Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
New Vernon zoning regulations could restrict development

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
June 21, 2005

VERNON — The Planning and Zoning Commission last week approved new regulations for planned mixed use development zones that could have an impact on development elsewhere in the town.

The new regulations were intended to affect only two tracts: one at the Gerber Farm area near Dart Hill Road and the South Windsor line, and one near exit 67 off Interstate 84.

Among the amendments to the regulations were that wholesale distribution facilities and kennels would be prohibited, as would outside storage of chemicals, fertilizers, and pesticides.

But a new provision requiring open space for certain size projects could make development tricky in all of the town's zones.

Under the amended regulations, any new project would have to sit on at least one acre and have at least 50 feet of open space on either side of the building.

If the size of the building exceeds 40,000 square feet, that would increase to 125 feet for rear and side yards and 75 feet for front yards.

Those setbacks would increase by 25 feet for every additional 20,000 square feet of new building space.

Open space setbacks would be capped at 200 feet, officials said.

But in the process of developing the new rules, the PZC attempted to clarify the definition of open space to state that the required setbacks could not contain parking areas.

That new definition could complicate future applications throughout the town because many proposed projects, and existing projects, would be contrary to the open space definition, Town Planner Thomas J. Joyce Jr. said last week.

Economic Development Director Neil S. Pade also expressed concern last week that the revised regulations could make it difficult for businesses to construct new buildings in any of the development zones.

During last Thursday's PZC meeting, commission member Mary Kelly argued that the open space requirements should not allow parking.

Kelly cited zoning regulations, which define open space as not containing any "impervious" surface.

"It may be that it's been improperly interpreted in the past," Kelly said. "I'm not willing to concede that open space doesn't mean what it says it means."

But Joyce said Monday the word "impervious" refers to a structure other than a main building.

A gas station canopy or a roof over an outdoor garden center would be examples of an impervious surface not part of a main structure, Joyce said.

Joyce said he contacted Town Attorney Joseph Courtney, who issued an opinion that any changes to the open space definition should be done as part of a formal PZC discussion.

"If the commission looks at it and says, 'We definitely don't want paved parking areas within the yards,' an amendment should be put forward," Joyce said. "The advice from our attorney is any change should be made formally."

A meeting to discuss the open space definition has not yet been scheduled, Joyce said.

The approved regulations were less restrictive than a previous proposal.

The first draft of the regulations would have required that open space increase by 25 feet for every 10,000 square feet of additional building footprint.

There was no provision for a maximum setback under the original draft.

Leonard Jacobs, a lawyer for Lee & Lamont Realty, which owns a parcel near exit 67, argued at a June 9 public hearing that the new rules would adversely impact the value of his client's property.

That site became the subject of controversy last year when retail giant Wal-Mart announced plans to build an 186,000-square-foot super store on 41.7 acres.

The Inland Wetlands Agency rejected Wal-Mart's proposal and the plan was stopped, but opponents criticized the mixed-use development zone guidelines and said a moratorium was needed to give the PZC time to correct flaws in the regulations.

The moratorium, which was put in place last summer, is set to expire on July 2.