Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
PZC signs Home Depot issue agreement

By: Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
February 8, 2008

VERNON - Construction of a Home Depot at exit 67 off Interstate 84 is looming as developers and the Planning and Zoning Commission's chairman on Thursday signed papers bringing a lawsuit and related mediation close to an end.

The pending agreement now goes before Vernon Superior Court Judge Samuel J. Sferrazza for approval.

In December the commission voted 4-3 to accept the controversial agreement in concept. Over the last month Town Attorney Harold Cummings has worked with developers Diamond 67 LLC to draft the agreement addressing the commission's concerns.

According to Cummings, the final document allows developers to build a 132,973-square-foot Home Depot and garden center on 14.7-acres near Walker's Reservoir in exchange for certain concessions. Those concessions include a smaller building footprint, fewer parking spaces, more landscaping, and sewer line hook-ups, rather than installing a septic system.

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, however, said they are concerned the precedent setting process might have stifled public input.

During mediation Home Depot lawyers brokered the agreement with a subcommittee of three commission members, preventing residents and other concerned parties to act as interveners.

Another lawsuit has been filed, meanwhile, by the Rockville Concerned Citizens for Responsible Development and Smart Growth for Vernon as a result.

Some concerns were raised Thursday about onsite storage of gas-powered equipment and potential threat to groundwater. But Cummings said a spill containment drain that directly leads to the sewer system would protect the aquifer.

"We beat it to death with a stick, going over all the records and exhibits, and back and forth," Cummings said, adding that an exhaustive environmental study was also done.

The battle to build a Home Depot on the site of former softball fields began in 2003 when protestors flooded the Inland Wetlands Commission meetings. That commission denied the application twice, and as a result, the PZC never ruled on it. Home Depot bought the property, and Diamond 67 filed a lawsuit. The judge ruled in favor of the developers, forcing the wetlands commission to issue a permit.

Diamond 67 then filed a new application with planning and zoning, as well as another lawsuit claiming the commission did not act within the statutory time frame on the original 2003 application.

Over the summer the new application was withdrawn, and the commission and the developers began mediation to resolve the lawsuit over the 2003 application. That mediation resulted in the agreement signed Thursday.

Several more permits are needed before construction can begin, but Richard Hayes, a principal with Diamond 67, said Home Depot hopes to obtain those permits in the spring and begin construction in the summer.

The project is expected to take nine months to a year to complete, he said.

©Journal Inquirer 2008