Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Mayor rebuffs request to rescind zoning proposal

By Suzanne Carlson
Journal Inquirer
January 18, 2012

VERNON — Residents at the Town Council meeting Tuesday lambasted former Republican Mayor Jason L. McCoy's proposed changes to the town zoning regulations and called for Republican Mayor George F. Apel to withdraw the application.

But Apel, who could not be reached for comment today, said Monday that he has no intention of interfering with McCoy's proposal, which will be defended before the Planning and Zoning Commission on Thursday by Town Administrator John D. Ward.

Apel also refused to meet with the Vernon Citizens for Responsible Development, which has circulated a newsletter opposing the changes.

"I have very little input," Apel said Monday. "It's something that can come to its logical conclusion through the Planning and Zoning Commission."

The application would change several uses that require a special permit or exception into permitted uses "by right."

If approved, a host of restricted uses, including bars and liquor stores, restaurants, multifamily dwellings, commercial parking, and retail stores, would become permitted uses in residential, commercial, and industrial historic districts, special economic development zones, planned commercial zones, and the downtown Rockville area.

McCoy used $6,060 from the Planning Department budget to hire a Manchester lawyer to do the rewrite, which Town Attorney Harold Cummings has said would streamline regulations and make the town more business-friendly.

While special permits require a public hearing that offers residents the chance to weigh in on a development application — such as the TicketNetwork Forest outdoor concert venue, which drew hundreds of opponents — permitted uses can in most cases be approved by town staff.

Former PZC member Sarah Iacobello said the changes "will not streamline the process, they will kill the process," creating a "bonanza for developers" through a "veiled attempt to squash public input," particularly in situations where there might be legitimate concern for health and safety.

Several residents who spoke Tuesday objected to Apel's unwillingness to acknowledge that as mayor, he is now responsible for the application and has authority over it because McCoy used the mayor's office to request the changes.

"Whether you like it or not, Mr. Mayor, you are now the applicant," said Ann Letendre, who has been involved in town land-use issues for 40 years. "We ask you to do the right thing."

Apel said he doesn't want to step in because the PZC is supposed to be free from political pressure, but former council member James Krupienski said McCoy made the issue political when he chose to submit it as an elected official to a group of his appointees.

He also questioned the sloppy nature of the application and its author's land-use skills, which he said were not worth the expense, calling it "an ill-conceived rush job to complete before leaving office."

Former Conservation Commission Chairman Sheryl McMullen said the PZC "would breathe a sigh of relief if the "very expensive," "highly unusual," and "amazingly confusing" changes were pulled.

"It was one man's vision of unfettered development ... a rogue rewrite," McMullen said. "I don't think that you can trust that things will come to a logical conclusion."

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