Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
The problem with 22a-19

Letters to the Editor
Journal Inquirer
Published: Saturday, November 13, 2010 9:08 AM EST

With regard Lee and Lamont’s 40-acre commercially-zoned parcel in Vernon, rather than focus on tweaking the town’s zoning regulations, the principals should ask their elected representatives in Hartford to repeal a state statute known as “22a-19.”

This law allows any party to “intervene” in an administrative proceeding (like a land-use application). This intervention makes them a “party” to the application, giving them the right to provide expert testimony and to question the applicant’s witnesses.

The main problem with 22a-19 is that it gives the intervener standing to appeal. This means intervention is used to kill a project in court rather than as a way to make a project better.

The law was adopted in 1971, before the Department of Environmental Protection was created and before towns regulated impacts on inland wetlands. The main focus was environmental damage caused by large utility companies and industrial facilities. There was simply no mechanism for lay interests to take part in the permit process and the state had, at best, a rudimentary environmental-protection program. In 1971, 22a-19 made sense.

Fast forward to the 1980s. Bob Fromer (of Windsor inland wetland fame) was opposing an industrial park in Waterford. Fromer was the first to use 22a-19 as a means of getting special status in a local land use permit application. Since that time, land trusts, NIMBYs, competitors, and others have been counseled by attorneys to use 22a-19 as a club to bludgeon applicants into submission. I know prospective applicants who have “cut a deal” with potential interveners, hoping to avoid intervention and related litigation. So much for town charters, elections, and due process.

Connecticut is one of the most business-adverse states in the U.S. Every year more young adults move to places with jobs, homes they can afford and hopes for a brighter future. Those left behind have to foot the ever-increasing bill for our generous social-welfare system, public education, capital improvements, and other “necessary” costs. Our population is aging and growing poorer. Put simply, the base is getting smaller and the bill is getting higher.

But the impacts of 22a-19 are more insidious than just killing growth. By giving small groups of nonelected special interests the power to undermine the good work of legitimate community representatives, 22a-19 destroys the foundation of self-governance. If “environmentalists” can prevail in the legitimate process of elections, they can then appoint like-minded members of land-use agencies, who will then have the power to adopt plans and regulations they deem more consistent with “environmentalist” preferences.

Until 22a-19 is repealed, all the sturm und drang over “regulations” seems irrelevant. If our legislators want to get this state back on track, while also showing legitimate citizen volunteers they appreciate their hard work, repealing 22a-19 is a great place to start.

Matthew J. Davis
South Windsor