Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Developer seeks zoning change; neighbors say no way

By Suzanne Carlson
Journal Inquirer
Published: Friday, September 3, 2010 11:53 AM EDT

VERNON — The developer who owns the mansion at 1 Ellington Ave. made his case for an amendment to the town’s zoning regulations, but faces stiff opposition from area neighbors.

The Planning and Zoning Commission held a public hearing Thursday for Manchester-based developer William Bellock’s application to amend the zoning regulations that now restrict certain types of redevelopment to former mills.

The application was continued to the commission’s next meeting Sept. 16.

Bellock is seeking to expand the regulation to include other large, historic, aging structures, such as the mansion property he owns on Ellington Avenue in the Rockville section of town.

Bellock’s lawyer, Leonard Jacobs, acknowledged that his client would benefit from the change to the regulation, which would allow for an increased number of apartment units to be built in the house, a move that’s been twice blocked by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

But Jacobs emphasized to commissioners that the change would affect not just his client’s property, but all other buildings in the town’s historic districts that were built before 1911 and have at least 5,000 square feet of floor space.

Town Planner Leonard Tundermann prepared a list of the properties that would be affected by the change, putting the total number at 29, though that figure, like many others in the application, has been disputed by opponents of the plan.

The 8,000-square-foot building that Bellock owns originally was constructed around the turn of the century as a single-family mansion. In 1957 it was turned into office space, which for years housed a doctor’s office, travel agency, and other small businesses, according to Jacobs.

Jacobs said use of the building was abandoned around 2000 and a certificate of occupancy application has not been filed since, meaning that a single family has not occupied it since 1957.

Bellock said through Jacobs that he estimated redevelopment of the structure into a livable single-family dwelling would cost somewhere around $450,000. He argued that cost would be unreasonable for a single family to bear, particularly in the current economy.

But Bruce P. Fader, a lawyer for two vocal opponents to Bellock’s plans, disputed Jacobs’ statements.

He said he’s found evidence that a single family occupied the home as recently as five years ago and, therefore, the structure is not functionally obsolete as a single-family home.

Fader made several detailed legal arguments why the application to amend the regulations was illegal, which Tundermann said he would investigate, including the issue of when the home was last occupied by a family.

His clients, Barry Rimmler of Prospect Street and Christopher Crowne of Ellington Avenue, also spoke against the zoning regulation change, despite Chairman Lester Finkle’s assertion that they already had been given a chance to speak through their lawyer and their statements would be redundant.

Both men said they are concerned for the character of the neighborhood, which Fader said is primarily composed of single-family, owner-occupied dwellings, and expressed fear that increasing the opportunity for redevelopment of Rockville’s mansions into apartments would be detrimental to the community.

They also argued that Bellock knew what he was getting into with the mansion property and criticized him for expanding another building, known as “the carriage house,” from four apartments to seven, saying it put undue burden on the property and public utilities.

Historic Properties Commission Chairman Robert Hurd sent a letter to the PZC on Aug. 30, saying the group voted unanimously to oppose the proposed change because it had the potential to be a detriment to the redevelopment of the remaining mill buildings in town. The commission also said it would run afoul of other zoning regulations and could have a negative impact on economic development in the area.

PZC member Sarah Iacobello also is a member of the Historic Properties Commission, and Jacobs asked if she felt there was a conflict of interest present.

Iacobello said she did not attend the meeting when members voted on the issue and did not feel it was necessary to excuse herself from the PZC’s vote on the application.

Several other residents of the Ellington Avenue area spoke out against the application, saying it had the potential to leave the neighborhood with what Oak Street resident Jeff Cantor called a “glorified rooming house.”

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