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Selectmen Candidates Clash at Byram Debate

GREENWICH, Conn. – Tensions rose between First Selectman Peter Tesei and Democratic challenger John Blankley at the Byram Neighborhood Association-sponsored debate Thursday night on such issues as the latest housing assessments and zoning enforcement of housing rules.

As the gateway into Greenwich and Connecticut from New York and its proximity to Interstate 95, Byram faces traffic issues, which no candidates said they had the "right" answer for. Tesei referred to the importance of listening to residents about traffic-calming devices or improvements. Blankley said the issue cannot be solved overnight but said a little more "head-butting" and less "congeniality" would be needed to create solutions.

Two major issues for Byram are housing violations and Planning and Zoning Commission rules that restrict home expansions. Democratic Selectman Drew Marzullo, a Greenwich Emergency Medical Services medic, said he has gone into Byram homes where too many people are living in one space. "I want to welcome as many people as you want in Greenwich, but it becomes a safety issue," he said.

Tesei explained the role of a zoning enforcement officer, who reports to the Planning and Zoning Commission on areas of compliance in town, and said the airing of board meetings on Greenwich Community Television spoke to the accountability of town government.

Tesei then brought up his recent creation of an Economic Advisory Committee, consisting of nine business professionals charged with informing the selectman on new businesses and possible business expansion. Blankley agreed with the importance of the zoning enforcement officer but said such committees slow the process of the town government system and called it "government by committee."

Tesei addressed Blankley's comments made on committees, by saying, "I would not change a thing in my approach in listening and bringing people in to help develop solutions for the problems facing our town," said Tesei. "It has worked. It's leadership that puts the people of Greenwich first, and it gives people respect. They want to be heard, and they want to hear that this is not a dictatorship."

He added that the last the town had Democratic leadership, calling it a "regime," it ended up with the North Mianus sewer lawsuit and costly litigation in the police department. Blankley took issue with Tesei's use of the word "regime," leading to raised voices and interjection. "It's a word in the English language," Tesei said.

On the topic of taxes and the recent revaluation of property, Tesei said the town saw fewer appeals to state Superior Courts than in previous years and said Greenwich remains a destination town.

Blankley cooled down and spoke to the assessment issue, saying he agreed they were in line with market values. In terms of increasing property values, however, Blankley said a stagnant education system indicated that residents were "not getting proper value for our tax values at Town Hall."

"That is why I believe the tax increase rate should continue to be as it has been, between 3 [percent] and 4 percent," said Blankley. "It's an ideal range to have."

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