NEWTOWN — With its recent update of the regulations, the Planning and Zoning Commission made history when Newtown became the first town in Connecticut to address plantings for commercial projects.
Holly Kocet, chair of the Conservation Commission, told Voices that she’s thrilled because the new language will guide developers away from invasive and non-native plants and encourage the use of native species.
“Our open space preserves, while hugely important ecologically, may not be enough to support healthy ecosystems as more and more private lands and wild places are developed,” she said. Both private and public landscapes will be needed to compensate for this loss. Natives are necessary to maintain a healthy ecosystem.”
Ms. Kocet and Barbara Thomas, chair of Monroe’s Conservation Commission, began working together in March 2020.
“I knew Holly was active in many areas, such as Protect Our Pollinators, and reached out to her,” Ms. Thomas said. “Holly worked to create a comprehensive list of native plants to support developers and she did a phenomenal job on that.
“Because the Monroe Conservation Commission would often draft rationales for why native plantings would be a better choice than what appeared on a plant schedule presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission, I used that approach to write a draft regulation that could help those not familiar with the topic to understand why native plants are important.”
“We’re both master gardeners, educators and speakers, with 20 years of experience. We’re passionate about native plants,” Ms. Kocet explained.
“We know that non-native plants are dominating our landscapes. They provide no benefit to wildlife such as birds and insects. They can also compete with native plants on which animals depend. We wanted to take action.”
They felt that towns could mitigate the impact of fragmentation that comes with land development and address the proliferation of non-native and exotic plants.
They complied a native plant resource guide and policy guidelines, which help to explain the negative impact of invasive plants.
“Native plants are indigenous to our area. They are better adapted to our local climate and soils and once established rarely require watering. Out native trees are long-lasting and sequester carbon more efficiently than introduced species. There are natives for every site condition and application. They are attractive and colorful, contribute to biodiversity and connect us to our home places.”
Ms. Kocet shared the work with the Newtown Conservation Commission, securing its support as well as the support of First Selectman Dan Rosenthal and Rob Sibley, deputy director of planning.
In September, the Board of Selectmen approved a policy supporting the use of native plantings on town properties.
The Planning and Zoning Commission updated the regulations in December, 2021, which will require commercial properties to plan 100 percent of its trees and grasses with native species.
“We wanted to give leeway so only 75 percent of perennials and 85 percent of shrubs must be native. We are hoping that residents will take notice and be positively influenced, but the regulation does not impact private homes or existing plantings.”
Ms. Kocet said there is more work to be done. “We’re not through with this. Barbara and I are taking the policy on the road, to share with neighboring towns and offering to talk about our experience and success.”
She added, “After working for a long time on this, it’s nice to see something positive come of it.”
The resource guide is available online at www.newtownconservation.org.