Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Subdivision application moves to decision stage

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
March 2, 2006

VERNON - The Inland Wetlands Commission finished hearing testimony Wednesday on a controversial application to construct 18 homes near a wetland area on Grier Road.

The commission now has 35 days to render a decision on the application. The commission did not set a date for the vote on the application.

Wednesday's hearing consisted mostly of summary comments by the applicant, Capstone Builders Inc., and local lawyer Amy Blaymore Paterson, who is representing Anchorage Road resident Janine Gelineau.

Gelineau has been granted intervenor status in connection with Capstone Builder's application.

Capstone needs approval from the wetlands commission in order to construct a water detention basin that will ultimately discharge into a wetland area.

The development, known as Laurel Woods, would create 18 single-family building lots on roughly 34 acres owned by former Planning and Zoning Commission member Mark St. Germain.

But nearby residents on Cubles, Grier, and Anchorage roads have spoken against the plan, arguing the development could harm the wetlands and the water quality of the nearby Bolton Lakes.

The public hearing process on the application began in early January and carried over several special meetings, including the one Wednesday night.

The main issue of contention during Wednesday's hearing was whether the commission should explore if wetlands on the site were properly designated by the commission in 2003.

During a Feb. 7 hearing, the residents challenged the validity of the designation, and a soil scientist testified that he had taken soil samples near the edge of the property line that detected wetland-type soils that may extend onto the site in question.

But in a letter to Town Planner Thomas J. Joyce Jr., written Monday, special town counsel Harold "Hal" Cummings wrote that the designation approved by the commission in 2003 is the "law of the case and is not subject to challenge during the present proceeding."

"As always, the commission must base its decisions only upon substantial, credible evidence and not on speculative flights of fancy," Cummings wrote. "In any event, the issue of the wetlands boundaries is not before the commission in the pending application. Denial of the present application on that grounds would be legally questionable."

But Paterson argued that in light of information presented by the neighbors' soil scientist, the commission should be able to determine if the wetland boundaries are correct.

"A licensed soil scientist has raised questions and you have every right to seek the answers," Paterson said. "You need to be satisfied that the regulated area has been correctly delineated."

And because the town has not been given permission to allow an environmental review team on the site to conduct a study, the commission's ability to render a correct decision has been hampered, Paterson said.

"It all comes down to your ability to evaluate the impact on the wetlands and the watercourses," Paterson said. "If they haven't provided you with sufficient information to do that, then it is your right to deny."

But local lawyer Joseph Capossela, who is representing Capstone Builders, read a letter from St. Germain, saying that he denied the environmental review team access to the site because a study had already been done on the area in the past.

St. Germain also wrote that the study could result in a one year delay in the project.

John Ianni, a soil scientist working on behalf of Capstone, said he was troubled that the opponent's soil scientist first raised questions about the wetland boundaries in January, even though he first viewed the site in November and December.

"When that information comes out at a public hearing, that tells me we're not interested in correct information - we're interested in denying this application," Ianni said. "I'm here to rigorously defend the work I did in 2003. That was the third time I mapped the wetlands on the property."

Throughout Capstone's summary comments, representatives of the developer stated that they took great care to ensure that the site was properly designed and that nearby wetlands and lakes would be properly protected.

"Here is a case, where I think this applicant has given you a very thorough application," Caposella said.

©Journal Inquirer 2006