Smart Growth for Vernon, CT

Town won't think outside the box

PZC in Stafford votes to cap development size

By Mark D. Simpson
Journal Inquirer
March 29, 2006

STAFFORD — Don't expect to see a Wal-Mart or any big-box development in town in the near future.

The Planning and Zoning Commission voted Tuesday 3-2 to pass zoning amendments that will cap the size of new business developments to 40,000 square feet.

PZC members John Mocko, Nicholas Hine, and Nancy Ravetto voted for the measure, while Daniel Ford and Roger V. Pelizari voted against.

Also, the measure stipulates that all buildings larger than 20,000 square feet must apply for a special use permit.

Following the meeting, a number of people at the packed Veterans Meeting Room in Town Hall applauded.

The amendments will limit establishments intended for retail, restaurant, or other use to 40,000 square feet.

Prior to the deciding vote, Hine asked the board to consider raising the amount of square footage from 40,000 to 50,000 square feet — a request he had asked for at a PZC meeting two weeks ago. Ravetto said she would support that amount of square footage as well.

Ford and Pelizari said they were in favor of allowing a lot more space for businesses.

Mocko, who is chairman of the board, said he was in favor of 40,000 square feet — a figure he said was agreed upon at the last meeting.

Hine and Ravetto agreed to support the 40,000 figure.

Pelizari asked that Ravetto recuse herself from the vote because of her possibly having an interest in the matter.

"We know that a nephew of Mrs. Ravetto is involved here," Pelizari said prior to the vote. "That's personal."

Ravetto said she would not recuse herself because of a "perceived" conflict of interest.

Ravetto said after the meeting that her nephew, Kenneth Slater, is a land use and environmental and zoning lawyer who works for the Hartford firm of Halloran & Sage. Slater has also been working for the citizens group Stafford First.

Stafford First is a group that opposes big-box development in Stafford.

But Ravetto said that Slater is simply doing a job and he lives in New Britain — not Stafford.

"He is not the applicant," Ravetto said. "He's just doing a job."

She also said that she does not talk to Slater about the issue.

During the meeting Ravetto quoted state statutes and said that neither her spouse nor children have a financial interest in the matter.

Ravetto said that she supported the amendments because of fears of the increasing load of traffic a big-box store could bring to town. She said that Main Street couldn't be widened to help with the additional traffic load.

Also, she said that 40,000 square feet would essentially allow for a business three times the size of Rite Aid, a store she said measures about 14,000 square feet.

Mocko has echoed Ravetto's sentiments. He has said that a 40,000-square-foot building can accommodate a lot of uses.

But Ford has said that he was in favor of allowing more business space in order to help businesses succeed. He has said he is fearful that over regulation could take away from businesses' ability to be successful.

He also has said that some former stores in town — like the Big Wheel — were about 50,000 square feet, while what was being proposed was smaller than that.

The PZC also voted 4-1 to allow the regulations to take affect on April 1.

The town is in the midst of a moratorium that suspends any application for developments that exceed an aggregate of 30,000 square feet. The moratorium is scheduled until June 30.

The PZC took no action on the moratorium at Tuesday's meeting.

Two weeks ago, PZC members indicated they would have approved a measure limiting the size of new retail buildings.

A majority of PZC members said at the time that they were in favor of passing amendments to the zoning regulations that would cap the size of a retail store at 40,000 square feet.

But no vote was taken in order to allow time for revisiting the proposed amendments' language.

In September the PZC approved a six-month moratorium that suspended any applications for developments that exceed an aggregate of 30,000 square feet.

The PZC vote in September centered on discussion of a Wal-Mart coming to Stafford. Although no application was ever filed to build a Wal-Mart on Route 190, Farming-ton-based Konover Development announced in July, through former First Selectman Gordon J. Frassinelli Jr., that it planned to apply for a zone change that would pave the way for construction of a 150,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Superstore at the intersection of West Stafford and Monson roads, opposite Dunkin' Donuts.

On July 26 the PZC unanimously approved an amendment to the town's zoning regulations that requires a special use permit for all buildings larger than 50,000 square feet.

Tuesday's meeting will be shown next week on cable channel 16.