A Konover Connection
In Simsbury, the dispute over a retail development off Route 10 has led to questions about Michael Bradley´s leadership of the P&Z commission

- March 30, 2006

IMAGE COURTESY KONOVER DEV. CORP

Feature

An artist´s rendering of the development that´s proposed for Simsbury.

A possible big box development in Simsbury has been a hotly debated topic. Some would even say it´s presently the biggest issue in Simsbury politics. Unfortunately, the chairman of a important town commission won´t be able to vote on the issue or discuss it.

Konover Development Corporation, a large real estate development firm, is looking to build on land off of Hopmeadow Street (Route 10) near the Avon border, across from Blue Ridge Drive and Lincoln Lane. Initially, the company´s proposal featured a large, big-box tenant (think: Target, Home Depot or Lowe´s) anchoring several smaller stores. However, that plan was recently amended to include mixed uses. The development, now called River Oaks, would now include residential and office space in addition to a large retail anchor tenant. Konover has set up a website for the project at www.riveroaks-simsbury.com.

Simsbury Homeowners Advocating Responsible Expansion, or SHARE, is a citizens group that was set up to oppose big-box development on the land. They say that it will increase traffic, decrease property values, and hinder the view across the property to Talcott Mountain. Konover disputes those claims.

The property, which is owned by Mark Greenberg (Konover purchased development rights), is zoned for light industrial. So, a zoning change would be needed before any retail tenant could open on the site. Konover has not yet sent a proposal to the town or asked for a zoning change, but such actions are widely expected in the coming weeks or months.

Naturally, the Simsbury Zoning Commission will be involved. The chairman of that commission, however, will not. The long-time chairman, Michael Bradley, has said he will recuse himself from any discussion or vote on the issue.

In a letter to First Selectman Tom Vincent received March 1, Bradley advised the Board of Selectmen of a conflict of interest, writing, ¨I am a licensed real estate broker in the State of Connecticut, and I have a brokerage agreement with Konover with respect to the land in question. This financial interest clearly creates a conflict.¨

Bradley also filed a conflict of interest form indicating he may have to recuse himself from any matter that involves Konover or ¨any commercial real estate matter in which I have a direct financial interest.¨ The form was signed and dated Dec. 22, 2005, but wasn´t filed until sometime in 2006.

Both documents can be viewed on the SHARE website at http://www.sharesimsbury.com.

Many SHARE members and others (some posting anonymously on Simsbury.com forums) have expressed concern over Bradley´s apparent conflict. They wonder why he didn´t file conflict of interest forms sooner. Some speculate that he only declared the conflict after some SHARE members looked into potential Konover connections of public officials.

Bill Miller, a SHARE spokesperson, suggested as much and told us that Bradley should have publicly disclosed his conflict sooner.

¨Why didn´t he file a conflict of interest form sooner, why didn´t he let anybody else know? Most people put down all potential conflicts, not just immediate ones,¨ Miller said.

For his part, Bradley says he began dealing with conflict last summer, long before SHARE began looking into potential conflicts, when he contacted the town attorney, Robert DeCrescenzo. Bradley says he advised the town attorney of his conflict and asked if he´d need to resign his position.

¨On Nov. 14, he got back to me in a four-page letter advising me that A.) I didn´t have to resign, and B.) what I needed to do was notify in writing the Board of Selectmen and the Zoning Commission,¨ Bradley told the Advocate.

Bradley said he´s done both of those things, and filed the conflict of interest form after he was re-elected in November. Austin D. Barney, a Zoning Commission member and commission secretary, told the Advocate that Bradley sent a letter to him three to four weeks ago, notifying the board of the conflict. It will be entered into the record at an upcoming meeting.

Barney said that the conflict has been discussed openly at past meetings, which are open to the public. He called the issue ¨old news.¨

¨He´s done everything exactly by the book,¨ Barney said.

Still, SHARE members are upset that a high-ranking town official works so closely with the corporation looking to bring big-box development near the foot of Talcott Mountain.

¨We´re shocked Michael Goman would hire -- knowing he has to get his property re-zoned -- the chairman of the zoning commission to be his real-estate agent,¨ Miller said.

Goman is president and CEO of Konover. He also sits on the town´s board of education.