Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Council OKs funding to begin revamping satellite offices

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
March 7, 2007

VERNON - The Town Council on Tuesday authorized spending $87,260 to jumpstart renovation of the top floor of 55 W. Main St., the former courthouse that is being transformed to centralize offices for the Planning, Engineering, and Building departments.

Of that amount, $50,000 will come from a state grant. But town Finance Director James M. Luddecke estimates the entire cost for work on the second floor will come to $255,000 for the town-owned building, which is home to the Building Department and the fire marshal.

Town Administrator Christopher Clark said the balance was approved by the council and set aside about two years ago for the eventual renovation.

The project has been a priority for Mayor Ellen L. Marmer, a Democrat, who wants to keep land use offices together for "one-stop shopping," thereby creating more space at Town Hall for other departments, such as the town clerk and probate court, which are bursting out of cramped quarters.

Not all are pleased with the plan, however.

Republican Deputy Mayor Jason McCoy said the town should have sold 55 W. Main St. years ago when it had the chance, using the proceeds to fix up Town Hall.

"We were offered $150,000 for that building at one point," McCoy told council members. "We should've taken it."

The building has had extensive use over the years as the Rockville police station, town hall, and a courthouse.

About $100,000 of the renovation cost is earmarked for cleaning up hazardous materials, including lead and asbestos, Luddecke told council members, and the second floor will need to be made compliant with the American Disabilities Act.

Funding will partially come from the sale of a town-owned empty lot at 25 Range Hill Drive, Clark said, adding the town expects to close on the property today.

Once that sale is finalized, town staff can begin moving forward on the first phase of the project this spring, Clark said, moving out the Board of Education, which is using the top floor for storage.

Environmental work should begin this summer, he added.

Also Tuesday, council members unanimously approved appointing Republican Matthew A. Larson as a regular member of the Ethics Board and accepted the resignation of alternate member Christal Petrone, a Democrat who Marmer had initially nominated two weeks earlier to the post.

Marmer put Petrone's name forward in February after Republican member Carlos Cruz resigned because of time constraints at work. But the nomination was in violation of an ordinance Marmer helped craft more than 20 years ago dictating that the board couldn't be comprised of more than three regular members from any one political party.

Cruz's resignation left only one Republican on the board, Herbert Slicer, to serve alongside three Democrats: Fredrick Nowsch, Lois Schumey, and Chairman David Herrmann.

Marmer's move to advance Petrone angered Republicans, who said they should have been consulted if the mayor was finding it difficult to draft a volunteer from the Republican Party.

After lengthy debate, Marmer apologized, saying she forgot about the regulation and asked Republicans to submit a candidate.

Petrone resigned from her alternate seat the next day, writing to Marmer that she was "disappointed that the due diligence was not performed before presenting my name to the Town Council.

"Having to read in the newspaper about the commotion that the request for my appointment raised at the Town Council meeting was extremely painful," Petrone wrote.

The Ethics Board meets four times a year unless there is a case before it, and consists of five regular members and two alternates. New members are nominated by the mayor and approved by the council to serve for up to five years.

©Journal Inquirer 2007