Zoning Proposal Stirs Heated Debate

Courant Staff Writer

October 17 2006

SIMSBURY -- Residents sent a strong message to the zoning commission Monday night: Do more research before moving forward on a proposal to change the zoning regulations.

The public hearing at Eno Memorial Hall drew more than 100 and became contentious at times, as residents tried to speak over the three-minute limit set by the zoning commission. They voiced their opposition to big-box retailers and said they feared losing the bucolic character of Simsbury.

"Simsbury should not be desperate for development at any cost. I'm concerned we are beginning to act as though we are," said resident James DeVivo, a member of Simsbury Homeowners Advocating Responsible Expansion, which opposes big-box retail development.

The most debated of the proposed changes would allow the town to establish planned development districts, which town and zoning officials say provide for mixed-use development. Many of those who spoke at the meeting said they were concerned that the change would pave the way for a big-box retailer. But zoning commission Chairman Austin "Dunny" Barney said that the proposed changes to the zoning regulations did not pertain to any specific development plan.

Some of those who spoke focused their opposition on Konover Development Corp., which wants to develop River Oaks, an estimated 60 acres along Route 10 that would consist of residential, office and retail space. A single, large retail anchor tenant is an essential element to the plan, although an application has not been filed. T.J. Donohue, land-use counsel for Konover, said outside of the meeting that he expects it will be filed by the end of fall.

DeVivo told commission members that he was concerned about the push to adopt a planned development district and called on commission members to disclose any relationships they have with Konover or the River Oaks proposal.

Barney assured those at the meeting that there was nothing suspicious about the proposed changes. He said the commission was reacting to a need in town, that there were several people interested in developing mixed-use projects. After the meeting, Barney said that mixed-use development is a thrust in the town's plan of conservation and development and that the changes allowed the town to develop standards and "be far more creative in blending housing, retail and office space."

The town's planning commission approved the proposal to establish a planned development district but also recommended several additions and revisions.

Barney said the commission would review the suggestions from the meeting and set another meeting to discuss them.

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Copyright 2006, Hartford Courant