Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
PZC approves renovation of former Talcott Bros. Mill

By John Kennedy
Journal Inquirer
Published: Friday, September 7, 2012 12:18 PM EDT

VERNON — The 142-year-old Talcott Bros. Mill will be converted into 84 residential apartments after a unanimous decision by the Planning and Zoning Commission on Thursday.

The development, which will be renamed The Old Talcott Mill, also includes 960 square feet of commercial space.

During a public hearing on the plan, a team working for Alfred Pedemonti, the sole owner of Vern LLC, spoke about the plans for the property — a presentation PZC Chairman Chester Morgan said was one of the best he’d ever seen.

Laura Knott-Twine, project manager and executive director of the Hartford Preservation Alliance, said the team soon would question prospective construction companies about their qualifications regarding historical restorations. Qualified companies then will bid on the project.

Construction is set to begin between January and March 2013.

Knott-Twine said the project will cost about $18 million, $2.1 million of which will be paid for with federal tax credits and $2.3 million in state tax credits. The remaining $13.6 million will be borrowed from commercial lenders and provided by private donors.

The development also is eligible for a 25-year tax abatement, according to town Economic Development Director Shaun Gately.

Gately said the property would be taxed at its current assessed value at first, before gradually working toward taxes on its restored value.

As an example, Knott-Twine said that if the building now is assessed at $1 million, and restored to a value of $10 million, the property would be taxed at $1 million for five years before being taxed at $10 million after 25 years.

“In this economy, it takes many different pieces of funding to make a project like this happen,” Knott-Twine said.

Two of the main issues coming into the hearing were water supply to the building and emergency vehicle access, according to Town Planner Leonard K. Tundermann.

In an Aug. 1 email, Fire Marshal Raymond A. Walker Jr. said the steep slope off Main Street, the inability of fire trucks to cross the bridge off Route 83, and the fact that rescue personnel will be unable to operate close to the building were all major safety issues.

Judy Schuler, an engineer for Design Professionals Inc., said these problems had been solved and the existing bridge will be repaired to support emergency vehicles.

Knott-Twine added that the existing parking lot near the dam on the Tankerhoosen River will be extended to allow emergency vehicles to approach the building from the Main Street side as well.

Knott-Twine also said the existing water system is too small, so a new 12-inch line will be built under Route 83 and extend to Main Street, where two fire hydrants will be installed.

She said that in addition to supplying the mill building, it would bring water to the homes on Main Street that previously had no water for fire suppression.

“The town has been fantastic in their help,” Knott-Twine said, noting that the team has gone through every necessary commission and hearing. “When we have questions, within hours we have answers.”

Members of the public at the hearing, for the most part, expressed their pleasure in having the property renovated.

“This is the best use, at this time, for the building,” said John Talcott, whose family purchased the mill and surrounding village from N.O. Kellogg in 1856 and produced textiles until closing operations in 1940. “I think everything has been thought out thoroughly at this point, and any questions, I feel, can be worked out with the people involved.”

However, some residents, including Michael Ambrose of 36 Main St. still had issues with the plan.

Ambrose said that turning left from Main Street onto Route 83 is hard enough without having to worry about additional traffic from the new apartments.

With neither Main Street nor The Old Talcott Mill having traffic lights, Ambrose said he is concerned that a driver attempting to make such a turn is, at best, inconvenient, and at worst, dangerous.

Andy Char, who also works for Design Professionals, said in his traffic report that the apartments will add only 39 cars to Route 83 traffic in the morning, and 29 in the evening.

Knott-Twine said that traffic light placement is decided by the state Department of Transportation, and that it has been determined that the majority of the tenants will exit the parking lot and turn right to access Interstate 84.

However, Ambrose countered that the traffic report, which was conducted in March, was done during a time of the year when Connecticut Golf Land, which is across the street from Main Street and the mill, was closed for the season.

The 7.1-acre site will be constructed and landscaped to give it “that 1880s look,” according to Ben Wheeler, the team’s landscape architect, and William Crosskey, of Crosskey Architects.

Knott-Twine said she expects recent college graduates and young professionals, as well as older people without children, to move into the building.

“It’s not the kind of building somebody with a lot of kids is going to live in,” Crosskey said. “They’re looking for a place with a back yard — a different environment.”

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