Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
PZC subcommittee rejects most of McCoy’s proposed changes

By Suzanne Carlson
Journal Inquirer
Published: Monday, March 26, 2012 12:38 PM EDT

VERNON — A special Planning and Zoning Commission subcommittee has recommended rejection of most of the changes to the town zoning regulations proposed by former Mayor Jason L. McCoy.

If approved by the full commission, 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 or safety.

In its review of McCoy’s application, which he submitted in his capacity as mayor before leaving office in November, the subcommittee recommended the commission disregard all proposed changes to regulations governing development in residential and commercial historic districts, as well as the special economic development zone.

Developments such as multifamily homes, business offices, municipal buildings, hospitals, funeral homes, retail stores, personal convenience services, restaurants and liquor stores should not be made permitted uses in those two zones, other historic districts, and the planned commercial zone, according to the subcommittee’s review.

The review also rejected language that would require the town’s aquifer protection zone map to “reflect the most current state aquifer map, if any, on file with the appropriate state regulatory body.”

In addition, the subcommittee rejected a change that would allow single- or two-family homes in the commercial zone and recommended that while “commercial education” facilities may be permitted in the industrial zone, “commercial recreational” facilities still should require a special permit.

That distinction is significant because the special permit application for TicketNetwork Forest, a planned outdoor concert venue that was denied by the PZC in March 2010, sought to have the venue classified as a commercial recreational facility.

After months of scrutiny and public hearings, the PZC disagreed that the venue fit the definition of such a facility and rejected the application primarily on those grounds.

The few proposed changes that were endorsed by the subcommittee include adding permitted commercial uses to the regulations for the industrial zone, such as day care centers, medical or research laboratories, indoor movie theaters, retail stores, and business offices.

The subcommittee also recommended the commission permit full-service restaurants or clubs in the commercial, industrial, and historic industrial zones, with service of alcohol subject to applicable regulations.

While Mayor George F. Apel has technical authority over the application because McCoy submitted them as an elected official, Apel has denied responsibility for it so Town Administrator John D. Ward has been representing the application before the PZC.

Numerous residents have spoken against the proposed changes and the community group Vernon Citizens for Responsible Development called on Apel to withdraw the application, which he declined.

The Conservation Commission also asked the PZC to reject the changes, and the only individuals to publicly speak in favor of the revisions are Ward and lawyer Justin Clark, who was hired by McCoy to draft the changes for $6,060, paid for out of the Planning and Zoning Department account.

Residents have said that the changes do not appear to have any purpose other than quashing public input on controversial developments, but Ward and Clark have said the revisions would streamline zoning regulations and reduce the burden of the application process for developers, making the town more business-friendly.

The PZC is scheduled to take action on the proposed changes at a regular meeting April 5.

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