Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Scenic road designation on tap for Vernon’s Reservoir Road

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
Tuesday, May 6, 2008

VERNON — Residents and town officials are considering making Reservoir Road a scenic road — with all the restrictions on development that it entails — from the Walker Reservoir water crossing south to Bolton Road.

If approved, it would be the town’s second scenic road, following the 2006 designation of Valley Falls Road.

The scenic designation limits the town and property owners from making major alterations to the road, such as widening it or removing natural or certain manmade structures, except in emergency situations.

Planning and Zoning Commission approval also would be required for any changes that might affect the pastoral view.

Conservation Commission member Scott Wettig brought the plan to the PZC last week, saying that the majority of property owners along the road are in favor of the proposal.

“It won’t restrict what people do with their front yards or restrict development entirely,” Wettig said. “It will just protect the character of the road and make sure mature trees aren’t cut down or stone walls leveled.”

Wettig said the road meets several of the criteria needed for the designation. Among them is that the road pass through agricultural land and offer scenic views of nearby ridgelines, or a presence of mature trees and forests. Roads also can be considered scenic if they are unpaved and are no more than 20 feet wide.

In the case of Reservoir Road, it is bordered by mature trees and a stone wall; offers scenic views of many natural features; passes by the Mason family farm, house, and barn; blends naturally into surrounding terrain; and parallels and crosses brooks, streams, and a pond.

Home Depot, which recently won a court case to build a big-box store on the corner of Reservoir Road and Route 31, would not be included in the plan as the designation would begin south of that project, Wettig said.

“We know there’s development coming there, and it could be a contentious issue to include that parcel,” he added.

Still, Home Depot developers are against the designation, writing to the PZC that it is unnecessary.

“Most of the land on Reservoir Road is owned by the state or a few landowners,” the letter reads. “In essence, it’s already a scenic road. Why make more restrictions? We see no compelling reason to change the designation.”

Sheryl McMullen, Conservation Commission chairwoman, said the road’s curves and wooded landscape make it a natural for the designation, however.

“From a tourist’s perspective, we’re preserving the rural character of the town,” McMullen said.

In 2004 the Town Council adopted a scenic road ordinance allowing the designation for certain byways in an attempt to preserve the character of the town’s older roads.

Property owners must vote to accept the designation, and their votes will be based on lot frontage.

A majority of the land along the road belongs to Tankerhoosen LLC, a trust owned and managed by the Mason family.

Wettig and McMullen agreed that the trust could be the deciding vote, as its holdings overwhelm the other smaller parcels.

But some town officials think one vote per resident, rather than prorated on land frontage, is needed to adopt the designation.

The matter will be continued to a public hearing at the PZC’s May 15 meeting.

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