Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Plan for YMCA facility may be back on table

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
May 3, 2006

VERNON - The YMCA of Greater Hartford might still build a regional facility on Mile Hill Road if it is able to reach an agreement with the property's owner, Mayor Ellen L. Marmer said Wednesday.

During an executive session which lasted more than one hour Tuesday night, the Town Council discussed several options for going forward with the project.

But the council did not take a vote on sending a potential land acquisition plan on to the Planning and Zoning Commission for a state-mandated review.

That plan already had been rejected in early April by the council's Republican majority; Marmer had vowed to put that resolution before the council for a second time Tuesday night.

But after the discussion, Marmer said Wednesday, she decided against putting the resolution out for a vote.

Instead, Marmer said, she is hopeful that an agreement could be reached between YMCA officials, the property's owners, Tim and Merlene Bray, and Galaxy Development, the company that holds a development option on the site.

Marmer said she would help facilitate discussions between those parties should they be inclined to sit down and talk.

"I have no plan in the near future to bring this issue back to the Town Council," Marmer said; she added today that she was "cautiously optimistic" that a deal could be reached between the parties. "If nothing comes of it, at least we know we tried to facilitate a different way to have a Y in town."

Under the framework of a tentative deal, the town would have spent roughly $4 million to acquire the 15.9 acres and run water and sewer lines to the parcel.

Once the town acquired the parcel, the land would be transferred at no cost to the YMCA, which would be responsible for raising funds and developing the roughly $8 million facility.

The YMCA plan has gone through a number of twists and turns during the past month, with Marmer declaring the deal dead after Town Council Republicans voted 7-4 on April 4 against sending the plan on to the Planning and Zoning Commission for a state-required review.

But two weeks later, several residents asked the Town Council to reconsider, and Marmer said she would put the same issue on the council's May 2 agenda.

In the days following the initial vote, Republicans said they didn't believe it was in the town's best interest to spend upwards of $4 million to purchase land and install sewer and water lines for a facility that may be located in Tolland.

Roughly half the parcel is in Tolland.

They also expressed concern that the installation of water and sewer lines to the area could clear the way for "big box" retail development on nearby land.

But despite Tuesday night's lengthy discussion, Republican Councilwoman Christy N. Vale said her side of the aisle remains uneasy about the prospect of purchasing land and transferring it to the YMCA at no cost.

Still, Vale said, she felt Tuesday night's discussion was both bipartisan and fruitful, and expressed hope that a deal might be reached to bring the regional facility to town.

"There has always been common ground," Vale said. "Unfortunately, things just always seem to become a political football, and that is so unfortunate."

YMCA officials have said they are impressed with the Mile Hill Road site because of its proximity to Tolland, Coventry, and Ellington.

The new building itself, which would be paid for with private funds, was expected to be modeled on a recently completed regional 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.

If the Vernon site doesn't pan out, YMCA officials have said, they could use a 16-acre site in Ellington, which the organization already owns.

©Journal Inquirer 2006