Big Box Issue Underlies Hearing On Zone Rules

Courant Staff Writer

May 8 2007

SIMSBURY -- A public hearing before the zoning commission Monday turned out to be something of a referendum on big box development.

All but two of the 23 speakers said they favored an amendment to town zoning regulations that, if adopted, would restrict the building size for large-scale retail development to a footprint of 20,000 square feet. The exception would be when the development has a curb cut to Route 44.

Resident Bruce Elliott urged the commission to "do the right thing," not as a signal that Simsbury opposes development but because he and thousands of other residents are sure big box retail needs a particular location to work in town, and that setting is on a four-lane road such as Route 44.

"The notion of `quintessential New England community' resonates with my feeling about Simsbury," said Elliott, quoting a description of Simsbury on the town's website, "and I find the thought of big box retail as totally incompatible with the notion of `quintessential New England community.'"

The amendment was proposed by a homeowners' group trying to block the development of a Target store in a mixed-use development being planned by West Hartford-based Konover Development Corp. on 60 acres at the southern end of Route 10.

Bill Miller, president of Simsbury Homeowners for Responsible Expansion, presented data on the adverse effects of big box development on traffic and the local economy.

Other speakers spoke of the harm such development would have on the environment and wildlife.

Miller never specifically mentioned the Konover project - Simsbury River Oaks - but it is well known the amendment was crafted with the roughly $200 million development in mind. Miller submitted another version of theamendment in August but withdrew it at the request of the commission to revise the wording.

One of the two speakers against the amendment was T.J. Donohue, land use counsel to Konover. Donohue cited three reasons why the measure was wrong for the town.

Simsbury lagged behind peer communities such as Farmington, West Hartford, Avon and Glastonbury in commercial space as a percent of the grand list, Donohue said, quoting a study by the Connecticut Economic Development Commission. The regulation also would reduce Simsbury's chance to take part in new trends, investment and ideas in real estate. Third, he said, Simsbury, through its planning and zoning process, should be able to approve regulations that meet Simsbury's needs while rejecting those not in tune with planned and reasonable growth.

"We have good boards and commissioners, dedicated to our town and its future," he said. "Don't tie their hands with limitations so severe that developers with good ideas will avoid our town because we lack the flexibility to do what is good for our town and those who want to invest in it."

Zoning commission Chairman Austin Barney II ended the nearly three-hour meeting with the issue still open. The commission would vote on the amendment at its meeting May 19, Barney said, after it has been officially referred by the planning commission, which is scheduled to take up the matter tonight.

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