Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Packed crowd reiterates opposition to condos

By Christine McCluskey
Journal Inquirer
January 8, 2008

MANCHESTER - Neighbors of a proposed 18-unit condominium development off Lydall Street once again filled the Planning and Zoning Commission's hearing room to overflowing Monday, and many again spoke in opposition to the project.

The hearing was continued from last month, when neighbors first voiced their concerns to the commission. Many of them say the development would ruin the area's rural character and exacerbate flooding and traffic problems.

And since last month, they have recruited support from Vernon Mayor Jason L. McCoy and Rep. Joan A. Lewis, D-Coventry, whose district includes the part of the neighborhood that lies in Vernon. Both have now written letters opposing the development.

But the developers countered the criticism Monday with testimony from more of those who have worked on the project than were at last month's hearing, including the architect and traffic engineer. The developers say the project would raise home values in the area, improve stormwater management, and have a negligible effect on traffic.

The commission put off a decision on the proposal in order to have more time to consider it.

When the commission does vote, it can approve the project only by a two-thirds majority because enough neighbors within a 500-foot radius of the property signed a petition to force that rule into effect.

Developers Ryan Ladd of Manchester and Tony Jetmore of Stafford hope to construct up to 11 two-bedroom units and up to seven three-bedroom units on the 2.87-acre triangular site at 775 Lydall St. that is now vacant.

The land's eastern boundary is the Manchester-Vernon town line. Its western edge borders the Lydall Woods development of attached homes, which was built about 22 years ago.

The land is owned by Gladys Hall, who has agreed to sell it to Jetmore and Ladd's Jetmore Construction if they gain the necessary approvals from the town.

The commission must consider whether to grant Jetmore Construction a zone change and whether to approve its preliminary plan of development.

The property's density with the proposed condominiums would be about 6.3 units per acre.

The rural residence zone the property is in now allows 1.3 units per acre. The planned residence zone Jetmore Construction has requested a change to allow 10 multifamily units per acre.

The commission also will consider the town's Plan of Conservation and Development, which says 775 Lydall St. is within one of three conservation development areas in town.

That designation is made to encourage development that preserves open space, natural features, and rural character.

The conservation development areas should have no more than six units per acre, the plan says. But while the commission considers the plan as an advisory document, its advice does not carry the weight of a zoning regulation.

Bruce Fader, the lawyer for Jetmore Construction, again told the commission Monday that the development would ease the flooding problems that residents of Lydall Woods now deal with.

The 775 Lydall St. property has a slope of about 5 percent from east to west. Runoff from Lake Street, which traverses the Manchester-Vernon line, goes through the property to Lydall Woods properties.

The development's drainage installations would take in 90 to 95 percent of that runoff, and the remaining runoff could be handled by the Lydall Woods drainage system that's overwhelmed by bad storms now, Fader and engineer George Ives have said.

Fader also said the condominiums wouldn't lower property values because they'd be priced higher than the Lydall Woods properties.

Vernon's town planner has filed a letter opposing the plans as they are because they would cause an abrupt change from the single-family detached homes on the Vernon side of the neighborhood. The Vernon Planning and Zoning Commission and Conservation Commission also oppose the project.

"It's just not in character with the neighborhood," Michael Perretto of 788 Lydall St. in Manchester said.

Joseph Szumowski of 735 Lydall St. in Manchester said the proposed 15-foot landscape buffer is insufficient. "That's five giant steps," he said.

But "it's not as if this area is total rural," Fader said. "There are a lot of similarities insofar as density" to Lydall Woods, he added.

Town Economic Development and Neighborhood Services Director Mark Pellegrini said that including wetlands, the density of Lydall Woods is 3.67 units per acre. Excluding wetlands and land set aside for open space, it is 5.89 units per acre, he said.

James G. Bubaris, the traffic engineer for the developers, said the new units would generate 13 trips in the peak morning hour and 15 in the peak evening hour, an average of one vehicle every four or five minutes.

He also said data from the state Department of Transportation show that from 2003 to 2006 there were only two reported accidents in the area. The DOT collects data only on accidents causing injury, death, or more than $1,000 worth of damage, Bubaris said, responding to residents who said there were more than two accidents in that time.

Bubaris said most who drive the neighborhood's roads are familiar with them and drive carefully because of their curves and hills.

Joanne Lowry of 415 Lake St. in Vernon disputed Bubaris' conclusions, saying she collected newer data from the Vernon Police Department that show three accidents at the intersection of Lydall and Lake streets between December 2006 and December 2007, one of which caused a car to land on its roof.

The Conservation Commission also is opposing the project, saying it does not follow the Plan of Conservation and Development.

©Journal Inquirer 2008