Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Home Depot settlement deal on its way

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
December 28, 2007

VERNON - After last week's approval from the Planning and Zoning Commission, the town's lawyers and staff are drafting a settlement agreement with developers who plan to build a Home Depot just off Interstate 84 on the site of former softball fields.

In a 4-3 vote last Thursday the commission gave its nod to the deal, which still needs approval from the courts.

The settlement allows developers Diamond 67 LLC to build a 132,973-square-foot Home Depot and garden center at the exit 67 off ramp, on 14.7-acres near Walker's Reservoir. The compromise agreement consists of a smaller building footprint, fewer parking spaces, more landscaping, and hook-up to sewer lines rather than digging a septic system.

Because the agreement is part of a court settlement the stipulations would be enforceable, unlike many other planning and zoning applications where developers often seek relief from the courts over imposed restrictions.

Those commission members voting in favor of the agreement said that the settlement struck a better deal for the town, because it addressed all environmental issues raised over the last five years by residents.

Those opposed said they were concerned the precedent setting process had stifled public input.

Home Depot lawyers brokered the agreement with a subcommittee of three commission members in court-sponsored mediation resulting out of a lawsuit.

Residents Glenn Montigny and Dave Batchelder meanwhile, representing Rockville Concerned Citizens for Responsible Development and Smart Growth for Vernon respectively, have filed their own lawsuit against the commission claiming they were denied intervener status for the purposes of raising environmental issues. As a result the settlement agreement is a back door deal hatched without public review, the lawsuit claims.

But according to the most recent court ruling, the commission had no obligation to hear from the public on the settlement agreement. Opponents were allowed to speak out at length against the proposal, however, when the commission began discussions on the settlement last month.

They brought forth no new experts or witnesses other than what had been brought before the Inland Wetlands Commission years ago, and that testimony was considered inadequate by the judge, Town Attorney Harold Cummings said.

"They were given that time voluntarily by planning and zoning to come forward and present their information, but all they did was rail against the system," said Cummings, adding: "It was very important to commission members. They felt very strongly that while they didn't have to do it, the meeting should be open to the public and anybody who wanted to speak, spoke without a three-minute deadline or getting cut off, extending the meeting into the late hours," he said.

"But they didn't present any additional information that was substantive," Cummings said.

Cummings said he would be filing a motion to dismiss Montigny's and Batchelder's suit after the New Year holiday.

©Journal Inquirer 2007