Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Commission to look for firmer ground

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
April 11, 2005

VERNON — To find firmer grounds for its rejection of the plan, the Inland Wetlands Commission will review evidence in a proposal for a Home Depot.

A state Superior Court judge overruled the commission's August 2003 rejection of a proposed Home Depot near exit 67 off Interstate 84 and has sent the proposal back to the commission.

The town won't appeal, Hal Cummings, special town counsel, said today, but instead the wetlands commission will sit down with evidence and transcripts from the lengthy public hearing process and formulate legal reasoning for its decision.

Friday was the deadline for the town to file an appeal of the ruling, Town Attorney Joseph D. Courtney said last week.

Last month Judge Jane S. Scholl sustained an appeal by the project's developers, Diamond 67 LLC, and property owner, WCW LLC, and sent the matter back to the commission for further consideration.

Diamond 67, made up of the Hayes Corp. of Manchester and C.E. Vernon LLC of Fairfield, had proposed building a 117,000-square-foot Home Depot store and a 28,713-square-foot garden center at 117 Reservoir Road, the former home of the New England SportsPlex.

Cummings said Scholl based much of her ruling on a May 2004 state Supreme Court decision involving a development case in Simsbury.

In that case, the court ruled that evidence of general environmental impacts, mere speculation, or general concerns do not qualify as substantial evidence to reject an application before a regulatory commission.

"As in River Bend, a review of the town of Vernon's regulations together with the statutory scheme, reveal that a permit cannot be denied except upon a finding of an adverse impact to a wetland or watercourse," Scholl said, referring to the Supreme Court case. "Like in that case, the commission here has failed to make a specific finding of an adverse impact."

In its rejection, the wetlands commission said feasible and prudent alternatives existed for the proposed project and took issue with the developer's position that an on-site septic system would be sufficient to handle the amount of sewage produced by the large home-improvement store slated for the 14.7-acre, commercially-zoned site.

The commission reached its decision after eight nights of public hearings between May 6 and July 30, 2003.

Cummings said the town would distribute copies of the transcripts of those hearings to commission members before they sit down to deliberate.

"It's a matter of getting back to the existing record," Cummings said. "You really need to have express evidence in the record. It also has to be evidence of direct impact, not potential impact."

Although there is no statutory timetable requiring the commission to act quickly, Cummings said, the town would proceed with "reasonable dispatch."

Deliberations between commission members would occur in an open meeting, though further public comment on the application would not be taken, Cummings said.