Long meetings have become almost the norm for Wilton’s Planning & Zoning Commission, but with a new chairman at the helm, P&Z might aim for more efficient run times.

At last night’s meeting, (Dec. 9) the P&Z Commission elected its officers for the new season. Commissioners took three swift votes at the top of the meeting to unanimously elect longtime member Rick Tomasetti as P&Z chair; Melissa Rotini as vice chair; and Doris Knapp as secretary.

The meeting–the first to take place in the new municipal session since recently-elected officials were sworn in–was unusually brief, lasting less than an hour. Nonetheless, Tomasetti noted that he expected the commission would have longer meetings in the future and their work cut out for them.

“We were expeditious tonight, but I expect there to be a lot of work to do over the coming years. Specifically, we have the master planning endeavor to do, and with [town planner] Bob [Nerney] leaving, we’ll have a new planner, hopefully shortly, and I don’t think we’ll do much until we have a new planner,” he said.

He suggested that the commission would need to proceed slowly with the master planning process until whoever Nerney’s replacement will be gets up and running. “We’re going to have to give them a little bit of time. But there are other things I know we can be doing simultaneously and prior to master planning–signage is a big one; we know we have to review our signage regulations–there was a supreme court decision, and we just never got to it, so that’s something we have to be getting to.”

One other issue Tomasetti raised was meeting efficiency, for a commission that in the past has regularly seen meetings go beyond 11 p.m. or more–on occasion, with controversial applications, continuing well past midnight. He suggested the commission might consider putting some limitations for meeting participation.

“There’s also planning and zoning rules and procedures that were adopted by prior commissions a long time ago. I don’t think it would be a bad thing to look at again. One that comes to mind when we get into larger applications, and they do become time consuming, and trying to be more efficient with staff time and our time, I think we need to look at limiting public comment. Through 3-5 minutes. I think we have to get into that rotation, and have everyone understand it. We just want more efficiency on everybody’s part. Everyone can always email or write in, and certainly there has to be exceptions for adjoiners and abutters, but it’s up for discussion. We’ve witnessed some meetings that take a long time–in some ways they’re good because they’re thorough, but there’s a lot of repetition and we just want the efficiency. I think it’s something we should look at.”

Commissioner Knapp echoed Tomasetti’s sentiments. “I also think we shouldn’t be here until one o’clock in the morning, that we should decide we’re going to cut off at 11 o’clock and go home, or whatever the time is.”

Knapp asked Nerney about whether there are legal restrictions on limiting time for public comment per speaker, but before he answered, commissioner Eric Fanwick suggested asking town counsel the question.

Tomasetti replied that in the past town counsel has said the commission could limit members of the public’s speaking time, “But you have to be judicious about it.”

“The big thing from my perspective is you need to be consistent about it. It’s not about shutting the public down–it’s about being efficient. Especially with the larger applications, and being able to get out at a reasonable hour. We need to be on our game. We need to make sure the applicant and the people who are for and against it have the right amount of input.”

Tomasetti did say it would be worth having the land use attorney who counsels the commission provide an opinion about the topic.