Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Large development projects to get heftier application fees

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
March 8, 2007

VERNON - Developers of large-scale projects will now be charged heftier land-use application fees as the town tries to recover the cost of doing business.

The Town Council has adopted an ordinance increasing the base fees paid to the town planning and zoning commission for processing sizeable applications.

According to Town Planner Neil Pade the town now spends an average of $1,500 to process large-scale development applications like the Home Depot or Wal-Mart.

"We're just trying to recoup the cost of what's incurred," Pade said of the new ordinance.

Developers and opponents to their projects typically come before the planning and zoning commission with a host of experts, often giving conflicting statements and leaving commission members at a disadvantage.

Comprised totally of community volunteers, the commission is forced to hire consultants in such areas as engineering, soil erosion, and water pollution to get at the truth, said Hal Cummings, a special town attorney who helped draft the new ordinance.

Many times "the commission feels like it's only getting half of the story and certainly not the whole picture," Cummings said, adding that in recent years the courts have required land-use commissions to base their decisions on expert testimony.

Under the old fee schedule, an application to build a 100,000-square-foot building would cost a developer a $100 fee.

The new schedule sets the base fee at $200 for the first 2,000 square feet and $15 for every additional 1,000 square feet. So under the new fee schedule an application fee for the same 100,000-square-foot building will now cost the developer $1,670.

The new ordinance, approved Tuesday, further allows the town to apply "technical review fees" to applicants of complicated projects in order to pay for outside expert consultants. The experts, who'll be held on retainer, will review the plans and offer advice to the planning and zoning commission.

Also under the ordinance, application fees can now be raised in other circumstances where the town will see an increase for service, such as a high number of lots in a subdivision or if a new road must be maintained.

"We don't want to burden mom and pop shops," Cummings said, adding that the application fee for a sign or a kitchen remodel would remain at $100. "But the bigger the project gets, the workload for the commission gets bigger."

Commercial development in the northeast part of town - particularly at the Interstate 84 exit 67 interchange - has been a sore spot for residents in recent years, with proposals on nearby land for both a Home Depot and a Wal-Mart Supercenter being met with strong public opposition.

The two proposals increased the workload of various town commissions and at least one case wound up in a lengthy court battle.

"You need to have this in order for the town to have a fair shot," Democratic Councilwoman Marie Herbst said. "This at least gives the commission a third person to ask important questions so they can make fair and educated decisions."

©Journal Inquirer 2007