2009 News Flashes

November 1, 2009

Reminder: Simsbury Town Elections - Tuesday November 3rd

To make democracy work, we must be a nation of participants, not simply observers. One who does not vote has no right to complain. – Louis L’Amour

Reminder:  Polls are open Tuesday, November 3rd from 6 am to 8 pm at Henry James School, Tariffville School, Tootin Hills School and Latimer Lane School.

PLEASE NOTE:  The ballot is two sided, so remember to turn the ballot over and vote on both sides!!!  This is VERY important!

With a low voter turnout expected, every vote will count in this town election and the results of the election will have a direct impact on your day-to-day life and how our town continues to develop.

We want to encourage all SHARE members to vote if they can.  Remember, there is still lots of land to develop in Simsbury in the North and South ends of town – please don’t forget River Oaks and the Big Box – let’s never let something like that happen again.

As SHARE, we are unified in our objective to be sure that Simsbury continues to develop but that it does so responsibly!  To do this, we need elected officials who don’t just talk about responsible development but will actually help do it.

SHARE believes that the candidates from the Simsbury Citizens First party are the most qualified and committed to the responsible expansion principles that matter to SHARE.

We urge you to vote the bottom line for the Simsbury Citizens First slate of candidates as they are unified in their approach to responsible development for our town.

Planning Commission:  Sue Bednarcyk and Bill Walsh

Zoning Commission:  Kirsten Griebel and Julie Meyer

Zoning Board of Appeals:  Jay Bailey

Board of Selectman:  John Romano and John Vaughn

Board of Finance:  Bill Miller

Board of Education:  Laura Swenson

But if you decide to vote for other people too, please think about their history and commitment to responsible development in Simsbury.  We need people in elected office who want to keep our wonderful town growing but doing so by preserving the charm, character and lifestyle we all enjoy in Simsbury.  We need action and accountability… not just promises and party politics!

As always, please feel free to reply to this email with any comments or feedback.

Sincerely,

Your Devoted SHARE Steering Committee 

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October 27, 2009

The “Simulated Election Candidate Interview” Edition 102709-32

“A lot of people have this strategy where if they have a hard question they wait to ask it to the end of the interview because they think the person is going to walk out. But what they have to realize is, is that if the person walks out, they have a pretty successful story.” – Chuck Klosterman

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE be sure to vote in the Simsbury Municipal Elections next Tuesday November 3, 2009.  We must be sure that Simsbury continues to develop responsibly and an essential part of doing that is to elect candidates with views and objectives in synch with SHARE’s.

Please don’t forget that the Southern and Northern Gateway properties still aren’t developed.  SHARE wants development to happen but we want it done right.  SHARE members must remain vigilant and we should only elect candidates that we are confident will stand by SHARE’s principles of responsible expansion and development and No Big Box.  The economy will improve, development will resume, and developers will return with their ideas.  We must be sure that Simsbury continues to preserve its charm and character only through responsible development consistent with the 2007 Plan of Conservation & Development and properly crafted zoning regulations.

SHARE believes that the candidates from the Simsbury Citizens First party are the most qualified and in tune with the things that matter to SHARE.

In the 2007 municipal election SHARE worked to try and get specific responses from election candidates for our questions.  We had mixed success getting responses.  As a result for this 2009 municipal election cycle we have used the campaign literature mailed to all of our homes, some other published materials and some on-the-record public performances of the candidates as fodder for the following simulated election candidate interview.  While long, we hope this News Flash serves to inform as well as entertain. 

SHARE – Good Evening fellow Simsbury residents and SHARE members.  We will be your host tonight as we ask a variety of questions to a number of candidates for this year’s Simsbury municipal elections.

We’ll start our question with some Republican candidates.

The first question will go to Republican First Selectman candidate Darren Cunningham.

Darren, we have two questions for you.

As First Selectman you would be the CEO of the equivalent of a fairly sizable company – the Town of Simsbury - a town with an annual budget of about $80 million.  From the brief bio you listed on your campaign literature and at Click Here, we’re curious what practical hands on experience and qualifications you would bring to the job of First Selectman.  Where have you ever had a job or role of this magnitude in your professional career that would allow you to bring the necessary skills to this very significant CEO job?

Faux Darren Cunningham – As I said, I served as an Assistant Attorney General for the past 7 years and have learned a lot about government and its strengths, weaknesses and excesses.

SHARE – Yes, we read that but?  Let me ask you another question then.  You face a formidable experienced opponent with Mary Glassman.  Darren, might you perhaps be running solely to try and get enough votes as a First Selectman candidate so that if you don’t win, you would get to serve as a Selectman anyway?  And this might give the Republicans a majority on the Board of Selectman?  If you don’t win but get enough votes to serve on the Board of Selectman, would you decline that role since you really want to be First Selectman?

Faux Darren Cunningham – Um…

SHARE – Our next guest is Moira Werthheimer, incumbent Republican candidate for the Board of Selectman.  Moira, during the last municipal election the Big Box controversy was swirling through town.  We don’t recall hearing you come right out and say that you opposed Big Box development.  We also don’t recall the Republican platform saying that at all.  Given that the Northern and Southern Gateway parcels in Simsbury remain available for development, are you prepared to say No Big Box for Simsbury now?

Faux Moira Wertheimer – Hmm…. Let me get back to you

SHARE – OK… we’ll wait for your response.  Next then we’ll move over to speak with Mike Goman, incumbent candidate for the Board of Education.  Mr. Goman, we’re surprised to still see you active with the Board of Education after all that Big Box and River Oaks stuff.

Faux Mike Goman – Is that a question?

SHARE – No it’s probably not.  Let’s move on.  Next we’ll speak with John Loomis, incumbent Planning Commission candidate currently serving as the Chairman of the Planning Commission.

Mr. Loomis, we must ask you about the recent HARCO subdivision controversy on Route 10.  As you know, HARCO is a subsidiary of The Hartford.  We have several questions for you.  First, why did you not allow the public to comment on the application before you when in memory, it’s the first time the Planning Commission didn’t allow for public comment for a subdivision application?  We note this particularly since you didn’t allow abutting neighbors in the condo complex next door to speak at all about their concerns at the Planning Commission Meeting.  You didn’t even allow the Farmington River Watershed Association to speak to the Planning Commission about the FRWA’s concerns for runoff into the river depending on how this property gets developed.  Again, why?

Faux John Loomis – Can you repeat the question?

SHARE – Never mind.  Let’s move on.  Mr. Loomis, with the HARCO application you voted to approve the application even though it did not conform with open space requirements and setback frontage along Route 10 as specified in the 2007 Plan of Conservation & Development which you personally spearheaded the creation of.  Why the sudden reversal in details and philosophies which you personally supported and voted for?

Faux John Loomis – I voted to support the 2007 Plan of Conservation & Development???

SHARE – Next we’re going to digress a bit and ask Democrat Planning Commissioners Chip Houlihan and Ferg Jansen why they worked for several years as Planning Commissioners to help draft the 2007 Plan of Conservation & Development but then when the document was complete they voted to oppose its approval.  We also wanted to know if this had anything to do with the Big Box controversy that was raging at the time since the Plan said that River Oaks was entirely inconsistent with the details of the plan.  Mr. Houlihan and Mr. Jansen, what say you on this?  Were you in favor of Big Box development?

Faux Chip Houlihan and Faux Ferg Jansen – You do realize that we remain on the Planning Commission and are not up for election this year?

SHARE – Yes we realize that but we couldn’t resist the question.  We’ll repeat that question at the next election.

A quick question now for Mike Paine who is a Republican running for Planning Commission.  Mr. Paine, how will you reconcile your extensive business relationships with the Town of Simsbury as a Planning Commissioner given that you have contracts with the Town for things like trash and recycle hauling and management of the transfer station/dump?

Faux Mike Paine – Hmm…

SHARE – Moving on to the Zoning Commission candidates we, as SHARE, realize we could spend a lot of time asking questions, but we’ll be brief.

Our first question is for incumbent Republican Zoning Commission chairman Dunny Barney.  Mr. Barney, we’ve noticed that you run a tight ship on the Zoning Commission.  During the Big Box controversy there were a number of meetings where you pounded an imaginary gavel seemingly to not allow people to speak their mind and let their voices be heard.  You interrupted speakers, talked over them, threatened to shut down meetings and provided people with quite limited time to express themselves on a very important topic.  It also seemed like the developer, Mike Goman, and his attorney and company employees had more opportunities to speak and be heard than the public.  Why was that?

Faux Dunny Barney – As someone said before, is that a question?

SHARE – Yes it is but we’ll move on anyway.  Next is Scott Barnett, incumbent Republican Zoning Commission member.  Mr. Barnett, this past summer you chaired a special zoning commission subcommittee charged with drafting a PAD amendment to the Simsbury Zoning Regulations.

As a result of those meetings there were several committee members and resident observers who formally complained about your disrespectful behavior towards some fellow committee members and your apparent disinterest in their opposing points of view.  To your credit, you did apologize for these incidents.  What have you learned from this experience and how will you avoid this ”do as I say” attitude in the future if re-elected?

Faux Scott Barnett – You ask tough questions.

SHARE – One more question that is important to the nearly 4000 SHARE members.  Mr. Barnett, on several occasions in your capacity as a zoning commissioner, you seemed to take a “you’ll know it when you see it” stand when it comes to including specificity and metrics in zoning regulations.  You did this again on the recent PAD subcommittee which resulted in an unusual minority dissenting report being written and issued by some committee members.  Many in town, and SHARE specifically, believes that the only way to be fair to land owners and developers is to be specific and provide metrics and guidelines in zoning regulations that help developers know what to do in Simsbury.  Yet you time and again seem to not support that.  Why is that?  How do you propose encouraging responsible development if insufficient specificity is in our zoning regulations?

Faux Scott Barnett – Did I do that?  I’ll get back to you.

SHARE – We’re now going to switch our questions over to Democrat candidates.

Mike Long, you’re an incumbent Democrat candidate for Selectman.  We couldn’t help but notice that in one of your mailings you wrote about how you “Saw Simsbury rated one of the Top 100 Best Places to Live in America” and you “Saw Simsbury receive an A+ for Public Safety” and you “Saw Simsbury’s schools consistently rated among the best in Connecticut”.  Clearly we are all very proud of our town; SHARE certainly is which is why we work so hard to try and keep it the great town it is.  However, Mr. Long, why would someone vote for you for all that you “saw” versus all that you “did”?  You also speak about how you are part of a team on the Board of Selectman but to be elected we wanted to understand what specific accomplishments you had during your previous term versus what you “saw”.  What do you have to say about this?

Faux Mike Long – Wow, that was a long multi-part question

SHARE – Yes sorry.  What do you have to say for answers?

Faux Mike Long – Can you repeat the questions?

SHARE – Mr. Long, one more thing before we conclude with you.  In the Simsbury Chamber of Commerce October 9, 2009 newsletter and again in the Simsbury Life October 2009 magazine, you said that the “third party” which we assume means Simsbury Citizens First is “essentially irrelevant”.  In the 2007 elections SCF had four land use candidates elected to office and in this election they have 9 candidates including 2 of them running against you.  Plus in 2007 they received 23% of the First Selectman votes, a total of 6000 votes for their 3 candidates for the Board of Selectman, a total of 29% of the votes for the Board of Finance, and of course the votes for land use boards won them 4 seats.  So, Mr. Long, don’t you think you are a bit disrespectful and dismissive to the thousands of voters who supported these Simsbury Citizens First candidates in 2007 and may again in this 2009 election?  Don’t you think that very single voter is relevant?

Faux Mike Long – Um… let me think about that

SHARE – We next want to ask Nick Mason, a Democrat incumbent candidate for the Board of Finance, a quick question.  Mr. Mason, in your recent mailing you said that one of your goals was to “adopt a ‘mixed use’ zoning regulation”.  We’re curious about that.  First of all, by mixed-use do you include Big Box like in River Oaks?  What do you mean by “mixed-use” and why is that an important goal of yours?  Also, as a Board of Finance member, you legally don’t have any involvement in zoning issues at all so how do you have a goal to establish a particular zoning regulation?  We’re just curious about that.

Faux Nick Mason – I’ll get it done

SHARE – How?  You would have no authority.

Our last question for the day is for Ed Pabich, a Republican candidate for the Zoning Commission.  Mr. Pabich, in your comments for the Simsbury Chamber of Commerce’s October 9, 2009 newsletter you said that you didn’t think it was necessary to engage better qualified professional outside resources to assist the Zoning Commission in its initial drafting of regulations but you did say such resources would be useful later as the regulations were more fleshed out.  This is quite a disparity from what most current and former experienced Simsbury zoning and planning commissioners have been saying.  You said that you thought the Town’s Planning Staff and Town Attorney could get the initial work done.  Are you aware of the past problems with the Town Planning staff having the experience and bandwidth to get this work done?  Are you aware that the Town Attorney is not a land use attorney and commissioners have had issues with the work done as a result?

Faux Ed Pabich – I’ll have to look into that

SHARE – OK thank you.  Well SHARE members, we know this has been a long News Flash but we thank you for reading this all the way through.  We hope this has been useful in providing some additional candidate background for your consideration.

As always we welcome your thoughts, comments and suggestions.

Sincerely,

Your Devoted SHARE Steering Committee 

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October 22, 2009

The “Get Ready for the Municipal Elections” Edition

“Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. […] Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.” – John F. Kennedy

SHARE believes that the candidates from the Simsbury Citizens First party are the most qualified and in tune with the things that matter to SHARE.

Please read on and you decide…

Four years ago Simsbury got a slap in the face in the form of the River Oaks proposal.  >From that undesirable potential development our resident group called SHARE emerged as an active voice in our community working to ensure that the voice of the residents was heard – the voice that clearly and loudly said that we want our town to grow, but it must grow responsibly – responsible economic development was the only option for Simsbury.

As a result of the loud voice of nearly 4,000 SHARE members, and after two years of angst, rancor and intrigue, the River Oaks proposal was defeated.  One can only imagine what Simsbury would now be like if that nearly one million square foot mixed-use mall was approved and built at the southern entrance to our town – most Simsbury residents agree that nothing good would have come of it.

From the frustration of many citizens who wanted their voice heard by our town government and who were weary of politics as usual, a third party emerged in our town called Simsbury Citizens First or SCF.  Some members and non-members of SHARE became active with SCF and remain so to this day.  And new SCF members have joined the party.  SCF provides an alternative point of view to that of the Republican and Democratic parties and allows people to run for municipal office based on their qualifications and passion to serve regardless of their political connections to the traditional parties.

As we know, the 2007 municipal election was a lively time for Simsbury town politics and SCF presented the town with a big slate of very well qualified candidates.  Four of those Simsbury Citizens First candidates were elected – Julie Meyer for Planning Commission, John Vaughn for Zoning Commission, Bruce Elliott for Zoning Commission and John McCann for Zoning Board of Appeals.

So why is the SHARE Steering Committee sending you this email?  We are sending this because we feel as strongly today as we did in 2007, that all Simsbury residents are well served by a broad array of candidates from the traditional parties as well as the Simsbury Citizens First party.

But our thinking goes deeper.  SHARE has always had a laser focus on what candidates and parties say, how they say it, how they treat residents who express opinions, and a candidate’s prior performance.  And very importantly SHARE wants to hear and see specific words and commitments, not fluffy stuff with vague comments designed to avoid specifics rather than address questions and concerns from residents.

What we are seeing from the Republican and Democrat candidates for town office is much more of the same political rhetoric we have heard before.  We are also hearing and seeing SCF’s own catch phrases in the other party’s campaign literature.  The Republicans and the Democrats are borrowing the ideas of Simsbury Citizens First – how ironic.

The Democrat’s mail literature talks about “sensible economic growth”.

The Republican’s mail literature refers to a “commitment to spur economic development that maintains the character of our town” and “responsible economic development”.

Do all these phrases sound familiar?  Sure they do.  They are the things that Simsbury Citizens First has been advocating for since its inception in 2007.

But SCF goes much further in its literature.  We have noticed that they actually provide specific objectives and their candidates clearly articulate how they will bring these ideas to their service if they are elected.   And quite a few of their ideas are topics of great interest to SHARE and SHARE’s objectives.  Some of these objectives include:

SCF candidates promise to “recruit appropriate infill” for developed areas like the Town Center.

SCF candidates want to expand the town referendum process “so that our citizens have a stronger voice and greater impact on significant issues”.

SCF candidates want to require zoning applicants to “comply with all our regulations and not use the ZBA as a back door to changes in zoning” which has repeatedly happened.

SCF wants to work to overhaul zoning regulations and adopt new models for mixed-use, smart growth development [with] specific standards [that] reflect the 2007 Plan of Conservation and Development”.

SCF wants to make sure that land use applications are “complete and accurate so our Commission can render well-informed decisions”.

SCF wants to have a mandatory public audience at all town land use commission meetings and Board of Finance meetings.

SCF is pro-development but wants specific metrics and standards enforced for all development including a requirement for 20% open space for subdivisions.

SCF wants a process to allow for town referendums on topics of interest to the residents like land use and economic development.

SCF wants to promote more regional land use and development cooperation through a more extensive town and regional Charrette process.

And the full page Simsbury Citizens First mailing that we just received on Wednesday October 21st , in our opinion, should win the award for the best piece of Simsbury campaign literature.  With a full page picture of the SCF slate of candidates and their biographies on one side, the opposite side of the mailing is FILLED WITH SPECIFIC IDEAS AND OBJECTIVES to propel our town forward like those listed above.  The ideas are divided into 7 categories and include specific and tangible goals to be achieved – not the fluffy stuff contained in the Republican and Democrat mailings.

That’s what SHARE likes to see… specific, detailed ideas, promises, metrics and objectives for how to govern our town.  New ideas.  Fresh ideas.  Ideas that matter to SHARE.  Ideas that truly support responsible economic expansion.

And SHARE isn’t alone in its view that Simsbury Citizens First has great ideas.  Here’s what Rick Green from the Hartford Courant had to say the other day (also attached):

http://blogs.courant.com/rick_green/2009/10/when-a-republican-and-a.html#

So SHARE thinks that Simsbury Citizens First provides novel new ideas for how to improve our town, specific goals and objectives that they have articulated and will work towards, and a slate of extremely qualified candidates for Planning, Zoning, Zoning Board of Appeals, Board of Selectman, Board of Finance, and Board of Education.

For several years SHARE has been pushing our town government and land use boards to govern through specific metrics, goals, and standards.  In this election season we don’t see such specifics from the Republicans or the Democrats but we do see them from Simsbury Citizens First.

We hope our point of view provides you some insight.  As always we welcome your thoughts and feedback by replying to this email.

Sincerely,

Your Devoted SHARE Steering Committee 

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September 7, 2009

Simsbury Town Center Charrette Information & Early thoughts on the Nov 2009 Municipal Election

“We always hear about the rights of democracy, but the major responsibility of it is participation” – Wynton Marsalis

The Executive Summary of this News Flash

If you can make it to only one meeting of the Simsbury Town Center Charrette, the most important day is this Saturday, September 12thstarting at 8:30 am at the Simsbury Public Library Program Room on the ground floor of the building (the meeting will go from 8:30-12:30 so if you can’t make it right at 8:30, please come later).  The charrette consultants repeatedly emphasized at the pre-meetings that they would like all stakeholders (residents, developers, business owners, land owners) to be there promptly at 8:30 am on Saturday as this particular design session is the most critical session of the five day charrette.  Please make every attempt to attend this session and bring friends and neighbors too!

Now, please read on…

The Simsbury Town Center Charrette

The time has come for all interested SHARE members to provide their thoughts, creativity and opinions to the Simsbury Town Center Charrette process.  As SHARE members and Simsbury residents, we have all expressed a keen interest in the responsible growth and development of our town.  The charrette process will allow us all to help shape the future vision, scale, character and pattern of development for the center of our town.  Information for how you can listen and/or participate in the Charrette is below in this email.

However, and also very importantly, much of what will be discussed can also apply to how the Northern and Southern Gateways of Simsbury are developed in the future.  Let’s not forget the “River Oaks Experience” and assume that it could never happen again.  The zoning regulations that emerge from this charrette process may be used in the future as the model and template for how the Northern and Southern Gateway areas are regulated for future development.  So please pay close attention to the town center charrette - good things that happen with it may be replicated elsewhere - and bad things may haunt us in days to come when developers reemerge to develop along Route 10.  Let’s all be sure that land along Route 10 develops responsibly.

As we have emailed you over the past year or so, your SHARE Steering Committee has been keeping a close eye on the various goings on in our town with regards to development, land use regulation and future planning.  We have not always been pleased with all that has happened to date, including how some members of the Planning and Zoning Commissions seem willing to allow developers to do as they choose, without specifics or metrics and without correspondence to the vision mandated by the Simsbury Plan of Conservation and Development.

We are concerned that some “pro-development-at-all-costs” people are working hard behind the scenes to try to make a disproportionate contribution to the Charrette.  We have seen this already with pre-meetings that have taken place (other than an all inclusive pre-meeting there were 3 other pre-meetings for business groups, developers, landowners and only 1 for residents and resident groups).  We have also seen this in some of the language from the Town announcing the Charrette meetings where specific statements like “[it is] important for [the] business community to attend and provide feedback” have been made yet there is no mention that it is also important for residents to attend.  Perhaps we are reading more into this than we need to, but we would have felt better if the language for the invitation was more inclusive of residents.

So please participate in the Simsbury Town Center Charrette by attending meetings and giving your thoughts and opinions.  Carpe Diem!

2009 Simsbury Municipal Election

With the 2009 Simsbury municipal elections approaching this November 3rd, it will be keenly important for all SHARE members to pay close attention to the words and promises, past deeds and activities, relevant resume credentials and qualifications, party affiliations and party prior performance in Simsbury for all candidates running for municipal office.  This year the slate will be full with traditional party candidates as well as established third party candidates.  These are important times in our town – let’s be sure that people are re-elected or newly elected and share SHARE’s vision of advocating responsible expansion.  Let’s do all that we can to never let the “River Oaks Experience” happen again.  We will send you some more thoughts on the upcoming election in future weeks for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Your Devoted SHARE Steering Committee

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Saturday, September 12th - 8:30 am to 12:30 pm

At Simsbury Public Library Program Room – ground floor

"Hands On Design Session" – Please arrive prior to 8:30am

Monday, September 14th - 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm

At Simsbury Public Library Program Room – ground floor

"Drop-In Open House" – a presentation on the progress of the Simsbury Town Center Charrette with Q/A Session

Wednesday, September 16th – 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm

At Simsbury Public Library Program Room – ground floor

Closing Presentation with Concepts, Sketches, Visuals, Design, Q&A

Other Events

Open Design Studio – September 13-16 from 8:00 am to 9:00 pm

Community members are encouraged to stop in daily to discuss and check on status of the Charrette

Technical Meetings – September 14-15 from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm

One-on-one or small group meetings as needed

For further information, go to www.simsbury-ct.gov/charrette

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July 23, 2009

Simsbury Town Center Charrette Kick Off!

“Failing to plan is planning to fail” – Alan Lakein 

At long last, now is your time, as a SHARE member, to participate in the Charrette that will help frame the vision for the Simsbury Town Center.  The results of this Charrette will also strongly influence the vision and process for planning potential future development at other available sites in Simsbury.

On August 10th and 11th, consultants from Code Studio, the firm hired to conduct the Town Center Charrette in September, will be in Simsbury to gather information in preparation for the actual charrette.  There will be a public orientation meeting on Monday, August 10th at 6:00 pm in Eno Hall, to explain the process and goals of the charrette and to introduce the firm, Code Studio to the town. 

As part of this initial two day kick off, Code Studio has requested to meet with a variety of interested stakeholders in a few small group sessions.  One small group session will include ten (10) residents from all parts of town and of different affiliations.  The SHARE Steering Committee has been asked to submit names of people who would be willing to participate in this session with the consultants and so we are putting out a call to our members to ask anyone interested to please contact us.

The small group session will be held either on August 10th or 11th during the day but the exact time and day will not be confirmed until next week.  So, if you are interested in participating and have the flexibility in your schedule to attend a meeting on one of those two days, please respond to Kirsten Griebel at kgriebel@sbcglobal.net by this Saturday, July 25th and she will be in touch with you to confirm details of the session.

If you are unable to participate in this particular session, don’t worry there will be multiple opportunities to express your opinion and have your voice heard as the charrette process goes forward.

The actual charrette will be held from 8:00 am to 9:00 pm, Friday, September 11th through Wednesday, September 16th, in the Simsbury Public Library.  You can see the official flyer publicizing the charrette on the town website at the following link:

http://www.simsbury-ct.gov/Public_Documents/SimsburyCT_webdocs/agenda/Flyer%20072009.pdf

As we receive information regarding the charrette we will pass it on through these SHARE News Flash emails and ask that you forward it to as many people as possible.  We believe the charrette will be a very positive step forward for the town in terms of having a better understanding of what residents’ vision is for growth and development for Simsbury Town Center and ultimately other areas of town.  To be truly successful, you the residents need to be active participants so we urge you all to mark your calendars for September 11th through the 16th and get involved!

As always we want to hear your feedback, so feel free to press reply to this email and let us know your thoughts.

Sincerely,

Your Devoted SHARE Steering Committee

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July 14, 2009

Here We Go Again...

Could Something Like “Evergreen Walk” Come to Simsbury?

There is an important Public Meeting this Thursday, July 16th at 7:00 pm at the Simsbury Public Library meeting room for public comment regarding the draft of a Planned Area Development (PAD) Mixed-Use Zoning Regulation currently under discussion by a town PAD subcommittee composed of members of all land use boards/commissions.  The draft PAD is at this link:

http://www.simsbury-ct.gov/Public_Documents/SimsburyCT_WhatsNew/014B8A71-000F8513

The PAD would allow a developer to submit a mixed-use development application to be considered by the town land use boards.  The PAD is similar to the PDD (Planned Development District) that Konover Development submitted in order to try and build River Oaks...here we go again!

And again there was a question over a potential conflict of interest where one original member of the PAD subcommittee, who actively participated in the early proceedings, is a commercial property owner of a property that could benefit from the passing of a PAD regulation by the subcommittee.  Fortunately, that committee member resigned from the committee after the potential conflict of interest issue was brought up by a concerned citizen.

According to Hiram Peck, the Simsbury Town Planner, this draft PAD regulation should allow "something much closer that the PAD is aimed at is much more like Evergreen Walk … [Pause] …  much closer to that", as he recently stated at a Planning Commission meeting on May 26th (listen to the attached video/sound file to hear the clip of what Mr. Peck said – put your ear close to your computer’s speakers).  This draft PAD zoning regulation was copied from a regulation used in Glastonbury which enabled Somerset Square to be built.

For those of you not familiar with Evergreen Walk, from its website, Evergreen Walk is “Located in South Windsor, Connecticut, The Promenade Shops at Evergreen Walk is set to serve as the primary venue in a mixed-use development containing over 1.2 million square feet of retail, office, hotel, health club, and wellness facilities.”

Wow!  Can you imagine what something like that would do to our town?!

The PAD subcommittee has been discussing the question of adding in specific standards, metrics and guidelines to the PAD in order to better control and predict the size, scale, density and desirability of any future development.  The subcommittee is split on this issue with the Subcommittee Chairman Scott Barnett and Chip Houlihan strongly advocating for fewer standards in the PAD, repeatedly stating that the developer needs room for 'creativity' and that specific standards will limit what types of development might be submitted to the town...here we go again! 

From SHARE’s perspective:

No Standards and Metrics = No Rights for the Town and Citizens = Lots of Rights for Developers

We are troubled that the PAD subcommittee Chairman Scott Barnett scheduled this public meeting during the middle of July when many residents are unavailable and not necessarily paying attention to land use issues such as zoning regulations.  The public notice was not distributed until Monday July 13th, just three days prior to the meeting.  The poor timing and the late notice makes us ask if Chairman Barnett really wants to hear from the public or if he is pushing the PAD draft through the process with minimal attention to what the general public really wants incorporated in a new mixed-use zoning regulation.  Those paying attention to the past few months of proceedings of the subcommittee have mentioned that Chairman Barnett doesn’t seem to be paying much mind to the opinions of some subcommittee members about their desire to have metrics and standards in the regulation.  What’s really going on here?

While this is a public meeting for input to the PAD, the final draft PAD will have a formal public hearing at a later date, probably in early fall.  However, the town has already signed a contract with a national consulting firm to help facilitate a five day Charrette (Sept 11th to Sept. 16th - stay tuned for more on this).  A Charrette is a town wide planning process which will include all stakeholders (residents, business owners, land owners, developers, etc) to have a voice in the process.  The Charrette will result in a mixed-use zoning regulation, similar to the PAD.  Isn't the Charrette, which is designed to encourage public input and will be well publicized and will be held during a more convenient time for all stakeholders, a better way to get a mixed-use zoning regulation for Simsbury? 

Our zoning regulations have been critical to the preservation of the unique character of our town over the past 50+ years.  Any significant change in the regulations, such as the addition of this mixed-use PAD regulation, will have a long term impact on our quality of life and therefore, demands detailed scrutiny, careful analysis, open discussion and public input before being adopted.  Any rush of the process is inappropriate and irresponsible.  Let's get it right.  And goodness knows we don’t want a 1.2 Million Square Foot mall in Simsbury – the River Oaks experience and the 2008 town survey made that clear !!!

We must try to have representation at the meeting this Thursday evening even though so many people are on summer vacation.  It is important for our elected officials to be reminded who they represent.  Of course, this November is the ultimate time to remind them – during municipal elections!

Please try to attend the meeting (details at the top of this email).

Sincerely,

Your Devoted SHARE Steering Committee

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May 4, 2009

Farming the Meadowood Triangle:

The Simsbury Board of Selectman Could Have Poisoned Our Land and Water!

“For many of us, water simply flows from a faucet, and we think little about it beyond this point of contact.  We have lost a sense of respect for the wild river, for the complex workings of a wetland, for the intricate web of life that water supports.” – Daniel Webster (1782-1852) – remarks to the US Senate March 12, 1838

In May 2008 the residents of Simsbury voted to approve the purchase of 70 plus acres of open space in an area known as the Meadowood Triangle.  The purchase was completed and in February 2009 the Board of Selectman (BOS) held a public hearing to determine how the residents would like to see the land managed.  About 50 people attended the hearing and many residents spoke. Some residents requested a portion be used for soccer fields, some spoke in favor of farming a portion of the land while the majority of the residents spoke in favor of the town preserving the land as a wildlife corridor.

Subsequently, the Board of Selectmen decided to issue an RFP for farming approximately 40 acres of the Triangle.  This is where a pretty straightforward process took a turn for the worse and left many residents scratching their heads and wondering “What was the Simsbury Board of Selectman thinking?”  Aren’t we paying a salary to the First Selectman to perform due diligence for such circumstances?  Why would the entire Board of Selectman “rubber stamp” such a dangerous proposal?

Below is a summary of these most disturbing events:

Seven farmers submitted RFPs for consideration by the Town staff and the Board of Selectman (see attached). 

On April 13th the BOS unanimously approved the selection of the highest bidder, Gresczyk Farms from New Hartford, a conventional potato and corn farmer at $201/acre/year for a total fee to the town of $8,040 annually.  Typically, conventional potato and corn farming is hard on the soil and often includes heavy application of toxic pesticides.  This farmer was the ONLY farmer among the 7 bidders to ask for permission to potentially use RESTRICTED USE pesticides!!!

The lowest bidder, Tulmeadow Farms offered $45.00 acre, for a total of $1,800 annually to the town. Tulmeadow listed no pesticides to be used, rather they listed fertilizer only.

Two applicants were local Simsbury farmers (one organic/one conventional-both no pesticide usage).

The highest bidder, Gresczyk @ $201.00 acre ($8,040/annual revenue to Town) vs. low bidder of Tulmeadow Farm  (note: no pesticide applications) at $45.00 acre ($1800/annual revenue to the Town).  Is an extra $6,240 a year in our coffers worth potential harm to the neighbors’ health and to the environment?

So you may be asking, are these pesticides that the high bidder, Farmer Gresczyk, said he would use really all that harmful?  The answer is an astounding YES!  Read on.

The 40 acre parcel consists of sandy loam and silt soils.  The water table is high on this property.  This was one of the big issues all along with the whole Meadowood development issue.

Fortunately, Julie Meyer, a member of the Simsbury Planning Commission and a member of the Simsbury Citizens First Party (SCF), became aware of the RFP process (even though the RFP’s were never provided to the Planning Commission) and started to ask questions about the submitted applications and the pesticides proposed for use by farmer Gresczyk, the applicant awarded the lease by the BOS.  After a great deal of research, Ms. Meyer became sufficiently concerned about the pesticides that would be used and distributed flyers to the neighbors of the Meadowood Triangle to inform them of the following information:

1. Farmer Gresczyk was seeking approval for the greatest number of pesticides among all applicants, nine pesticides in all, and no other farmer proposed use of restrictive pesticides!  The pesticides that he proposed to use were the only ones among any listed by ALL responding farmers that have a high potential for ground water contamination! Among the pesticides Farmer Gresczyk listed were:

Lannate: High Acute Toxicity to Humans – Highest Category of Toxicity DANGER.  The signal word, ‘Danger’ according to Dr. Kimberly Stoner, PhD, who is employed by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, as stated in an e-mail  “means that the pesticide has scored in the highest category of toxicity to humans in one of the five tests mandated by the EPA.”

Lumax (contains Atrazine and S-metolachlor) Manufacturer’s Label issues a Ground Water Advisory that advises users not to apply to sand and loamy sand soils where the water table is close to the surface.  According to Dr Stoner, Lumax is restricted due to concerns about contamination of ground and surface waters.

According to Dr. Stoner, “other pesticides on the list with statements of environmental hazard involving movement into ground water include: Bravo Ultrex, Sencor and Admire Pro.”

2. Simsbury’s Open Space Committee received the proposal but did not research the pesticide usage nor did they act upon it.  They stressed that the BOS should consider organic farming, local farms and the use of appropriate fertilizers, per Mary Glassman’s comments at the April 13, 2009 BOS meeting.

3. Mary Glassman stated on April 13, 2009 that the pesticides that the farmers had requested do meet the needs of DEP and they had been reviewed by the DEP.  However, the memo to the DEP requesting review was dated April 22, 2009. (in the Town Hall file).  So Ms. Glassman’s statement does not match the facts from what we have seen in the Town Hall file.

As a result of Julie Meyer’s grassroots, concerned citizen efforts to alert the neighbors and raise alarm about this perilous issue, many people attended the April 27th BOS meeting to comment on the RFP for farming the Triangle.  The message was clear:  The highest priority should be to minimize the toxicity in that area, especially given that the surrounding neighborhood has historically been very negatively impacted by intensive conventional and tobacco farming in the past.  The lowest priority should be the revenue generated by the venture, especially given the very modest rents that can be expected. 

At that April 27th BOS meeting, after hearing from many concerned citizens, the BOS voted to, in effect, reverse their decision of April 13th and to table any action on the RFP for farming the Meadowood Triangle.  We assume they will act on it at their next meeting on May 11th.

The solution is local, non-toxic farming on the Triangle.  Of the applications received (or perhaps even conceivable), none provide a more local or less toxic solution than the application submitted by the Hall Farm which was a totally organic solution.  Why wasn't Farmer Hall awarded the contract?  Or why wasn’t another local Simsbury farmer who planned to use low toxicity chemicals chosen? 

As far as his capacity to farm the full 40 acres, Mr. Hall said, "No Problem!"  In fact, Mr. Hall already farms a lot across the street from the Triangle making these 40 acres ideally situated for his operation.

Currently, the Triangle is fully planted with rye.  This can either be harvested in July or plowed under in August.  According to Mr. Hall, nothing needs to be done on the Triangle until that time frame.  If the BOS acts soon, the Town just might be able to get someone engaged by then.  If not, tax dollars will likely be needed to manage the field at the end of this season. 

Hall's bid of $60/acre/year was not the highest of the 7 applications.  Hall's was NOT the lowest either.  Wades Farm's was $50/acre/year and Tulmeadow's was $45/acre/year.  The highest bidder was Gresczyk at $201/acre/year.  Gresczyk can offer this since the intensive method of farming employed and the intended crop will generate a high yield and thus sufficient funds to pay the highest rent.  But is the minimal annual difference worth the risk of continuing to expose the surrounding neighborhood and underlying ground water to toxins associated with (in this case) intensive conventional potato farming techniques?  Hall will likely plow under the current crop of rye in late summer to boost the nutrients in the soil for the next planting season.  This is part of organic farming methods - resting the soil.  If awarded the contract, Mr. Hall said he will periodically rest the soil even though he is paying rent on it, thus his lower bid.

We don’t want to directly endorse one local Simsbury farmer over another for this issue.  We’ve received more information about Farmer Hall’s methods than the other local Simsbury farmer, hence the perhaps extra prose in this email about Farmer Hall’s methods.  We think they are all fine people and fine farmers.  They farm with different methods with some being 100% organic.  But none proposed using such highly toxic chemicals as the out-of-town farmer Gresczyk.

We urge anybody who wishes to see the 40 acre Triangle farmed in a more responsible manner than what was originally decided on by the Simsbury Board of Selectman to please contact the BOS and let them know how you feel.

You can contact the BOS at the following email addresses:

Mary Glassman (Democrat): mglassman@simsbury-ct.gov

John Hampton (Democrat): JHampton@simsbury-ct.gov

Bob Hensley (Republican): rhensley@simsbury-ct.gov

Mike Long (Democrat): mlong@simsbury-ct.gov

Rich Hogan (Republican): rhogan@simsbury-ct.gov

Moira Wertheimer (Republican): MWertheimer@simsbury-ct.gov

Also, even though it’s short notice, please try to attend the May 6th Open Space Meeting (4 PM, Town Hall) and the May 11th BOS meeting (7 PM, Eno Hall).  Here are some points that need to be driven home.

The process to date has determined that the Triangle should remain farmland.  There is no need to revisit that decision.  An RFP has been generated and seven applications have been received.  Amongst them, there are three low toxicity options from which to choose (100% Hall, 100% Tulmeadow, or a 40% Holcomb / 60% Hall combination).  For Goodness Sakes, Pick One!

The Open Space Committee on May 6th should vote on a recommended course of action for the BOS.  A push should be made to award the contract to a local Simsbury farmer who will use organic or low toxicity options.

The BOS on May 11th needs to follow Open Space's recommendation, especially since the revenue generated by the venture is minimal.  Minimizing the toxicity in that neighborhood should be the highest priority!  Obviously it was not the highest priority when the BOS met on April 13th.

Lastly, many many thanks to Planning Commissioner Julie Meyer (Simsbury Citizens First Party) for putting on her concerned citizen hat and single handedly helping to expose this very alarming situation.  If you want to thank her yourself, her email address is jmeyer@simsbury-ct.gov .

Sincerely,

Your Devoted SHARE Steering Committee

P.S. As a final note, isn’t it interesting that Farmer Gresczyk is a former Republican Deputy Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Agriculture?  We assume all the other farmers are just farmers and not politicians– our sources say they are just farmers.

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April 2, 2009

No Public Hearing!

Planning Commission, by a vote of 4 to 2, waives over 65% of Required Open Space and Approves Hartford Subdivision

“It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today.  No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.” – Isaac Asimov

In a very disturbing decision in their last meeting on Tuesday, March 24th, four of the six elected Planning Commissioners (Chairman John Loomis (who also serves on the Simsbury Open Space Committee), Gerry Post, Chip Houlihan, and Ferg Jansen, by their own words and by their final votes, on the record indicated that they did not need to hear from the public on this important subdivision application so no public hearing was granted.  Nor did they need to try to protect the Town, the neighbors of the property or the Farmington River through responsible dedication and placement of required open space.

In their decision, these four Commissioners neglected to follow the goals and objectives set forth by the 2007 Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) which they themselves drafted and were elected to follow.  And at the same time, they shut down the public’s ability to speak about this very important issue.

SHARE highly commends two out spoken Planning Commissioners, Sue Bednarcyk and Julie Meyer for their strong arguments in favor of a public hearing and in favor of requiring the applicant to comply with the Simsbury subdivision regulations which would have provided the Town, the neighbors and the Farmington River with protection of 20% deeded conservation easement in lieu of open space.  Commissioners Bednarcyk and Meyer justified their motions based on the 2007 Plan of Conservation and Development and on repeated past practice by the Planning Commission for the last ten years of applications for subdivisions in Simsbury. 

No Public Hearing: A Blow to Open and Transparent Government and a Vote in a Vacuum

Commissioners Bednarcyk and Meyer were obviously very frustrated that their fellow Commissioners would not allow a public hearing prior to calling for a vote on the application.  They believed they needed to hear from the neighbors at Riverwalk and from the Farmington River Watershed Association (FRWA) as well as other concerned citizens in order to make the most informed and responsible decision.   

We find it very troubling that Chairman John Loomis and Commissioners Gerry Post, Chip Houlihan and Ferg Jansen did not care what the public thought about this issue and inasmuch said so on the record.  What happened to promises of open and accessible government by our elected officials?

Throughout the discussion, Commissioner Meyer said she wanted to hear from the neighbors and the FRWA to get their input on their concerns regarding the placement of open space.  At one point Commissioner Houlihan said he and Commissioner Jansen had walked the site and “you can just about look into the living rooms of some of the abutters at Riverwalk”.  When Commissioner Meyer then replied “Then at least could you place some open space along their property line?” his reply was simply “I just can’t do that”.  That reply basically summed up Commissioners Loomis, Post, Jansen and Houlihan’s justification for their vote on this application.

It is also astounding that Chairman Loomis and the other three Commissioners did not want to hear from the Farmington River Watershed Association on this application.  Since the Executive Director was not allowed to speak at the meeting despite being in the audience, the Planning Commission had no way of knowing for sure what the optimal placement of open space would be on that site in terms of protecting the environmentally sensitive Farmington River.  We could guess that the FRWA would have concerns and a point of view on this, but without a public hearing that critical piece of information was not heard.

Without a public hearing the Planning Commission’s vote on this application was cast without all relevant and critical information.  Again, we want to remind you that in reviewing all past subdivisions that have come before the Planning Commission over the past ten years, each and every time the Planning Commission has held a public hearing. 

The Decision:  A Waiver of Over 65% of the Open Space on a 139 Acre Site, What Happened to Good Planning and Proper Procedure?

We agree that The Hartford has the right to subdivide and sell their property but we also believe Simsbury has the right to enforce our Subdivision Regulations in order to maintain the character of our town and protect surrounding neighbors and natural resources.  With the four to two decision of the Planning Commission we believe the Town has thrown away good planning practices and subverted the 2007 Plan of Conservation and Development, the one document that under Connecticut General Statutes serves as a legal guide for all decisions for the future responsible growth of our town.

There were many problems with the actual procedural part of this application.  Connecticut General Statutes and the Simsbury Subdivision Regulations require a specific land use process to be followed.  Since the initial application was submitted in January, there have been many problems with the process.  We question how the Town Staff and the Town’s Administration allowed such lapses in proper procedure.  The land use process should be consistent and require strict compliance.  That was not the case with this application. For example:

·         The original submitted application contained maps of the site that were inaccurate and incomplete.  Accurate and complete maps were not submitted by the applicant until March 24th and only after Commissioner Meyer had to repeatedly request them.  Why didn’t Town Staff require accuracy in the maps?

·         The Planning Commission never received copies of all information contained in the official file.  Just one example is a memo dated March 5, 2009 to the Planning Commission from Howard Beach, the Town Conservation Officer, regarding the wetlands review of the application (see attached) which was never given to the Commission.  And yet, the opening lines of the memo state, “The Connecticut General Statutes mandate that no subdivision containing wetlands may be approved until a report from the agency in charge has been submitted to the Planning Commission”  Why didn’t the Town Planner, Hiram Peck, ensure that the Planning Commissioners had all applicable information in order to make the best decision?  Why didn’t the Chairman, John Loomis, make sure his Commission had all pertinent information?

·         The Simsbury Subdivision Regulations require a three quarters vote, or five of the six votes to be affirmative, in order to approve a decision to accept a conservation easement in lieu of open space.  This five out of six vote has been legally required for at least the past ten years for all Simsbury subdivision applications.  However, in the vote on March 24th, the Town Attorney, Bob DeCrescenzo opined that the Planning Commission only needed a simple majority or four of the six votes in order to approve a conservation easement in lieu of open space.  Clearly, given Commissioners’ Meyer and Bednarcyk repeated motions that the applicant comply with deeding the Town the required 20% of conservation easement or open space, the applicant was not going to get five votes in favor so conveniently the Town Attorney changed the rules for this particular application.

Commissioner Meyer’s motion and Commissioner Bednarcyk’s second to the motion to approve a conservation easement in lieu of open space which would place a 300 foot easement (200 feet of a landscaped easement and the next 100 feet on the most easterly portion as a parking easement) along Hopmeadow Street to protect the scenic vista.  They also proposed a 100 foot buffered and bermed easement along the northern property line to protect the neighbors at Riverwalk, and the rest of an easement along the entire back of the property line to protect the Farmington River with the opportunity for a future developer with a site plan to modify the placement.  This motion was denied by Chairman John Loomis, and Commissioners Gerry Post, Chip Houlihan and Ferg Jansen. By Commissioner Meyer’s calculations even with her proposed conservation easements a future developer would still have the ability to build out more than 40% that is allowed under our zoning regulations.  In other words, all that buffering would have provided the developer with MORE land than they are legally entitled to build on.

Chairman John Loomis and Commissioners Gerry Post, Chip Houlihan and Ferg Jansen voted in favor of waiving 19 acres of required open space on the 139 acre parcel, instead accepting only 9 acres of conservation easement, placing three of those acres as a 100 foot easement along Hopmeadow Street and the remaining six acres along the back of the northern part of the property. They approved no protection for the abutting neighbors at Riverwalk or for the southern stretch of the Farmington River.

As you saw in our last News Flash, a 40 foot building set 100 foot back on Hopmeadow Street will completely obstruct the scenic vista.  You will drive down Hopmeadow Street and look at the sides of buildings!

It is unfortunate that Commissioner Meyer and Bednarcyk’s motion failed.  It would have provided Simsbury and the developer with a good compromise and would have allowed responsible development with good economic benefit but still would follow good planning principles and protect the town’s unique character, the surrounding neighbors and natural resources as outlined by the 2007 Plan of Conservation and Development.

We consider this entire episode very unfortunate and a significant failure of the Simsbury Planning Commission to follow its own rules, regulations, and its long angsted over Plan of Conservation and Development.

When the time comes, we believe it is time for some changes to members of the Simsbury Planning Commission.  The Planning Commission needs members who can better focus on detail and balance the needs of landowners, developers, the Town and Simsbury residents.

Sincerely,

Your Devoted SHARE Steering Committee

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March 21, 2009

It’s Time for a Public Hearing on ‘The Hartford Subdivision’!

The Subdivision can be done.

And still have what matters - Open Space, Rural Character and Scenic Vista!

Next Planning Commission Meeting Tuesday, March 24th, 7:00 p.m. Town Hall

“Always do right.  This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” – Mark Twain

The ‘Right to Speak’ Issue at the Planning Commission

On February 10th, the Planning Commission voted four to two against holding a public hearing on the Hartford subdivision application (Commissioners Sue Bednarcyk and Julie Meyer voted in favor of holding a public hearing).  SHARE believes it is now time for the Planning Commission to hear from the public regarding the application for a subdivision on The Hartford property.  At their last meeting on March 10th, the Planning Commission received a thirty day extension in order to further discuss the pending application.  That means the Commission needs to vote on this application by April 18th.  With this extension the Planning Commission has time to hear from the public which SHARE believes is essential because of the long-term consequences this subdivision could have on Simsbury and the neighbors of the property.  The Planning Commission’s vote on this application will impact open space preservation and will impact the 40 residences in Riverwalk which abut the property.  We believe the public and neighbors have the right to express their views and be heard on these issues. 

We recognize that by law, the Planning Commission is not required to hold a public hearing on subdivisions, however, historically, in past subdivision applications the Planning Commission has usually held public hearings to hear what residents think of the issues (e.g. Public Hearing for Subdivision on 344 West Mountain Road on December 12, 2006, Public Hearing for Rear Lot Subdivision on Wildwood Road on July 8, 2008).

And to really illustrate the point, at a January 17, 2000 public audience at a Planning Commission meeting during the application for a subdivision of the Meadow Wood property, John Loomis spoke about issues pertaining to various environmental issues for the subdivision being reviewed.  At that time, John Loomis was not on the Planning Commission but is now the Chairman of the Planning Commission.  In that hearing, John Loomis spoke regarding his concerns on the Meadow Wood application as the proposed development was near “his back yard”.   Why then, on February 10, 2009 did Chairman Loomis vote against the Planning Commission to hold a public hearing on the Hartford subdivision which prevents residents from Riverwalk to have the same opportunity that he had in 2000 so that they can speak about concerns on a subdivision that is in their back yard?  Why is their back yard different than Mr. Loomis’ back yard?

We call upon Chairman John Loomis to request a new vote from the Commission on holding a public hearing and we strongly urge the other Commissioners to join Commissioners Bednarcyk and Meyer to vote in favor of holding a public hearing.  SHARE believes that there should rarely be a reason for a public commission to not allow the public to speak and express their views, especially if members of that commission have taken advantage of that right in their private lives!

Summary of March 10th Planning Commission meeting on subdivision application on The Hartford property:

·        Summary of Application:  The property is a total of 172 acres.  The Hartford headquarters building is on a 33 acre lot.  The second lot is 139 acres.  The Hartford has requested to subdivide the 139 acres into two lots. The first lot would be 40 acres which fronts Route 10, Hopmeadow Street and is currently a hayfield.  The second lot would be 99 acres, is horseshoe shaped and wraps around The Hartford building lot.  Their application proposes six acres of land as a conservation easement in lieu of open space, on the 40 acre lot along the back southeastern part of the lot. 

SHARE’s Concerns with this Application: 

·        Major open space waiver required.  Simsbury’s subdivision regulations require an applicant of a subdivision to deed 20% of the parcel to the Town for open space.  That means that under Town regulations the applicant should deed 28 acres of open space to the town.  However, the applicant is offering just 6 acres of open space!  The Planning Commission must grant the applicant a very significant waiver of 80% of our open space requirements if they are to approve this application.  Clearly this could establish a very serious precedent in the Town which landowners and developers could take advantage of for other subdivisions.

·        Second waiver required related to wetlands. Simsbury subdivision regulations require that the calculation for the 20% required open space should result in the same dry land to wet land ratio as the dry land to wet land ratio of the entire property to be subdivided.  The 6 acres the applicant wants to deed to the town for open space does not meet the dry land to wet land ratio.  In other words the landowner wants a higher than allowed percentage of deeded open space to be wetlands.  That will require the Planning Commission to grant a second waiver to the applicant in order to approve this application.  Clearly this could establish a very serious precedent in the Town which landowners and developers could take advantage of for other subdivisions.

·        The subdivision application as submitted was incomplete.  At the past two Planning Commission meetings, Commissioner Julie Meyer repeatedly asked for maps from the applicant that delineate the wetlands and all contours on the entire site as required by the Simsburysubdivision regulations.  The accurate mapping of the wetlands is a critical component of every application.  The Attorney for the applicant insisted that Commissioner Meyer was wrong and that the maps they had submitted showed all the wetlands.  When a member of the SHARE Steering Committee went to town hall this week to look at the file and maps, we were told by Town staff that the applicant was in the process of redoing the maps because upon further examination they acknowledged that the submitted maps did not actually have the wetlands and contours marked on them as Commissioner Meyer had correctly and repeatedly pointed out.  SHARE wonders how maps submitted to the town by professional engineers could delete such important land features as wetlands and others contours and how our Town Planner did not catch such a critical omission before allowing the application to proceed to the Planning Commission?  SHARE was told the new maps would be in Town Hall by Friday, March 20th.  We commend Commissioner Meyer for her diligence and perseverance yet it seems odd that a Planning Commissioner who is not a professional town planner or engineer was the one to detect the inaccuracies on these maps and why it took a Commissioner’s repeated questioning to get a corrected map submitted by the applicant.  Isn’t it the role of the Town Planner (Hiram Peck) and his staff to ensure the accuracy of a land use application?  How can the Planning Commission responsibly act on an application that is incomplete and inaccurate?

·        The application was not reviewed by the Conservation/Inland Wetlands Commission.  In all past subdivision applications the Conservation Commission has reviewed the application as required by Connecticut General Statutes.  However, in this application the Town staff did an administrative review.  The administrative review, which was positive, stated, “This determination was based on the review of wetlands mapping done on the site…” and therefore was based on the inaccurate maps originally submitted by the applicant.  We think it is imperative that the Conservation Commission completes a comprehensive review of this subdivision application, given the extensive wetlands that are present on the site, the fact that Minister Brook runs through the site and the fact that the Farmington River abuts the site, once the corrected and revised maps have been submitted by the applicant.

·        Placement of the open space.  The Planning Commission has the legal discretion to determine the placement of the open space in order to protect the neighbors, preserve natural and historic areas, and maintain the rural character of the town, through objectives such as preserving the view of the ridgeline.  The Town Attorney stated that the Planning Commission has the legal discretion in this regard as long as their actions are guided by the goals and objectives in the 2007 Plan of Conservation and Development and/or the Simsbury subdivision regulations.  The applicant wants all 6 acres of open space sited in the rear of the property.  This location will do little to preserve the view of the ridge line.

Town Planner, Hiram Peck, spoke at the beginning of the last meeting, in favor of the application, saying that since there is no pending development, it would be best to not require the applicant to be too specific with open space, and instead wait until a future developer comes in to the Planning Commission with a site plan.  The problem with this advice is twofold. 

First, Mr. Hiram Peck is suggesting that the Town should waive 80% of our open space requirement for a subdivision.  SHARE finds that outrageous.  At a time when there is a movement statewide in both the Governor’s office and in the CT State Legislature to preserve open space and when our town in particular has, over the past two years, voted to spend literally millions of dollars to preserve open space on the Ethel Walker Woods and on the Meadowood property, why would our Town Planner endorse a waiver of over 80% of the required open space? We can only hope the Planning Commissioners will see the value of enforcing our subdivision regulations and not waive the open space requirement.

We also find this entire dynamic a bit odd considering that Mr. John Loomis, Chairman of the Planning Commission, is also a member of the Simsbury Open Space Committee!

Second, Mr Peck stated that the Planning Commission will have the opportunity to comment on a specific site plan for any future development on the subdivided lot.  That is only true if the applicant requests a zone change, but the Planning Commission’s ability to require and determine placement of open space is only in effect at the time of the subdivision approval as stated by the Town Attorney.  The Planning Commission will lose their ability to legally require and place open space after this subdivision vote is completed.

Planning Commissioner, Julie Meyer made a motion to site a majority of the 28 acres of open space along the front of the property as a 300’ conservation easement on Route 10 to preserve the view of the ridgeline and the remainder of the open space along the back of the property. Her comments included the fact that even with deeding 20% of the lot to open space, the applicant will still have the ability to build on more than 40% of their land as allowed under Simsbury’s zoning regulations.  Commissioner Meyer justified her motion by referencing two pages of goals and objectives from the 2007 Plan of Conservation and Development.  Commissioner Sue Bednarcyk seconded the motion, however the motion failed in a 2 to 4 vote.  Commissioners Meyer and Bednarcyk voted in favor and Commissioners’ John Loomis, Gerry Post, Ferg Jansen and Chip Houlihan voted to deny the motion. We were surprised that those four Commissioners voted against a motion that would have created a win-win situation for the town; preserving 28 acres of open space as a conservation easement and placing it in the optimal area for the benefit of the town while still allowing any future developer to build the maximum allowed under our zoning regulations, resulting in much needed tax revenue while maintaining the character of our town.

Additionally, Commissioners Meyer and Bednarcyk suggested that they could include in the motion the ability of a future developer to come in and request a modification of the placement of the open space when they have a specific site plan and that way the Town is protected until we know exactly what a developer wants to build.

Chairman John Loomis suggested placing some open space as a 100’ conservation easement along the front of the property stating that a 100’ setback would be enough to preserve the view of the ridgeline.  We disagree with that statement.  Just look at the fairly new office building at 88-92 Hopmeadow Street on the corner of the entrance to Tower Office Park.  According to the Town’s recorded site plans it is a 40’ tall building set 100’ back from the road.  Next time you drive by that building you can see for yourself that the building obstructs the view of the ridgeline. Actually, to be ‘Green’ and save you gas, we have attached some pictures of this building from the edge of Route 10 – do you see the ridge line? We don’t!  (see attached document called “Why Setback Matters.pdf”)

We will keep you informed about this important application.  The Planning Commission will be meeting again next Tuesday, March 24th to continue their discussion on this application.  We would urge you to attend and hear the discussion first hand.  Please try to attend!  Your participation is important!

Now more than ever, citizens need to get involved in how our Town expands and ensure that it is done responsibly!  (SHARE – SimsburyHomeowners Advocating Responsible Expansion)

Sincerely,

Your Devoted SHARE Steering Committee

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Why Setback Matters or Bye-Bye Talcott Mountain

Chairman John Loomis of the Simsbury Planning Commission recently recommended a 100 foot Conservation Easement as a setback for the proposed Hartford subdivision.  Mr. Loomis said that this 100 foot setback would be enough to preserve the view of the ridgeline.  SHARE respectfully submits that Mr. Loomis should consult with an engineer to do a proper calculation for this statement. All he needs to do is go south down Route 10 a short distance to prove himself wrong.  88-92 Hopmeadow Street is an approximately 40 foot building that is set back 100 feet from Route 10.  As the following diagram and photograph shows, the Talcott Mountain ridgeline is completely blocked by 88-92 Hopmeadow Street. This is precisely why the setback for any such large scale development along Route 10 should consider the necessary size, scale and scope of any potential development when approving subdivision applications. Once subdivisions are approved, the Planning Commission has little to no authority to make changes later! And keep in mind, Town regulations allow buildings to be taller than 40 feet by special exception which is not an unusual accommodation!

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March 15, 2009

SHARE and Canton CARE to co-sponsor a Seminar on Regional Smart Growth

"Strategic planning is worthless - unless there is first a strategic vision" - John Naisbitt

For several years, SHARE has been working with other local and regional citizens groups to raise the awareness of the need for Smart Growth and a more regional vision approach to responsible economic expansion.

SHARE is very pleased to be co-sponsoring with Canton CARE (Canton Advocates for Responsible Expansion) an open discussion with Heidi Green who is the President of '1000 Friends of Connecticut' and Norman Garrick who is the Director of the Center for Transportation and Urban Planning at UConn.

The presentation is called "A Regional Approach to Smart Growth"

Date: Thursday, March 26, 2009

Time:  7:00-9:00 PM

Place:  Avon Old Farms Hotel, 279 Avon Mountain Road, Avon CT

RSVP:  Kgriebel@1000Friends-ct.org or call 860-523-0003

More details are in the attached invitation.

We are very excited to be co-sponsoring this presentation.  PLEASE try to attend this interesting presentation and learn more about how regional Smart Growth planning can be an important ingredient for some of what SHARE has been advocating for Simsbury.

Sincerely,

Your Devoted SHARE Steering Committee

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March 8, 2009

The Planning Commission’s Critical Vote on Open Space

Tuesday March 10, 2009 at the Simsbury Public Library at 7:30 pm 

Over the past month, the Simsbury Planning Commission has been reviewing an application for a subdivision for property on Route 10 owned by The Hartford.  The subdivision application would create a 40 acre lot on Route 10, abutting River Walk condominiums and across from the Simsbury Tennis House.  The land is currently being farmed as a cornfield.

The SHARE Steering Committee has been following the meetings and discussions and while we certainly agree that The Hartford has the right to subdivide and sell their property, we believe it is critical for the Planning Commission to strictly adhere to the Simsbury Subdivision Regulations in approving this application.  Any deviation from that may result in long-term problems and may set an undesirable precedence for future subdivision decisions.  Please take the time to read through this News Flash in order to understand our concerns. 

The Simsbury Subdivision Regulations clearly stipulate that for approval of a subdivision the applicant must set aside 20% of the land for open space, or for a conservation easement in lieu of open space, on each of the newly defined lots.  This regulation has been in effect since 1954 with the intention stated in the regulations to “preserve the character of the town”.

We believe the 20% open space requirement has served the town well in that regard for the past 55 years.  Historically, the Planning Commission has required every subdivision to set aside 20% open space or conservation easement in lieu of open space unequivocally.  They have done this for past and recent subdivisions.  So why is this application any different?

At the February 24th Planning Commission meeting there was a great deal of discussion as to whether the Planning Commission has the right to require 20% open space on this application since there is no immediate plan to develop the subdivided lot.  Simsbury’s Town Planner, Hiram Peck, stated that the Commission could approve the subdivision without the 20% open space and when the site is eventually sold and a future developer proposes a site plan, the Commission could then require the 20% open space.

Your SHARE Steering Committee thought this was flawed logic and so we requested a legal opinion from our land use attorney.  Her legal opinion is that the open space needs to be specified and dedicated by the Planning Commission at the time of the initial approval and written in to the Planning Commission’s motion to approve the subdivision or else the town loses the right to require it at a later date.

In this specific property subdivision application of The Hartford, a portion of the open space or conservation easement would be most desirable at the front of the 40 acre lot in order to ensure that the future building(s) would be set far enough back from the road, (Route 10) in order to protect the scenic vista of the mountain as required by the Plan of Conservation and Development.  Even with a 300’ conservation easement at the front of the property, any future developer would still have enough buildable acreage to build on 40% of the land, which is what is allowed under the current Industrial Zone which it is zoned under.  It is important to keep in mind that under the current Industrial Zone the landowner is only restricted by the height of the buildings (40 feet), the setback from the road (50 feet) and the 40% buildable lot coverage.  With a special exception by the Zoning Commission, the building height may extend to 75 feet or four stories and the lot coverage may be increased to 60%. 

The placement of the open space leads to the second important legal aspect of this subdivision application.  Historically, the Planning Commission has ‘placed’ the open space in the most beneficial location on the subdivided lot in order to protect surrounding neighbors, preserve natural and historic resources and maintain the character of the town as well as to ensure that the development will comply with the objectives of the Plan of Conservation and Development.  However, in this application, the Town Attorney has questioned the Planning Commission’s legal right to determine the placement of open space under Connecticut General Statutes.  His opinion is that the Planning Commission would be overstepping the Zoning Commission’s authority to determine setbacks, by requiring the open space be placed along the front of the property line.

The SHARE Steering Committee, concerned that a fundamental change in legal procedure for the Planning Commission’s discretion in placing open space on this application would have a wide range, long term impact on all future subdivisions, has again requested a legal opinion from our land use attorney. 

If the Planning Commission concedes to the Town Attorney’s opinion for this subdivision and changes the way they have been doing business for over the past fifty plus years, and abrogates their responsibilities in placing a significant portion of the 20% open space/conservation easement along the front property line, the end result may eventually be a behemoth building set 50 feet from the road that totally obstructs the view of the ridgeline. 

We would be astounded if the Planning Commission ignores the objectives so clearly defined in the 2007 Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) and does not ensure that a portion of the required 20% open space be placed at the optimal location at the front of the property.  The POCD, written and approved by the Planning Commission, under the guidance of the Chairman, John Loomis, with input from literally hundreds of residents, property owners, local business owners, developers and community groups over the course of five years, is the only town document that provides a vision for the future growth and development of our town.  The decision the Planning Commission makes on this application may set a precedent on all future subdivision applications. Open space must be planned and placed thoughtfully and deliberately, or the unique and charming character of our town will be at risk.

The great part about this application is that the town can have a win – win here.  Place the open space/conservation easement at the front of the property and protect the view of the ridgeline – place the buildings far enough back and the landowner can still build the maximum allowed on the remainder of the property.  The Hartford has been a great corporate citizen of Simsbury and their buildings were well planned and landscaped.  We hope that exceptional tradition will be continued with this subdivision application.

There is no public hearing on this application.  At their last meeting the Planning Commission voted 4 to 2 to NOT have a public hearing on this.  We applaud Sue Bednarcyk and Julie Meyer for voting in favor of having a public hearing and we are hugely disappointed that Chairman John Loomis, Chip Houlihan, Ferg Jansen and Gerry Post voted against holding a public hearing.

While the Simsbury subdivision regulations do not require a public hearing, the Planning Commission over the years has consistently held a public hearing for every subdivision application. In fact over the past year there have been at least two residential subdivision applications and both had public hearings.  Given the size and scope of The Hartford subdivision and the questions raised by the town attorney challenging the historic legal discretion of the Planning Commission to require and place open space, we expected the Commission would have encouraged input from the public.

We find it odd that the Planning Commission would choose to not have a public hearing this time and we wonder why they do not want to hear from the public? 

The Planning Commission will be meeting to vote on this application on Tuesday, March 10th at 7:30 pm in the Simsbury Public Library.  While there will not be a public hearing, your presence at the meeting will send a message to the Commission.  Open space is one of the critical components to maintaining the beauty of our town and to the overall exceptional quality of life in Simsbury. 

PLEASE attend this meeting.

PLEASE send a message to the Planning Commission that they should want to hear from the public and that residents expect them to listen.

PLEASE send a message to the Planning Commission that they should do as they have done before when approving subdivision applications.

Sincerely,

Your devoted SHARE Steering Committee

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February 2, 2009

Summary of Recent Zoning Commission Public Hearing

“The preparation for good work tomorrow is to do good work today” – Elbert Hubbard

As we emailed all SHARE members a week or so ago, the Simsbury Zoning Commission held a public hearing on Monday January 26, 2009 regarding proposed text amendments for a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) and a Conceptual Master Plan (CMP) to the Simsburyzoning regulations.  We stated in our last News Flash that your SHARE Steering Committee had serious concerns about the long term legal ramifications of an approval of a Conceptual Master Plan text amendment. 

We felt that Simsbury was heading down the wrong path after the Planning Commission’s positive referral of the CMP text amendment on January 20th. Concerned by the lack of proper legal land use expertise provided by the Board of Selectman and the Board of Finance to our land use commissions, your SHARE Steering Committee retained an experienced and respected land use attorney to review the proposed text amendment.

SHARE’s attorney reviewed the amendment and wrote a letter (see attached) citing serious flaws in the Conceptual Master Plan amendment and stating “Furthermore, there is concern that, as presented, the proposed amendments dilute important, conventional areas of Zoning Commission review and discretion too early in the review process and could lead to unintended land use consequences beyond the immediately articulated goals.”

A SHARE Steering Committee member read the complete letter from the SHARE attorney for the official record during the public hearing and also stated that while SHARE supports the development of a Continuing Care Retirement Community, we do not believe that broad changes to the zoning regulations through the adoption of a conceptual Master Plan for “any large scale project” is in the best interest of the Town.  We feel that any such vague and imprecise language can open the town’s doors to numerous adverse situations.

At the beginning of the public hearing, the town’s attorney, Mr. Robert DeCresenzo, stated his opinion regarding the text amendments.  He said he had reviewed the amendments and while he found the amendments regarding the language to allow a Continuing Care Retirement Community to be built were appropriate, he disapproved of the language regarding the Conceptual Master Plan and recommended that the Zoning Commission not act on those two amendments that relate to the CMP.  In other words Mr. DeCresenzo agreed with the opinion of the SHARE attorney.

Based on these separate but somewhat similar legal opinions, as well as other open questions regarding the proposed amendments, the Zoning Commission will keep the public hearing open until their next meeting on Monday February 9th as they need to figure out how to divide the zoning text amendments in order to be able to adopt the CCRC amendments and deny the CMP amendments.

With all of these complex land use issues under consideration by our boards and commissions, it is our sincere hope that going forward the town will allocate funds for appropriate dedicated legal land use council for the land use commissions.  While we recognize that Town budgets are tight, the long term ramifications of our zoning regulations to the future economic development and to the quality of life we all enjoy in Simsbury can not be understated.

With all the things our town spends money on, we believe that modest expenditures for due diligence reviews of such important legislative amendments is vital to safeguard Simsbury’s future – this is not an area where the town should be trying to scrimp and save money.

If you choose to, you can send emails with your thoughts on this issue to First Selectwoman Mary Glassman at MGlassman@simsbury-ct.gov, Board of Finance Chairman Paul Henault at PHenault@simsbury-ct.gov, and Zoning Commission Chairman Dunny Barney atABarney@simsbury-ct.gov.

We will continue to follow the process of this proposed text amendment as well as yet another mixed-use zoning regulation (now called a PAD for Planned Area Development) that has recently been proposed by town attorney DeCresenzo.

As always if you have any questions or comments of us, please feel free to reply to this email.

Sincerely,

Your Devoted SHARE Steering Committee

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January 24, 2009

The “Don’t Sleep at the Switch” Edition

Just Because We’re Not Getting River Oaks Brochures in the Mail, Doesn’t Mean We Won’t End Up with Something Like It, Unless We’re Diligent!

Please read on and come to this meeting!  This is important… really!

Zoning Commission Public Hearing

Monday, January 26th, 7:30 pm Simsbury Public Library

Conceptual Master Plan (CMP) or Completely Mired Proposal (CMP)?

On Monday January 26th the Zoning Commission will be holding a public hearing on a zoning text amendment to add language to the town zoning regulations for a “Conceptual Master Plan” or CMP (see attached).  This language was drafted by Hiram Peck, the Director of Planning and Development for Simsbury.  

This past Tuesday night (January 20th) the Planning Commission voted 4 to 2 to send a positive referral to the Zoning Commission regarding the CMP.  Commissioners Sue Bednarcyk and Julie Meyer voted against it and Commissioners John Loomis, Chip Houlihan, Gerry Post and Carol Cole voted in favor of it.  However, the positive referral also included a number of recommendations to the original amendment and there was a lengthy discussion over the legal aspects of the CMP.  We find it very troubling that there was no land use attorney present to provide answers to the Planning Commissioners' many legal questions that came up during the two hour discussion and feel that the vote was taken while significant legal land use questions remain unanswered.  Commissioners Bednarcyk and Meyer both voted negatively because they believe their legal questions were not fully answered and that the CMP regulation may remove the discretion of the Planning Commission to deny a final site plan that is not in the best interest of the town.

SHARE continues to be mystified as to why the Town does not provide the land use boards and commissions with competent land use legal expertise, or for that matter any such legal counsel.  On numerous occasions in recent planning and zoning meetings we heard statements made with caveats like “but I’m not an attorney” or “but I’m not a land use legal expert”.

Here are some of our concerns regarding the CMP.

Point One: There is no precedent for a Conceptual Master Plan in Connecticut and no other town in Connecticut has a CMP in their zoning regulations. This proposed zoning regulation was drafted by Mr. Peck and was not reviewed by a land use attorney. It was reviewed by the town attorney who is not a land use legal expert. However, just as you wouldn't go to a Podiatrist if you were in cardiac arrest, the town should not be relying on an attorney without land use expertise to draft a zoning regulation that will, if approved, dramatically change our current land use process for large scale development projects.  In fact, one of the recommendations by the Planning Commission this past Tuesday night was that a land use attorney should review the proposed amendment.  Mr. Peck stated that he was told by First Selectman Glassman that there is no money for a land use attorney to review this.  We find that very shortsighted and urge the First Selectman to find the funds to hire a land use attorney to thoroughly vet this zoning amendment.  We just finished a three year land use battle for the inappropriate large scale River Oaks project.  Any significant changes to our zoning regulations, especially one that applies to large scale projects, demand an expert legal review.

Point 2: The CMP is intended to allow a developer to get approval for a large scale project without spending a lot of money on professional fees up front for a detailed final site plan in order to get a sense of whether the town wants the proposed development.  That is what preliminary applications are for and that is how the town has historically handled large scale projects.  Preliminary applications are non-binding for the town from a legal perspective.

The big difference here is that the developer is asking to be given a Special Exception based on the vague CMP.  Herein lies the problem.

Once the developer is given the Special Exception to build their project, the PC and ZC legally lose all their discretion to deny the final site plan if it conforms, even in vague ways, with what was approved in the CMP. Once the developer has a Special Exception it is vested and recorded in the land use records. That means that the PC and the ZC, when they vote on the final site plan, cannot require the developer to conform with anything that was not specifically documented in the CMP.  So for instance the developer has complete control over all decisions related to the specifics in the final site plan which would include (and this is just a preliminary list, there are many more) the following (since these are not specified in the CMP):

  • Selection of building materials.  The ZC might want the buildings to be brick, stone or plywood but if the developer wants to cover the buildings in vinyl siding they have that right.
  • Exterior lighting.  The ZC might want them to abide by a dark skies lighting but if the developer wants floodlights spaced ten feet apart and on at all hours, they have the right.
  • Sustainable, low impact development.  The ZC may want LEEDS certified building, rain gardens, impervious pavements, sustainable storm water drainage but if it is not specified in the CMP then it is the developers right to decide how they want to build.
  • There is no reference to the developer complying with the Plan Of Conservation and Development in the CMP so that is also up to the developer.
  • Landscaping. If the developer wants to clear cut the land they have that right if it is not in the CMP.  The ZC may want the developer to leave all trees of 4” caliber or more but if the developer did not commit to that in the CMP then they are not required to have it in their final site plan.  The same goes for buffering.
  • There is no requirement for traffic studies and no language that talks about protecting the health, safety and welfare of the surrounding neighborhood or that the proposed development is in any way beneficial to the town.
  • This would apply to the entire town!  And would apply to any redevelopment in town!

Point 3:  The Conservation Commission does not have the right to hear and vote on the CMP.  Therefore, a developer of a large scale project may get a Special Exception to build their project without vetting by the one commission in town that looks at environmental concerns. 

Point 4:  There is no provision for a public hearing either at the CMP stage prior to the ZC voting to give a special exception for the development or at the final site plan stage.  By Connecticut General Statutes a public hearing is required for site plans for any developments. Additionally, if the purpose of the CMP is for the developer to get a sense if their project would be approved by the town, then general public opinion

about the type, size and scope of the project should be integral to that preliminary decision.   

Continuing Care Retirement Community or CCRC 

The Zoning Commission will also be voting on a text amendment that includes the definition of a CCRC and language to allow a developer to build a CCRC in Simsbury (see attached) on Monday night.  We fully support that part of the proposed zoning text amendment.  The Planning Commission voted unanimously to send a positive referral to the Zoning Commission on the CCRC text amendments.

It is very important to distinguish the fact that we are supportive of a CCRC development in Simsbury but that the CMP as written applies to "all large scale projects" and has numerous flaws and unanswered legal questions.

We believe the Town could write a zoning text amendment that works for both the developers of the CCRC and for the Town but this is clearly not it.

PLEASE come to the

Zoning Commission Public Hearing - Monday, January 26th, 7:30 pm Simsbury Public Library

Sincerely,

Your Devoted SHARE Steering Committee

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January 19, 2009

Happy New Year!

For this edition, we wanted to send you the following Letter to the Editor from the December 26, 2008 edition of the Simsbury Post.  Since the Simsbury Post is now a paid subscription newspaper, we know that some of you may not get it.  This Letter to the Editor was written by a SHARE member and contains some important information pertaining to what we have learned from the River Oaks experience and what is hoped for how the town conducts business going forward.

In the near future, you will receive a VERY IMPORTANT News Flash from us about some work being done by the Planning Commission and the Zoning Commission.  We believe that some of what is going on could be very dangerous to our town’s economic development process and could set the stage for another experience of unbridled development proposals similar to River Oaks.  Stay tuned for more information in a few days – it’s a bit complex so we are writing it up for you.

For those who can attend, you can get a preview of some of what concerns us at the Special Meeting of the Planning Commission on Tuesday January 20th (tomorrow) at 6 PM at Simsbury Town Hall in the main meeting room.

Sincerely,

Your Devoted SHARE Steering Committee

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Letter to the Editor – Simsbury Post – December 26, 2008

With Economic Development, “Measure Twice, Cut Once”

In these difficult times, with financial pressures mounting in our personal lives and Simsbury’s fiscal situation under stress, it is tempting to embrace most any form of economic development that comes our way.  After having supported SHARE’s effort to prevent the development of River Oaks, I now view economic development with a more critical eye.

Going forward it appears as if there are some interesting ideas and proposals being discussed for future town development – in the south, the center and the north.  As our Town explores and vets these proposals, let’s be sure we learn from the River Oaks experience and proceed more methodically, more collegially, more openly and more transparently than we did before.  Let’s be sure that as our land use commissions discuss things like ‘Conceptual Master Plans’ for potential developments and changes to our zoning regulations, that we assess plans holistically and include all necessary reviews for traffic, environmental, net economic and fiscal impact, and other essential components.  Such thorough analyses will help avoid the ‘bait and switch’ that developers too often produce.

Quite bluntly Simsbury, I think we almost got the very short-end of a deal with River Oaks.  A deal that was likely not what we would have wanted.  The nearly one million square foot development proposal that turned our town topsy-turvy for 2.5 years was probably little more than a Target store described as part of a gigantic mixed-use development concept that would never have been built.  Had our town’s land use boards approved what was proposed by the River Oaks developer, we would have likely ended up with a shopping mall on the southern portion of the CL&P parcel.

However this time, the reason for building something less than what was originally described may not have just been due to the old line that “economic conditions have changed”.  The reason may have been because the developer may not have had the ability to build what was described in their glitzy colorful brochures, their website or in their passionate presentations at town meetings.

Recently several town residents and I had discussions with the land owner of the CL&P Southern Gateway property to have a bit of a ‘River Oaks Post-Mortem’ and to learn more about his future plans for the property. He was not involved in the public proposal or the development discussions for River Oaks.  In our meetings with him we learned some information that was quite surprising.

As background, the CL&P Southern Gateway property can be thought of as three logical sections bundled into one parcel.  The existing CL&P building and surrounding developed land is the center section of the parcel. There is a second logical section in the field on the southern side (next to the Avon town line) and a third logical section in the field on the northern side of CL&P next to the entrance to Chubb.

We were told by the land owner that at the time the River Oaks concept was being talked about by the developer, CL&P had approximately four more years left on their lease on the building and an option for four more five year leases.  So in theory, CL&P could have stayed there for 24 years from that point in time.  We also learned from the land owner that the developer only had an agreement with him to build on the southern section of the property and did not have an agreement to develop on the northern section.  The southern section was of course where the Target was to have been built.

Our town went through a lot with the River Oaks experience.  Clearly we risked getting the type of large retail development that the vast majority of town residents do not want – a view that the recent independent scientific town survey soundly affirmed.  In many ways, River Oaks tore some of the fabric of our town and there were numerous political and social casualties.  We now need to heal and come together once again as a community to ensure that our town expands responsibly and with the vision that most residents share – this is one reason why I think holding a town-wide charrette is so important.

Simsbury, we must be more careful next time.  Next time we must be sure that we are being told the whole story and that we insist upon proof for the whole story.  We only get one chance to get it right before the bulldozers start their work.  We will only get something developed that we can all be proud of if we are all vigilant and don’t believe all that we read, hear or see - we must check the facts.  As every carpenter knows, “measure twice, cut once”.

John Lucker

Simsbury


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