Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Wetlands Commisssion won't fight Home Depot application

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
May 23, 2007

VERNON - There will be no appeal of a judge's decision involving Home Depot's application to build at the former New England Sportsplex, the Inland Wetlands Commission decided Tuesday.

Commission members reviewed Vernon Superior Court Judge Lawrence C. Klaczak's decision Tuesday in executive session before directing town staff to issue a draft permit, containing any stipulations and reasonable conditions deemed necessary, Town Planner Neal Pade said.

Commission Vice Chairman Steve V. Taylor said the board discussed the matter for about one hour before reaching a unanimous decision.

"We didn't have a lot of choice," Taylor said. "The commission did everything we felt was the right thing to do, and the courts didn't think so. But that's the way our legal system works."

Hal Cummings, lawyer for the commission, said the proposed permit will be placed on the agenda for the next regular commission meeting on June 26.

Amy Blaymore Paterson, a lawyer who represented three opponents of the store, still could file a petition to appeal, Cummings said.

Throughout the lengthy legal battle, Paterson's clients, who were granted intervenor status last year, continued to defend the commission's initial action to reject Home Depot's bid to build.

Paterson said today she was meeting with her clients this week and a decision would be made after the Memorial Day holiday.

Home Depot still has a long way to go before it can build a 117,000-square-foot store on the site located just off Interstate 84 at exit 67.

The national do-it-yourself home improvement store may need more wetland permits and still must go before the Planning and Zoning Commission for approval.

Klaczak last week found fault with the Inland Wetlands Commission decision to reject an application to build a Home Depot on the site of the now abandoned and overgrown complex of softball fields.

In his decision, Klaczak said there were no grounds to reject the plan, ordered the matter back to the commission, and directed it to issue a permit.

According to the decision, the commission exceeded its jurisdiction when it tried to regulate activity beyond the Walker Reservoir wetlands and a 75-foot buffer area, the judge ruled. And expert testimony that commission members relied on in making their decision was concerned more with adverse public opinion and general concerns rather than site-specific evidence, the judge ruled.

A lawyer for Home Depot said an application to the Planning and Zoning Commission is likely forthcoming.

Home Depot bought the 14.7-acre parcel at 117 Reservoir Road from Diamond 67 LLC - which initially had proposed the Home Depot development - in March 2006 while controversy and litigation surrounded the area.

Commercial development in the northeast part of town has been a sore spot with residents in recent years, and proposals on nearby land for both the Home Depot and a Wal-Mart Supercenter were met with strong public opposition by residents.

Last week, another judge ruled in favor of the Panning and Zoning Commission in a similar decision, saying the commission acted properly when it changed the zoning designation of 42 acres near exit 67, where developers had wanted to build a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Property owners Lee & Lamont Realty sued the PZC after it changed regulations in July 2005 for the exit 67 and Gerber Farm areas.

The changes increased the buffer space between roads, highways, residential, and non residential development in order to make it more restrictive to "big-box" stores and lessen the impact of commercial areas on nearby suburban neighborhoods.

A public hearing on changes to the parcel's zoning designation has been scheduled for June 7 at the senior center in the Rockville section of town.

©Journal Inquirer 2007