Konover touts River Oaks plan
By:Glenn Shafer , Staff Writer

Konover Development Corporation said this week that it will formally file an application with the Simsbury Zoning Commission for a development project, a project with construction costs that might reach as high as $175 million. The project, called River Oaks, is a mixed-use development consisting of residential, retail and office on 60 acres of land along Route 10 in Simsbury next door to Riverdale Farms in Avon.
T.J. Donahue, a lawyer for Konover Construction and a resident of Simsbury himself, said that no timeline has been established and they intend to work with the town as long as necessary to answer questions concerning the project.
According to Don Klepper-Smith, an economist and director of research from Data Core Partners in New Haven, Simsbury will receive more than $4 million per year in tax revenue from River Oaks. That figure includes the cost Simsbury will incur for police, fire, parks and recreation, public works, and educating an estimated additional 54 schoolchildren who may live in River Oaks.
River Oaks will have retail stores including a 100,000-square-foot Target. There will be 210 residences including 12 three-bedroom upscale 3,500-square-foot homes, 12 three-bedroom 3,000-square-foot units, 46 two-bedroom "Live/Work" 1,500-square-foot units, and 140 two-bedroom 1,500- square-foot units. The "Live/Work units will have a separate entrance for home offices and some of the residences will be located above retail stores.
"Everything we are proposing is allowed in Simsbury but not all in the same place," said William Neagus, a public relations professional hired by Konover Development Corporation. "Simsbury has retail, offices and residential, but you currently can't have it in the same place."
Back in July of 2006, Konover Development Corporation held an informational meeting in Simsbury to present the plans for River Oaks. Donahue said the meeting was scheduled to present an open dialogue about River Oaks. Simsbury Homeowners Advocating Responsible Expansion (SHARE), a group of concerned Simsbury residents, has been outspoken in its opposition to the project. Donahue agreed that the informational meeting triggered even greater public debate, but said Konover Construction chose to be public about their plans even though no formal application had been filed with the town. "We went to the neighborhoods," said Donahue. "We have engaged in this piece and that has raised a hue and a cry."
On the eve of the formal zoning application, Konover Construction mailed a brochure to virtually every resident and business in Simsbury.
Stan Glantz is senior vice president at Konover Construction and the project manager of River Oaks. He said the River Oaks design is part of a development trend called New Urbanism.
"The mixed use design concept is a traditional neighborhood," said Glantz. "It is a return to the 1890s when people walked to the store. It is very much a return to the days of the early stages of the automobile."
The intent of the River Oaks design is intended to bring people back to live where they work or shop, a dynamic once seen in many U.S. cities and in Europe. "The target audience for River Oaks is the same audience of people that want to live in Simsbury," said Glantz. "Some will be empty nesters."
After the formal application is filed with the Zoning Commission, the future of the River Oaks project hinges on a request to change the zoning of the 60-acre parcel from industrial to mixed use, otherwise known as Plan Development District (PDD). Currently, there is no category like that in Simsbury although Donahue said there are similar areas in Simsbury Center and in Tariffville where apartments are located above retail stores. According to Donahue, if the River Oaks project is approved, CL&P, the current tenant on the parcel, would relocate.
SHARE is digging its heels into the sand regarding River Oaks. According to Bill Miller, the president of SHARE, members of SHARE are from all over Simsbury, not just from the neighborhoods across the street from the proposed development on Route 10. Miller said SHARE members are concerned with the big box store Target that is part of the project as well as the automobile congestion on Route 10 and the threats to the environment.
"All that water coming off the parking lots will flow right into the Farmington River," said Miller. "This is sprawl in the worst application."
SHARE says it wants to preserve and to protect Simsbury.
"We are looking for projects that keep the nature of the town the same, help the town financially, and keep traffic demand to a minimum," said Miller. "This specific proposal doesn't meet any of these three criteria. It will require a four-lane highway to be built on Route 10. The Konover brochure shows a few New Jersey roundabouts, similar to a rotary. Experts show those slow down traffic."
When asked about traffic on Route 10, Donahue said the "roundabouts" will be installed on Route 10 to ease the traffic flow. "Anything new brings traffic," said Donahue. "We have an innovative traffic solution."
According to Miller, many studies show that a big box store is an economic drag on a town because the big box store reduces the value of homes in the area and the required increase in town services such as responding police and fire."
Miller suggested that the River Oaks development is more about the proposed Target store than the residences or offices. "That's what they (Konover) do, big box development. They will only build the residential and commercial if there is demand. How many people want to live near Target?"
According to Miller, the Planning Commission in Simsbury is currently deadlocked 3-3 on a new town plan that would limit the size of any retail store, and the Zoning Commission has already submitted language for a PDD zoning category even though the Konover Construction application has yet to be filed.
SHARE members are following the River Oaks development closely and raising alleged conflicts of interest issues that may exist from members of town commissions and Konover Construction.
Todd Agnus, a member of SHARE, is most concerned about the shear size of River Oaks. "I'm not sure the people of Simsbury realize exactly how big this development will be if Konover gets its way," he said. "It's larger than Simsbury Commons, the Canton Shops, Westfarms Mall and Buckland Hills. This thing will be huge."

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