Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Garden Barn expansion approved

By Suzanne Carlson
Journal Inquirer
Published: Friday, June 18, 2010 11:57 AM EDT

VERNON — The Garden Barn Nursery got the go-ahead from the Planning and Zoning Commission on Thursday to make several new upgrades to its building and expand operations to include on-site plant growing.

But the approval came with restrictions on the use of an access road that stirred concern among several neighbors.

PZC members Charles Bardes, Watson “Chip” Bellows, Stanley Cohen, Lester Finkle, Sarah Iacobello, Chester Morgan, and Victor Ricassi voted unanimously to approve Garden Barn owner Dennis Gliha’s application for a site plan modification and two special permits for the Garden Barn Nursery and landscaping center at 228 West St.

Dennis and his wife, Kathryn, both attended the meeting along with their two children, Kimberly and Shawn, who are in the process of taking over some of the ownership responsibilities of the business, which began in 1981 and has grown substantially over the past 30 years.

The PZC’s approval also affects a propoerty contiguous to the Garden Barn site that Gliha purchased in 2007 and was modified from residential to garden zone in 2008.

That property, located at 212 West St., will house approximately 30,804 square feet of production greenhouses to grow plants for sale at Garden Barn’s retail center, as well as 35 gravel-surfaced overflow parking spaces, Gliha said.

In addition to the production facility, Gliha will cover about 10,736 square feet of the property’s open-air retail area with glass so customers can shop comfortably in inclement weather.

A new 391-square-foot information center, a landscaping equipment shed, and a landscape design kiosk also are planned.

But some elements of the plan irked four residents of the newly built Ogden Brook Estates, an upscale single-family development of 40 homes that abuts Gliha’s property at 212 West St.

Construction of the development started in 2008 and according to one resident, only six of the homes are occupied so far.

Gliha’s plan calls for a right-turn only exit road from the rear of his production site onto Ogden View Drive, which the four neighbors who spoke at a previous PZC meeting said would become a nuisance and public safety hazard.

Gliha’s lawyer, Dorian Famiglietti, argued that the road would be used primarily from April to June, during the peak season for mulch and stone pick-ups.

Famiglietti also reasoned that it would be safer to send pickup trucks out the rear of the property onto Ogden View Drive and right onto West Street, rather than back through the nursery’s busy front parking lot.

She also assured PZC members that a vertical concrete curb and conspicuous signage would make it “physically impossible” for vehicles to make a left turn onto Ogden View Drive, a possible shortcut around busy West Street.

Famiglietti and Gliha agreed to prohibit class 8 tractor-trailer trucks from using the road, but requested that box trucks, most commonly used for moving furniture and large equipment, be allowed.

Box trucks fall under commercial vehicle class 7, along with tri-axle dump trucks, a large, noisy type of vehicle that caused concern among some neighbors and PZC members.

After some debate, the PZC voted 5-2 to limit the road’s truck traffic to class 6 vehicles only, before unanimously approving the full application.

Another concern centered on Gliha’s plan to build large, concrete mulch bins and fears that they would endanger children, and that his production greenhouses would become an eyesore for the residents.

Famiglietti said she consulted with building inspector Peter Hobbs who said the bins did not violate the building code, and Gliha agreed to several landscape design elements and plantings that would protect pedestrians from falling into the bins, and block the view from the neighbors.

Despite debate over certain design elements, support for Gliha’s project was overwhelming.

Famiglietti cited a favorable letter from abutter David Oliphant, submitted during the 2007 zone change proceedings, as well as letters of support from Economic Development Coordinator Marina Rodriguez.

“I’m really upset with Marina Rodriguez right now because she said everything in her letter that I wanted to say,” Morgan said after the application was approved.

Bellows, who expressed a desire to find an alternative to the Ogden View access road, still lauded Gliha for his efforts.

“This has nothing to do with the applicants,” Bellows said of his concerns. “They’ve always been very good stewards of the land.”

Copyright © 2010 - Journal Inquirer