Smart Growth for Vernon is a citizens group dedicated to promoting responsible growth and development in Vernon/Rockville, Connecticut. It works together with other local groups to promote public awareness of planning and development issues and to encourage public participation in preserving the town's heritage and environment.
Smart Growth for Vernon, a new grassroots organization in town, works with other local groups committed to promoting public awareness of planning and development issues, encouraging public participation in these areas, and presenting quality community outreach programs on smart growth issues. Recently SGV members joined Working Families Party interns canvassing homes in the Exit 67 area, off I-84, in Vernon. The canvassers surveyed residents on issues of open space, jobs, preservation of open land, and big box development. The responses, opinions, and suggestions collected will help the group plan future events.
SGV group members attend workshops on land use and conservation, attend Inland Wetland and Planning and Zoning Commission meetings in town, and, whenever possible, film these meetings for the community cable access channel. Other activities include writing articles for their website, canvassing, and helping maintain a green space in downtown Rockville as part of the Green Space committee of the Rockville Downtown Association. Last fall (2004) they sponsored a public screening of the film, "Talking to the Wall," which focuses on the struggle of a small town, Greenfield, Mass., against a corporate giant trying to expand its company into their town. Members visited the filmmaker, Steve Alves, in Greenfield, interviewed him, and asked him to lead a question and answer session after the film. SGV was also a co-sponsor for the Center Edge Forum held in Vernon, by the Center Edge Coalition, a group that focuses on community issues such as equality in housing and job opportunities. Future activities include publishing a newsletter, a summer community outreach program, and a fall community outreach program. Other groups that the organization has worked with are the Greater Tolland Green Party, Rockville Concerned Citizens for Responsible Development, the Rockville Downtown Association, and Stafford First, Stafford Springs, CT.
SGV welcomes new members and there are many activities and various levels of participation. Please feel free to contact us via the website.
Development Documentary to be Shown in Vernon
By Annie Gentile
VERNON — How should Vernon be developed? What alternatives are there to big-box projects? A new local group, Smart Growth for Vernon, is asking these questions as they look beyond the recent Home Depot and Wal-Mart battles to their hopes for the future fiscal health of their town.
"We want to show people alternatives to just putting up a Supercenter to create revenue," said Deb Wilson, who said her group evolved from Rockville Concerned Citizens for Responsible Development, the coalition of community members who successfully defeated the Home Depot project.
"People need to get involved in helping to shape their community."
Their group has some time. A six- month moratorium instituted by the PZC in effect until Feb. 1, 2005 for the planned mixed-use development zone, where Massachusetts developer W/S Development and Associates LLC had proposed to build a 186,000 square foot Super Wal-Mart, now gives them a window of opportunity to do research and better educate themselves and, they hope, the community.
At 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 1, at the Rockville United Methodist Church, 142 Grove St. (corner of Routes 30 and 31), Smart Growth for Vernon, along with several other citizen groups that share the same vision, will sponsor the showing of "Talking to the Wall —The Story of an American Bargain."
Billed as both "hilarious and disturbing", the documentary tells the story behind the successful 1993 defeat of a Wal-Mart in Greenfield, Mass., and compares the resulting economic climate of neighboring Orange, Mass., which embraced the development offer.
The showing will be followed by a question and answer session with the filmmaker, Steve Alves.
"We're very excited about this event," said Wilson. "It's our first educational outreach."
Besides educating the public, Smart Growth for Vernon members have been spending a lot of time of late educating themselves — and that involves a lot of reading. A guide which has helped shape the group's vision for the future of Vernon is Connecticut Metropatterns — A Regional Agenda for Community and Prosperity in Connecticut. Published in 2003 by Ameregis Corporation, a research and geographic information systems firm that tracks development patterns and associated social and economic disparities, Connecticut Metropatterns faults the State of Connecticut's fiscal system, which it says discourages cooperation and creates unnecessary competition for tax base to support schools and municipal services.
With all the research they've done, Smart Growth for Vernon members are well aware that with the present inequities in funding, local officials can find themselves up against the wall when big-box
"We want to show people
developers come in with promises of significantly increasing the tax base.
"They come in with a lot of pressure," said Wilson. "People feel intimidated."
Smart Growth advocates are concerned that the enticement of quick-fix tax revenues may cause decision-makers to look the other way when it comes to the big picture.
"When the big stores come in, you lose your identity. You have to fight to keep the character of your town," said Wilson.
A significant concern Wilson's group has with big-box retailers is their exit strategy. Large projects like the Wal-Mart proposal, which was withdrawn last month, often propose to build just off highway exits. This, they feel, discourages shoppers from coming into downtown areas thereby turning them into ghost towns.
Other concerns are environmental and making the best use of the land left in town. They favor filling empty buildings as opposed to building new.
"We need people to understand they have a voice about how they want to see their town developed," said Wilson. "Apathy is your worst enemy."
Wal-Mart opponents to seek 'quality' development
By Amy Johannes
VERNON — A new group has joined the growing anti-sprawl movement in town, trying to initiate discussions and action on ways to bring "quality" development to Vernon.
The group, "Smart Growth for Vernon," was formed this spring to generate community interest to entice development other than big box chains to town.
But now the group is shifting its focus beyond exit 67 and plans to concentrate on town-wide issues.
Its purpose isn't to prohibit certain uses, but encourage those that meet an improved set of zoning regulations, according to member David Batchelder.
"The focus is responsible development," he said. "We are not anti- growth. We want to find the best way to grow in the community."
And to accomplish that, Batchelder said, the town needs to rewrite and refine local zoning regulations to "be more in tune" with the town's master plan of conservation and development.
To the group, sound development includes projects having a minimal impact on the environment, a variety of uses, and well-paying jobs.
The movement began when the Inland Wetlands Commission this spring considered a proposal by Massachusetts developer W/S Development Associates LLC to build a 186,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter on 41.7 acres near exit 67 off Interstate 84.
The group initially designed its own Web site
to counter statements about the project and the company made by a group of Wal-Mart supporters known as Vernon Citizens for a Strong Economy, member Jack Summers said.
The wetlands commission unanimously rejected the project in June. Just last month, a representative for the developer withdrew the application before the Planning and Zoning Commission, just days before the commission was to open a public hearing.
While the town no longer has an application pending for a Wal-Mart store, members say now is the time to encourage "responsible" development.
The PZC instituted a six-month moratorium on development for the planned mixed use development zone — the same zone where a developer proposed building the 24-hour Wal-Mart. The moratorium will expire on Feb. 1.
Members said the moratorium would give the group time to initiate needed discussions about what kind of businesses residents desire or don't want in town.
As its first event, the group is sponsoring the first Connecticut airing of "Talking to the Wall," a documentary by Greenfield, Mass, filmmaker Steve Alves that chronicles the successful defeat of siting a Wal-Mart in that town and the origin of a growing movement against sprawl.
The event will take place at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 1, at Rockville United Methodist Church, 142 Grove St. in the Rockville section of town.
One of the group's main goals is to provide residents with information on the town's resources and local zoning regulations, Summers, the group's Web master, said.
The group's Web site, still cloaked with anti-Wal-Mart material, includes a variety of links to maps, zoning regulations, and other resources.
"People need to learn what resources are in Vernon," he said. "There are a lot of great resources."
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