STAMFORD - There’s a growing frustration among the crowds of residents who show up at City Hall on weekday evenings to hear developers’ proposals for their neighborhoods.
They can’t hear what’s being said.
Meetings of the planning and zoning boards are held in the fourth-floor cafeteria which, residents say, has a faulty sound system.
It came up again Tuesday night, when a crowd gathered for a Planning Board meeting on a request from the owner of a High Ridge office park to change zoning regulations to allow construction of a large fitness complex.
A few minutes after Deputy Planning Director David Woods began delivering his report on the proposal, the Planning Board chairwoman, Theresa Dell, interrupted.
“If anyone in the back can’t hear - I can see some of you straining - you are welcome to come and sit up front,” Dell told the crowd.
People quickly responded.
“Can you turn on the audio system?” a man shouted from the crowd.
“It’s on,” Dell said, explaining that it was checked before the meeting and appeared to be working.
“It’s time the city invested a couple of bucks in some microphones,” another man shouted.
“Can we check to see if it is properly functioning?” a woman called out.
“It’s always like this,” Planning Board member Jennifer Godzeno called back. “It’s a problem. But it’s always like this.”
Board members tapped their microphones, turned the switches on and off and on again, and checked the wires. No sound. They decided to just speak louder.
It’s frustrating, said Paul Longo, a longtime neighborhood advocate.
“People come out for these meetings because the decisions that are being made affect their lives,” he said. “But then they can’t hear anything that’s going on and they walk out.”
Last August Longo emailed a number of people in City Hall to ask that the sound system in the cafeteria be fixed. At the time, Longo wrote, it had not been working properly for more than a year.
Woods responded in an Aug. 9 email, saying “a number of less than ideal conditions persist that may make solutions … problematic.” The meetings are held in the cafeteria because public meetings are recorded, and that room has cameras and microphones, but it is not designed for good sound, Woods wrote. He also said there might be concern about the cost of repairs “for what most likely would be a minimal improvement.”
Longo wrote back.
“It would seem fairly inexpensive and straightforward to install, say, four additional amplified speakers … at the center and the rear of the cafeteria,” he told Woods.
Then he kept pushing, saying people have to be able to participate in matters of public interest, and government meetings are key. Finally, he got the name of someone who could help - Dan DiBlasio, facilities manager for the government center building.Read Full Article
DiBlasio hired a communications contractor to look at it.
“They made some repairs” - about $800 worth, DiBlasio said Thursday. “They got it up and running but things kept going wrong. It’s an old system that is probably original to the building.”
By October, he said, the contractor seemed to have gotten the system to work.
“People were up in arms about it before, but I haven’t heard about problems since then,” DiBlasio said.
His staff has checked the system on days when a meeting is scheduled, he said, but he may have to find a way to get someone to check it once meetings are underway.
“We will look at what could have happened (Tuesday night) and figure out what we can do from there,” DiBlasio said.
Difficulty understanding speakers at planning and zoning meetings can fuel emotions that may already run high. It’s been particularly true in the last couple of years, when residents have been organizing to oppose development they say is destroying the character of their neighborhoods.
Besides the Life Time Fitness indoor-outdoor center proposed for High Ridge Park — the topic of Tuesday’s meeting — residents have come out against an 800-unit apartment complex proposed for another office park on Long Ridge Road, a large medical clinic on High Ridge Road, and other projects affecting neighborhoods centered around single-family homes.
At the meetings, developers - along with their attorneys and land-use experts - present proposals to board members such as how close to homes new structures would be built, how much traffic the projects would generate, hours of operation, whether a parking garage is needed, and more.
Residents - some have taken to hiring their own attorneys - feel outgunned, saying the city tends to favor development because it generates revenue.
Some said Tuesday they think a faulty cafeteria sound system weighs in the city’s favor.
“They don’t want us to hear,” Turn of River resident Peter Licopantis said. “They don’t want all these people asking a lot of questions.”