Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Vernon rejects Capstone development again

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
November 19, 2007

VERNON - A hotly contested proposal to build a subdivision of large homes on 30 wooded acres near Bolton Lake was unanimously rejected by the Planning and Zoning Commission last week.

For the last two years, Tolland-based developer Capstone Builders has been trying to build 18 single-family homes on 32 acres off Grier Road on a parcel owned by Mark and Susan St. Germain.

Commission members and town staff say the application was rejected for reasons concerning the area to be set aside for open space.

Developers had set aside two lots on the street side of Bolton Branch Road near the Coventry town line for open space. But commission members wanted three acres on the opposite end of the parcel near Camp Newhoca, where developers had planned to put a retention basin.

"It's the most utilitarian area of open space for the town," Town Engineer Tim Timberman said.

A retention basin so close to the popular Parks and Recreation camp would effectively create a soggy, unusable, and worthless area for the town, and should be placed elsewhere, commission members said.

The developer's only option now is to move the retention basin, reduce the size of the subdivision to 13 homes, and reapply.

If Capstone chose to do so, the developer also would have to adhere to the new open space guidelines put into effect over the summer.

It would not be the first time the plan has been cut back.

In spring 2006, the Inland Wetlands Commission unanimously rejected Capstone's bid to build 18 homes in the wooded and hilly area, saying the retention basin would have discharged into a vernal pool on at least two of the proposed building lots.

Vernal pools are protected water bodies that aren't always wet but tend to be full of water in the spring and early summer, and support a necessary stage in the life cycle of animals such as wood frogs, fairy shrimp, and mole salamanders.

The housing proposal stirred up nearby neighbors on Cubles, Grier, and Anchorage roads, who vehemently opposed the plan.

Mark St. Germain, a former member of the Planning and Zoning Commission, and Capstone Build-ers both filed suit against the town, claiming the wetlands rejection was improper.

During the appeal process, the court appointed a state mediator who this year brokered an agreement between the two parties. Under the agreement, the Inland Wetlands Commission granted its approval with the provision that lots one and two be combined with a portion of lot three, and that it be donated as open space to the town or a homeowners association. The decision effectively reduced the entire subdivision from 18 to 16 lots.

Should Capstone reapply, the subdivision would have to adhere to the more stringent open space regulations adopted in April.

But Timberman said the application denied last week was filed prior to the new regulations, and did not have to conform.

Under the old rules, developers could set aside a voluntary maximum of 5 percent of the sub-division for open space.

The set-aside option was rarely exercised, however, and as a result, the commission adopted new regulations that grant the town a mandatory percentage, up to 20 percent in some areas, depending on the neighborhood.

In this case, Capstone and St. Germain now would have to contribute 15 percent of the land, or pay a 10 percent fee of the fair market value to the town's open space fund.

The decision on whether to donate land or collect a fee in lieu of the land rests with the Planning and Zoning Commission.

©Journal Inquirer 2007