Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Developer sues Vernon PZC over new zoning regs

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
July 11, 2005

VERNON — The owner of a land tract near Interstate 84 issuing the Planning and Zoning Commission, arguing that the board acted illegally when it adopted new zoning regulations for the site last month.

Lee & Lamont Realty, which owns 42 acres near exit 67, filed an appeal of the PZC's June 13 decision, saying the commission "acted arbitrarily, illegally, and abused the discretion vested in it."

Working with an Avon-based consultant, the PZC crafted the new regulations for planned mixed-use development zones during a series of workshop meetings that began in earnest this year.

There are only two planned mixed-use development zones in town: the Lee & Lamont site as well as the Gerber Farms tract, near Dart Hill Road and the South Windsor town line.

Noting that Lee & Lamont's property is the only affected parcel near exit 67, the lawsuit claims that the PZC's action amounted to "illegal spot zoning," meaning the commission adopted regulations that were aimed at one specific land owner or property.

The lawsuit, which was filed Thursday, also claims that the commission improperly considered evidence submitted after public testimony was closed.

In adopting the new regulations, the lawsuit said that the PZC deprived Lee & Lamont Realty of reasonable and proper use of its property without compensation, which is in violation of the state and federal constitutions.

The lawsuit further claims that the measures proposed are not "reasonably related" to the public harm that could result if the regulations were not changed.

Town Attorney Joseph D. Courtney said the PZC did a thorough job in developing the new regulations, and the town would defend itself against the suit.

"I'm very confident that at the end of the day, the regulations that were adopted comply with the law," Courtney said. "It's not a neophyte group of people."

Local residents began pushing for the new regulations after retail giant Wal-Mart announced plans to build a 186,000-square-foot super store on 41.7 acres near exit 67 owned by the Lee & Lamont Realty.

The Inland Wetlands Agency rejected Wal-Mart's proposal and the plan was stopped, but opponents criticized the mixed-use development zone guidelines, saying they were flawed and needed clarification.

Last August, the PZC placed a moratorium on development in the mixed-use zones, which expired on July 2.

Among the changes to the zoning 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, the open space requirement 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.

Although open space setbacks would be capped at 200 feet, officials are still debating whether parking areas should be allowed in areas designated as open space.

Because a significant portion of their property abuts Interstate 84, Lee & Lamont argued that the amended regulations are not "reasonably well tailored" to accomplish the goal of the modifications.