Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
“ER” surveys on towns’ development plan start Monday

By Suzanne Carlson
Journal Inquirer
Published: Friday, November 5, 2010 10:16 PM EDT

VERNON — Starting Monday, you may get a call from “ER surveys,” but it will have nothing to do with medical services.

The town-wide phone survey that starts Nov. 8 is the latest effort by the Planning and Zoning Commission to determine residents’ vision for the town’s future development.

Planimetrics consultant Heidi Samokar, who has been working with a subcommittee on updating the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development, said she hopes the professional survey company’s misleading introduction won’t prompt residents to hang up on what they think is a “robo-call” for the hospital.

The random 10-minute survey consists of 40 questions designed to get an idea for how residents want their town to evolve. It will run for about two weeks, concluding on Dec. 16, after which results will be made public.

In accordance with state statute, the town must update its development plan once every 10 years. The subcommittee, which consists of Samokar, commission members Walter Mealy, Watson “Chip” Bellows, Chester “Chet” Morgan, Town Planner Leonard K. Tundermann, and Town Surveyor Ralph Zahner, is hoping to have this decade’s version complete some time before October 2011.

The document is used to guide future decisions, and help officials determine how best to manage the landscape. It mainly aids in planning, investment, and capital improvement, Samokar said.

“It’s a 10 year vision,” Tundermann said.

The plan can be amended through a review process, depending on circumstances.

The plan is often discussed during PZC meetings on applications for development as commissioners judge if a project is appropriate for its planned site.

“Every community is different,” with different topographic and economic needs, Samokar said. Each plan is tailored to its individual town, resulting in a myriad of approaches to the same basic concept.

Rather than revise an old plan, which was done in the past, Morgan said this time they decided to start from the ground up.

“We’re getting into subjects we never even discussed in 2001,” Morgan said.

Besides the survey, town officials will also hold meetings in January and February, conduct multiple interviews and workshops, and consult with other towns to see how they tackle long-term planning, Samokar said.

The city of Pinehurst, North Carolina has “the Holy Grail” of conservation and development plans, according to Bellows. That town has distinguished between documents that address planning and those that offer ideas for implementation, creating two separate documents, he said.

“Implementation is really important,” Samokar said, though Vernon’s subcommittee has yet to address that aspect.

Bellows said he was once told that there’s an emotional attachment to every piece of land, and that idea has stuck with him.

“We’re trying to strike a balance,” he said.

“There’s competing interests, too,” Tundermann added, acknowledging that very often, opposing sides of a development debate can both find arguments to validate their cause in the adopted plan.

“They’ll do whatever they have to do to support their feelings,” Zahner said.

Samokar cautioned against viewing development decisions as incompatible with compromise, however.

“You can balance,” she said of conservation and development. “It’s not mutually exclusive.”

But, Mealy added, “when it comes to land, it’s very personal,” hence the phone survey seeking input from residents that may not traditionally attend PZC meetings.

Another way residents can get insight into the process is by visiting “Vernon CT Town Plan” on Facebook, Samokar said.

For more information on the Plan of Conservation and Development process or to verify a survey caller, contact Tundermann’s office at 860-870-3640.

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