coming to us for a text amendment. There used to be five theaters, and those buildings still exist now, so I think it can be done.
Q: Why should people vote for you?
A: People should vote for me for a lot reasons. I don't rubber stamp, and I question everything. I will fight to protect everyone's property rights. I do want to maintain the character of the town: Some of the text amendments that were passed this year I was the minority voter or abstained because I feel some of those text amendments can lead to overdevelopment, especially on the Post Road. We need to keep this a small town, not turn it into Stamford or New Rochelle.
Q: If re-elected, what will your goals be as a commissioner?
A: To maintain our small-town feel. We need to keep the scale of the town as is by maintaining the current zones. Also, I'll hold the administration's toes to fire regarding the way they approach us when trying to do a project. I will work with the Board of Finance and make sure we have open discussions with the Board of Finance.
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