Talk Of Big Box Concerns Residents

Courant Staff Writer

August 25 2005

SIMSBURY -- Whole neighborhoods tucked behind Route 10 have started mobilizing against the suggestion that a big box store could land across the street from their suburban haven.

There is no formal application before the town to build on the 60-acre swath referred to as the CL&P property. Such a request could be weeks or months away.

But eyebrows were raised last month when Michael Goman, CEO of Konover & Associates Inc., a large New England developer, held meetings with neighbors to vet the idea of developing a retail center - anchored by a big box store - on the property.

The property, owned by Mark Greenberg of Infinity IV LLC, is situated on the east side of Route 10, across from the mouth of Blue Ridge Drive, in a valley in the southern end of town that offers some breathtaking views.

The idea of retail along Route 10 doesn't necessarily worry the residents, but the words "big box" raise concerns.

"With the people we have talked to, it has really struck a nerve," said Bill Miller, a Blue Ridge Drive resident who has become the residents' designated spokesman. "The idea of putting a 130,000-square-foot retail behemoth right at the entrance to town - a Wal-Mart, a Home Depot, a Target - that's not the Simsbury everyone is a citizen of."

Miller and the neighbors - he estimates there are about 200 who have met - also say that such a large store could lead to traffic and safety problems in the area. They foresee with dread 18-wheelers cruising through town to make deliveries and customers tearing through their neighborhood as a cut through from popular shopping centers on the other side of town.

In a town that takes great care to preserve a certain look (it has four separate boards that consider developments, including one devoted entirely to design), the question of whether such a store belongs in Simsbury cannot be understated among residents, especially those who live near the proposed project.

"It is a very sensitive area to develop," Emil Dahlquist, the chairman of the town's design review board, said Wednesday. The board is purely advisory.

"It offers a lot in terms of visual resources to people who live here in town," Dahlquist said. "I would think any type of development they'd have to be very concerned about how it would impact the neighborhood, the vistas along route 10."

Big box stores "offer their own specific potential problems" by virtue of their size in a community like Simsbury, Dahlquist said.

Goman, also a Simsbury board of education member active in town affairs, said his company is aware of the sensitive nature of development in Simsbury. He is confident his designers can create an aesthetically pleasing retail center.

"Big box is such an onerous term," Goman said. "You can do a large format store well or you can do it badly. Our job is to design a project that everybody in Simsbury will be proud of and will be happy with. I live in town and have a stake in the character of the community and share their concerns that whatever gets done at that site has to be done at a high level."

Goman said there are many design finishes that can be worked into the project, including an interesting roof, toned down signage, and the use of landscaping in parking areas.

"When it's done, look, it's still a shopping center, but at the end of the day it's a great looking shopping center," he said.

Goman and his spokesman have said that a "large format" store is essential in making a shopping center economically viable.

The residents say they'd prefer to see office buildings or housing for seniors, but would accept smaller retail outfits coming to the property.

Previous plans to subdivide the land, which is zoned for industrial use, or develop it as an office park, as Greenberg suggested four years ago, either stalled or were rejected by the town.

In 1999, the property became the subject of an intense political battle after the town's planning commission rejected a plan to subdivide a portion of the property.

Some town officials contended that decision cost Simsbury more than $1 million a year in tax revenue.

Copyright 2005, Hartford Courant