Planning Expert Draws Praise

Consultant Urges Revision Of Zoning Regulations To Help Promote Town's Vision

Courant Staff Writer

June 1 2007

SIMSBURY -- A presentation by a noted planning expert on Wednesday is being praised by town land-use officials and a homeowners group opposed to Simsbury River Oaks, a proposed mixed-use development.

The heads of the planning and zoning commissions and design review board said Thursday they found the remarks and recommendations that Victor Dover made at a well-attended public meeting on-target and extremely helpful.

"He gave us invaluable insight into our town," zoning commission Chairman Austin Barney III said. "It always helps to have an impartial set of eyes looking into what you can do better."

Emil Dahlquist, design review board chairman, said, "It was a very good presentation in terms of the material he covered and his good sense of some of the key issues in the communities. He seemed to have an understanding of what our concerns are and gave us a good grasp on the way to go about planning for the future," Dahlquist said.

Town Planner Hiram Peck and Dwight Merriam, special counsel to the town on land-use matters, hired Dover to provide guidance to officials as they craft a regulation for a special zone that would allow mixed-use developments.

Dover's $5,000 fee was paid by River Oaks developer, Konover Development Corp. Peck said Konover did not know the identity of the consultant when it agreed to pay the fee. Dover, a principal with Florida-based Dover-Kohl Partners, visited the town Wednesday, including the 60-acre site of River Oaks.

But rather than present his take on the $200 million project, as spectators at Wednesday's meeting believed he would, Dover highlighted an assortment of mixed-use projects around the nation and explained why each was successful. None of the projects included a Target or other big-box store, the element of the River Oaks project most objectionable to the homeowners group, Simsbury Homeowners Advocating for Responsible Expansion, or SHARE.

Dover urged officials to work quickly and aggressively to reform town zoning regulations to reflect their vision of what new development should look like. He recommended approval of the long-overdue 2007 draft of the town's plan of conservation and development, but said it needs sketches showing what the town envisions, not just for its northern and southern gateways, but the town center as well.

Dover's other advice: Involve the public in the planning process.

That pleased Kirsten Griebel, a member of SHARE, which has repeatedly criticized land-use officials for their lack of openness.

"That's the frustration I think many town residents have had," she said after Wednesday's meeting. "This reaffirms what we've been saying all along."

Land-use officials said they would like to bring Dover back for additional consultations, but said it would depend on how much money the town has available.

Development of the town's remaining open space seems likely to become a central issue in the November elections.

On Thursday, Selectman John Romano, who is running for first selectman as an independent, said he wants the board of selectmen to discuss funding additional consultations from Dover, and to hold a charette, a multi-day discussion on development involving land-use experts, town boards and the public.

Contact Loretta Waldman at

Copyright 2007, Hartford Courant