Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Lack of PZC action means OK

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
February 3, 2006

VERNON - The Planning and Zoning Commission signed off on two subdivision applications Thursday, but their decision had nothing to do with their specific feelings about how the plans met town regulations.

Because the town failed to act on the applications within the state-mandated time period, the commission was forced to approve the applications by "operation of law" without a formal public hearing.

The first application was a three-lot subdivision at 271 Lake St., which was submitted by Gottier Construction Inc. during the summer.

Because Town Planner Thomas J. Joyce Jr. did not notify the commission of its requirement to open a public hearing in a timely fashion, the commission was required to approve the application, officials said.

The second application, a six-lot subdivision at 242 Brandy Hill Road, was actually rejected by the PZC in early November after some commissioners complained that the application did not contain a detailed narrative of the project's sedimentation and erosion control plan.

But no notice of denial had been sent to the project's developer, T & S Investors.

As a result, the lack of a notice constituted an approval by the commission, Town Administrator Laurence R. Shaffer said today.

The commission made its decision after meeting with Shaffer, Town Planner Thomas J. Joyce Jr., and Town Attorney Joseph D. Courtney in a closed-door executive session.

Courtney said today that state law requires the PZC to open a public hearing within 65 days of receiving an application.

But Joyce, who is retiring at the end of March, did not notify the commission of this requirement, and as a result, they failed to open the necessary hearing.

Because of that omission, the developers were entitled to demand an approval from the commission, which they did, Courtney said.

"The statute is pretty black and white," Courtney said. "A certificate of approval has to be issued upon demand if the commission fails to act and that demand was made."

A phone message left with Joyce's office earlier today was not returned.

Despite being legally required to approve the applications, Courtney said the commissioners did not express concern about any technical deficiencies in the two applications.

Shaffer said today that the oversights were the result of an organizational breakdown within the Planning Department and that he has been instructed by Mayor Ellen L. Marmer to help devise a system that would prevent a repeat occurrence.

Any new organizational system would likely involve both computerization and manual filing to create a redundancy that would catch any potential missed deadlines, he said.

"It is a problem," Shaffer said. "I'm not going to sugar-coat it. It doesn't happen out of maliciousness. It does happen out of a lack of organization."

©Journal Inquirer 2006