Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Vernon council refuses to back wildlife foundation grant application

By Suzanne Carlson
Journal Inquirer
Published: Thursday, May 6, 2010 12:30 PM EDT

VERNON — The Town Council has voted not to support the Conservation Commission and other town groups in their bid for a $35,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to study low-impact development strategies.

Even getting the item to the council proved tricky, as several requests to add the item to the agenda were rejected without notice by Mayor Jason L. McCoy and Town Administrator John Ward.

The mayor’s administrative assistant Diane Wheelock said McCoy and Ward received petitions for agenda items from various members of the community before making “a judgment call” and deciding what will be presented to the council.

In the regular council meeting on April 20, three supporters of the grant spoke in an effort to have the issue addressed: commission Chairman Scott Wieting, commission member Thomas Ouelette, and Hockanum River Linear Park Committee member Ann Letendre.

The three explained to the council that they were requesting support for the grant application in the form of $4,500 cash as “good faith” money to show that Vernon supports responsible development and conservation. The grant also requires a contribution of in-kind service, which they said could be accomplished by town staff in the Planning Department and volunteers from town commissions.

The $35,000 provided by the grant would have funded a study by engineering consultants Fuss & O’Neill to determine how low-impact development could be incorporated into the town’s development process, supporters explained.

Letendre said the study would produce a set of recommendations that Planning and Zoning and Inland Wetlands commissions could then parse out and reject or adopt as regulations.

“From every perspective, it’s a win-win for Vernon,” Letendre said.

The council voted to include the grant application as an additional agenda item for the April 20 meeting, but then voted to adjourn before the issue could be addressed.

This left Conservation Commission members wondering if the town would vote on the grant application in time for its May 7 deadline.

Low-impact development is a collection of strategies to handle storm water in a way that doesn’t negatively affect the environment.

For example, rather than collecting storm water runoff with curbs and gutters and disposing of it as a waste product, a low-impact development project might implement products such as pervious pavement to allow the water to filter through the soil.

Seventy percent of the Tankerhoosen River, a class I wild trout stream, is in Vernon, with the remainder running through Bolton, Manchester, and Tolland.

“Fuss and O’Neill has been contracted by the state to draft LID guidelines, so what they’re saying is the town should incorporate these guidelines into their regulations,” Letendre said today.

Vernon already has received two similar grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Letendre said, the only inland town to receive funding, making it likely that the town would receive a third grant because of its status as the location of a major inland watershed.

The other three Tankerhoosen towns have shown formal support for not only low-impact development, but also the Tankerhoosen River Management Plan stakeholders’ agreement, which Vernon’s administration still has not signed.

The grant application also was missing from the council’s May 4 agenda despite a written request from council member Marie Herbst dated April 21.

Council member Michael Winkler reminded McCoy that any agenda items left over from a previous meeting must be addressed at the next meeting, according to council rules.

McCoy agreed and the grant application was added to the agenda for discussion.

But McCoy expressed skepticism of the low-impact development process. He began by telling the council that the town “already does this” and pointed to a liquor store that had been built with pervious pavement.

“We don’t need to spend $35,000 and tie up our department working on this,” McCoy said.

McCoy went on to say that Town Planner Leonard K. Tundermann and town engineer Terry McCarthy could do the same work in-house more cheaply without the input of volunteers or outside hydrologists.

He accused supporters of not understanding the implications of the strategies and contradicted himself by saying he believes pervious pavement will cause slipping hazards in the winter.

“We can’t just jump in because everybody’s doing it,” McCoy said.

McCoy added that supporting the grant would mean handing over regulatory powers to “people not elected or appointed by the town.”

Simply, he said, “I don’t think we need to do this.”

Council members voted 4-3 along party lines to deny support for the grant application.

McCoy said he would instruct town staff to start working on low-impact development regulations independent of any federal grant money. He also said there would be chance for public input on any strategies, but did not specify a date at which the regulations would be presented to the public.

Letendre said volunteers still are planning to submit the grant application, due Friday, but it will be less competitive against other towns who have received formal administrative support.

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