Home Depot plan back before PZC
By Jessica Ciparelli
Citizens for and against a proposed Home Depot at exit 67 turned out in force on Nov. 19, not only to look at a scaled-down plan, but for those in opposition to voice frustrations that they were "shut out" of the process.
In a joint statement from Rockville Concerned Citizens for Responsible Development and Smart Growth for Vernon, the two groups claim that "rather than bringing the application before the Planning and Zoning Commission in open public hearings, Home Depot and town attorneys have decided to pursue the 'extraordinary tactic' of using the pending actions in civil court to devise a settlement." That settlement, they say, would allow Home Depot to go forward with a plan without review by the PZC and without a public hearing.
At the PZC special meeting, the public was allowed to comment on the proposed settlement, which came from a mediation with three members of the PZC - Chairman Lester Finkle, Ralph Zahner and Richard Guttman - town attorney Hal Cummings and assistant town attorney Susan Boyan, and representatives from Home Depot and the developer, Diamond 67. The mediation, standard procedure in all court appeals, came from one of two lawsuits brought on by Home Depot and Diamond 67, which claimed the PZC didn't properly act on its original 2003 application, and therefore, a permit should have been approved.
The revised plan for the 14.7 acre former New England Sportsplex site, is a reduction in size, said Robert Fuller, an attorney for Home Depot. The building is proposed at 132,973 square feet and includes a garden center. The parking lot size has been reduced to 460 parking spots and landscaping has increased. Most importantly, Fuller said, a sanitary sewer line, rather than a septic system, has been proposed. The sanitary sewer line, however, requires the approval of Vernon's Water Pollution Control Authority, Connecticut Water Company and an encroachment permit from the Department of* Transportation. Traffic improvements for Route 31 and I-84 in the 2007 proposed settlement are also subject to review and approval by the State Traffic Commission.
"This is not virgin land," said Fuller, noting the commission changed the zone from a special economic development zone to a commercial zone in 2002.
Home Depot officials state the store would be smaller than the one previously built in Manchester, but would sell many of the same items. They said approximately 20,000 customers visit the Manchester store each week, and they estimate 70 percent, or 14,000, would visit the Vernon store weekly.
"A Home Depot customer count is similar to a grocery store count. It is spread out through the day," said Home Depot official Brian Leahy. "We design our traffic so people can get in and out in a safe way."
"I know Home Depot is pulling out all the stops they can," said Glenn Mon-tigny, of Rockville Citizens for Responsible Development, who lives on Reservoir Road. "This sets a dangerous precedent if this goes through. They're [other developers] all going to try every way they can to get it to go through."
"Is this the type of corporate customer we want in town, taking decisions of hard-working commissioners and appealing what they don't like?" said David Batchelder of Smart Growth for Vernon. "We think Home Depot should go through the normal zoning process and should not be given a zoning permit until they do so."
Former police chief Rudy Rossmy supported the idea of development, noting that after multiple tries at passing budgets, bringing in a supportive tax base would help the situation. In the past, he said, smart and responsible growth has actually meant no growth.
"You can't have it both ways, and now is the time to do something about it," he said.
"I think the people of Vernon should feel blessed that a national company like Home Depot wants to come here," said resident Joe Botticello. "I sure hope Lowe's follows them, then a Wal-Mart. Anything to bring the taxes down, people."
The commission did not make a decision on the settlement, but will continue the discussion among town staff and commissioners at their next regularly scheduled meeting on Dec. 6. If the commission does not approve the settlement, the case will continue in court, said town attorney Hal Cummings.
The plan, if approved, according to Economic Development Coordinator Marina Rodriguez, would represent a $10 million private investment in Vernon by Home Depot and create 125-160 new jobs, including 60 percent as full-time positions. It would also bring in $269,000 a year in taxes, not including personal property taxes.
See a video clip of the concerns of David Batchelder of Smart Growth for Vernon at www.remindervideos.com.