In the Zone: LeClerc looks back at the good, bad & the ugly in TPZ years
After five years serving on the Town Plan and Zoning Commission, the last several as chairman, preceded by a long tenure on the Representative Town Meeting, Bryan LeClerc is taking a step back from elected office.
A lawyer with the Milford office of the Berchem, Moses & Devlin law firm, LeClerc began his elected service to the town in 1991, with election to the Representative Town Meeting, a seat he held until 2007 when he ran for the TPZ. While on the RTM, the Republican served as the legislative body's moderator two separate times.
While he may have left the field of politics -- at least for now -- LeClerc's wife, Mary, remains active and is seeking re-election to a six-year term on the Board of Finance this fall.
Byran LeClerc talked with the Fairfield Citizen recently about his time as an elected official in town and local land-use issues.
Q: Why did you resign from the Town Plan & Zoning Commission?
A: "As an attorney, I am prohibited by state statute from appearing before the commission. I have received increasing requests to represent both applicants and neighbors before the commission, and made a business decision in the best interest of my practice."
Q: What was the most difficult aspect of serving on the TPZ?
A: "I thoroughly loved serving on the commission and working with my colleagues to help make Fairfield a better place to live and raise our families. The most difficult aspect is the time required to thoroughly review applications, plans, drawings, traffic studies, expert technical reports and the applicable regulations and law, as well as to visit the sites involved."
Q: What do you feel was the biggest, or best, change you helped bring about while acting in the panel's planning function?
A: "The commission spent many days working on the Commerce Drive area, and ultimately implemented changes which establish a vision and regulatory scheme for its future development. This is the last remaining area of Fairfield where we will see both commercial, residential and mixed-use development, and it was important that we, as a commission, took the lead in planning for our town's future.
"In addition, I am very proud of the downtown area of Fairfield. I have promoted and encouraged outdoor dining, and advocated for an extended outdoor dining season. As a result, we have a downtown that is the envy of many of our neighboring towns, which is accessible via sidewalks by thousands of our residents, and which is a safe, fun place for people of all ages."
Q: You also served as moderator on the RTM. What do you see as the differences between being the RTM's moderator, and the TPZ's chairman?
A: "Both positions required me to be neutral and unbiased during meetings and public hearings, as well as respectful of the opinions of the members and residents. As the TP&Z chairman, however, I was able to influence and promote policy changes during the exercise of our planning function.
"While I loved both experiences, I found my service on the commission more fulfilling personally and professionally."
Q: What is the public's biggest, or most common, misconception about the TPZ?
A: "That the commission grants variances. It is the Zoning Board of Appeals which is tasked with that responsibility."
Q: You are now "on the other side" of the table at zoning meetings. What is that like?
A: "I am used to presenting applications and representing clients as part of my practice, so appearing before the Fairfield commission is not unusual in that regard."
Q: What was the most contentious application that came before the board during your tenure? How many nights of hearings did it take?
A: "A number of applications have taken several nights of hearings. But that is necessary given the complexity of the applications, as well as the number of neighbors interested in speaking. I am always impressed by the preparedness, eloquence and respect of the public who have appeared before the commission.
"But contentious applications are not always those that are the longest. The most contentious applications have been those involving affordable housing developments. That is mainly because of state statutes, which in many cases and ways supplant our existing zoning regulations. The burden shifts to the town to prove that there is a substantial interest in health and safety which clearly outweighs the need for affordable housing. The law is complex, and the public typically does not understand the impact of the applicable state statutes."
Q: What made you want to run for TPZ in the first place?
A: "I enjoyed serving on the RTM for well over a decade. After I decided not to seek re-election, I was asked to consider running for a townwide seat on the commission. I thought that my professional training would be an asset to the town, so I agreed to run."
Q: Do you see yourself getting involved in town politics again in the future?
A: "Yes. Although I do not have a great deal of free time given my current obligations as a parent, Scoutmaster of Troop 82, and board member of several local not-for-profits, I have always enjoyed serving my community. I love Fairfield and hope that I have helped make it a better place to live and work.
"A product of a great Jesuit undergraduate education at Fairfield University, I was taught the virtues of leadership and service to others. It's easy to complain, but much more fulfilling to work to make things better. Given my experiences as an elected official, I am sure that you will again see me running for office, either local or statewide."
Q: Do you feel that having served on the TPZ has given you an "edge" in presenting applications to land-use boards, i.e., knowing what they are looking for?
A: "Definitely. Being a member of the zoning commission has allowed me to spend many hundreds of hours listening to and working with my fellow commissioners. In addition, I have become intimately familiar with our regulations and their application to various projects over the years. I have learned much during my tenure, and this allows me to better present applications and represent various clients before zoning boards."