Highway to the Danger Zone
The battle over River Oaks, a big-box development in Simsbury, will be fought before the Zoning Commission

- July 27, 2006



An artist´s take on the River Oaks plan.

Monday night, there was an elephant in the room at a special meeting of the Simsbury Zoning Commission.

That elephant was the pending creation of River Oaks, a mixed-use, big-box development planned by Konover Development Corporation on land off Hopmeadow Street near the Avon border.

A large, vocal citizens group, Simsbury Homeowners Advocating Responsible Expansion (SHARE), opposes the development and, on Monday, they joined Zoning Commission members, a handful of other town officials and one devilishly handsome reporter to fill a conference room.

The words ¨river¨ and ¨oaks¨ were never uttered in the same breath. Instead, the purpose of the meeting was to discuss possible amendments to the town´s zoning regulations, many suggested by the new Town Planner, Hiram Peck. During the meeting, Austin D. Barney, chairman of the Zoning Commission, explained that Peck provided a new set of eyes to look over the regulations for possible discrepancies. He also said that no specific future project prompted the special meeting.

¨We´ve been wanting to do this for a long time,¨ Barney told the Advocate .

Still, there is no doubt that River Oaks was why around 40 town citizens decided to spend their Monday night at a Zoning Commission meeting that largely dealt with such hot-button topics as: ¨How exactly should we measure the height of a house, for the purposes of building height regulations?¨

They were there because of Konover. The corporation needs a zoning change before they can start on River Oaks, a project that would include housing, restaurants and smaller stores anchored by a big-box tenant like Target or Lowes.

Of course, the term ¨zone change¨ doesn´t really do the situation justice. Not only would Konover need the Zoning Commission to change how the property is currently zoned, but they´d need to create an entirely new zone to fit the needs of the project. Currently, no zone category on the books in Simsbury allows for the type of mixed-use development Konover is proposing.

What all that means is this: at some point, in some way, Konover will need the approval of the Zoning Commission if they ever want River Oaks and its big-box anchor tenant to become a reality.

That´s why Monday´s meeting was so important. Among the amendments discussed by commission members was a suggestion to allow for Planned Development Districts (PDDs) which would allow an applicant to propose their own zoning category for a particular property. For all intents and purposes, it´d allow Konover to conjure up a mixed-use zone for the River Oaks property.

Of course, whether such a zone change would be approved would be up to the commission. Like current zone changes, it´d be subject to a public hearing and input from other pertinent town boards.

Nothing permanent came out of the Monday´s gathering. However, at future meetings, it´s possible that PDDs could become a part of Simsbury´s Zoning regulations. The Zoning Commission would still have the power to reject or request changes to Konover´s proposal, which could be formally submitted in the fall.

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