Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Proposed zoning regulations to affect Gerber Farm

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
March 2, 2007

VERNON - In the last year a good number of developers have shown interest in two areas - the Gerber Farm tract near Dart Hill Road and the South Windsor line, and the exit 67 interchange off Interstate 84 - but there have been no applications to build, according to town officials.

Economic Development Director Marina Rodriguez said she is hoping her proposed amendments to zoning regulations will change all that, however.

Rodriguez outlined her proposal at Thursday's Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, saying the change would bring serious interest and better designs to the two parcels as it would allow developers to build closer to the street.

Under current regulations, larger buildings must be set further back from the street. Any new project must sit on at least one acre and have at least 50 feet of open space surrounding the building.

If a building exceeds 40,000 square feet, that requirement increases by 25 feet for every additional 20,000 square feet of new building space, capped off at a total of 200 feet of open space.

As a result, developers of larger buildings are left with little choice than to pave over front yards for a parking lot, Rodriguez said, adding "the way it's written right now, they don't have any other option."

Some development projects, like office buildings, prefer greater street presence and better curb appeal, and as it stands now the current regulation limits both tracts to having only "big-box" superstore development, Rodriquez said.

The proposal gives the commission authority, when appropriate, to have larger-scale buildings set back at the minimum of 50 feet, no matter the structure's size.

"I think it will increase the likelihood of getting better designs of the front, which is your face to the world," Rodriguez said.

The proposal "gives the commission the ability to use their judgement and decide on a case-by-case basis how deep the front yard should be," she said. "Right now, there's no flexibility - they just have to keep pushing the building back."

In 2004 the exit 67 site became the subject of controversy when retail giant Wal-Mart announced plans to build an 186,000-square-foot super store on 41.7 acres there.

The Inland Wetlands Agency rejected Wal-Mart's proposal and the plan was stopped, but opponents criticized the mixed-use development zone guidelines and said a moratorium was needed to give the commission time to correct flaws in the regulations.

The moratorium expired last summer, and regulations where cleaned up by that time, addressing buffer zones around all sides of proposed buildings.

But those regulations may have had the unintended adverse consequence affecting the front yard, Rodriquez said.

The commission received the application for the regulation change to the two properties and set a public hearing for both on April 5.

©Journal Inquirer 2007