Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Y chooses Vernon for facility; if voters OK improvements

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
February 9, 2006

VERNON - The YMCA of Greater Hartford is committed to constructing a regional facility off Mile Hill Road, provided voters are willing to spend money to install sewer and water service to the site, Mayor Ellen L. Marmer said today.

Marmer said she hopes the Town Council will agree to hold a referendum on April 4 to give voters the chance to decide whether the town should spend the money on public utility improvements, which would make the area around the site suitable for development.

It's expected that the Town Council will be asked to approve the referendum during its Tuesday night meeting.

Although cost estimates for the utility improvements are still being developed, Marmer said the cost would likely be between $2 million and $3 million.

Funding for the sewer and water lines is expected to come from tax increment financing, with new assessments generated from the area being used to pay off the bonding necessary for the improvements.

If the Town Council agrees to the plan, voters could have two decisions to make in April.

On Tuesday, the council is also expected to schedule an April 4 referendum to give voters the chance to decide if the town should spend up to $2 million on open space purchases.

Because of the costs of holding special votes, Marmer said, it makes financial sense to put the two questions before voters during the same referendum.

"I think it's important that the people get the chance to vote," Marmer said Thursday.

In July, town leaders revealed that YMCA officials were eyeing the 15.9 acres off Mile Hill Road as a home for a regional YMCA facility.

The new building is expected to have features similar to the recently completed Farmington Valley YMCA facility in Granby.

That 65,000-square-foot building includes a large lap pool with a spectator gallery, numerous large exercise rooms, whirlpools, a private restaurant, climbing walls, and a community room.

The YMCA, which has been exploring the possibility of constructing a regional center in Tolland County since 2001, also has been considering a 16-acre site in Ellington, which it already owns.

But Marmer said today YMCA officials prefer Vernon, provided local voters are willing to go along with the proposal.

"If the people vote for this on April 4, we go," Marmer said. "This is the watershed moment for the Y project."
YMCA Vice President of Development Services Tom Reynolds confirmed today that the Vernon site is the No. 1 choice of his organization.

When YMCA officials began developing a strategy for constructing the new facility, Reynolds said, three sites were considered.

Of those sites, the Mile Hill Road parcel was the top choice and the Ellington site was the second choice.

If voters in Vernon reject spending for water and sewer line improvements, Reynolds said, YMCA officials would focus on Ellington.

"We're not playing one against the other," Reynolds said today. "We've been very up-front with both groups." If the Vernon voters approve it and sign off on the plan, "it would be our No. 1 site."

Reynolds said YMCA officials were impressed by the accessibility of the site, which is located near Interstate 84, and its close proximity to growing towns like Tolland, Coventry, and Ellington.

The new building itself will be paid for with at least $8 million in privately raised funds.

But if the organization were able to raise more money, Reynolds said, the quality and number of amenities in the building would be enhanced.

But before officials can concentrate on the new building, the YMCA needs access to the land, which is across the street from 47 acres that Galaxy Development Group LLC wants to develop.

Under the framework of a tentative deal struck during the summer, Galaxy, which holds a development option on the site, would deed the entire YMCA parcel to the town at no cost, provided the town extends water and sewer service to a 47-acre site on the other side, the west side, of Mile Hill Road.

Under the original framework of the deal, a 120-unit age-restricted housing development slated for that site would still have to be approved before the property was deeded to the town.

But the Planning and Zoning Commission recently removed zoning provisions allowing developers to construct high-density age-restricted housing projects.

Despite this change, Marmer said, the fate of the housing development is not connected to the fate of the YMCA property.

The new sewers would also serve the area around exit 67 of Interstate 84, which has been the subject of a number of controversial development proposals involving "big box" retailers like Wal-Mart and Home Depot.

In order to get support for the April 4 referendum, Marmer would need to win the support of at least some of the seven-member Republican Town Council majority.

Attempts to reach Republican Deputy Mayor Jason L. McCoy today for comment were unsuccessful.

©Journal Inquirer 2006