Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Tux King turned down by PZC
Commission won't vote on regulation change until October

By Suzanne Carlson
Journal Inquirer
Published: Friday, September 17, 2010 1:10 PM EDT

VERNON — The Planning and Zoning Commission has denied an application for a zone change for Tux King on Talcottville Road but will need more time to decide on a proposed amendment to the town’s zoning regulations that would allow for increased flexibility in adaptive reuse projects in mill buildings.

Tolland resident Samuel Belcito told the commission at a previous hearing that after 36 years in the tuxedo rental business and 25 years at his location at 295 Talcottville Road, he was starting to consider his retirement from Tux King.

“It’s really my son’s business now, but my wife and I own the property,” Belcito said.

To prepare for the transition, Belcito had applied for a zone change from the current status of “special economic development zone” to commercial.

There is disagreement on when and why the special economic zone was developed, and Town Planner Leonard K. Tundermann told the commission, “We’ve talked in the past about having way too many zones and this is probably a good example of that.”

The zone requires a special permit for all development applications and essentially is a commercial zone that adds stipulations on lot size and restricts retail to 25 percent of total floor space.

“It has worked well for us up until now,” Belcito said, but in an effort to make the property more attractive to future buyers, he sought the change to the less restrictive commercial zone.

The issue came when Belcito’s wife, who was responsible for running the bridal half of the business, decided to retire and phase out bridal operations.

That opened up floor space in the 15,000-square-foot structure, which was built specifically for bridal and tuxedo sale and rental, Belcito said.

Dress alterations and storage took up considerable room in the building, but Belcito said without those activities going on any more, he’d like to rent out part of his space, most likely for retail, and eventually may consider selling the property outright.

“I’m not psychologically ready to do that yet, but I do have to rent it,” Belcito told the commission.

The commission offered Belcito the option to apply for a change to the special economic development zone itself, increasing the percentage of floor space that can be used for retail, but Belcito instead chose to let the commission decide on his original application.

“It’s detrimental to the piece of property,” Belcito said of the development zone.

Commission members expressed concern that a change to commercial would intensify development and use of the parcel, which is near an aquifer protection zone, and indicated disappointment that Belcito had not taken them up on a compromise.

The council voted 4-3 to deny the zone change.

Later in Thursday’s meeting, commission members again took up an application to amend a regulation on adaptive reuse of vacant mill buildings.

Developer William Bellock is seeking to extend the adaptive reuse option to historic structures more than 100 years old with more than 5,000 square feet, such as the crumbling mansion property he owns at 1 Ellington Ave.

Bellock’s lawyer Leonard Jacobs has made no bones about the fact that the change would help his client, but stressed to the commission that the amendment would merely give developers the option of submitting adaptive reuse applications for large deteriorating homes.

The commission still would have the option of rejecting such applications, which also would need to go through a rigorous special permit process, Jacobs said.

But a lawyer for Bellock’s main opponents, neighborhood residents Christopher Crowne and Barry Rimmler, has disputed much of Jacobs’ testimony to the commission, including an assertion that the mansion is functionally obsolete as a single-family home.

Jacobs acknowledged Thursday that the lawyer, Bruce P. Fader, was correct in saying that a family has lived there since the property was sold in 2000, before which it had served as office space for a number of years.

Applications for building permits and various other documents show that the Moynihan family had been listing their address as 1 Ellington Ave. n the early 2000s, but, Jacobs said, a certificate of occupancy has not been issued for the structure since it was used for offices.

“I was wrong in the statement that nobody was living there, I was correct in the statement that nobody was living there legally,” Jacobs said.

There also was response to Fader’s arguments that the proposed amendment would violate uniformity rules by favoring certain properties.

A detailed opinion written by Town Attorney Harold Cummings said the revised regulation would not violate the uniformity rule in the general statutes, because it equitably distinguishes certain types of properties from one another within the same zone, which is allowed under the rule.

Fader approached the commission Thursday despite protests from Chairman Lester Finkle, who said the public hearing already had been closed and it was now Jacobs’ turn for rebuttal.

Fader persisted, however, insisting letters and supporting evidence he’d submitted should be put into the record and given further consideration by commission members.

Several commission members said they needed more time to review documents germane to the application, and Finkle said he would ask Cummings for his legal response and requested that Tundermann prepare draft motions for and against the application.

The application was continued to the next meeting Oct. 7.

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