Journal Inquirer Articles and Letters
On this page are articles and letters published in the Journal Inquirer.
December 21, 2009
Neighbors upset with plan to put concert stage on South Frontage Road
By Max Bakke
VERNON — A proposed outdoor summer concert venue along South Frontage Road has triggered an emotional response from nearby residents who are concerned about added noise and traffic connected to the project.
The venue, proposed by TicketNetwork, a secondary ticket brokering service headquartered on Bolton Road, aims to hold 20 events next summer at a 2,000-seat capacity theater.
Ticket brokers such as TicketNetwork typically are online marketplaces where ticket-holders can resell their tickets to entertainment and sporting events. The summer series will allow the company to expand its business to sell its own tickets, Dan Chemistruck, project manager for the venue, said.
“If you look at the whole ticketing business,” he said, “primary and secondary ticketing markets are going to merge.”
TicketNetwork aims to pull in minor country, alternative, and classic rock acts to the series, which will run on weekend nights throughout the summer.
TicketNetwork is asking for several special permits for parking, size, and alcohol at the venue, which will sit on 9 acres of existing forest immediately off Interstate 84 at exit 66. The Planning and Zoning Commission held its first public hearing on the plan last week. The hearing was continued to Jan. 7.
Resident Jennifer Roggi said she is among several neighbors who are upset about the project and attended last week’s hearing.
There are concerns among residents who argue the venue will bring traffic congestion, unwanted noise, and rowdy behavior, she said, “It’s just not the right location for a venue of this nature.”
Additionally, Jon Roe, who lives on Valley Falls Road near the site, said the venue could harm residents’ property values.
“Are people going to want to buy a house next to this?” he questioned.
Chemistruck said TicketNetwork wants to be a good neighbor, adding that a sound barrier would be added to the temporary stage to muffle and deflect noise away from neighbors.
“We’re trying to contact as many people as possible so we can be sure we’re not going to intrude” on businesses or residents, he said.
Chemistruck added that all apparatus, except for one permanent structure for utilities, would be taken down after the season.
TicketNetwork also plans to add lighting, crosswalks, and a pedestrian walking trail leading from the overflow parking lots at the company’s Bolton Road headquarters to the site.
December 24, 2009
TicketNetwork cited for wetlands violations in 2008
By Max Bakke
VERNON — TicketNetwork, the ticket brokering service that aims to build a concert venue on South Frontage Road, was twice cited for wetlands violations in as many years, one of which was on the property targeted for the venue.
Town records show that Ticket Network Forest LLC, the company seeking approval from the Planning and Zoning Commission to host 20 concerts between May and October 2010, was issued a cease and desist order from the town in October 2008 for working in the area of 60 South Frontage Road without a permit.
Acting on a complaint, town wetlands agent Craig Perry wrote in documents that the company was doing excavation work on the land. He wrote that he witnessed “significant activity” in a wetlands area without a permit.
Terrace Drive Realty LLC, which owns TicketNetwork’s Bolton Road headquarters and whose chief executive officer, Don Vaccaro, manages TicketNetwork, also was cited in April 2008 for “clear cutting, removal, or depositing of material,” and having “a ‘back-hoe’ type machine partially buried and stuck” within a wetlands area at its Bolton Road headquarters, Perry wrote.
Town records also reveal that building permits for storage containers and portable classrooms at TicketNetwork’s headquarters either have expired or don’t exist.
When contacted this week, Perry said TicketNetwork remedied the April 2008 order within months and has nearly corrected the October 2008 violation. He said he expects the “cease and desist” order to be rescinded at the next Inland Wetlands Commission.
Some residents have expressed concerns, both privately and publicly, that the proposed concert series isn’t the right fit for the rural stretch immediately off Interstate 84 at exit 66.
TicketNetwork is seeking special permits related to the size of the structure, and for overflow parking and alcohol. Residents say an influx of people on weekend nights is rife for rowdy behavior, loud music, and safety concerns for motorists and pedestrians.
Nevertheless, Vaccaro said this week that the prior issues concerning his business are in no way indicative of how the concert venue project will go forward.
“As far as any wetlands issues go, we’ve gone above and beyond. We’ve done more things than the inland wetlands folks have wanted done,” he said. “We have absolute unanimous approval form the inland wetlands people on this project.”
And if there are concerns about the concert venue, it’s news to him, he said, adding that reaction to the project has been overwhelmingly positive.
The wetlands issues have been remedied, he said, contending that he never was obligated to fix the problem that resulted in the October 2008 complaint, because it stemmed from a drainage dispute with an unhappy neighbor.
“We didn’t need to fix it, we could’ve fought it,” he said.
He said the town never required permits on the portable classrooms, which are vacant, and he expects the pending application for a permit for the storage bins to be approved soon.
The current proposal calls for the concert venue asks for permission to build a summer stage theater on 9 acres of about 30 acres of forest off South Frontage Road.
All facilities, except a building for utilities, will be taken down after the season ends in October, Vaccaro said, and there is work planned that will make the area safer and pedestrian friendly.
“It’s not that big of a project at all in terms of changes to the landscape or the environment,” Vaccaro said. “It is probably the best use for development of this land that is possible.”
Secondary ticket markets such as TicketNetwork reap large profits by creating an online market exchange for the company and ticket holders to resell their tickets to sporting and entertainment events.
A representative from the company said last week that having its own venue where TicketNetwork can sell access to its own events opens up a growing market for the enterprise that’s estimated to gross over $400 million in sales this year, according to a New York Times profile on Vaccaro in August.
But TicketNetwork and other ticket-brokering businesses have been under heightened scrutiny lately from state attorneys general in Arkansas and New Jersey who have sued TicketNetwork alleging the company sold tickets before they went on sale for Miley Cyrus and Bruce Springsteen concerts, respectively.
In 1996, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal sued Vaccaro, who was operating as Metro Entertainment, for price gouging in the resale of University of Connecticut basketball tickets and other events.
The suit was settled that year, and Vaccaro paid $20,000, agreeing to abandon ticket scalping in the state, a Blumenthal spokesman said Tuesday.
January 8, 2010
TicketNetwork public hearing brings out crowd Thursday
By Suzanne Carlson
VERNON — It was a full house in Council Chambers on Thursday as about 200 people packed in for the second hearing on an application to build a TicketNetwork concert venue.
Residents were drawn to the Planning and Zoning Commission’s meeting by both a grassroots effort of fliers and Web sites opposing the project and a packet distributed to area residents by TicketNetwork Forest LLC on Thursday afternoon, detailing potential benefits of the venue.
TicketNetwork’s application calls for a 2,000-seat outdoor amphitheater to be built on nearly 9 acres.
The location on South Frontage Road is directly off exit 66 on Interstate 84, however the neighborhood has remained undeveloped and numerous residents came out with the hope they could keep it that way.
Of the nearly 200 people who spilled out of the chamber, approximately 30 of them were TicketNetwork employees in company shirts forming a bloc in the first several rows.
TicketNetwork CEO Donald Vaccaro’s lawyer, Dorian R. Famiglietti, began by outlining the project, explaining that although the stage is a temporary structure that will be located at the site only from May to October, it still will be taxable year-round, a concern that had been brought up in the first meeting.
Additionally, Famiglietti sought to reassure the commission that although Vaccaro owns a 38.9-acre parcel on South Frontage Road, 29.75 of those acres are designated as forest under state law.
According to the state Department of Agriculture, the law was established in 1963 to allow farmland, forest, and open space to be taxed at a lower rate because of lower use.
However, the tax break does not extend indefinitely, and residents have expressed concern about what might happen to those 29.75 acres when it expires in eight years and the designation becomes open for negotiation.
On Thursday, the main worry was the traffic congestion around the 8.81 acres where the amphitheater is planned.
Jim Bubaris of Bubaris Traffic Associates presented animated computer models of traffic patterns around the site, which was displayed for commissioners on monitors around the dais. For everyone else in the chamber, the presentation could not be brought up on the larger wall-mounted monitors, compounding frustration in the audience.
While those in the audience looked at a printed map of the area, Bubaris showed commissioners how the cars would move around the site.
When Bubaris finished his presentation, Police Chief James Kenny addressed the commission with his concerns.
“Mr. Bubaris is very generous with the applicant’s money,” Kenny said. “Having six police officers at this event is going to be very expensive for the applicant. …I will also be requiring additional officers to staff as a security measure on the grounds, so we’re looking at 10 officers minimum.”
But the town doesn’t have 10 officers available. Of the 51 officers in town only 44 are available due to injury and other circumstances, the chief said.
“I’ve already contacted area departments about having to obtain mutual-aid officers to staff these events. We will not be able to staff 20 shows,” Kenny said.
Commission member Sarah Iacobello expressed concern about backed up traffic on the I-84 off-ramp.
But Famiglietti told her that “not in any of these models is the delay sufficient enough to back up onto that on-ramp. …It works.”
“So you’re saying with a pretty good degree of certainty that there’s no chance that traffic waiting to get into the concert site is not going to back up to that I-84 eastbound off-ramp?” Iacobello responded.
Bubaris admitted, “It could happen, yes… Anything could happen.”
After nearly two hours of debate on the traffic analysis, which also will have to be approved by the State Traffic Commission, the commission brought Vaccaro forward to plead his case. But he didn’t get far.
“We added up the amount of money we donated to the town in the last year and it was more than we paid to the town in property taxes,” Vaccaro said. “We’re just a very small company in Vernon, we want to stay in Vernon. …This is part of an extension of us doing this. We want the amphitheater to be there.”
The meeting adjourned at the 10:30 p.m. curfew, leaving many residents frustrated that they were unable to speak.
The hearing was continued to the next PZC meeting Thursday, Jan. 21.
January 22, 2010
Results of concert site test disputed
By Suzanne Carlson
VERNON — Thursday’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting was another long, anxious night for residents waiting to discuss the TicketNetwork Forest LLC concert venue, proposed for a site on a commercially zoned parcel on South Frontage Road a quarter mile from residential neighborhoods.
The third in what will be a series of at least five hearings on the proposed concert venue was moved to the auditorium of the Senior Center after the Jan. 7 meeting overwhelmed Town Hall council chambers, leaving many attendees in the hall, cut off from the proceedings.
Despite the change in venue for Thursday’s hearing, every seat in the auditorium was filled and many were left sitting on the floor along the walls or standing in the back.
Commission Chairman Lester Finkle told the audience at the start that they would not be able to speak at the meeting because the acoustics consultant would be going over his findings from a sound test performed in October.
A special hearing also will be held Feb. 3 solely to continue the applicant’s presentation, and then members of the public will be able to speak at the regular hearing on Feb. 4.
Donald Vaccaro, CEO of TicketNetwork, as well as the lead lawyer for the application, Dorian R. Famiglietti, spent more than an hour addressing concerns from the board regarding Bubaris Traffic Associates’ presentation at the Jan. 7 meeting. Vaccaro said that he has been a Vernon resident for 22 years and wants to be a “good neighbor.”
Bennett M. Brooks, senior consultant for Brooks Acoustics Corp., then presented his acoustic analysis of the concert site, claiming that decibel levels of music from public address speakers at the site were tested at five separate residential locations around the proposed venue. According to Brooks and Famiglietti, decibel levels at the residential testing sites fell below the range of “crickets and leaves.”
Several commissioners questioned Brooks as to the veracity of these claims.
Adding to the confusion was the fact that Vaccaro consistently said that the sound levels were “within EPA guidelines.” But according to the Environmental Protection Agency the federal regulatory body “does not have any regulatory authority governing noise in local communities.”
The town also does not have a noise ordinance, but the state Department of Environmental Protection does regulate sound levels, and it is those regulations that the venue must adhere to.
Famiglietti said that even when the test crew stood at the closest residential spot to the proposed concert site they could not hear the music.
“The only area you could discern the music from time to time was on Valley Falls Road and it was a shock to all of us. Truly, you heard it periodically, you didn’t hear a constant flow of music,” Famiglietti said.
But at the end of the meeting, Town Planner Len Tundermann said that Police Chief James Kenny had received several phone calls complaining of the noise on the day of the testing.
Famiglietti then acknowledged that one individual had approached them during testing to ask what they were doing, and Vaccaro said that he was aware of one complaint registered with the police.
But the police chief said today that his office was inundated with phone calls complaining about the noise.
“We were receiving phone calls, the mayor’s office was receiving phone calls regarding the testing, Kenny said. “Our officers went out and talked to them and asked them to shut down the testing early,” he said.
“We had one complaint from individuals with horses who were very upset because the animals were bothered by the noise,” Kenny added.
The individual who approached Famiglietti in the field on Valley Falls Road spoke with the Journal Inquirer but requested his name not be used.
“I figured it was coming from the kids down the street who have parties now and then, so I got in my truck and drove down there and found the lawyer in the field,” he said.
The man said he asked the team to tone it down as it was upsetting his animals, but Famiglietti said that it wasn’t their problem because there’s no noise ordinance in town.
“She said ‘we have a permit,’ so I called the police,” he said.
According to Kenny, officers shut down testing soon after.
January 6, 2010 Letters
Not fans of concert plans
Southern Vernon has been a wonderful place to live and raise our family. When we moved here in the sixties it was promoted as a peaceful place, near the highway yet retaining its rural character. As the area developed the town left sections untouched including Valley Falls Park, the rails to trails system and the Belding Wildlife Preserve. Recent new housing in the area targets those over 50, who are enticed to Vernon to spend their retirement years.
Now the essential character of the area is threatened as a rock concert site has been proposed off Exit 66 - surrounded on all sides by residential property within acoustic range. The concert site proposed by TicketNetwork, a company that makes its money from marking up and reselling concert tickets, will host at least 20 outdoor country and rock concerts between May and October. Each concert may attract over 2,000 people and 750 cars, will last until midnight with alcohol being served.
Traffic, noise, alcohol, kids, loud music and light pollution every weekend of the summer until past midnight are not consistent with the character of the neighborhood. These are better suited to an isolated country setting. Our town website describes Vernon as "a celebrated place to live and work . . . providing homeowners the opportunity to enjoy suburbia." Not for much longer if rock concerts intrude every summer weekend.
How does the town benefit? The concert site will only have one permanent shed so will bring in little new tax revenue, while adversely affecting property values in the neighborhood. Reduced tax revenue after reevaluation plus the likelihood for more police to investigate accidents, fights and drunkenness will increase everyone's taxes in town. The only person benefitting from the concerts will be the owner of TicketNetwork as he expands his business from tickets to concerts.
The concert application has been quietly shepherded through the Inland Wetlands, Conservation and Traffic Commissions by TicketNetwork's team of lawyers without the public becoming aware. The last stop is the Planning and Zoning Commission, which next meets on Thursday, January 7 when TicketNetwork will complete its presentation and the commission may begin to hear from the public. They need to hear from all residents. More information on the issue can be found at www.quixoteenterprises.com.