Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
A Full Plate: Vernon Officials Have Much Planned in 2005

Cardio Express gym
A Re-use Plan. The former Heartland grocery store, located on Route 83 in Vernon, will have a new life when the Cardio Express gym, currently located down the street, moves into the building. Reminder photo.

By Jessica Ciparelli
Staff Writer
The Reminder
January 25, 2005

VERNON — If you are not a big fan of construction and construction zones, Vernon may be a tough area for you to live and/or work in this summer and fall.

Big plans are in the works for Vernon, according to Mayor Ellen Marmer.

"All parts of town are going to be 'hurting' - 'good hurting' - as far as construction," the mayor said.

The newly-approved ambulance safety complex is among the largest projects slated for this spring.

Marmer says the construction manager has been chosen for the project and is "onboard," the ambulance bay and de-contamination areas are in the process of being cleared out, and the Public Safety Task Force will continue to work on the project until it is completed.

"If the weather and all the intricacies of the project work out, the goal is to [get] the [ambulance] bays and de-con [areas] completed first, and the whole project completed, hopefully, by early-to-mid-fall," said Marmer.

Another major Vernon project was approved by the voters in November as part of the bond referendum. Taxpayers voted to appropriate $19,103,000 for road, sidewalk and bridge reconstruction and/or improvements.

Marmer says a construction firm has been picked, but needs to be confirmed by the Town Council. Once confirmed, the mayor says, the company will begin road work in the spring.

"People in town will either be pleased or displeased,because throughout the spring, summer and fall, there is going to be roadwork all over town," Marmer said.

Marmer says resident input is welcome, and the town will communicate with residents via postcards, letting them know when their particular road may be worked on.

"I'm very committed that these projects are done well and in the best interest of resident's concerns along the roadway," the mayor said.

Depending on various factors, the mayor said there are four areas in town that she would consider to be "top level" for immediate improvement, should the construction firm agree.

"Center Road, Bolton Road, Thrall Road and Mountain Street," said the mayor. "But that's not a definite - that's what my desire would be if the engineering firms feels their timeline is in accomplishing these."

Marmer added that she has asked the Department of Public Works to start looking at roads to address in the town's capital improvement budget - roads that were not addressed in the bond issue.

"So we have a program to address those other roads in need of repair," said Marmer. "We can't ignore other roads that need to be addressed."

Another bond issue that passed in November dealt with a $1,295,000 bond for design and construction of improvements to the town's waste water treatment facility. Marmer says the pumping stations will be addressed in late spring. A $1,211,000 appropriation for sewer system improvements also received a thumbs-up from voters.

"My commitment this year, particularly with the bonds and ambulance [project], is that the community will see the fruits of their votes in real time," Marmer said.

The town will also be involved, albeit a much smaller scale involvement than Bolton, in a state-mandated project involving the installation of sewers at Bolton Lake. The project will also have to be bonded.

Thrall Road
Road Improvements. One of many roads in town that need road improvement, Mayor Ellen Marmer would like to see Thrall Road off of Route 83 among the first roads to be fixed, however, that decision, she said, will be up to the contractor. Reminder photo.

"I'm hoping that particular issue is ready for the voters when we have our March 29 school referendum," said Marmer. "Sewers need to be put in at the lake, and the project will also need to be bonded."

The $70 million school renovation bond package proposed by the Board of Education addresses repairs and renovations for Rockville High, Vernon Center Middle School, Skinner Road, Lake Street, Northeast, Center Road and Maple Street schools, as well as the Talcottville School and Central Administration building. A citizen's forum was held on Jan. 11 and a vote is slated for March 29. The town expects to receive $31.8 million in state reimbursement.

"If the bond issues pass, work will begin on those as well," said Marmer of the sewer and school renovation plans. "If any or all pass, we will get going on that to capitalize on state funding this year."

Aside from the bond projects that will begin, another budget season is about to start. While Marmer has yet to see budget plans from her department heads -those need to be in by mid-February - she has high hopes for this year's budget scenario.

"My dream, hopefully becomes reality, that we can pass this budget the first time around," she said. "My personal commitment to the voters is keeping as lean a budget as I can, yet provide the services that people want."

The budget will be presented to the Town Council by mid-to-late March and will go before voters by the end of April or beginning of May. Marmer says she is not sure what to expect from this year's budget request.

"We'll have to wait until we see it," she said.

Economically, there is a lot going on in town. Economic Development Coordinator and Assistant Town Planner Neil Pade "has been working very hard in many areas," according to the mayor. There are plans to move Cardio Express to a new location - the former Heartland grocery store, which has stood vacant for years. A new Walgreen's pharmacy is in its infancy stages of being built on the corner of West and Union streets (Route 83 and 74), at the old Ducky's restaurant location. Marmer says she wants to increase the tax base in town and help sell the town of Vernon in a positive way.

Neil Pade says development in town can be categorized in several different ways.

Residentially, Pade said, "We are going to have a lot coming in as far as condos and apartments." Projects include phase two of the Mansions at Hockanum Crossing, expanding Vernon Gardens, and The Heights on Hartford Turnpike will add 52 new condominium units.

Business-wise, Pade said the historic Boston Bakery, which is planning its grand-opening this week, is already talking about expansion plans next year. Pade also notes the expansion plans for the juvenile court and state court offices. As mentioned previously by the mayor, Pade said that plans are moving forward with the relocation of Cardio Express to the former Heartland building.

"They have site plans and elevations [conceptual sketches] that are really beautiful. We are really looking forward to that [relocation] because that building is currently not in maintained condition at all," Pade said.

Pade added that the Texaco station on the corner of Talcottville and Regan roads is modifying its site plan and plans to expand their business activities as well.

Zone changes on the corner of Talcottville Road and Hockanum Boulevard from Special Economic Development to Commercial could mean changes there soon, too.

"The SED zone was prohibiting its growth because its only zoned for office space, among others, but no commercial activity," said Pade.

As far as Rockville community projects are concerned, Pade said there is plenty going on in Rockville. He noted the Central Park Renovation and Reconstruction project, several ongoing downtown projects, and the restoration of the Cogswell Fountain are all planned for this year, and the Neighborhood Revitalization Zone (NRZ) is reforming with a purpose to organize and stabilize the neighborhoods surrounding Rockville.

In Talcottville, the construction of the Langan Volkswagen car dealership is underway at Connecticut Golfland. Historic Talcottville, through Rep. Rob Simmons, received a sizeable grant for improvements to that section of town, including signage, trails, a visitor's information center, and landscaping.

With questions of a possible town takeover of Rockville Public Library, which in recent years has taken a drastic hit on its endowment, Marmer said there is only so much the town can offer financially to the library. She added the town cannot shoulder the burden of fully-funding the library's budget, but she does understand the importance of the institution in town.

"[We will] work with the library to maximize their endowment, but there's only so much the town can do from a financial standpoint," said Marmer. "We have to work together collaboratively."

Other projects on the town's list for 2005 include: working to save the Dial-a-Ride program, which Marmer says is in jeopardy. She is working with the town's legislators, has written to the Capital Region Council of Governments, even written to the governor to protect the program's funding.

"[It's] not just for us, but we're working collaboratively with other towns [ East Hartford, Manchester ] who rely on financial aid for the program," the mayor said.

Marmer said the town will also follow the Probate Court reorganization plan closely. Under the proposed plan, the existing courts would be broken up into two categories - 22 "urban" courts that serve populations of 50,000 or more and courts that serve populations less than 50,000. Urban courts would handle all contested cases from their own and nearby districts. For districts with less than 50,000, categorized as local courts, judges would no longer hear contested cases. Those cases would be transferred to the urban courts, and judges would handle routine administrative matters, offer assistance and guidance. Local towns could find themselves footing up to two-thirds of the bill in the reorganization plan.

Manchester would be only one of two urban courts on the east side of the Connecticut River.

"We're doing a lot in Vernon and I am proud to say it," Marmer concluded.