Update: With tie BOF vote, plan to purchase riverfront property does not move forward at this time
By John Fitts
Update: Monday, April 18. The Canton Board of Finance failed to move this plan forward, with some members expressing concerns with the agreement as drafted. While some members felt a delay could potentially cause the town to lose the chance purchase the property, the finance board deadlocked 3-3 on a motion to move forward. More to come.
CANTON – Pending final approvals, town residents might soon get a chance to vote - at a Town Meeting - on a plan to purchase state property along the Farmington River that would create both public parking and river access.
The town has the option to purchase 37 Bridge Street in Collinsville from the state Department of Transportation for $125,000. The acreage of 37 Bridge St. includes most of the parking lot adjacent to 41 Bridge Street - where Bridge Street Live, Collinsville Artisan Co-Op, Blumen Laden and others operate - and a portion of land along the riverbank behind 39 Bridge Street, where Collinsville Canoe and Kayak operates. It also includes roughly half of the paved boat launch area.
Under a plan recently reviewed by the Board of Selectmen, the town, after purchasing the property, would convey a portion of it to the owners of 41 Bridge Street in exchange for the privately owned portion of the existing boat ramp. Cross easements would then allow the public to access the town-owned parking area and ramp while also allowing the owners of Collinsville Canoe and Kayak to also continue utilizing the boat ramp.
“This is something that the town has wanted, sees value in and it’s taken us a long time to get to this point where we actually have a good vision for what this is and what this could be,” First Selectman Robert Bessel said at a recent Board of Selectmen meeting.
The plan has been several years in the making since the state first approached the town about the 2.25-acre parcel in the Spring of 2019. After approval of the idea from six state agencies and an appraisal conducted for the state the Department of Transportation, the agency, in June of 2021, notified the town of the $125,000 price tag.
In late summer of 2021, town officials formally reached out to abutters, according to town documents, which acknowledge there were several concerns about lease agreements for the land, property values, logistics, security, and delineation of public and private areas. Potential overcrowding and negative effects on the daily Collinsville Canoe and Kayak operation was also noted.
Since that time, the town has worked with the partners of Waterfront Preservation and Management Corp., which owns both 39 and 41 Bridge Street, on potential solutions.
While several ideas were discussed, the final proposal, according to town documents reviewed at the meeting by Chief Administrative Officer Robert Skinner, are as follows.
• Owner of 39 Bridge Street would grant to the Town ownership of the boat ramp in sufficient width for public access to the entire ramp.
• Town will grant the to the owner of 39 Bridge Street an easement over the entire boat ramp area for use of the boat ramp, including for commercial purposes.
• In exchange for conveyance of the boat ramp, the Town will covey to the owners of 41 Bridge Street the portion of parking immediately adjacent to the 41 Bridge Street commercial properties (paved area).
• The owners of 41 Bridge Street will convey back to the Town an easement over the parking area for use by the public to gain access to the 37 Bridge Street property.
Additionally, the plan would involve installation of wood guardrails and signage to clearly designate the public parking area. Skinner also noted that some brush might need to be removed in some areas, a move that could potentially require approval by the Canton Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency.
On March 30, the Board of Selectmen discussed the plan, noting some concerns and expressing surprise that much of the area was further behind the Canoe and Kayak buildings than they thought, but overall expressing enthusiasm for the idea.
“I like the proposal; I like the idea,” said Selectman Stephen Sedor, who noted he extensively reviewed the town's proposal "I, for one, am all in on this one.”
Selectman Tim LeGeyt expressed a few logistical concerns but also expressed support. Selectman Warren Humphrey, a member of the River Access Study Committee, also expressed support and noted he was holding back on ideas he had for the property until the process was further along.
Bessel acknowledged that the owners of Collinsville Canoe and Kayak have reported issues such as littering and some unruly behavior on and along the river.
“That is a concern,” he said. “What kind of control are we going to have there to at least dampen if not entirely eliminate that kind of behavior?"
Skinner said, in part, the town will have to put a couple of trash receptacles on site and noted the town pays approximately $6,000 per year to empty such receptacles in the downtown Collinsville area.
Bessel acknowledged the tenant would have to change their operation somewhat and find alternate storage solutions but felt it was a good solution overall and said overcrowding could be severe some days but said it was only an issue at certain times.
“It seems like an even exchange,” he said of the conveyance plans, “It satisfies the owners and I think that the tenant will easily be able to continue their operation.”
Selectman Bill Volovski said he feels the overcrowding will be dampened somewhat by the town’s plan to put in boat access at the Public Works garage site a little upriver. He also felt the purchase would greatly help with parking in Collinsville.
“To me the real value of this property [37 Bridge] has always been the potential for future parking for downtown,” he said. “I think it’s nice that we’re going to be able to get access to the river from there too but that is secondary to me to the fact that we’ll have additional parking for events and to whatever happens downtown.”
Reached in mid-April, Sue Warner, co-owner at Collinsville Canoe and Kayak, acknowledged some ongoing business operation concerns.
“We are very apprehensive and concerned about how the waterfront becoming completely public property will affect our business,” she said. “We are hoping the town and all the residents will be great partners and we are hoping for the best. We are going to have to change our operation significantly and are not sure if it's going to work or not and we’ll do the best we can.”
“It’s pretty frustrating after being part of this town for 32 years and expecting our 50-year lease to continue for the waterfront for an additional 18 years in the future,” Warner added. “Since that is going to be changed, we’re still hoping we can be a big part of this town.”
At the March 30 meeting, selectmen voted to refer the matter to the Board of Finance at an amount of up to $160,000 to cover the plan: $125,000 for the land, $800 for signage and between $20,00 and $32,000 – depending on style chosen - for wooden guardrails.
The purchase concept is not new to the Board of Finance, but it is set to formally take the matter up April 18. Additionally the project would need a positive referral from the Planning and Zoning Commission, town meet approval and final signed agreements and plans.
The matter could go to residents at town meeting for a vote as early as June.
A potential timeline for the potential public use - if approved - was not immediately available.
The Valley Press also has a message out to the owners of Waterfront Preservation and Management Corp. and will add those comments if received.