Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Ex-mayor’s PZC proposals tabled for consideration

By Suzanne Carlson
Journal Inquirer
Published: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 12:45 PM EST

VERNON — Former Republican Mayor Jason L. McCoy’s proposal to eliminate the majority of special permit requirements and public hearings from the Planning and Zoning Commission’s approval process met with unanimously negative response from residents Thursday.

But Republican commission members William E. Roch, Francis O. Kaplan, and unaffiliated member Victor Riscassi voted down Democrat and PZC Chairman Chester Morgan’s plan to scrap the changes in favor of wholesale regulation updates and instead chose to continue considering McCoy’s changes.

Those involved on all sides of town land use agree that regulation updates are long overdue, and Morgan and unaffiliated member Charles Bardes tried to put a plan in place for the PZC to review and update the entire zoning code as needed but were defeated 3-2.

Bardes expressed reluctance about supporting continued discussion on McCoy’s piecemeal changes, but voted to do so along with Roch, Kaplan, and Riscassi, while Morgan voted against the motion.

Approximately 40 people attended the nearly three-hour-long meeting devoted solely to McCoy’s application — which Republican Mayor George F. Apel has refused to withdraw despite calls from the public for him to do so.

Apel did not attend the meeting and Town Administrator John D. Ward, lawyer Justin Clark of the Manchester firm Blackwell, Davis, and Spadaccini, and Economic Development Coordinator Shaun Gately presented the application for the town.

Resident Jennifer Roggi questioned Gately’s involvement because he stands to financially benefit from the changes, as his contract allows him to collect a 3 percent performance bonus of all revenue added to the grand list that’s attributable to his efforts.

If approved, the regulation changes would move a variety of uses that require special permits into uses “of right,” eliminating mandatory public hearings and removing requirements that projects be compatible with neighboring uses, not affect future sound development, and not create a nuisance or hazard to public health and safety.

Clark used a bakery as an example of a use that should be permitted in an industrial zone without a special permit, and resident Janine Gelineau pointed out the danger in allowing only applicants to discuss their plans without rebuttal from the public.

“We all can come up with ways to present something in a favorable way, leaving out parts that we want to leave out,” Gelineau said.

Unlike hot-button projects such as dumps and outdoor concert venues, bakeries are not controversial, Gelineau said, and if public comment is cut out, “you’ll end up with applicants that come to you and show you only what they want you to see, reveal only what they want you to think about.”

Clark referenced Manchester and Newington as good examples of mixed-use economic development, and Town Attorney Harold Cummings made reference to the siting of the Buckland Hills mall in Manchester, and said that South Windsor’s more restrictive regulations deterred the developer.

Resident MaryAnn Levesque and several others urged the PZC to take the long view and consider quality of life over a quick buck.

“Manchester got Buckland mall, South Windsor got Evergreen Walk. Who do you think is happier right now?” Levesque said.

Cummings said that special permit uses are already permitted subject to those conditions, and removing them would streamline regulations and make the town more business friendly by not “subjecting everything to the highest level of scrutiny.”

He added that “some folks seem to have the idea that if there’s a public hearing, it’s a popularity contest and if a lot of people are opposed to it, then it’ll get shot down.”

But the 17 residents who spoke Thursday argued that public hearings are valuable opportunities for residents to provide information to the PZC and there’s no evidence that the current process has hindered development.

“I see no reason to get rid of the special permits, they seem to be working,” resident Ronald Burke said. While hearings can be lengthy at times, he said that in the long run “it protects the town from inappropriate development.”

The Conservation Commission and the Vernon Citizens for Responsible Development, which hired the law firm of Branse, Willis, and Knapp to conduct a preliminary review of the changes, submitted letters to the PZC asking for McCoy’s changes to be rejected.

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