Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Heat brings change to open space proposal

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
January 19, 2007

VERNON - Major changes are being made this weekend to a proposal that would have increased the amount of land developers must set aside for open space from a voluntary maximum of 5 percent to a mandatory 20.

Despite the season's first snow squall, upset landowners packed a public hearing Thursday to speak out against the proposal, which also mandates that the 20 percent set-aside cannot be wetlands or a steep slope.

It was the second such hearing on the proposal, which was made jointly by the Conservation Commission and it's subcommittee, the Open Space Task Force, with about 85 percent of those attending calling for repeal or significant change.

After two hours, the town Planning and Zoning Commission asked Town Planner Neil Pade to modify the proposal over the next few days, taking into account the comments and concerns of the landowners, commissioners, and town staff.

Pade says he hopes to have the new proposal ready by Tuesday, giving ample time for distribution and digestion before the next hearing on Feb. 1.

"There are a number of things that might not be supported by state statute or case law," Pade said about the current proposal. He added: "We have to make sure the process is sound so we don't get stuck administratively in the future."

Among the provisions to be changed are the amount and type of land - the two major concerns of residents who own acreage.

Tom Mason, whose family owns about 450 acres under the name Tankerhoosen LLC, said that as written now, the proposal is restrictive, has no flexibility and may result in poor decisions for all parties.

About 130 acres of the land controlled by the Mason and Bissell families are wetlands and steep slopes that supports the Tankerhoosen brook and reservoir, Mason told commission members during the hearing.

"There is plenty of room there for open space to be provided - we have large tracts that would be desirable for open space that under this proposal can't be donated," he said.

Smaller landowners, who want to split up a few acres among their children or sell it to fund retirement would also be adversely affected, Mason said.

Task force members say the intent is to offset developmental impacts on the community by making provisions for recreational and conservation measures. Vernon's current set-aside of 5 percent is optional, and rarely exercised, they add.

And a recent survey by the Capitol Regional Council of Governments shows Vernon has one of the lowest requirements in the 29-town region.

According to the survey, Canton, Newington, and Windsor require up to 15 percent set aside, while East Hartford and East Windsor want up to 10 percent of land that's to be developed.

Meanwhile, Enfield and Somers want a minimum of 10 percent, whereas Granby, Hebron, and South Windsor all want at least 20 percent. Manchester requires developers to keep open at least 12,000 square feet, or 6 percent, whichever is greater.

Rockville resident Debra Wilson was one of three who spoke in favor of the proposal, saying that when her Liberty Street house was built, little thought was given to open space.

As a result, her neighborhood is densely filled with multi-family homes where residents can look out their windows directly into the house next door.

"While I personally can't afford to own this type of land, through this regulation I would benefit," Wilson told commission members, adding that open space is needed so all residents can enjoy the outdoors and nature.

©Journal Inquirer 2007