Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
PZC nixes latest safety complex land purchase

By Kory Loucks
Journal Inquirer
June 14, 2008

SOUTH WINDSOR — Clustered sedge, an unassuming grass-like plant, might not look like much, but it has become an $8.3 million thorn in the side for town officials.

At the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting Tuesday, members voted 5-1, with one abstention, against a $1.8 million purchase of 23 acres of land.

Environmental officials consider the plant to be threatened.

Members vetoed the proposal that the Town Council members had approved for numerous other reasons, including cost and use, but foremost was their decision not to use open space funds toward the acquisition, in order to help to mitigate the cost.

"The primary reason was part of the money would come from the open space fund, but the Open Space Task Force gave a neutral recommendation," PZC Chairman Patrick Kennedy said Wednesday. The land designated for open space is swampland, he said, and wouldn't be useful for passive recreation.

The complex only would need about 3 acres of the 23-acre parcel for the complex, with the remainder used as open space.

"We have a strong Planning and Zoning interest to see the open space funds go toward use that the Open Space Task Force regards as a higher priority," Kennedy said.

The $1.8 million price tag for the 23-acre parcel also was a concern, as was the potential that the new parcel could have cluster sedge lying dormant, only to appear when the land is cleared, Kennedy said.

Another concern expressed in the report to the Town Council members was that the 23-acre parcel would better serve the town as a commercial use, Kennedy said.

In 2005 the town approved the construction of a new safety complex and bonded $8.3 million to build it. The complex would combine the Co. 3 fire station, about a mile west of the site at 124 Sullivan Ave., with the town's volunteer ambulance corps, located in the lower level of the police station on Sand Hill Road.

Jim Michaud / Journal Inquirer
Jeff Folger from the South Windsor Planning Department poses near the clustered sedge that caused a 7-acre site to be rejected for a new public safety complex on Sullivan Avenue in South Windsor.

A smaller parcel of land at 625 Sullivan Ave. was purchased for $595,000 as part of the original plan, and all was going well until the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers brought the project to a grinding halt when the clustered sedge was discovered.

Clustered sedge is listed on the DEP's diversity database as a threatened species.

It needs lots of sunlight to grow, though, and was dormant until crews started clearing trees to build the complex.

Using the 23-acre parcel still would be a possibility with a two-thirds majority vote by the Town Council. The council had voted 5-3, with one abstention, at its last meeting to refer the matter to the PZC.

Council members are scheduled to discuss their options and choices at their regular meeting Monday.

Their choices are either to proceed with the planned purchase of the alternative site at the corner of West Road, requiring a two-thirds vote, or to apply to the DEP and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for approval to relocate any sedge.