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Journal Inquirer Articles

July 12, 2013

Talcott Mill project gets on track with newly named contractor
By John Kennedy

VERNON — Erland Construction, which is working on the Storrs Center project in Mansfield, has been hired to breathe new life into the Talcott Brothers Mill with construction beginning in September, according to project manager Laura Knott-Twine. She said the company was chosen because it has a “tremendous reputation” as a construction company and has been a part of other historical preservation projects.

The 142-year-old mill, which will be renamed the Old Talcott Mill, will be converted into 83 apartments and 960 square feet of commercial space. Knott-Twine said the building will also include a community center, a gym, a convenience store for residents, and an exhibit room to show what the property was used for during its time as a textile mill.

In addition to their part of the Storrs Center project, which consists of three five-story buildings totaling 362,000 square feet of restaurants, retail, commercial, and residential space, Erland has also worked on the 1814 Middlesex County Courthouse in Cambridge, Mass., and a 1913 Ford Motor Co. plant, Knott-Twine said.

Erland has been awarded both preconstruction and construction services for the mill and will team with property owner Vern LLC and Crosskey Architects to complete the project, which Knott-Twine expects will be completed by December 2014. Erland has offices in East Windsor and Burlington, Mass.

Knott-Twine said that before construction can begin, all remediation on the property must be completed.

Construction was originally expected to begin between January and March 2013, but Knott-Twine said there were a few hold-ups, most notably FEMA’s designation of the property as being located within the Tankerhoosen River’s flood zone, which it is not. She said it was hard to get people to fund the project if it seemed at risk for flooding. The land was resurveyed and the information was sent to FEMA, which eventually removed its flood zone designation.

Knott-Twine said that even though the river bisects the property, the topography of the land shows that the building would be out of the flood zone — though the parking lot along Route 83 is not. Because of this, about 100 spaces around town had to be found for future residents to use if there is the threat of a flood. She said the Talcottville Congregational Church supported the use of its parking lot for this purpose.

“Everybody wants this project — it’s more of a reflection on them than it is of our work,” Knott-Twine said of the support received from the town and those living around the mill.

The project will cost about $18 million, including about $5.5 million in federal and state tax credits, $4.4 million in state money from the Department of Economic and Community Development, and money from commercial lenders and private donors.

The development has also been approved for a 25-year tax abatement, Knott-Twine said. The town’s economic development coordinator, Shaun Gately, said the property would be taxed at its current assessed value at first, before gradually working toward taxes on its restored value. For example, if it were originally assessed at $1 million, and restored to a value of $10 million, the property would be taxed at $1 million for five years, before eventually being taxed at $10 million in the 25th year.

She said that the project is unique because while cities sprung up around most mills of the time, Talcottville remained a small village. 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 expects recent college graduates and young professionals to occupy the apartments, as well as older people without children.

June 22, 2012

State buys 449 acres in Vernon for preservation
By Suzanne Carlson

VERNON — The state has acquired 449 acres in town from the Mason family for open space and the preservation of a sensitive watershed, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said Friday.

“The land we are protecting today is one of the largest and most significant open space preservations in Connecticut history,” DEEP Commissioner Daniel C. Esty said. The property, now known as the Tankerhoosen Wildlife Management Area, “supports high densities of catchable size brown and brook trout in the Tankerhoosen River and many species of birds, invertebrates, and reptiles in need of protection,” Esty said.

The parcel is adjacent and upstream of the 282-acre Belding Wildlife Management Area, donated to the state by Max Belding in 1981, and abuts sections of Reservoir Road, Baker Road, Fish and Game Road, and Brandy Hill Road.

“We’re very, very pleased,” Open Space Task Force Chairwoman Ann Letendre said. “That parcel was one of our top priorities on the Vernon open space plan,” Letendre said. The acquisition is critical for protection of the Tankerhoosen’s headwaters, Letendre said.

The task force sees the acquisition, as an expansion of the Belding wildlife management area, “providing additional opportunity for an outdoor experience for Vernon residents and others in the state,” she added.

Esty said the acquisition doubles the size of the local Wild Trout Management Area and adds to a corridor of environmental protection that includes Belding, Valley Falls Park, Bolton Notch State Park, and Northern Connecticut Land Trust property.

The state purchased the property from Tancanhoosen LLC, comprised of 18 members of the extended Mason family, for $2,965,000, funded entirely through the state’s Recreation and Natural Heritage Trust Program, through which a total of 254,674 acres has been purchased for about $375,000,000 to date.

The purchase is another step toward the state’s open space goal of protecting 21 percent of Connecticut’s land — 673,210 acres — by the year 2023, with 493,452 acres, or 73 percent of that goal, having been acquired so far.

Tom Mason, 72, who lives with his wife, Susan, on Reservoir Road in a home built in the 1780s, is one of the managing members of Tancanhoosen, LLC.

While many of his family members are now scattered throughout the country, Mason said the majority voted to sell the property to the state for preservation in order to fulfill a dream held by his grandfather, Lebbeus Bissell, an insurance agent who lived in the Rockville section of town.

Bissell and friend Frederick Belding, Max Belding’s father, “bought up a number of pieces of property back in the 1920s, which included the property from Route 30 all the way out to Valley Falls,” Mason said. “Some of it was small farms … the piece here we’re talking about today was the Walker family home,” a family of farmers for whom Walker Reservoir is named.

Bissell and Belding used the properties for year-round family recreation, stocking the river with trout and the forests with pheasants and partridge, Mason said.

They kept three hunting and fishing cabins along the brook, maintained bank-side paths, cross-country ski trails, lumbered where necessary, and hiked throughout the property, Mason said. His grandfather also raised field trial dogs in the barns across the street from where he now lives, he added.

His father, John Mason, served in the Navy in the Pacific theater in WWII and moved the family to California during the war but returned to Vernon around 1948 to work at the Bissell insurance company, which still exists.

Mason said he went to first-grade in Rockville and later traveled, but after serving in the Navy himself, he also returned to work in insurance before retiring and helping to run the family land trust.

“We’re kind of the conduit, I think, for the care and the use and enjoyment of it. It has been passed along down through a few generations here, but in the end, we think that this is the right way to preserve it, and the practical way, in its natural state,” Mason said.

When a watershed reaches a 10 percent impervious surface cover — meaning paved areas such as parking lots — trout and other environmentally sensitive species that require cold-water habitats begin to disappear, according to the DEEP. The drainage basins around the Tankerhoosen within the Mason and Belding properties currently have around 6 percent impervious surface cover, so development would likely reduce or eliminate sensitive and threatened species.

Over the years, Mason said developers have inquired about constructing a variety of building projects on the property, “but we’ve not been interested in it.”

There are 63 species of greatest conservation need on the Belding and Mason properties — such as the woodland jumping mouse, great blue heron, eastern box turtle, gray tree frog, spotted salamander, brook trout, and eastern pearl-shell mussel.

“I think it’s an asset to everybody here,” Mason said. “That was the dream of these two guys that originally bought it. It was time to sort of complete the circle here, and I think we have, and now the DEEP hopefully will continue to see their dream realized.”

April 16, 2012

Navigating the waters
By Suzanne Carlson

After winding for miles through lazy loops and riffles, the river’s pace suddenly quickens.

I can hear the water rushing through its narrowed channel and my heart, already pounding, begins to throb.

Though I try to stay loose, flexible, I feel my muscles involuntarily tense and my grip on the paddle tightens.

My mind races in anticipation and then, as the bow of the boat reaches the rapids’ crest, my thoughts focus on the sensation of being sucked downward and plunged into the roiling, frothing river.

For a brief moment I’m suspended, submerged to my waist with my kayak — melded to my torso with a neoprene spray skirt — fully underwater.

Just as swiftly as it swept me in, the rapid spits me out to paddle on, breathless and exhilarated.

By the time I reach the finish line of the 21st annual Scantic Spring Splash, a 5-mile canoe and kayak race in Enfield on Saturday, March 31, the yoke of muscles around my neck and shoulders burn.

Twenty-four hours later, after paddling another 6 miles in the 34th annual Hockanum River Race on April 1, the soreness in my back and arms is intensified — but so is my sense of satisfaction.

Rivers are front and center on race day

Every spring, hundreds of paddlers from as far as Maine and New Hampshire turn out for the popular community events, and many more help organize and provide support.

Volunteers wade through the rivers in the weeks beforehand, cutting a path through the trees and brush that have fallen during the winter. On race day, local firefighters stand braced in the trickiest rapids, ready to pluck paddlers out of danger, and give a congratulatory wave to those who make it through without swamping.

Spectators line up on bridges and bank side trails to cheer on friends and family as they pass, some dressed in costumes or silly hats in addition to their wetsuits and lifejackets. Residents along the rivers barbecue with neighbors and toss tennis balls into the water for dogs to chase down, pausing from their burgers and beer to shout advice or encouragement to paddlers going by.

For a few hours the rivers are the center of attention, the hub of excitement, and maneuvering down them is a celebrated feat.

After the last boat crosses the finish line, paddlers gather to commiserate and congratulate, and prizes are given to the three racers with the fastest times in each category, which are broken down by boat type, gender, and age.

Some paddlers dig their boats out of storage for the races, but others compete over months in a points series, collecting scores from canoe and kayak races around New England to vie for a top ranking at the end of the season.

For much of the year, navigating rivers like the Scantic and Hockanum in a small craft is all but impossible. Tributaries of the Connecticut River, they are little more than feeder streams in the drier summer months and in the fall when their flows slow to a gravelly trickle.

But every spring, rain and melting snow in the rivers’ watersheds create natural, incremental floods called “freshets,” which raise flow to passable levels for a few short weeks as the excess volume gradually makes its way to Long Island Sound. This year’s unusually dry winter created almost impassable low water levels, and artificial freshets were created by dam releases of water out of ponds upstream.

Local nonprofit groups such as the Scantic River Watershed Association and the Hockanum River Watershed Association take advantage of the freshets and hold races in conjunction with the New England Canoe and Kayak Racing Association, an organizing body originally founded in 1979 as the Connecticut Canoe Racing Association.

In addition to fun competition, the races offer an opportunity for firsthand experience of the rivers, which provide critical wetland habitat for a variety of birds, fish, turtles, amphibians, and invertebrates, including endangered and threatened species such as the dwarf wedge mussel, the American brook lamprey, and the bog turtle.

One such opportunity came just before the start of the Scantic race when a bald eagle flew over the crowd of boaters waiting to put in, its distinctive shape and color apparent even to me, though I’m not a birdwatcher and had never seen one in the wild before.

Escape onto the water

I had been kayaking recreationally for a few years before participating in my first race in 2010, but I spent much of that time with my hands wrapped around a fishing rod instead of the paddle.

Kayaking, for me, was a means to an end, a way to poke unobtrusively into inlets and skirt over submerged snags to reach the best spots for casting.

But the more I paddled, the more I enjoyed the freedom it provided, a minimalist escape onto the water.

I often slung my used yellow Keowee Aquaterra, (often referred to colloquially as a “duckboat” because of its keel-less waddle) on the roof of my car when I went to college in Massachusetts, using the same boat launch as the Smith and University of Massachusetts crew teams. I clumsily drifted around bridge abutments on the Connecticut River and watched the muscled rowers practicing, their finely tuned sculls humming over the water at incredible speed.

I used the Keowee the first time I ran the Hockanum race, blithely confident that I knew what I was doing when I put in behind CT Golfland and Games alongside the go-cart track. I floated downstream to a small footbridge and held onto the metal beams overhead, lining up alongside other paddlers until the race organizer called our numbers to start.

One hour, 45 minutes, and 20 seconds later I finished the course. I came in third out of six — 25 minutes behind the first-place finisher — after overturning in the rapids behind Beacon Light in Manchester, struggling to drag myself across Union Pond and portage around the dam, and becoming wedged in an S-turn and overturning again near the end of the race.

I had no idea what I was doing when it came to down-river kayaking, but I’ve been working at it and learning ever since. Each subsequent event increases my confidence and sense of camaraderie with other paddlers, but it also shows me how ignorant and inexperienced I still am.

A section of my right shin has resembled something like potato skin since I first ran the Scantic in 2011 and fell out of my boat in Stockers Rapids. I was so numb from the cold water I didn’t notice that I was dragging myself across jagged rocks to get to the shore, leaving swollen gouges that eventually turned into mottled brown divots.

The rivers’ narrow channels hide a deceptively strong current, and the chance of serious injury is real. A sweeper boat follows behind racers to ensure no one is left stranded, and paddlers know they must stop and help a fellow racer in trouble.

This year, I began the paddling season by taking a couple lessons in rolling (righting after flipping over without exiting the boat) and other basic whitewater skills through the Appalachian Mountain Club’s kayaking group.

Instead of the open-cockpit Keowee, I got a whitewater Pyranha Varun with a spray skirt so I could slide over the Scantic’s rapids like a human cork, and used a longer, faster Dagger Zydeco kayak for the Hockanum, which includes more flat water and requires a more stable boat. I scouted both rivers before the races and paddled sections of the Hockanum to reacquaint myself with its nuances.

Personal feats

It’s difficult to compare race times year-over-year because river conditions can have a huge effect on paddlers’ speed, as low water levels create slow, “scratchy” conditions, while high, fast water helps boats glide along swiftly with little effort. I ended up in fourth place out of five female paddlers in the kayaking division of this year’s Scantic race, and second out of four in the Hockanum.

While my lack of training is still blatantly obvious, my paddling has become cleaner and I didn’t overturn once in either race this year — a massive personal success.

Friends and family have raced with me as well, including my brother, John, who edged out more experienced paddlers in his first-ever race, taking third place out of six in his division in the Hockanum. My father, Jeff, took first place in his group of seven, and beat his closest competitor by more than six minutes.

My mother, Mary, serves as our “pit crew,” shuttling between rapids and portages to cheer us on and take photos.

The vast majority of racers are still male, but more women are taking up canoeing and kayaking, and more female paddlers are entering competitive racing all the time.

This year, I joined the New England Canoe and Kayak Racing Association to participate in the points series and try my luck in races farther afield. I don’t expect to be able to challenge the best paddlers for several years yet, but in the meantime, while I practice, I’ll see some beautiful New England landscapes from a perspective most never experience. I’m already looking forward to the next race.

July 2, 2011

Conservation panel seeks volunteers for watershed survey
By Suzanne Carlson

VERNON — The Conservation Commission is seeking volunteers to help with an invasive plant survey of the Tankerhoosen River watershed.

Registration is required by Friday, July 29, according to Tom Ouellette, the commission’s vice-chairman.

Surveys will be conducted on weekends in August, but specific dates have yet to be announced. A volunteer training session has been scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 7 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Red Barn at Valley Falls Farm on Valley Falls Road.

Volunteers may participate in one or more of the surveys, but must register by July 29 and attend the required training session, Ouellette said.

In 2008, concentrations of two invasive aquatic plants, Cabomba caroliniana and Myriophyllum heterophyllum — commonly known as fanwort and variable-leaved milfoil — were found in Walker Reservoir East and Valley Falls Pond. The species grow aggressively, are easily spread downstream to other bodies of water, and have the potential to degrade water quality and displace native plants, fish, and other wildlife. They can also disrupt recreational activities like fishing and swimming.

Following removal of these plants from the ponds in 2010, a river survey was begun to locate any plants that had drifted downstream. This year, volunteers will complete the river survey and will expand their efforts to small ponds in the Tankerhoosen River watershed, Ouellette said, as invasive plants growing in those ponds may also affect the river.

The survey will also serve as part of an invasive aquatic plant management plan that is being developed by the Conservation Commission for all of Vernon’s lakes, ponds, and streams, Ouellette added.

The Aug. 7 training session will feature identification of a number of invasive aquatic plants that are of concern in the Tankerhoosen River watershed, and survey dates, locations, and procedures will be discussed. Volunteers must be at least 18 and will be asked to sign a waiver of liability, and are to participate at their own risk.

To register for the training session, contact the Conservation Commission by email at or call the Planning Department at 860-870-3635.

March 31, 2011

Court upholds PZC-developer settlement over proposed Home Depot site
By Suzanne Carlson

VERNON — An appellate court has upheld a settlement between the Planning and Zoning Commission and commercial real estate firm Diamond 67 LLC that enables the company to develop the former SportsPlex site across from Walker’s Reservoir where a Home Depot had been planned.

The decision released Wednesday affirmed Superior Court Judge Lawrence C. Klaczak’s October 2009 judgment in favor of the town.

Diamond 67 LLC, which proposed building a Home Depot on the site in 2003, sued the PZC following the resolution of an earlier suit against the town’s Inland Wetlands Commission in 2007 regarding the same project.

Developers argued that the PZC did not act within the statutory time frame on their 2003 application, and, in 2007, a three-member subcommittee of the PZC and developers’ lawyers worked to resolve the lawsuit.

“There were significant concessions made by Diamond 67 to the plan that substantially enhanced it and made it better from the town’s point of view,” Town Attorney Harold R. Cummings said.

Cummings said Home Depot agreed to reduce the size of the store and space needed for parking and agreed to hook into the town’s water and sewer systems.

Though Home Depot USA owned the property for several years and was added as a party plaintiff in September 2007, the company sold the property back to Diamond 67 LLC on Oct. 1, 2010, and at that point no longer was involved in the court’s legal wrangling over its use.

Cummings said the site plan permits previously issued by the Inland Wetlands Commission and the PZC “are not tied to any individual builder or industry,” therefore, other companies such as Target, Wal-Mart, or Lowe’s could develop the site based on the plan originally intended for a Home Depot.

But Derek V. Oatis, a lawyer representing Glenn Montigny and James Batchelder, residents and environmental intervenors in the process, disputes nearly every aspect of the case and said he plans either to request a review by the appellate court or petition the superior court for another appeal.

Montigny and others argued that the proposed big-box development would harm the nearby reservoir.

“The trial court granted Montigny’s motion to intervene in this mandamus action and afforded him the opportunity to present evidence relating to his claim of an environmental impact from the proposed development. Montigny did not avail himself of that opportunity,” the appellate judges said in the court’s written opinion.

The opinion went on to state that Montigny was not present at a hearing on the action, and Oatis did not present witnesses or documentary evidence to support the claim.

Therefore, the court concluded that there is no basis for finding an adverse environmental impact from the proposed development, and “Montigny abdicated his right of approval by abandoning his responsibility to raise environmental issues.”

But Oatis argued that Montigny was “intentionally unprepared” for the hearing, because he was not made aware of Home Depot’s intentions and was not given an opportunity to gather evidence or present witnesses.

“There was no notice of what this hearing would be about. … This entire procedure has been incredibly strange and complicated, I think due to the conduct of the town,” Oatis said today.

“I think the ruling is wrong. … At the same time, I believe the ruling is irrelevant,” he said, referring to a separate administrative action that could put the whole process back to square one if it’s decided that intervenors were improperly kept out of the settlement process early on.

“Glenn Montigny and David Batchelder should have been involved in the settlement process,” Oatis said, adding that if the court finds that intervenors should have been included, “then the proposed settlement’s moot.”

He also said that because the settlement was tailored to Home Depot and refers to the company throughout, it’s improper for the court or town to allow another company to build under that agreement.

And because the development proposal was the result of a settlement and not a site plan approved through normal PZC procedures, “I think this entire process was used to circumvent the normal powers of the PZC and residents,” Oatis said.

“Attorney Cummings has admitted repeatedly that he misrepresented to the PZC the mediation process, he told them it was an order of the court that they had to mediate, that it was an order of the court that Glenn Montigny be excluded, which is just not true,” Oatis said.

Of the administrative action pending in the appellate court, “we’ll argue the appeal and we’ll prevail,” Oatis said.

If he is successful and Wednesday’s judgment upholding the settlement to develop is indeed rendered moot, the whole process will be “a giant mess and a giant waste of money. And no store,” Oatis said.

March 22, 2011

Holistic Healthfest set for this weekend in Vernon
By Suzanne Carlson

VERNON — A decade ago, a gathering of alternate healers known as the Holistic Healthfest was just the seed of an idea prompted by a line of children waiting for pills.

“I have used different holistic modalities for a long, long time,” town Youth Services Director and Healthfest organizer Alan Slobodien said Monday. “What really sparked interest in doing the fair is that several years ago, I happened to be at one of the Vernon schools early in the morning and I saw a bunch of kids lined up in front of the nurse’s office.”

Slobodien said the students were waiting to receive their prescription medications, and he realized then that the holistic treatments he’d benefited from for years might help others who use traditional medicine exclusively.

“Whatever people need to be healthy is fine, but what I thought is I want to offer the community information about alternatives,” Slobodien said.

The fifth biennial Holistic Healthfest will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Vernon Center Middle School, 777 Hartford Turnpike (Route 30).

The number of exhibitors attending the Healthfest has more than doubled from the 40 who signed up for the original one-day event, and Slobodien estimated that more than 800 visitors circulated through the Healthfest’s booths and workshops during the last fest in 2009.

But while interest in natural healing has exploded in recent years and alternate remedies such as acupuncture and homeopathy continue to gain wider acceptance and respect, many still are unsure what holistic medicine entails.

“I would say that holistic health offers natural options for healing,” Slobodien said.

He explained that for those who don’t want to rely solely on powerful prescription or over-the-counter medications, alternate therapies could offer a way to manage or cure any number of maladies normally treated with drugs.

The 84 exhibitors and 37 hourly workshops planned for this year’s Healthfest include practitioners specializing in energy healing, herbal remedies, hypnotherapy, massage, mindful eating, naturopathy, natural childbirth, organic lawn and land care, reflexology, reiki, and yoga.

Holistic health practitioners often focus on healing an individual’s mind, body, and spirit, rather than treating a symptom. So, for instance, someone suffering from cancer who is undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments may benefit from alternate treatments meant to soothe and relax.

“Sometimes the two approaches, the medical approach and the natural approach, can integrate and help the healing process. So we’re not advocating one approach or the other,” Slobodien said.

And while holistic healing can be as involved as studying the “Alexander Technique,” a full-body guide to employing one’s muscles more efficiently that’s often used by musicians and actors to improve breathing, it also can be as simple as lighting an aromatherapy candle.

The Healthfest has been hugely successful, and Slobodien said that although he could squeeze a few more vendors into the halls and classrooms at the middle school in 2013, there are benefits to keeping the event small and there are no plans to relocate to a bigger space.

“One of the advantages we have, is that we’re able to keep exhibitor costs and vendor booth costs down considerably,” Slobodien said.

Keeping the fair local also helps connect regional providers with clients right in their area, so customers won’t have to travel hours for treatment, Slobodien said.

And though he’s been asked to make the fair an annual event, Slobodien said the seven-member volunteer planning committee is busy enough on a two-year cycle, and he thanked the group for its tireless efforts.

In addition to dozens of health care practitioners, the Healthfest also will feature a number of local environmental groups, including the Conservation Commission, the local chapter of the Clean Energy Fund, the Friends of Valley Falls, the Northern Connecticut Land Trust, and

Peer advocates from the high school and the police Explorers will be on hand to help visitors to the Healthfest, Slobodien said, and all profits will go toward scholarships for Vernon youth to participate in after-school and summer programs.

As for the practitioners, “They have businesses, but this is their passion as well. It’s their passion first, but their business second,” Slobodien said.

Admission is $5 for adults and includes all discussions and activities. Children under 16 are free with a parent.

For more information, visit

December 30, 2010

Most Vernon residents say they would pay more to preserve open space
By Suzanne Carlson

The results of a recent survey on planning and development indicate that residents are satisfied with the area’s shopping and recreation, but many would like to see more traffic controls on Route 83 and increased emphasis on preserving open space, even if it means paying more in property taxes.

The Bloomfield-based research and consulting firm, the Pert Group, conducted the 40-question telephone survey of 400 residents from Nov. 8-17 for the 10-year Plan of Conservation and Development, which is being revised by a subcommittee of the Planning and Zoning Commission.

The results were weighted to make appropriate projections from the survey population based on demographics as reported by the census, and their statistical accuracy is plus or minus 4.86 percent at 95 percent confidence, according to the Pert Group.

A summary report of the survey results showed that most residents support potential development projects, but only 49 percent said they would support building large retail businesses, known colloquially as “big-box” stores.

More than 70 percent of respondents said they favor redevelopment of historical buildings in the Rockville section of Vernon for residential or office use, building sidewalks in areas such as Route 30, Route 83, or the Vernon Circle, and development of additional light industry.

Some 80 percent of those surveyed said they favored preserving additional undeveloped land as open space, and 62 percent said they would support a property tax increase for that endeavor.

In general, “residents are less likely to support initiatives if it will increase property taxes,” and “renters are more likely than owners to favor property tax increases for initiatives,” the report stated.

The survey questioned residents’ feelings about development around Interstate 84 highway exits 66 and 67, and found that “small retail shops” and single-family homes were the most desirable uses for those areas.

Most respondents said they don’t want big-box development at exit 66, while residents were split over their support for big-box and multifamily homes at the exit 67 area.

“‘Large retail shops’ is met with the most consistent opposition, with 43 percent of residents opposing such shops at both exits,” the report stated, adding that “multifamily residential” was also “one of the least supported development concepts at these exits.”

When asked to prioritize issues regarding the Route 83 commercial areas, 30 percent of residents said they want more traffic controls, 19 percent called for better coordination of business driveways, 13 percent wanted clearer traffic signals, and 11 percent said they want better landscaping along the road.

In regard to the downtown Rockville section of Vernon, two-thirds of respondents said that when they visit the area’s hospital, churches, or government buildings, they rarely or never stop at a retail establishment.

That finding is consistent with other responses that showed residents feel there are few shopping options in the Rockville area, but those who identified themselves as residents of Rockville were more likely to shop there. Those individuals also expressed more support for sidewalks and multifamily homes, the report showed.

In response to the idea to build a community center, there was no consensus among residents about where such a building should be located, and few said they would support it if the project meant an increase in property taxes.

Local commuter buses were also met with a lukewarm response from residents, two-thirds of who said that they would “never” use a bus service.

The survey also included one open-ended question that asked residents, “What is the best thing about the town of Vernon?”

In their answers, 16.2 percent mentioned “location,” while 15.6 specified that it was the accessibility and proximity to shopping that they loved about the town.

Some 9.5 percent said it was town services, 7.7 mentioned schools, 7.3 cited community, 6.9 said parks, 5.7 said access to the highway, and 4.6 percent said the best thing about Vernon is that it’s quiet.

For the full results of the survey, go to

December 28, 2010

Talcottville Gorge ownership transferred to land trust
By Suzanne Carlson

Ownership of the area known as the Talcottville Gorge has been transferred to the Northern Connecticut Land Trust, which will maintain the parcel as open space in perpetuity, according to Open Space Task Force Chairwoman Ann Letendre.

“We’re thrilled, this has been the year for open space in Vernon,” Letendre said today, adding that the 20-acre property has been a top priority for the task force since around 1998 because of its historic value and unique terrain.

John G. Talcott Jr. donated the property to the land trust, pending a financial commitment ensuring that the parcel would be cared for.

The trust paid $5,000 to help cover closing costs and other expenses with financial help from local organizations, including the Friends of Valley Falls, Vernon Citizens for Responsible Development, and Friends of the Hockanum River Linear Park.

The town also contributed $5,000 for the purchase with money from the open space fund, after a heated Nov. 16 Town Council discussion about its potential use by hunters.

Land trust director Gail Faherty and treasurer Jim Gage said hunting will not be allowed on the narrow parcel, which runs between Interstate 84 and the Hop River State Park hiking trail.

Residents have long used the scenic, wooded area, which contains a portion of the Tankerhoosen River with waterfalls and striking rock formations, for fishing, hiking, and bird watching, and outdoor lovers are encouraged to continue enjoying the natural beauty of the property.

“The Talcotts have been very generous in allowing the public to use it, but now it’s formally a public property,” Letendre said.

Stewardship of the property will be a joint effort of the land trust and the Vernon Citizens for Responsible Development, a group that formed in late 2009 to fight the construction of an outdoor concert venue on Bolton Road.

“They worked together as a group and they wanted to stay together to do something positive, so their mission is to focus on the Tankerhoosen,” Letendre said. “What the land trust needs really is help with stewardship, maintaining trails, marking boundary lines. … VCRD has volunteered to take that on.”

The $10,000 required to obtain the property was “minimal,” Letendre said, and she estimated another $5,000 will be required to replace a footbridge that has become unsafe, mark trails, and complete other general maintenance.

The gorge’s recreational value is not the only reason the task force wanted to see this undeveloped piece of land preserved, however.

While constructing a cotton mill near the gorge in the early 1820s, the prominent manufacturer Peter Dobson observed boulders and rocks that appeared to have been abraded by some massive force.

This led him to write a paper on “glacial theory,” published in the American Journal of Science in July 1826, according to the 1893 book by William R. Bagnall, “Textile Industries of the United States.”

His observations were praised by leading scientists of the time, and helped inform early notions of what is now considered common knowledge of geological processes.

“There’s historic value there, and it’s a wonderful recreation area,” Letendre said.

For a guide to hiking the two-mile Talcottville Gorge loop trail and more information, visit

December 23, 2010

Make-up bonding session backs funds for area projects (Edited)
By Ed Jacovino

HARTFORD — At a rare second monthly meeting of the State Bond Commission, Gov. M. Jodi Rell on Wednesday ushered through the release of $22.5 million in state borrowing for a variety of projects, including some in East Hartford, East Windsor, and Vernon.

Rell, who chairs the commission and whose budget office sets its agenda, left the release of $81.5 million in bonds for the rail cars off the list of borrowing to be approved Wednesday. It had faced opposition from both Democratic and Republican legislators on the commission.

Instead, Wednesday’s meeting cleared up botched voting from the earlier meeting that had left lawyers reviewing video and audio to see which items had passed.

The controversy from that meeting stemmed from the absence of two of the commission’s 10 members — Comptroller Nancy Wyman and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who also failed to send designees to act in their stead.

With only eight members present, several items appeared to pass by 5-3 votes. It wasn’t until after the meeting that officials learned those measures had in fact failed. The commission’s rules say an item needs six votes in favor to pass, regardless of how many commission members are present.

Adding to the confusion was that the commission votes by voice and in unison, with votes in favor as “yea” and votes against as “nay.” Lawyers had to review audio and video of the meeting to determine how many votes each item received.

Wyman and Blumenthal both said they skipped because they’d be taking other offices soon. Wyman, who is the state’s lieutenant governor-elect, said she felt she’d be representing the next administration. Blumenthal was elected to the U.S. Senate in November.

Neither attended Wednesday’s meeting.

This time, most projects passed with a 6-2 majority, with Republicans Rep. Vincent J. Candelora of North Branford, and Sen. Andrew W. Roraback of Goshen in opposition.

They contended the state borrows too much to justify adding to the debt for legislators’ pet projects. Candelora also has raised concerns that the borrowing is used to prop up the state’s operating budget.

The funding for three projects benefiting north-central Connecticut that had been caught up in the voting confusion two weeks ago passed Wednesday. They include:

• $900,000 for construction of a new senior center in East Hartford.

• $150,000 to the Friends of Valley Falls Park in Vernon, which will use the money to renovate historic farm buildings at the park.

• $600,000 to repave entrance roads to the industrial park in East Windsor.

December 13, 2010

Arctic Splash in Vernon benefits fall victim Katelyn Rizner
By Suzanne Carlson

After falling 75 feet from a cliff in August, Rockville High School student Katelyn Rizner returned to Valley Falls Park on Saturday, where approximately 30 brave souls took an icy dip for a good cause in the second annual Arctic Splash.

“It doesn’t make any sense that I’m not paralyzed or dead,” Rizner, 16, said of the terrifying fall that put her in the hospital for months, often under heavy sedation. “I actually don’t remember two months of my life, which I’m kind of thankful for.”

Rizner is not only alive, she’s walking, albeit with a slight limp, and already is talking about returning to dancing, a passion of hers since she was a small girl.

Her recovery has been nothing short of remarkable, according to her father, Steve Rizner, who said she suffered fractures to her pelvis, sacrum, ribs, and collarbone, as well as other injuries. Doctors thought his daughter would be bedridden for several more months.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if she was tapping again before the year is out. It’s already behind her,” Rizner said.

On Saturday dozens of people flooded Valley Falls Park to enjoy the relatively balmy 40-degree weather and watch the Arctic Splash, which was moved to the pond this year after its inaugural run at the Community Pool.

Steve Rizner, employees of the Parks and Recreation Department, Rockville High School students, and even town attorney and Republican Town Chairman Harold Cummings took the plunge to help raise money for both Rizner’s medical expenses and the town’s “Send a Kid to Camp” program.

Some bemused ice fishermen were tending their tip-ups only yards away from the event, firmly supported by the 4-inch thick layer of ice that already had settled over the pond.

“I think this was actually a little more challenging with the ice this way,” Mayor Jason L. McCoy said of the pond, which forced participants to run in gradually rather than just jump in all at once like at the pool.

After the event, the Parks Department lit a bonfire so participants could warm up, and people stood around chatting, sipping hot chocolate, and enjoying the sunshine.

Though many of the participants in the event knew Rizner, others in the park had no idea that she was there because aside from a delicate tracheotomy scar on her throat, she showed no sign of the trauma she’s gone through in the last few months.

Her father said that a lot of rumors have been flying about what happened on Aug. 15, but the only person who was there and remembers it fully is Ali Newhall, 16, who was with Rizner on the cliffs when she fell.

“It’s been very difficult to try and deal with it. I mean, it’s been a physical issue for her, but for me it’s emotional,” Newhall said.

After meeting in sixth grade, Newhall said she and Rizner became close friends in high school and had decided to go for a hike up to an area known as “the cliffs” that afternoon in August so they could talk privately.

“We decided to try to climb down, just to see if we could, but it was too far,” Newhall said. While they were standing near the cliff edge, Newhall said she asked Rizner to hold her water bottle and did a “quick toss,” which Rizner accidentally fumbled, dropping the bottle onto a ledge.

As they were searching for a way to reach the bottle, Newhall said she grew nervous.

“I got a gut feeling. I was like, ‘Um, I’m scared, Kate, I don’t really want to go look,” Newhall said.

Rizner persisted in trying to reach the water bottle, and Newhall said she watched in horror as her friend stepped on a piece of loose earth, which fell away.

“She reached out to grab this small pine that was to her left, and she went down almost like on a waterslide. … I heard snapping, and then the thing that really gets me is the thud I heard when she hit the ground. That just, it tears me apart every time,” Newhall said. “That’s been hard on me, because I felt like it should have been me.”

She could only see Rizner from the waist down and heard “moaning, and then she went quiet. As soon as I heard her hit the ground, I knew there was no way she could have fallen and be OK. She was definitely hurt.”

Fortuitously, Rizner had given Newhall her cell phone, so after calling 911, Newhall called Rizner’s father, then her own parents.

“That’s when I just broke down,” Newhall said.

Steve Rizner said he told Newhall not to move so she wouldn’t accidentally kick rocks down onto Katelyn, and Newhall said she was “shaking and almost vomiting, and I knew if I tried to get down I might fall.” She stayed put until members of the Fire Department helped her down the steep cliff trail to the main Rails to Trails path, where Rizner was being loaded onto a stretcher.

“As teenagers we have this mindset that we’re invincible and can take crazy risks and nothing bad is going to happen to us,” Newhall said. “When you actually see someone in front of you, that you’re close to, nearly fall to their death, it knocks that idea out of your head completely.”

Though doctors considered putting Rizner into a medically induced coma, her father Steve said they decided against it because she essentially suffered a concussion, not a more serious brain injury.

She spent 18 days in intensive care, followed by rehabilitation at the Hospital for Special Care in New Britain, and was released on Nov. 16, three months and one day after her fall.

“Death wasn’t an option for her, as far as my feelings. In my view, death wasn’t possible for Katie, she’s strong, she was going to get through it,” Newhall said.

The Rizner family was inundated with home-cooked meals, gifts, and visitors, and Steve Rizner said the generous outpouring of support from the community stunned him.

“You think this town is big until you go through something like this, then you realize how small it really is,” Rizner said, adding that he found the fateful water bottle weeks later and has kept it in the garage ever since.

Rizner said he went up to the cliffs with friends as a teenager, when he worked at the park as a lifeguard, and dismissed the idea that hiking there should be forbidden in light of his daughter’s fall.

“If someone climbs a tree and falls, what are you going to do, bubble wrap the tree?” Rizner said.

After the Arctic Splash was over, some hiked up to the base of the cliff where Rizner fell, including Newhall, who said it was the first time she’d been back.

“I think it was a little bit of curiosity, at the same time it was closure,” Newhall said, adding that the event, “completely changed me, it’s a complete flip from who I was.

“I didn’t really value life the way I do now, seeing as how I was second from being in Kate’s position and she may not have even lived. She got lucky. It made me get out of a bad relationship I was in. It made me get closer to my friends. I completely redid my life.”

Katelyn Rizner returned to school today, and Newhall predicted she would be hailed as a “hero” based on the number of people asking about her condition while she was hospitalized.

“It makes you realize how thankful people are for her being alive, how much she’s loved,” Newhall said. “She’s got the whole community behind her now, every move she makes, everyone’s going to know about it.”

Despite the fact that she and her father already have gone back to the site of her fall, Rizner said she’s not going to tempt fate again by climbing the cliffs.

“Never again. Ever.”

November 17, 2010

Vernon council debates hunting rights in Talcottville Gorge
By Suzanne Carlson

Chaos reigned at the Town Council’s meeting Tuesday when the mayor left without explanation, two Republicans walked out over a debate about hunting rights in the Talcottville Gorge, and a third walked out not long after, effectively ending council business for the evening for lack of a quorum.

After kicking off the evening with a series of proclamations, Mayor Jason L. McCoy abruptly left Tuesday’s council meeting and never returned.

He offered no apology or reason for his absence before exiting council chambers and left Deputy Mayor Brian Motola in charge of the meeting for the rest of the night.

In the council chambers, Motola had his hands full when it came time to a vote on whether the town should contribute $5,000 to the Northern Connecticut Land Trust for the transfer of the 20-acre gorge property.

Land trust Director Gail P. Faherty of Vernon and Treasurer Jim Gage of Ellington explained to the council that though Talcott had agreed to donate the property, the trust is facing $10,000 in related expenses, including survey costs, trail upgrades, and legal fees.

They agreed to raise $5,000 to cover half of the financial responsibility, if the town would help out with the other share.

Despite its status as private property, the Talcottville Gorge, which is tucked between Interstate 84 and the Hop River State Park hiking trail, has long been used by residents for hiking, bird watching, and other passive recreational activities.

Under the conservation of the land trust, the gorge would be maintained as passive open space and residents could walk its trails without fear of trespassing.

But some council members weren’t willing to give up the $5,000 without certain assurances about its use.

“It’s unfair to take money from taxpayers, some of whom are hunters, and to give it to an anti-hunting organization for them to use to buy land, which we know they’re going to remove from hunting,” Republican council member Bill Campbell said today.

Faherty and Gage confirmed that the trust does not generally allow hunting on its properties, and the only exception would be if a donor wanted to will lifetime hunting rights to a certain individual.

Campbell argued that hunters should have the same freedom to use the land, within the boundaries of the state Department of Environmental Protection’s regulations, as any other resident who may want to pursue a recreational activity there.

Fellow Republican Daniel Anderson agreed that because hunters are taxpayers, and the $5,000 represented taxpayer dollars, hunters’ rights must be addressed within the agreement.

But other council members, including Democrats Marie Herbst and Michael Winkler, said they doubted the 20-acre strip of land, flanked by roads, homes, and hiking trails, would be suitable or safe for hunting.

“I personally wouldn’t want hunting where there are hiking trails being used,” Winkler said.

Herbst said today that she objected to Campbell’s efforts to paint his opponents as anti-hunting and accused him of confusing the issue, which was essentially a simple budget transfer of funds.

“He was not in line with what was being presented that night,” Herbst said.

Unaffiliated council member James Krupienski emphasized that the town does not own the property, the town will not own the property, and therefore the town cannot dictate allowable uses there.

“Basically what I was looking for was a commitment from the land trust that they wouldn’t prohibit otherwise legal hunting on that property. They wouldn’t make that commitment,” Campbell said.

He also said Faherty and Gage should have brought a lawyer to the meeting and were unprepared for questions.

When his amendment to allow hunting on the property was voted down, Campbell and Anderson immediately walked out of the meeting in protest.

The $5,000 transfer was then unanimously approved by a vote of 7-0.

November 5, 2010

PZC removes restrictions on parcel off Exit 67
By Suzanne Carlson

A controversial parcel off Interstate 84 exit 67 has been reopened to applications for big-box development after the Planning and Zoning Commission agreed to remove setback requirements on the property Thursday.

In a move that stunned local conservationists, who only five years ago worked with the town to establish the restrictions, the PZC voted 5-2 to approve a zone change application submitted by Assistant Town Planner and Economic Development Coordinator Marina Rodriguez, which essentially undoes the 2005 measures.

Though Rodriguez appeared before the PZC on Thursday in that capacity, she said she has been put on a “two-month emergency assignment” in the Social Services Department by the town’s administration, and is working on planning applications and economic development only when asked.

Commission member Watson “Chip” Bellows described the 40.5-acre parcel owned by Lee and Lamont real estate as “both a blessing and a curse to this town” for the last 30 years.

The property, which is between the Burger King and exit 67 off ramp with frontage on Reservoir Road, was the site of a 2003 development application for a 186,000-square-foot Wal-Mart. The Inland Wetlands Commission rejected the application, saying it could cause significant damage to the Tankerhoosen River watershed, the headwaters of which are near the site.

In 2005, with the aid of public hearings and a consultant from the site planning firm Planimetrics, the PZC approved a variable setback requirement for the site for buildings more than 40,000 square feet, with a maximum buffer requirement of 200 feet.

That decision was twice appealed in court by Lee and Lamont, but the town’s procedure in amending the zoning regulations was deemed correct, though the merits of the setback requirement itself did not enter into the court’s consideration.

Mayor Jason L. McCoy since has said that a refrigeration company has expressed interest in building an 180,000-square-foot facility on the site, though Rodriguez has said repeatedly that the setback requirement was hindering any interest from developers.

Despite public criticism of his direction of a town regulatory commission, McCoy encouraged the PZC to remove the setback requirement in the interest of economic development and increasing the tax base.

He insisted numerous times that in regard to environmental concerns for the Tankerhoosen River, the town already has water-management low-impact development regulations and no more oversight was needed.

The town does not have any codified low-impact development regulations, a fact confirmed by Town Planner Leonard K. Tundermann during the course of Thursday’s discussion.

Criticism of McCoy’s statements to the PZC also had extended to comments made by commission member Victor Riscassi, who, as an alternate, did not end up voting on the zone change.

Riscassi addressed accusations made by resident Edie Chernack, who said at both a Town Council meeting and a PZC meeting that it seemed Riscassi already had made up his mind about the application based on McCoy’s persuasion.

“I was accused of being unduly influenced by outside forces,” Riscassi said, emphasizing that the “personal accusations” were “totally inaccurate.”

In discussions about the zone change, commission member Chester “Chet” Morgan said he agreed with Tundermann’s assessment of the issue, quoting from a memorandum in which Tundermann said, “I support the proposed changes.”

Morgan and others reasoned that because the commission recently had approved a similar application for a zone change involving a property at 1 Ellington Ave. in the Rockville section of town, it would be inconsistent not to approve the town’s request.

Lawyer Leonard Jacobs represented both the developer in that application and Lee and Lamont in the exit 67 zone change. His argument for both issues was essentially identical: remove the restrictions and let applicants submit development plans unfettered, which the PZC then can assess through the required special-permit process.

“We get two whacks at the apple,” Morgan said while explaining his motion to approve.

But Bellows and Sarah Iacobello, the only two to oppose the change, argued that the town had failed to support its premise for removing the restrictions, which was that developers had been scared off by the variable setback requirement.

“I don’t think the applicant really made their case or proved their case,” Bellows said, adding that “no reasons were given for any developer not following through. … How do we know that other reasons couldn’t be the detriment to development, not the side yard requirement?”

Iacobello agreed, saying the town’s claim that the setbacks were holding back development “was never fully substantiated,” and commission members were given “some very nebulous facts — not even facts — some real nebulous information.”

Bellows successfully added an amendment that requires Tundermann to begin investigating the viability of low-impact development regulations for the Tankerhoosen, which could help manage stormwater runoff on sites with large amounts of pavement and other impervious surface. There is no deadline set for adoption of such requirements.

November 5, 2010

“ER” surveys on towns’ development plan start Monday
By Suzanne Carlson

VERNON — Starting Monday, you may get a call from “ER surveys,” but it will have nothing to do with medical services.

The town-wide phone survey that starts Nov. 8 is the latest effort by the Planning and Zoning Commission to determine residents’ vision for the town’s future development.

Planimetrics consultant Heidi Samokar, who has been working with a subcommittee on updating the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development, said she hopes the professional survey company’s misleading introduction won’t prompt residents to hang up on what they think is a “robo-call” for the hospital.

The random 10-minute survey consists of 40 questions designed to get an idea for how residents want their town to evolve. It will run for about two weeks, concluding on Dec. 16, after which results will be made public.

In accordance with state statute, the town must update its development plan once every 10 years. The subcommittee, which consists of Samokar, commission members Walter Mealy, Watson “Chip” Bellows, Chester “Chet” Morgan, Town Planner Leonard K. Tundermann, and Town Surveyor Ralph Zahner, is hoping to have this decade’s version complete some time before October 2011.

The document is used to guide future decisions, and help officials determine how best to manage the landscape. It mainly aids in planning, investment, and capital improvement, Samokar said.

“It’s a 10 year vision,” Tundermann said.

The plan can be amended through a review process, depending on circumstances.

The plan is often discussed during PZC meetings on applications for development as commissioners judge if a project is appropriate for its planned site.

“Every community is different,” with different topographic and economic needs, Samokar said. Each plan is tailored to its individual town, resulting in a myriad of approaches to the same basic concept.

Rather than revise an old plan, which was done in the past, Morgan said this time they decided to start from the ground up.

“We’re getting into subjects we never even discussed in 2001,” Morgan said.

Besides the survey, town officials will also hold meetings in January and February, conduct multiple interviews and workshops, and consult with other towns to see how they tackle long-term planning, Samokar said.

The city of Pinehurst, North Carolina has “the Holy Grail” of conservation and development plans, according to Bellows. That town has distinguished between documents that address planning and those that offer ideas for implementation, creating two separate documents, he said.

“Implementation is really important,” Samokar said, though Vernon’s subcommittee has yet to address that aspect.

Bellows said he was once told that there’s an emotional attachment to every piece of land, and that idea has stuck with him.

“We’re trying to strike a balance,” he said.

“There’s competing interests, too,” Tundermann added, acknowledging that very often, opposing sides of a development debate can both find arguments to validate their cause in the adopted plan.

“They’ll do whatever they have to do to support their feelings,” Zahner said.

Samokar cautioned against viewing development decisions as incompatible with compromise, however.

“You can balance,” she said of conservation and development. “It’s not mutually exclusive.”

But, Mealy added, “when it comes to land, it’s very personal,” hence the phone survey seeking input from residents that may not traditionally attend PZC meetings.

Another way residents can get insight into the process is by visiting “Vernon CT Town Plan” on Facebook, Samokar said.

October 26, 2010

Garden memorializes those who died so young
By Suzanne Carlson

It’s not easy to come to grips with the loss of a loved one, especially someone who hadn’t even been born yet.

But on Saturday, several families who’ve suffered the deaths of their babies or unborn children joined local officials in celebrating the opening of the Wings Butterfly Garden, a new space where grieving families can seek a little solace from their pain and cherish their children’s memories.

The garden, which is laid out in the shape of a butterfly and features numerous winged decorations, is part of a new neighborhood town park at 60 Lake St.

Residents Charles and Natalie Platt donated the strip of land to the town in 2009 to be used as a park after cultivating rhododendron and conifer bushes on the property for more than 40 years. This spring, Manchester Memorial Hospital bereavement nurse Nancy Krupienski began work on building the garden.

Parks and Recreation Department Director Bruce Dinnie said there are some pieces of land he would rather not expend resources to maintain, but the Platt’s property was not one of them.

“You don’t know you’re in Vernon when you’re out here,” Dinnie said, recalling trips to more mature forests in Vermont. “Everyone just loves this place. … It’s really taken off.”

Neighbor Bill Broguard has kept watch over the property and his employer, Ladd Turkington and Carmon Funeral Home donated a stone bench for the site, which also benefited from donations of plants and other materials from numerous local businesses.

“There are a lot of families here today that have helped,” Krupienski said, thanking those who volunteered to help with planning, maintenance, and planting.

“It was a labor of love, really. To have a loss in the family and to have a place to come … you can’t really put into words what it means,” Krupienski’s husband, council member James Krupienski said of the garden.

The Krupienski family includes three boys, Jack, 8, Ben, 3, and Liam, who is 1½ years old. But they haven’t forgotten their fourth child, who they lost to miscarriage in 2006, and it’s the memory of that private, unspeakable pain that Nancy said motivated her to help others feel less alone.

One person who already has benefited from Krupienki’s efforts is Adria Mecca of Vernon, whose third child was stillborn two months ago. Mecca, mother of Jacob, 7, and Piper, 5, explained that if a fetus dies within the first 20 weeks of a pregnancy it’s considered a miscarriage, but in cases such as hers when the baby dies after 20 weeks, the fetus is medically defined as stillborn.

Though there is no easy way to get over the dream-crushing death of an unborn child, Mecca said she considers herself lucky compared to women of previous generations who were encouraged not to talk about or even acknowledge a miscarriage or stillbirth.

They had a funeral for the baby girl they had named Sadona, and she said Piper and Jacob often ask to look at the “memory box” of footprints and other items that the maternity nurses provided to their family.

“The nurses were wonderful,” Mecca said.

Though several families at the garden’s opening had recently lost babies, the tone of the event was hardly somber.

Several young children played together among the newly planted flowers and bushes, freely discussing the baby siblings they barely got to meet, while adults sipped hot cocoa and chatted.

October 22, 2010

Hearing closes on exit 67 zoning restrictions
By Suzanne Carlson

Testimony in the hearing on proposed changes to the zoning regulations off Interstate 84 exit 67 closed Thursday, and the Planning and Zoning Commission was left with plenty to consider.

A number of residents spoke against the application by Assistant Town Planner and Economic Development Coordinator Marina Rodriguez to remove the variable setback requirement on a 40.5-acre parcel owned by Lee and Lamont real estate agency.

The setback requirement was added to the parcel’s zone stipulations in 2005 after public outcry over a 2003 application to build a 186,000-square-foot Wal-Mart, which was rejected because of its potential impact on the Tankerhoosen River and Walker Reservoir watershed.

Property owners Richard Lee and Steve Lamont twice attempted to appeal the 2005 decision, but the PZC’s ability to institute a setback requirement was upheld by the courts.

The application to remove the restriction was submitted in May, but was withdrawn without explanation before public testimony began.

Rodriguez resubmitted the application in September and Mayor Jason L. McCoy has been a vocal advocate of the change, which would eliminate a requirement that gradually increases the size of the buffer area around buildings larger than 40,000 square feet, with a maximum setback requirement of 200 feet.

Proponents say the move would be a boon to economic development by allowing larger buildings on the parcel, but opponents say it is a politically motivated maneuver that threatens the protection of sensitive wetlands.

Gottier Drive resident Ann Letendre provided the PZC with a detailed chronology of the site’s history that started in 1984 when Exxon was denied a permit to build a gas station on the site.

“The environmental concerns have been there for 30 years, not just since big-box development,” Letendre said. “Why on earth are we opening up the door to controversy again? It doesn’t make sense.”

McCoy spoke to the PZC at its Oct. 7 meeting, urging the commission to be cognizant of the recession and remove the setback restriction to make the property more attractive to developers and increase the tax base.

“PZC decisions will last a lifetime, the economic recession will not,” Letendre said.

McCoy’s strong-arm approach to the application has angered many, and several residents who spoke prefaced their comments by saying they disapproved of the mayor’s decision to speak to a regulatory commission as an elected official.

McCoy dismissed objections at the Oct. 7 meeting, saying he was “speaking for the town.”

“If I were in your seat, I would be angry at the mayor,” Anchorage Road resident Janine Gelineau told the PZC. “He definitely was not speaking for me or anyone I know … Was he speaking for a town of 10 people? Two? We don’t know.”

“In all the 40 years I’ve been doing land use in Vernon, I’ve never seen that happen,” Letendre said. “The mayor appoints the commissioners, that’s what makes it inappropriate.”

Property owner Steve Lamont and his lawyer, Leonard Jacobs, both spoke in support of the application and dissected opponents’ arguments.

Both sides “are arguing principles they think are right and are arguing them very well,” Jacobs said.

He framed opponents of the application as people against big-box development who are using the “super-buffers” to preclude development.

“There’s nothing particularly righteous or holy or outstanding about the decision that was made,” Jacobs said, arguing that developers should be allowed to submit applications freely and it’s up to the commission to vote on their merits.

Lamont said he is concerned the restriction “eliminates the use of land just to eliminate the use of land.”

He added that his company has paid $237,000 in taxes on the parcel since 1995 and have been “good stewards” of the wetlands while getting nothing in return.

The only other support for the proposed change has come from Rockville Bank president and Economic Development Commission member William McGurk, who said the EDC has endorsed the measure as a way to bring in tax revenue.

In a letter to the PZC, Reservoir Road resident Glen Montigny pleaded with commissioners, “Please don’t let people who do not live here dictate the landscape of Vernon.”

Lee and Lamont both live in Tolland.

The meeting was continued to Nov. 4.

July 27, 2010

Ground broken for Talcottville historic project
By Suzanne Carlson

An idea to highlight the Talcottville Historic District soon will come to fruition thanks to $636,000 in state and federal grant money for construction of a visitors kiosk, sidewalks, informational signs, and vintage-style street lamps.

Officials held a groundbreaking ceremony for the Historic Talcottville Improvements Project on Monday to celebrate the start of the approximately month-long construction project, which is being handled by Vernon-based contractor VMS Construction Co.

The Talcottville Historic District, which is listed as both a state Local Historic District and a National Historic Register District, has long been a hidden town gem, tucked behind busy Hartford Turnpike.

But officials are hoping the work will draw visitors to the area and help show off a variety of historically significant buildings.

“This will enhance this unique local historic village,” Mayor Jason L. McCoy said. “This is an excellent project.”

The historic district consists of 33 buildings and two structures on 920 acres, according to the National Register of Historic Places. The district is mainly contained along Main Street and Elm Hill Road, and extends east to Dobson Road to include Talcottville Pond and a portion of the Tankerhoosen River that is sandwiched between Interstate 84 and the Rails to Trails hiking path.

Economic Development Coordinator Marina Rodriguez said there are 15 ornate wooden, informational signs that will be placed at historic sites, including the trolley station, Mount Hope Cemetery, the Warburton Inn, and the Talcottville Mill.

Visitors can park in the Talcottville Congregational Church lot at the corner of Main and Elm Hill streets and start at the visitors kiosk, which will be constructed in front of the lot facing Main Street, Rodriguez said.

From there, a walking trail will lead from site to site, giving visitors a self-guided tour of the area, which is named for brothers Horace Welles Talcott and Charles Denison Talcott.

The brothers purchased the village and its textile manufacturing mills from the Kellogg family estate in 1856, at which time the village, which had been known as Kelloggville, became Talcottville, according to information on the signs that will soon be put up.

In addition, the project will add 19 vintage-style street lamps, bicycle racks, benches, fencing, and landscaping, according to town engineer Terry McCarthy.

The Historic Talcottville Association, a nonprofit preservation group founded in 2001, first approached the town about beautifying the village area in 2002.

In 2003, the federal Department of Transportation earmarked $500,000 in grant money for transportation work, but the amount didn’t quite cover the cost of sidewalks and street lamps, McCarthy said.

Town Administrator John Ward said the town applied for an additional state grant under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and received $136,000 to complete the project’s construction goals.

But he said he was unsure why the project was delayed in recent years.

The town’s investment is reflective of an increased interest in the small community, according to Richard Quinn, vice chairman of the Historic Talcottville Association and member of the town Historic Properties Commission.

“People are putting money back into their properties,” Quinn said, boosting both aesthetic and property values in the village.

In addition to increasing visibility for historic sites, the project also will increase access to the little-known Ravine Trail, McCarthy said.

The trail, which is now contiguous thanks to a newly installed section of sidewalk along Dobson Road, forms a loop around Talcottville Pond to Dobsonville Dam, and utilizes an existing section of the Rails to Trails hiking path, McCarthy said.

Visitors can access the trail from the cul-de-sac just beyond the Main Street Iron Bridge, which extends over the Tankerhoosen and connects the extreme end of the Talcottville neighborhood with the rest of Main Street.

McCarthy said construction should be completed within the next few weeks, but landscapers must wait to plant new trees until later in the season, so the entire project should be done by the end of September.

July 9, 2010

Town needs volunteers to remove ‘invasive species’
By Suzanne Carlson

VERNON — The town’s Conservation Commission is looking for volunteers to assist in a survey of the Tankerhoosen River and help remove two invasive aquatic plant species that may have spread into the protected waterway, according to Tom Ouellette, the commission’s co-chairman.

The survey is scheduled for Saturday, July 24, and volunteers will need to sign up by Friday, July 16 to help out.

Invasive species can be transported to a new environment in a number of ways, but once established, they can take advantage of new habitat and destroy the native ecosystem, according to Ouellette.

The commission is currently working to stop the spread of two aquatic invasives, Cabomba caroliniana, and Myriophyllum heterophyllum — commonly known as fanwort and variable-leaved milfoil — which were first discovered in Walker Reservoir East and Valley Falls Pond in 2008, according to Ouellette.

“These two species grow aggressively and are easily spread downstream to other water bodies,” he said.

The plants, which are often spread through dumping of bilge water in boats and other careless activities, have the potential to displace native plants, fish, and other wildlife, and can impair recreational activities such as swimming and fishing, Ouellette said.

Authorities are currently treating Walker Reservoir East and Valley Falls Pond with herbicides, a Department of Environmental Protection-approved removal technique. The herbicide use is supported by the commission because of the imminent threat to the Tankerhoosen River, which is rated a Class 1 wild trout stream because of its high water quality, Oullette said.

The June 24 survey is an additional effort to prevent fanwort and milfoil from gaining a foothold in the Tankerhoosen River, as well as Dobsonville and Talcottville ponds, he said.

“The survey will also serve as part of an invasive aquatic plant management plan that will be developed by the Conservation Commission for all of Vernon’s lakes, ponds, and streams,” Ouellette said.

Volunteers will meet at the Walker Reservoir East parking lot on Reservoir Road at 8 a.m. on July 24 for a training session in plant identification and removal procedures, he said.

Individuals will then divide into teams and walk one of four segments of the river between the reservoir and Tankerhoosen Lake. The segments will vary from approximately 0.75 miles to 1.25 miles in length, according to Ouellette.

Participants will map locations of fanwort and milfoil that are found in the river, and will then remove those plants and carry them offsite in plastic trash bags for disposal, he said.

Volunteers must be 18 or older and will be asked to sign a waiver of liability. Oullette recommended bringing a backpack, water bottle, snack, and insect repellent.

Participants should also consider wearing long sleeves to protect from bugs, sun, and poison ivy, along with secure footwear suitable for walking in and around the river, such as boots or sneakers.

Volunteers should wear a brightly colored shirt so team members can see them, and all participants are asked to carry a cell phone so they can contact project organizers if assistance is needed.

To volunteer for the survey by July 16, call the Planning and Zoning office at 860-870-3667, or email

June 7, 2010

Norman Strong, fourth-generation farmer, laid to rest in Vernon
By Suzanne Carlson

VERNON — Friends and relatives filled the First Congregational Church to capacity on Sunday to mourn the loss of Norman R. Strong, a town native and fourth-generation farmer who is being remembered as a pillar of the community he loved.

Strong died Wednesday at his home at the age of 93.

He was the fourth generation of his family to operate the Strong Farm on West Street as a dairy farm until 1965, when the farm’s activities transitioned to turkeys, pumpkins, and other crops.

Strong’s free-range birds became popular fare for Thanksgiving dinner tables, and later in life he became widely known as the “turkey man” of Vernon, because of his willingness to show local schoolchildren the inner workings of his farm.

“Some people called him an icon. I felt like he was a cornerstone of Vernon, because everyone kind of looked up to him,” said Town Council member Pauline Schaefer.

Schaefer said her father shared the same birthday as Strong, Oct. 3, 1916, and though she is a Democrat and Strong was a longtime Republican Town Committee member, the two shared many conversations about politics and other town business.

“He would say to me, ‘Keep ‘em honest and give ‘em hell,” Schaefer said. “He was a man well ahead of his time in his thinking, and it was always what was best for the town. He was just fair and honest on everything that he did.”

On Sunday, attendees flooded Strong’s funeral at the First Congregational Church where he was a member for 69 years and held several offices, including deacon emeritus.

“I’m not surprised by the numbers that are here,” said senior minister Rev. Dr. Peter R. K. Brenner. “If I say to you we will miss him, that’s not even the tip of the iceberg. It is almost infinitesimal, the amount we will miss, because of the impact he had on our lives.”

Heaven, Brenner added, “will only get better with Norm up there.”

In addition to his service at the church, Strong was also a founding member of the Vernon Fire Department and was an active member for 35 years. The department’s honor guard served as pallbearers for his service Sunday.

Fire Chief William M. Call explained that prior to consolidation in 1965, Rockville’s mill area had its own fire service, but Vernon’s farmland was without townwide protection until Strong and others pulled together and formed their own department.

“He was one of the founding fathers of the Vernon Fire Department,” Call said.

In addition, Strong’s daughter, Carol Nelson, said she remembers her father going to town meetings nearly every evening, after rising at 4 a.m. to milk the cows, working on the farm all day and milking again at 4 p.m.

Strong was an organizing member of the Zoning Board of the Vernon Fire District, and the Board of Assessment Appeals. He was also a member of the Tolland County Farm Bureau, supervisor of the Tolland County Soil and Water Conservation District, a longtime 4-H leader, a 75-year member and past master of the Vernon Grange, and a member of the Advisory Board for Vocational Agriculture at Rockville High School.

For many years, Strong was also the superintendent of Vernon’s cemeteries, including Elmwood cemetery where he was interred today.

“He was one of those people that just did his job, and you didn’t even have to oversee him, because you knew that whatever had to be done was going to be done. In that particular position, he used his own truck, his own tools,” said former mayor and council member Marie Herbst, who was in office in the 1980s when Strong retired from the position.

Herbst said the council at the time was giving Strong a difficult time with his budget, because he’d requested a new truck and finances were tight.

“It was at that point that Norm, and only Norm could do it, he leaned back and in his very quiet, unassuming way said, ‘I am retiring, and when I go my truck comes with me.’ And there was such silence in the council chambers at that point, you could hear a pin drop,” Herbst said, laughing. “And of course there was no other way, we had to buy the truck because we didn’t have one.

“He was quiet, unassuming, but, boy, was he a hard worker. I don’t know how he put in all the things he did in the 24 hours of the day, honestly,” Herbst said. “He was polite, and he had a great dignity about him that I admired. He was a pillar of the church, but he was also a pillar of the community. He really loved the town.”

Robert Warner, a member of the First Congregational Church who also served on the Republican Town Committee with Strong, described him as “an extremely fine gentleman and a very, very good member of our church.

“Sometimes if you don’t know Norm, he came on a little strong, but he really was a fine man, if he wanted something, and he knew he needed it, he went after it. And if he thought that something wasn’t right, then he wanted to see it was changed,” Warner said.

Strong’s most visible legacy, the yellow farmhouse on West Street where his wife of 67 years, Geraldine Risley Strong, still lives, is being aided with donations from the Strong Farm Preservation Fund and recent state grants, but its future is uncertain.

“I think the biggest worry that he had at the end, was that he was afraid that his farm was going to be sold, and then things torn down and houses put up there, and he just did not want that,” Warner said. “He wants that farm and things to stay as it is.”

For now, the farm remains where it has stood since 1878. And on Sunday, as one of the last true New England farmers was brought from his beloved church to the cemetery he tended for years, rain began to pour suddenly from the sky, answering every farmer’s most persistent prayer and readying the ground for life to grow anew.

May 22, 2010

Valley Falls hosts statewide event for blind students
By Suzanne Carlson

VERNON — Visually impaired middle school students from across Connecticut visited Valley Falls Park on Friday to spend the day fishing, playing, and enjoying the refurbished Braille trail, a modified hiking path that allows blind people to feel their way through the woods.

“Blindness is such a low-incidence disability — usually they’re the only one in the school — so we like to get them together for outings like this,” said Laura Drufva, a visual impairment teacher with the state Board of Education Services for the Blind in Windsor.

Drufva said BESB serves about 600 visually impaired students in the state.

Every year, Drufva said, BESB holds a field trip for each age group of students. In years past, the middle school group has gone to a Rock Cats baseball game and on a boat trip.

Friday’s event was free for the students. Volunteers provided hours of their time, Charlie’s restaurant donated $200 worth of food for lunch, and students got an embroidered bucket hat to take home as a souvenir. Three lucky students got to take home trophies for biggest fish caught, smallest fish caught, and first fish of the day.

Don Bellingham of the Vernon Greenways Volunteers organized the event after the Friends of Valley Falls Park received a grant from the state Department of Environmental Protection to refurbish the Braille trail last year.

Bellingham said the first part of the trail was created as an Eagle Scout project in 1996. Constructed of ropes strung between trees with simple wooden signs that had Braille lettering describing the plants and landscape, that trail was a seed for what would come.

Two more Eagle Scouts added sections to the trail in following years with help from the Parks and Recreation Department along the way, Bellingham said.

“The idea is we’re going to maintain it going forward,” Bellingham said.

Volunteer muscle

The Vernon Greenways Volunteers and the Parks and Recreation Department have provided the muscle to go with the DEP’s money. So far they have helped to remove invasive plant species from the 1.5-acre trail site and replant 104 natives; install 30 new rope-posts and 17 new metal signs with Braille descriptions of the area and its history; and mulch and repair the trail.

“They definitely did a great job redoing the trail,” said John Carnemolla, 14, of Tolland. “The ropes are brand new. They really did a nice job with this.”

Carnemolla said he had been to the trail a long time ago, and a lot of improvements have been made since then.

He was walking the trail with his mother and grandmother, Lynne and Irene, and another student, Alex Steinbrick, 12, of Seymour.

As the group walked along, both boys kept their hands placed lightly on a rope strung from wooden posts about waist-high. Every so often, a bump in the rope would give the boys a cue to stop and read a Braille sign.

The signs highlight aspects of the landscape that blind people can appreciate. For instance, one sign begins, “From this location, you may hear the sounds of a spring from Box Mountain rushing to join Railroad Brook…”

Another sign instructs hikers to reach out and feel a tree that has a permanently raised vein of bark where it was struck by lightning.

The signs describe visual details, and most even give a mini history of the area, which was the site of a waterwheel mill and other industrial development in the 18th and 19th centuries. The history of the trail site is so rich, in fact, that state archeologist and University of Connecticut professor Dr. Nicholas Bellantoni is planning a June excavation in the area.

Extra trout

In addition to the Braille trail, many students got a chance to go fishing.

The DEP stocked Valley Falls Pond with extra trout for the event, and members of the Connecticut Fly Fisherman’s Association and the Rockville Fish & Game Club donated their time and equipment to help the students learn the hobby they love.

“We want to let them have the enjoyment that we had,” said Frank Sypeck of the Rockville Fish & Game Club.

Sypeck and several others took a vacation day from work to help out at the event. Much of the day was a first for nearly everyone involved, as many of the volunteers had never worked with blind students, and many of the students said they had never gone fishing or walked on a Braille trail.

“We had a blast. It was so much fun, and the volunteers were so amazing,” said Nicole Dionne, 22, who had traveled from Farmington with her brother Eli, 9, and spent much of the day trout fishing.

Eli, who is legally blind, suffers from the progressively degenerative condition retinitis pigmentosa and has been gradually losing his eyesight since birth.

Fly fisherman Gary Bogli said he was a teacher for 37 years and has taught fly fishing before — but never to the visually impaired.

Bogli and other volunteers said there’s nothing about fishing that would prevent a visually impaired person from excelling at the sport. But it does require some practice.

“It’s just a matter of getting the timing right,” Bogli said.

When he called for volunteers, Bellingham said, he was overwhelmed by offers to help and had to scramble to find jobs for everyone. Several volunteers said they hope the day in the park will become an annual event for Connecticut’s blind students, and many students seemed to feel the same way.

“When I thought of the idea, it was something that seemed to make a lot of sense,” Bellingham said. Valley Falls Park is exceptionally handicapped accessible, and Bellingham said the layout of the parking lot, pavilion, and bathrooms, all connected by paved paths, lends itself well to disabled student groups.

“It’s all here,” he said. “It was logical so, what better?”

May 26, 2010

Proposal to ease development restrictions at exit 67 pulled back
By Suzanne Carlson

VERNON — An application to change the zoning regulations that govern the site of a contentious 2003 plan to build a Walmart was withdrawn shortly before the continuation of a public hearing on the issue, but officials won’t specify who pulled the paperwork.

“We’re going to look at the issues that were raised at the meeting. We’re going to look at some of the concerns that people have,” Mayor Jason L. McCoy said Tuesday. “We’ll look at it and bring it back.”

The proposed changes first were brought to the Planning and Zoning Commission for a public hearing May 6.

Town Planner Leonard K. Tundermann presented the application to the PZC, explaining that the town was proposing zone changes to the land around exit 67 off Interstate 84 in an effort to spur economic development.

The property, a 40.5-acre parcel owned by the Lee and Lamont real estate agency with frontage along Reservoir Road, must adhere to zoning regulations that were amended in 2005.

In addition to a standard 50-yard buffer requirement, the amendments say that if a proposed building or complex is 40,000 square feet, the setback requirement increases to 100 feet for the rear and side yards.

Under the amendments, for each additional 20,000 square feet of building, the setback must be increased by 25 feet, up to a maximum of 200 feet of open space. Fifty yards of setback still would have been required for the front of the building.

The site, which is behind the Burger King off the exit, was where a Massachusetts-based developer proposed building a 24-hour, 186,000-square-foot Walmart.

The Inland Wetlands Commission denied the application after several public hearings and a superior court judge upheld the decision in May 2007.

At the May 6 public hearing, PZC member Watson “Chip” Bellows said the PZC had no knowledge of the application to change the regulations and argued the changes would undo the work that was done with consulting firm Planimetrics in 2005.

“We spent an awful lot of money to get where we are on this as a town,” Bellows said, “and now all of a sudden we’re coming back to make a lot of changes. I’m really not clear in my mind why we’re doing it.”

Tundermann said the town submitted the application to encourage development on the site, though the change would affect only buildings with a large footprint, such as big-box retailers. Wetlands already prevent portions of the parcel from being developed, but if a variable site restriction was removed, Tundermann said the parcel’s buildable area would increase by six acres, for a total of 17 acres.

The sudden effort to ease restrictions on big-box development startled many commissioners and residents, who questioned where the idea to reverse the amendments came from.

“Did this just fall out of the sky,” PZC member Sarah Iacobello asked Tundermann at the May 6 hearing.

Residents who had opposed the Walmart application were gearing up for another zoning debate, but that fervor ceased once word spread that the PZC’s agenda for May 20 had been changed.

The original agenda that was distributed for the May 20 meeting included a public hearing for the proposed changes to exit 67. But commissioners had new agendas waiting for them at the meeting that did not include the hearing.

Tundermann, who had been the de facto spokesman for the changes that were attributed to both the town and the PZC, was absent from Thursday’s meeting due to illness.

Upon his return to work Tuesday, Tundermann said he was unaware the application to change the regulations had been withdrawn. He later confirmed that it was and said he did not know why.

McCoy said the town was responsible for pulling the application, but would not credit any individual for proposing or preparing the application, calling it simply, “an economic development issue.”

“You have an area there that is ideal for expanding the tax base and there is a buffer zone, apparently, that was put in several years ago, not based on much,” McCoy said of the site. “I believe the prior Mayor didn’t want it, didn’t want anything to get developed there.”

McCoy said the 2005 amendment that made it near impossible for a big-box retailer to locate there was a targeted political response to Walmart that was not scientifically founded.

“I don’t think there was a basis originally, when they expanded the buffer zone, it was kind of a knee-jerk reaction,” McCoy said.

Former Mayor Ellen Marmer, who was in office during the Walmart debates, disagreed.

“It has always been my purpose to create sound development at the exit 67 area. There is no need to change the regulations to suit one particular developer,” Marmer said Tuesday.

“It’s a critical area that needs to be studied in its entirety, and it’s not just related to one developer, it’s related to the whole area as it would fit into our plan of development and increase our economic base,” she continued, saying any changes need to be “made very carefully, and not in any type of spontaneous, undirected manner.”

McCoy did not say what type of development he would like to see on the site, “Anything that’s appropriate off an exit,” would be desirable.

May 14, 2010

Planner proposes undoing Walmart ‘supercenter’ site restrictions
By Suzanne Carlson

VERNON — An application to change the zoning regulations on property off exit 67 on Interstate 84 has brought up debate over big-box development yet again.

At a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting last Thursday, Town Planner Leonard K. Tundermann presented an application to amend zoning regulations on a 40.5-acre piece of property owned by the Lee and Lamont real estate agency, with frontage along Route 31, or Reservoir Road.

A hearing was continued to the next PZC meeting, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. May 20 in Town Hall’s council chambers.

The property behind the Burger King at exit 67 was the site of a Massachusetts-based developer’s 2003 application to build a 24-hour, 186,000-square-foot Walmart “supercenter.”

The Inland Wetlands Commission denied that application after eight separate public hearings and several weeks of review. A Superior Court judge upheld the decision in May 2007 after Lee and Lamont filed a lawsuit contending the PZC’s decision was “unfair.”

In July 2004, the PZC imposed a six-month moratorium for development on the exit 67 zone, so “flaws” in the zone’s regulations could be remedied.

The following June, the PZC worked with Planimetrics, a consulting firm, to amend the zoning regulations in the area to prohibit wholesale distribution facilities and kennels, as well as outside storage of chemicals, fertilizers, and pesticides. The amendments also included a provision for open-space setbacks, requiring any new project to sit on at least one acre of land with 50 feet of open space on each side of the building.

Those amendments, which remain in force, say that if a proposed building or complex is at 40,000 square feet, the setback requirement increases to 100 feet for the rear and side yards. For each additional 20,000 square feet of building, the setback must be increased by 25 feet, up to a maximum of 200 feet of open space. Fifty yards of setback would still be required for the front of the building.

Lee and Lamont filed suit against the PZC in attempts to both block the development moratorium and the amendments, saying that the PZC was illegally targeting the firm’s ability to develop the Route 31 property, which would be most affected by the changes.

Both appeals were eventually dismissed in court.

The amendments Tundermann presented last week would essentially undo the revisions made by the PZC in 2005 and eliminate the variable setback requirement for buildings or building footprints that exceed 40,000 square feet. That change would add approximately 6 acres to the property’s buildable land, increasing the total buildable acreage, which excludes wetlands on the property, up to 17 acres.

The application to amend section 4.25.2 of the town zoning regulations was attributed to the PZC itself, but commission member Watson “Chip” Bellows said the PZC had no knowledge of the application, and it should be attributed to the town of Vernon instead.

While Tundermann said that attributing the application to the PZC was consistent with past practice for similar circumstances, he said Watson was “correct that the commission had no knowledge of, or directive to proceed with this application.”

Tundermann told the PZC that “the purpose of this amendment is to advance the economic development potential of the zone.” He added that since the zoning regulations were amended in 2005, “there’s been little to no interest in development of that property.”

Tundermann cited references to development around the exit 67 site in the town’s most recent Plan of Conservation and Development, which is being revised and does not apply to pending applications. He suggested that the proposed revisions would have no adverse impacts on surrounding areas.

“I think the change to the 100-foot setback, which is greater than setbacks in all the other zones, would achieve an adequate sense of protection, or an adequate degree of protection to adjoining uses,” Tundermann said.

But Bellows was perplexed by the sudden desire to change regulations that were studied and revised five years ago.

“We spent an awful lot of money to get where we are on this as a town,” Bellow said, “and now all of a sudden we’re coming back to make a lot of changes. I’m really not clear in my mind why we’re doing it.”

“Was this something that all of a sudden, out of thin air, the town said, ‘We’re going to do this’?” Bellows asked.

“There is a town interest in promoting economic development, and this has been advanced as an effort in that direction,” Tundermann replied, but did not specify an applicant, other than the town of Vernon.

“Did this just fall out of the sky?” PZC member Sarah Iacobello asked Tundermann.

Iacobello dismissed the town planner’s assertions that the application was similar to previous applications that amended regulations regarding the storage of boats and trailers and the use of personal storage containers.

“The catalyst behind this is different,” Iacobello said. “There’s a real economic interest behind this one.”

Opponents of the proposed changes to the regulations have highlighted the fact that in 2009, Richard W. Lee and Steven A. Lamont each individually contributed $500 to Mayor Jason L. McCoy’s re-election campaign.

Tundermann reiterated that the application was an effort to remove constraints to development in that zone “that may have been a factor in the lack of development interest in the past five to six years.” He also cited the “present economic climate, with vacant storefronts, vacant restaurant buildings, vacant properties here and there.”

Anchorage Road resident Janine Gelineau commented that if the town is concerned about vacant storefronts, perhaps economic development efforts should be focused on moving businesses into existing vacant buildings and remedying blight in the process.

Commission members asked Tundermann to gather information on the wetlands surrounding the site, as well as data that shows how the zoning restrictions have been inhibiting interest in development on the site.

“I’ve been seeing this more and more creeping into applications,” Iacobello said.

“It’s really development that’s driving the zoning, rather than zoning driving development in the town, and I think that’s something we need to keep our eyes on,” she added.

A lawyer for a resident who lives close to the site said she would attend the PZC’s May 20 meeting with an expert to comment on the proposed zoning regulations.

May 6, 2010

Vernon council refuses to back wildlife foundation grant application
By Suzanne Carlson

VERNON — The Town Council has voted not to support the Conservation Commission and other town groups in their bid for a $35,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to study low-impact development strategies.

Even getting the item to the council proved tricky, as several requests to add the item to the agenda were rejected without notice by Mayor Jason L. McCoy and Town Administrator John Ward.

The mayor’s administrative assistant Diane Wheelock said McCoy and Ward received petitions for agenda items from various members of the community before making “a judgment call” and deciding what will be presented to the council.

In the regular council meeting on April 20, three supporters of the grant spoke in an effort to have the issue addressed: commission Chairman Scott Wieting, commission member Thomas Ouelette, and Hockanum River Linear Park Committee member Ann Letendre.

The three explained to the council that they were requesting support for the grant application in the form of $4,500 cash as “good faith” money to show that Vernon supports responsible development and conservation. The grant also requires a contribution of in-kind service, which they said could be accomplished by town staff in the Planning Department and volunteers from town commissions.

The $35,000 provided by the grant would have funded a study by engineering consultants Fuss & O’Neill to determine how low-impact development could be incorporated into the town’s development process, supporters explained.

Letendre said the study would produce a set of recommendations that Planning and Zoning and Inland Wetlands commissions could then parse out and reject or adopt as regulations.

“From every perspective, it’s a win-win for Vernon,” Letendre said.

The council voted to include the grant application as an additional agenda item for the April 20 meeting, but then voted to adjourn before the issue could be addressed.

This left Conservation Commission members wondering if the town would vote on the grant application in time for its May 7 deadline.

Low-impact development is a collection of strategies to handle storm water in a way that doesn’t negatively affect the environment.

For example, rather than collecting storm water runoff with curbs and gutters and disposing of it as a waste product, a low-impact development project might implement products such as pervious pavement to allow the water to filter through the soil.

Seventy percent of the Tankerhoosen River, a class I wild trout stream, is in Vernon, with the remainder running through Bolton, Manchester, and Tolland.

“Fuss and O’Neill has been contracted by the state to draft LID guidelines, so what they’re saying is the town should incorporate these guidelines into their regulations,” Letendre said today.

Vernon already has received two similar grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Letendre said, the only inland town to receive funding, making it likely that the town would receive a third grant because of its status as the location of a major inland watershed.

The other three Tankerhoosen towns have shown formal support for not only low-impact development, but also the Tankerhoosen River Management Plan stakeholders’ agreement, which Vernon’s administration still has not signed.

The grant application also was missing from the council’s May 4 agenda despite a written request from council member Marie Herbst dated April 21.

Council member Michael Winkler reminded McCoy that any agenda items left over from a previous meeting must be addressed at the next meeting, according to council rules.

McCoy agreed and the grant application was added to the agenda for discussion.

But McCoy expressed skepticism of the low-impact development process. He began by telling the council that the town “already does this” and pointed to a liquor store that had been built with pervious pavement.

“We don’t need to spend $35,000 and tie up our department working on this,” McCoy said.

McCoy went on to say that Town Planner Leonard K. Tundermann and town engineer Terry McCarthy could do the same work in-house more cheaply without the input of volunteers or outside hydrologists.

He accused supporters of not understanding the implications of the strategies and contradicted himself by saying he believes pervious pavement will cause slipping hazards in the winter.

“We can’t just jump in because everybody’s doing it,” McCoy said.

McCoy added that supporting the grant would mean handing over regulatory powers to “people not elected or appointed by the town.”

Simply, he said, “I don’t think we need to do this.”

Council members voted 4-3 along party lines to deny support for the grant application.

McCoy said he would instruct town staff to start working on low-impact development regulations independent of any federal grant money. He also said there would be chance for public input on any strategies, but did not specify a date at which the regulations would be presented to the public.

Letendre said volunteers still are planning to submit the grant application, due Friday, but it will be less competitive against other towns who have received formal administrative support.

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