Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Vernon development plan meets with some criticism

By Suzanne Carlson
Journal Inquirer
Published: Friday, October 14, 2011 12:25 PM EDT

VERNON — Residents were supportive of the revised 10-year plan of conservation and development during a public hearing Thursday, but a development lawyer said he feels it needs to make more room for business.

Lawyer Joseph P. Capossela, a South Windsor resident and partner in the Hartford Turnpike law firm of Kahan, Kerensky, and Capossela, framed the Planning and Zoning Commission hearing as a two-sided debate.

“We know the environmentalists are going to come forward and raise objections,” Capossela said. “Open space is important, but economic development is important too, and they’re not on equal footing in your plan of conservation and development.”

He advocated for more luxury apartments and assured the PZC that if given a chance, builders “can design around darn near everything,” in terms of natural resources. “We’re more environmental than you think.”

Caposella said he and fellow lawyer William Breslau, who is a member of the Economic Development Commission, were asked to speak from a development perspective, but not on behalf of any one client or interest.

Breslau said the plan should be simplified, but former PZC member Watson “Chip” Bellows, who began work on the document three years ago but was not re-appointed to his post, said he appreciated its detail and specificity.

Prepared with the help of consultant Heidi Samokar of the Avon-based firm Planimetrics, the plan is “one of the best drafted plans I’ve seen,” former Town Planner Thomas Joyce, a resident since 1987, said.

Local Historic Properties Commission Chairman Robert Hurd said most of his group’s concerns were addressed, adding that the Vernon center and Talcottville sections especially are “both excellent.”

Open Space Task Force Chairman Ann Letendre described it as “very comprehensive and detailed, a nice piece of work that should endure for the next 10 years.”

But Democratic Town Council member Marie Herbst told the PZC the council had not been allowed to discuss the document, so its approval was essentially “by default.”

Democratic mayoral candidate Pauline Schaefer suggested an emphasis on filling vacant buildings and highlighting the town’s riparian features.

Joyce said the town should stop waiting for developers to buy the Citizens Block building and find a use for the municipal structure itself, and he and others brought up the stagnant $8 million intermodal transportation center project.

Over a year ago, the council approved using a $6.3 million federal grant, which was awarded in 2004, to build a bus and commuter station at 375 Hartford Turnpike but no progress has been made.

Sherryl McMullen, a former member of the Conservation Commission, countered Caposella’s call for more building, saying that, “I think it’s important that we don’t put business development ahead of conservation.”

She expressed concern for vernal pools and stressed the need to build around the temporary habitats, crucial to the life cycles of amphibians and other organisms.

McMullen also said the TicketNetwork Forest application process showed the town needs to be more conscious of compatibility between neighboring uses.

The zoning regulations didn’t take into consideration the possibility a developer would want to build an outdoor concert venue, and the town should be prepared for other potential hot-button structures, such as cellphone towers and wind farms as, “it’s only a matter of time,” McMullen said.

The plan and companion “implementation element” are available for review at the planning and development office in Town Hall, at the Rockville Public Library, and on the town website,

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