TV Board Defends Showing River Oaks Spot

Courant Staff Writer

March 2 2007

SIMSBURY -- A member of Simsbury Community Television's board of directors is defending the decision to show a slick 30-minute presentation about River Oaks, a controversial mixed-use development being planned for a 60-acre site on Route 10 now occupied by Connecticut Light & Power.

Speaking at a board of selectmen meeting Monday, Jewel Gutman said the board agreed to run the spot because it contained the same information expected to be presented when the project's developer, Konover Corp., submits a formal application.

"We felt the public should have it as well," Gutman told selectmen. "We felt very strongly that this is public information and we would welcome the opposition to have debate about it on SCTV. The board did not take a position on the matter."

Gutman was reacting to a complaint filed by resident Bruce Elliott, who also addressed selectmen Monday. Elliott said it was inappropriate to show the video, which details architecture, landscaping, traffic and other aspects of the proposed retail, office and residential project.

Elliott said the piece violated SCTV prohibitions against commercial content. He said it benefited those financially tied to the project, including Michael Goman, president and chief executive of Konover's development division and a member of the town school board; Mike Bradley, a former town zoning commission chairman who is a real estate broker handling the sale of the property; and T.J. Donohue, a Simsbury attorney acting as a land-use counsel and general consultant on the project.

"I think as taxpayers we have an obligation to say something about it," Elliott said.

Karen Hanville, station manager at SCTV, could not be reached Thursday. However, an operations assistant there, Althea Greaney, said Konover did not pay to have the video shown on the channel.

The presentation ran throughout February. Plans are to continue running it, Greaney said, but the board has consulted state regulators about the matter and is expected to discuss it further at a meeting Tuesday.

Such programming is allowed under federal regulations, as long as a community access channel is not paid to air a program, said Beryl Lyons, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Utility Control, the state agency regulating community access television in Connecticut.

"They can't run an ad but if any developer wants to come on and talk about how wonderful his development is, he can," Lyons said. "An infomercial is a program, not paid content, and under the First Amendment, it fits into what is considered public access."

On Thursday, Donohue said he expects the application on the project to be submitted next week

Opposition to River Oaks has been building in recent months and speakers both for and against it dominated the public audience portion of Monday's selectmen's meeting. Bill Miller, president of Simsbury Homeowners Advocating Responsible Expansion, or SHARE, presented selectmen with petitions signed by 2,210 residents opposed to the project.

SHARE members have raised questions about a Dec. 28 vote by the town planning commission proposing to remove wording in the town's plan of conservation and development that limited the size of new buildings to 40,000 square feet - an omission SHARE believes is intended to allow Konover to include a Target store at River Oaks.

Bradley resigned as chairman of the zoning commission in April after SHARE and others called attention to his involvement in the River Oaks project.

The split decision in December for and against pulling the 40,000-square-foot limit on building size has divided the planning commission and stalled release of a revised plan of development and conservation, which is already years overdue.

Miller filed a request last week with the planning commission to amend the plan to restore the restrictions.

Contact Loretta Waldman at

Copyright 2007, Hartford Courant