Project blocked amid questions about town engineer's license
By Jason Rowe
VERNON - The Planning and Zoning Commission rejected a controversial proposal for an age-restricted housing development off West Street, but not before it was revealed that the town's engineer has been practicing without a state license for at least five years.
That revelation was made Thursday night after Tracy Drive resident Fred Goff told the commission that he could not find Town Engineer Tim Timberman's name listed in the state Department of Consumer Protection's registry of licensed engineers.
Goff, who was granted intervenor status for this proposal earlier this month, said the PZC would have to deny the application because town regulations require that all proposals be reviewed by a licensed professional engineer.
"Something is wrong with that process," Goff said. "Something is wrong with the plans."
When asked about Goff's allegation, Timberman told the commission that he mistakenly allowed his licensed to expire.
That answer resulted in a short outburst of cheers among residents who opposed the development, which would have included 59 units on 42-acres.
Timberman said he was told about the expiration late last week and he immediately submitted the appropriate paperwork and licensing fees to the state Department of Consumer Protection for its approval.
Timberman said he expects that his license will be reinstated at the department's next board meeting.
"I am embarrassed by this," Timberman said. "I'm disheartened by the way that it came up. I am responding to this in a fast fashion."
According to the town charter, the town engineer "shall be a professional engineer licensed in the state of Connecticut."
Although state records indicate that his license expired in 1987, Timberman told the commission that he has personal records that show the expiration took place five years ago.
Timberman has served as the town's engineer since Jan. 1989, according to town records.
"I do not believe my record here in town indicates a lack of professional advice," Timberman said. "My certification will be reinstated in a short time."
Town Attorney Joseph D. Courtney said today he could not comment on the legal implications of Thursday's revelation.
Courtney did say he plans to discuss the situation with town officials.
Mayor Ellen L. Marmer said today she doesn't believe Timberman's lack of a license will create a problem for the town.
Marmer said she has been told that Timberman should have his new license by Feb. 14.
"For whatever reason, it lapsed," Marmer said. "It wasn't like he wasn't licensed. It's entirely possible that someone could put it under a pile of papers and not think about it."
Marmer said Town Administrator Laurence R. Shaffer and other town officials are working on a way to prevent a similar problem from happening again.
Citing her medical practice, which uses a computer program to keep track of licenses for nurses on her staff, Marmer said she hopes the town could develop a similar program.
Goff and his wife, Barbara, have been vehement opponents of the age-restricted housing project, which was proposed on a parcel created by a 15-lot subdivision, which was approved by the commission on Dec. 1.
Local developer Kenneth J. Boynton proposed both the subdivision and the age-restricted housing project.
The Goffs have already filed two lawsuits in connection with the project.
The couple has sued the town's Inland Wetlands Commission, saying its September approval of Boynton's plan was improper.
And last month, the couple filed suit against the PZC, arguing its approval of the residential subdivision was improper because the commission failed to follow its own regulations.
The Goffs also contend that Boynton does not have the right to construct a road for the proposed subdivision on a piece of property they acquired in June.
But a town legal opinion has said a legal right-of-way does exist and any dispute over the matter would have to be dealt with by the Goffs and Boynton.
At first, it appeared that Goff would not be allowed to publicly question Timberman's credentials during Thursday's meeting.
Because the public testimony portion of the hearing had closed, Town Planner Thomas J. Joyce Jr. told Goff his new information would be inadmissible.
But commission member Mary Kelly told Joyce that Goff should be allowed to continue because his intervenor status allows him to present evidence about environmental impact and to question the qualifications of people who certify that the plan is environmentally sound.
The commission's 4-3 denial of the age-restricted housing proposal did not appear to be connected to revelations about Timberman's credentials.
Instead, the commission cited town regulations that require age-restricted housing developments to have "accessibility" to shopping and bus services.
Commission members Kelly, Sarah Iacobello, Pat A. Settembrino, and Watson C. Bellows voted in favor of the denial.
During her summation, Dorian R. Famiglietti, Boynton's lawyer, said the town has approved age-restricted housing developments that are not within walking distance of shopping centers.
Among the developments cited are the Quail Hollow development off Dart Hill Road, originally approved in April 2000, Lantern Lane on the corner of Hartford Turnpike and Merline Road, and The Homes at Vernon Center, which were both approved last year.
But despite the commission's previous actions, commission members said they wouldn't let it go in this instance.
Commissioners also expressed concerns about traffic headaches created by the new community and ongoing development in Ellington.
West Street serves as a connector road for traffic traveling between Ellington and Interstate 84.
"I think the traffic is a problem," Settembrino said.
After the vote, Famiglietti said it was too soon to determine if Boynton would appeal the commission's decision.
But she added that the commission's decision appeared to be contradictory to past approvals.
"We have to decide what we are going to do from here," Famiglietti said.