Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Talcottville residents overwhelmingly endorse creation of historic district

Irena Pastorello / Journal Inquirer
The former home of John Talcott at 26 Elm Hill Road will be part of a new historic district in the Talcottville section of Vernon.

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
December 15, 2005

VERNON — Residents in the town's Talcottville section have overwhelmingly approved the formation of a historic district in their neighborhood.

In a special election that ended Wednesday afternoon, voters approved the designation by a margin of 17 1/2 - 2 1/2.

Votes are counted by fraction based on one vote per property, with each property owner having a share of the vote.

With the residents' approval in hand, the matter will now go before the Town Council, again, which will have to adopt an ordinance before the historic district can be formed.

Two-thirds of those voting had to vote "yes" in order for the historic district designation to be approved.

After the votes were counted, Local Historic Properties Commission Chairman Robert B. Hurd said he was both surprised and delighted by the results.

The Town Council formally charged the commission with coordinating the historic district nominating process in June 2002.

The special election presented a unique challenge to officials, who spent weeks researching property ownership in the neighborhood and preparing special ballots.

During the last week of November, 51 ballots were sent to property owners in the Talcottville section, which started as a 19th-century manufacturing village.

Of the 51 ballots, 30 were returned to the Town Clerk's office by Wednesday's 4:30 p.m. deadline, a participation rate of 59 percent.

And unlike a typical election, in which each voter has one vote, the votes in this election were based on a ratio of one vote per property.

That meant that if two people were listed as the owner of a specific property, each would have been given credit for half a vote.

The process of counting the votes also was tricky.

Each ballot was sealed in two envelopes, per state law.

After opening the first envelope of each ballot, Town Clerk Bernice K. Dixon had to look inside each envelope to make sure that the vote was sealed in the second envelope.

Two ballots were disqualified because they failed to meet that requirement.

Of the 28 ballots, 20 actual votes were cast because many of the votes counted as a fraction.

Once the ballots were removed from the second envelope, the ballots were shuffled — similar to a deck of playing cards — to ensure that each vote remained anonymous.

The entire process of counting the 30 ballots took roughly 35 minutes.

Hurd has said that the new district's biggest effect on homeowners would be that any exterior improvements visible from the street would have to be approved by the commission.

And while some voters might have seen that as a negative, officials said homes in historic districts tend to increase in property value.

Since the commission would be responsible for determining the appropriateness of exterior improvements, Hurd said he was hopeful that a resident from Talcottville would serve on the commission.

"We'll look forward to the council's final approval on the district," Hurd said. "This district is one major step in the evolving recognition of this district's history and its place in the community."

After the votes were tallied, Economic Development Director Neil S. Pade said this could be the first step in creating a place were residents and visitors will be able to get out of their cars, walk around, and enjoy the area, which is about to undergo several grant-funded transportation improvements.

Pade said it would also be a significant step for residents looking to stave off development pressures from nearby commercial properties on routes 30 and 83.

"I see great things on the horizon," Pade said. "I think this is a very good thing for the town."

The Historic Talcottville Association several years ago asked the town to look into creating a historic district in the neighborhood, which joined the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.

In preparation for the special election, the Historic Commission wrote a lengthy report detailing historic facets of the district, including an inventory of homes in the area and their respective features.

The report, which was approved by the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism, also contains a narrative history of the district.

Despite the quirky vote process, Dixon said things went smoothly.

"It's a unique election because there are different angles — different procedures and statutes to follow," Dixon said. "You find as you get into this, it can be more complicated than you think.