Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Vernon panels suggest mixed bag for Citizens Block

By Jason Rowe, Journal Inquirer
January 7, 2006

VERNON - The historic Citizens Block on Park Place in the downtown Rockville section of town should become a mixed-use building featuring retail space, offices, and residences, according to suggestions made by local land-use commissions.

In July, the Town Council decided to seek the opinions of various boards and commissions on what to do with the 19th-century, 15,000-square-foot building at 28-36 Park Place.

After consulting with the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Economic Development Commission, and the Historic Properties Commission, officials have concluded that a mixed-use would be preferable.

In a Dec. 29 memorandum to Mayor Ellen L. Marmer and Town Council members, Town Administrator Laurence R. Shaffer said the commissions recommended that retail space be provided on the ground floor of the building. The commissions also recommended that a mix of office space and residential space should be included on the building's upper floors.

During the summer, a plan was floated by the town to sell the Citizens Block to a private developer.

Although the building would be sold, the town would execute an option on one floor for additional office space. After a "reasonable leasehold period," the town would retain an option to purchase back the Citizens Block building.

As a result, the town would control the fate of the building while taking advantage of a private developer's ability to efficiently redevelop the building, Shaffer said last summer.

Shaffer said Friday that the leasehold period could be between 10 and 20 years.

"The town purchased the property in April of 1998 for $31,000 for the express purpose of controlling all of the properties along Park Place," Shaffer wrote in his Dec. 29 memo. "However, with the exception of the Rockville Downtown Association, the facility has remained vacant since that time."

The downtown group's offices are located on a portion of the building's ground floor.

On Tuesday, the Town Council was expected to vote on a resolution authorizing Shaffer to seek a state-required review from the PZC, which would be required before the building could be sold or leased. But Tuesday's stormy weather forced the postponement of the Town Council's meeting to Tuesday, Jan. 10.

If authorized to pursue the PZC review, Shaffer said, the matter would come back before the Town Council before any request for proposals is developed.

"I think it has important implications for the revitalization of downtown," Shaffer said.

Economic development Director Neil S. Pade said the creation of a request for proposals for developers to submit plans for the historic building would be a good first step in rectifying the mostly vacant building, which sits in a key part of downtown.

"It sends a bad message," Pade said of the vacant building. "I'm really looking forward to having it in private hands."

Officials have been looking for a plan to develop the building, which was constructed in 1879 and is on the National Register of Historic Places, since voters rejected $9.6 million in bonding to renovate town buildings, including the Citizens Block, in a referendum in November 2004.

In September, Local Historic Properties Commission Chairman Robert B. Hurd wrote to Pade saying that any exterior work on the building should conform to the federal Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Housing Rehabilitation.

"This requirement should be part of every re-use proposal," Hurd wrote. "We expect that this project will enhance the future sound development of both its immediate neighborhood and the rest of the city of Rockville Historic District."