Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
YMCA, open-space referendums delayed

By: Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
February 22, 2006

VERNON - A referendum on infrastructure improvements associated with a proposed regional YMCA building on Mile Hill Road won't be put to voters in April, as originally expected.

Instead, the vote on the estimated $2 million to $3 million in water and sewer work will probably come two months later, during the first week in June.

Mayor Ellen L. Marmer had said she expected the Town Council to vote Tuesday on a resolution scheduling an April 4 vote on the YMCA project and a $2 million proposal to buy a number of open-space properties.

But because of the complicated legal process involving the YMCA project, town officials decided to postpone the council's vote on the proposed referendums until mid-April.

The town needs 45 days between the scheduling of a referendum and the vote, and Marmer said she hopes the referendum can be held June 6.

Because it costs more to hold multiple referendums, Marmer said, the town wants to hold the referendums on the YMCA project and the open-space purchases on the same day.

"We want to bring them in tandem," Town Administrator Laurence R. Shaffer said. "These are quality-of-life proposals."

Under the framework of an agreement with a Galaxy Development Group, the town would receive the 15.9-acre site for the YMCA in exchange for extending water and sewer service to a 47-acre site on the opposite side of Mile Hill Road.

Galaxy, a local developer, has been seeking to develop that site into a residential community.

Shaffer said the law requires that the deal be put before voters in the form of three referendum questions - one on the town's acquisition of the property and its subsequent transfer to the YMCA of Greater Hartford, one on the water improvements, and one on the sewer improvements.

Shaffer said the extra time is needed for the town's legal staff to sort out the legal requirements.

Additional time is also needed for a cost analysis, officials said.

"We're getting into areas where nobody else has gone before," Shaffer said. "There is no model to follow."

Because town officials are in the process of formulating a budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, Marmer said, Finance Officer James M. Luddecke will be unable to complete his analysis until April 1. The analysis will include potential effects on the town's tax rate.

Although cost estimates for the improvements are still being developed, Marmer has said, the improvements should cost between $2 million and $3 million.

"I thought we could simply develop one question that includes all the elements," Marmer said of the YMCA referendums. "People have to understand: If they vote one down, the whole project goes down."

YMCA Vice President Tom Reynolds said today that the delay won't pose a problem for his organization.

"We are willing to be patient," Reynolds said. "We understand these kinds of things take time."

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

The new building is expected to have features similar to the recently completed Farmington Valley YMCA in Granby. That 65,000-square-foot building will include a large lap pool with a spectator gallery, numerous large exercise rooms, whirlpools, a private restaurant, climbing walls, and a community room.

YMCA officials had been exploring the possibility of putting the new building on a 16-acre site in Ellington, which the organization already owns.

But a YMCA leader said this month that the organization is committed to building the regional center on the Vernon site - if voters approve the deal.

©Journal Inquirer 2006