Vernon Republicans kill off YMCA expansion plan
By Jason Rowe, Journal Inquirer
VERNON - Prospects for the town hosting a regional YMCA facility have been declared dead by Mayor Ellen L. Marmer after Town Council Republicans defeated a key piece of legislation Tuesday night.
By a 7-4 party line vote, the Town Council voted against sending a plan for acquiring a 15.9-acre parcel on Mile Hill Road for the facility to the Planning and Zoning Commission for a state-mandated review.
Democratic Councilwoman Connie Simon was absent from Tuesday's meeting.
Marmer said the vote, which occurred after a short executive session, has effectively killed the YMCA proposal.
Reacting to the vote, Marmer blasted Town Council Republicans for killing the deal, which was subject to voter approval at referendum.
But Republican Deputy Mayor Jason L. McCoy said voters have historically voted against land acquisitions.
Under the framework of an agreement between the town and a developer who holds an option on the site, the town would purchase the property for $1 million and deed it to the YMCA of Greater Hartford at no cost.
In addition, water and sewer lines would have been extended up Mile Hill Road to serve the regional YMCA facility and potential development on a 47-acre site across the street from the new YMCA.
In all, the town would have bonded about $4 million for the project, with much of sewer and water costs covered by user fees, Marmer said.
The 47-acre parcel across the street is owned by Galaxy Development, the same company that holds the development option on the YMCA site.
The final incarnation of the agreement was different from the original version made public last summer, where the town would have received the YMCA parcel at no cost, in exchange for installing the water and sewer lines and approving a 120-unit age-restricted housing development on the 47-acre parcel.
But Marmer said today that the new agreement was put in place to prevent the town from putting undue pressure on the PZC to approve the housing development.
"I just think its reprehensible to play politics to the extent that you prevent the people of this community from having a voice on their future in terms of a regional YMCA project," Marmer said. "Seven people are depriving this community a chance at a project that would greatly impact a positive future for this town."
But McCoy said voters already had the opportunity to vote on land acquisition when they rejected a November 2004 proposal to bond $2 million for future open space purchases.
McCoy also blasted the framework of the agreement and the land itself, noting that roughly half the YMCA site is located in Tolland.
If the majority of the building were to be located on that portion of the site, McCoy said, Tolland would actually receive a greater portion of state non-profit tax revenue from the site.
"The mayor wants to buy land in Tolland to give to the YMCA," McCoy said. "I don't know why she is coming up with these things, stuffing them down our throats, and then telling us we're bad people."
McCoy said the installation of water and sewer lines on Mile Hill Road would also clear the way for "big box" retail development.
Marmer accused McCoy of comparing "apples to oranges" in equating a referendum on the YMCA site to the previous referendum on open space.
YMCA officials have said that they are impressed with the Mile Hill Road site because of its accessibility to Interstate 84 and its close proximity to towns like Tolland, Coventry, and Ellington.
The new building itself, which would have been paid for with at least $8 million in privately raised funds, was expected to be modeled after a recently completed regional facility in Granby.
YMCA of Greater Hartford President Kevin Washington said today that his organization could turn its attention to a 16-acre site in Ellington, which it already owns, if Vernon proves untenable.
But Washington expressed hope that town leaders might revisit their positions on acquiring land for the regional YMCA facility.
©Journal Inquirer 2006