Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Settlement to be offered on Home Depot

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
November 16, 2007

VERNON - Home Depot developers will offer a settlement proposal to the Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday in lawsuits regarding their plans to build a store at exit 67 of Interstate 84.

Opponents are incensed, however, arguing the plan is being rubber-stamped in a back room deal without public review or input.

Glenn Montigny, founder and spokesman for the Rockville Concerned Citizens for Responsible Development, said the group's members plan to raise objections at the meeting, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in the senior center on Park Place.

"They're just trying to stuff this thing into the back door," said Montigny, whose group was partly responsible for Wal-Mart losing its bid to build on a nearby parcel.

According to Hal Cummings, town attorney for the commission, the settlement proposal fulfills a court order and offers significant concessions on the part of Home Depot.

"This should address most of the issues brought up in previous public hearings," Cummings said.

Changes include alterations to the building's appearance and a reduction in its size, from the initial proposal of 145,751 square feet to 132,973 square feet, fewer parking spaces and paved surfaces, and an extension of water and sewer lines rather than the original plan to use a septic system.

The proposal was negotiated over the last six months between Home Depot representatives and a subcommittee of planning and zoning members as part of a court-ordered mediation process, Cummings said.

Monday's presentation will be made to the full commission, which will vote on whether or not to accept it.

The controversial application to construct the home building store on the overgrown and vacant site of the former New England Sportsplex has been hotly contested over the years, starting with a 2003 application that was initially rejected twice by the Inland Wetlands Commission.

Home Depot sued and a judge overturned the commission's decision, ordering it to issue appropriate permits to the developer, Diamond 67 LLC.

Developers then sued for immediate approval from planning and zoning, claiming it failed to render a decision on the application before the statutory deadline had passed. They also filed another application this past summer in case the 2003 claim was denied.

Vernon Superior Court Judge Samuel J. Sferrazza, meanwhile, ordered mediation on the 2003 application, and a three-member subcommittee of commission members - Lance Chernack, Ralph Zahner, and Chairman Lester Finkle - began meeting with the developers to hammer out an agreement.

However, the group had only one formal meeting with the state-appointed mediator and "then went off and did their own thing," Derek Oatis, a Manchester lawyer representing the opponents said.

"I think it's a bit of a charade, and a diabolically ingenious way of circumventing the entire process," Oatis said.

The series of public hearings held in 2003 were purely in front of the wetlands commission and their jurisdiction is very limited and completely different than planning and zoning.

To deny residents a public hearing before that board is "a frightening, frightening precedent," Oatis said.

©Journal Inquirer 2007