Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Home Depot settlement upheld; group vows appeal

By Max Bakke
Journal Inquirer
Published: Thursday, December 10, 2009 12:14 PM EST

VERNON — A Vernon Superior Court judge has upheld a settlement between the Planning and Zoning Commission and the developers of a proposed Home Depot near Walker’s Reservoir.

In a Dec. 3 ruling, Judge Lawrence J. Klaczak wrote that the town and developers negotiated in good faith and the settlement “offers more protection to the environment than originally proposed.”

But the lawyer for a group of residents who call themselves Smart Growth for Vernon and who were granted intervenor status in the case isn’t happy with the decision and plans to appeal.

“I think that’s ridiculous,” Manchester lawyer Derek Oatis said. “I have a very different reading of the appellate court decision than judge Klaczak.”

The intervenor status allowed the group to become third-party plaintiffs to raise environmental concerns they had about the project. But at the October hearing, Klaczak wrote in his decision, they did not bring forward any witnesses to support their concerns.

Oatis said there wasn’t enough time to rebut the town’s claims at the October hearing and has asked the court to reconsider its decision.

Diamond 67 LLC, which proposed the hardware store in 2003, sued the PZC following the resolution of an earlier suit against the town’s Inland Wetlands Commission in 2007 on the same project.

Developers argued that the PZC did not act within the statutory time frame on their 2003 application, and in 2007, a three-member subcommittee of the PZC and developers’ lawyers worked to resolve the lawsuit.

Home Depot “agreed to significant modifications in the plan,” Town Attorney Hal Cumming said.

Cummings defended the agreement, arguing that Home Depot agreed to reduce the size of the store and space needed for parking and agreed to hook into the town’s water and sewer systems.

Smart Growth sought to intervene in that mediation but was denied. And while there was no public hearing before the PZC on the settlement, the commission did allow public comment on the plan.

Diamond 67 since has purchased the property, 14.7 acres near the reservoir, a former home to softball fields off Interstate 84.

But Oatis said the town was wrong to enter into mediation on the application in the first place.

“The PZC was brought into this process based on misinformation,” he said. “It was a way to completely bypass the process.”

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