Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Vernon panel, citing possible existence of vernal pool, rejects housing development

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
March 29, 2006

VERNON - Expressing concern about the presence of seasonal ponds and septic systems, the Inland Wetlands Commission unanimously rejected, by a 5-0 vote, an application to construct 18 homes near a wetland area on Grier Road that's near Bolton Lakes.

The application, on the books for at least a year, had stirred opposition from residents in surrounding neighborhoods.

Applicant Capstone Builders Inc. needed approval from the Wetlands Commission to construct a water detention basin that ultimately would discharge into a wetland area.

The development, Laurel Woods, would have created 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 spoke against the plan, arguing that the development could harm the wetlands and water quality of the nearby Bolton Lakes.

One Anchorage Road resident, Janine Gelineau, was granted intervenor status in the proceeding.

The public hearing on Capstone's application closed on March 1, and Wetlands Commission members spent roughly 20 minutes Tuesday discussing their concerns about the application.

A common theme among them was the presence of what might be a vernal pool on at least two of the proposed building lots.

Vernal pools are water bodies that aren't always filled with water, but tend to be full in the spring and early summer, and support some necessary stage in the life cycle of animals such as wood frogs, fairy shrimp, and mole salamanders.

Commission members said they individually walked the property recently and came across the water body in question.

"It is, in my opinion, a vernal pool," commission member Joanne Wiley said. "That was not on these maps. There is no indication at all. We do not have enough information to make a informed decision."

Other commission members, who expressed concern that the body of water might be a vernal pool, reiterated Wiley's comments.

A number of commission members added that their concerns about a potential pool were heightened because the weather has been so dry as of late.

"It doesn't look like an ideal place to put houses," commission member Steven C. Peterson said. "I'm sort of torn, too."

Commission members also expressed concern about the impact of septic systems on nearby wetlands and the Bolton Lakes.

Peterson said the property may become more suitable for development once the long-planned installation of the Bolton Lakes sewer system is completed during the next several years.

Wiley said Capstone might want to consider changing its proposal to include fewer homes to avoid the vernal pool question.

After the vote, lawyer Joseph Capossela, representing Capstone Builders, said it was too early to determine if his client would appeal the commission's decision.

Capstone ran into trouble with its proposal almost immediately. Last April, the Wetlands Commission issued a cease-and-desist order against the developer after neighbors complained that a series of trenches dug on the site caused silt to be discharged onto wetlands.

Capstone said the trenches were built to test groundwater.

The cease and desist order was lifted a week later, after Capstone agreed to limit the escape of silt from the trenches. The developer also agreed to fill in the trenches by mid-June,2005.

©Journal Inquirer 2006