Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Capstone subdivision approved in Vernon

By Suzanne Carlson
Journal Inquirer
Published: Friday, February 18, 2011 11:50 AM EST

VERNON — A plan by Capstone Builders to construct a 16-lot subdivision of single-family homes off Grier Road received unanimous approval from the Planning and Zoning Commission on Thursday.

The approval comes five years after a similar proposal to build 18 homes on the same parcel was unanimously rejected by the Inland Wetlands Commission.

“I respectfully ask you to put an end to this process that’s been going on since 2005 and approve the applicant’s proposal,” Capstone’s lawyer Dorian Famiglietti said shortly before the commission voted 7-0.

Landowner and former PZC member Mark St. Germain and his wife, Susan, sued the Inland Wetlands Commission in April 2006, saying it acted illegally and arbitrarily in rejecting Capstone’s application to build 18 homes on their 32 acres. The developer received a wetlands permit to build as part of a settlement with the town.

But the plan stalled when Capstone resubmitted the application in 2007, only to be rejected again, this time by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Facing further mediation in court, Capstone instead submitted an application in 2009 called Laurelwood Lane that trimmed the number of lots to 16.

Also, while the first plan had incorporated septic systems — a major reason why the wetlands commission disapproved, citing the close proximity to Bolton Lakes — the revised application tied the subdivision into the regional sewer network, alleviating concerns that sewage might seep into the lakes and groundwater.

When the application first came before the town’s two regulatory commissions, a few neighboring residents petitioned for and won intervenor status, granting them the right to present scientific evidence that the development would harm the surrounding environment.

While public opposition was vocal and fierce, the opposition response for the most recent plan turned out to be more tepid.

One Anchorage Road resident, Janine P. Gelineau received intervenor recognition on Jan. 13. But after contending that Capstone’s wetlands permit was no longer valid and reiterating previous environmental concerns related to storm water runoff and effluent, her lawyer, Derek Oatis, added only that the open space portion of the site plan did not conform to the Plan of Conservation and Development.

Capstone president Gregory Pinto, Famiglietti, and engineer Eric Peterson tag-teamed in rebutting Oatis’ and residents’ concerns.

They cited Town Attorney Harold Cummings’ advice that the wetlands permit still is valid, and pointed to an opinion he wrote during consideration of open space regulations, in which he said the town must evaluate each development on a case-by-case basis.

Developers can offer up open space to the town in return for permission to build on smaller-sized lots, but, Cummings said, the town could not mandate the surrender of open space without cause.

Peterson also emphasized that the storm water management system designed for the subdivision meets the standards required by the Department of Environmental Protection, and includes a 10-foot-deep retention basin.

He also reminded commission members that the town does not have low-impact development regulations, to which PZC Chairman Chester Morgan replied, “Not yet.”

Several residents said the retention basin would pose a public health hazard, because it would be located nearby the town-owned Camp Newhoca and its many hiking trails.

In a letter to the PZC, Gelineau called it a “giant headache of a hole,” and Cubles Drive resident Edie Chernack described it as “football field size.”

But Famiglietti dismissed those concerns, saying that while a football field is 360 by 156 feet, the retention basin would be 235 by 85 feet, and does not pose a danger to the community.

Oatis was not present at Thursday’s meeting, and did not submit new testimony on behalf of the intervenor, Gelineau.

Famiglietti said that intervenor testimony had been sparse and scattered, and no scientific expert was presented to validate the claims put forward in the initial petition.

Oatis has said, however, that he would appeal the PZC’s decision if not given the opportunity to fully address environmental concerns.

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