Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Town engineer lambasted over Vernon Avenue

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
August 30, 2007

VERNON - Town Engineer Tim Timberman was taken to task by the Town Council on Wednesday at a special meeting on claims that there were unapproved design changes on the Vernon Avenue road reconstruction project.

Timberman was criticized for not keeping residents better informed of modifications, including the decision to replace granite curbing with asphalt and changes to the slope of some driveways.

Most of the residents of the 32 affected homes packed the Senior Center for the hearing to ask questions and view blueprints of the major $2.2 million road project.

Construction, which is being funded primarily by the state and federal government, began last spring after 10 years of planning.

The town was responsible for design and environmental assessments, spending roughly $160,000 in the late 1990s.

Timberman said that he and state officials had a meeting with neighbors in April 2004 to showcase plans and discuss how construction would affect residents. Timberman said the group also offered to visit the homes on site if further clarification was required.

Since then "there have been no drastic design changes," he said.

But local firefighter Richard Harding said he initially was told the slope of his Vernon Avenue driveway would remain at a 6 percent grade and even viewed plans marked as such at the 2004 meeting.

But recently he said, he learned the slope would double, to 12 percent, making it completely unsafe, particularly in winter when shade from the pine trees lining the drive won't allow sun to melt the ice.

"Sympathy doesn't do me any good when I can't get out of my driveway" to respond to a fire, Harding said when a state official tried to apologize for the change.

Timberman said some of the changes, such as the switch in curb materials, were made by former Town Administrator Laurence R. Shaffer in order to save $153,000.

The council plans to re-examine that decision. Meanwhile, many members remain concerned over the town engineer's communication skills.

"It seems to me that the relationship with this neighborhood has not been as professional as it should be," Councilman Bill Campbell told Timberman.

"I think you did a poor job in explaining this," Councilman Dan Anderson added, directing his ire at Timberman. "You put a blueprint down in front of the average person and they don't know how to read it."

Changes in grade or elevation that would be obvious to an engineer might not be clear to a layperson, Anderson said.

The town did the design work and, as such, "the town owns this - you can't blame this on anybody else," he said, adding, "It's been my experience that when you do something correctly, you don't get complaints like this two years later."

Timberman said he was meeting today with state Department of Transportation officials and would address some of the problems mentioned, including the changed elevation of some driveways.

Other issues the Town Council directed Timberman and DOT staff to address and report back on include:

* The 40-foot lengthening of Frank A. Guadagnino's driveway at 290 Vernon Ave. Guadagnino and his next-door neighbor, Greg Thomas, want the roadbed lowered to make the slope of their driveways less severe. Also, Guadagnino's driveway is lined with brick pavers and he wants officials to match that work in the extension, something DOT has so far been unwilling to do.

* Lisa Philbrick, 308 Vernon Ave., asked town officials to ensure mailboxes are relocated to both sides of the street once construction is finished so residents will no longer have to cross the road to retrieve their mail.

* Robert Kemp, 305 Vernon Ave., asked for the contractor to notify neighbors beforehand of work that has the potential to kick up rocks or down tree branches on their cars.

* Greg White, 258 Vernon Ave., said as he left his house to go to work one morning he found his car blocked in the driveway by construction vehicles and could find no one around to move them. Contact phone numbers should be readily available, he said.

©Journal Inquirer 2007