Despite modifications, Simsbury Zoning Commission skeptical of proposed development at former site of The Hartford
A formal vote is still to come
By Ted Glanzer
The Simsbury Zoning Commission appeared poised on Monday night to deny a developer’s application for a massive residential complex at the 124-acre former corporate campus of The Hartford on Hopmeadow Street.
The commission closed the public hearing, at which residents again hammered the developer the Silverman Group and the project — the scaled-back 432-unit The Ridge at Talcott Mountain South — for what they claimed would be irrevocable damage to the town, including traffic congestion, a drag on public services, increased attendance to public schools already bursting with students, and more.
However, a formal vote was not taken and could come at the commission’s next meeting.
Silverman, after receiving feedback from the town, reduced the number of units from 580 to 432, lowered the height of eight buildings from four stories to three, increased the number of affordable units from 10% to 15% and added commercial space, including a 5,000-square-foot restaurant and what the developer called “flex space.”
But those amendments did not appear to sway many, if any, commissioners and residents, who said Silverman wasn’t to be trusted considering it hadn’t leased commercial space at the northern site of the campus.
Commissioners noted that what they were seeking was mixed use development to create “vibrancy,” not the addition of just one restaurant a “flex” space that would, at best, bring in a tenant that would have a storefront with some manufacturing component in the back — i.e. a bakery operation that would sell some things in front.
At least one commissioner noted that Silverman has had four years to lease the commercial space at the northern site, which – in reality – is now a large residential site.
The concern for commissioners is that they’d get more of the same — an intense residential development with no real commercial component.
At least 19 residents spoke at the hearing, 18 of which were against the project.
Joan Coe said the Zoning Commission “Is not a social service organization” to be used to enhance “a failed project and maximize profits [for Silverman] at the expense of residents.”
Ellen Gilbert said she was leaning toward being in favor of the project, but that she was disappointed with the commercial component, which also appeared to be doomed to fail in light of the empty streetfront building next to Cumberland Farms, which has sat empty for three years.
“I am concerned with the burden on the town, taxes, school system, fire department, emergency services” the project would affect with so many new residents coming to town, she said. “I want the developers to come back with a better plan and in the meantime that we have studies done in town on how this can work in the future because it’s not like we want it to stay an empty [parcel].”
“Our schools do not have room,” Lucia Lobraico said.
Silverman representatives took issue with some of the comments from residents, claiming they did their best to create a “first-class” community at the north site, and would do the same with the south site.
“People like being there,” Jeff Silverman, CEO of Silverman Group said of the south development. “They love Simsbury. This is a great town, that's why we came here.”
But commissioners, prior to closing the public hearing in vote while also calling for a draft denial of the application to be presented at its next meeting, appeared unmoved.
“This group came to us last summer and said this is what we’re going to bring to you,” one commissioner said. “We said we don’t want tall buildings in the front and [no dense residential]. … I don’t think we got a lot of changes we said we wanted last summer. … This hasn’t really changed dramatically from what was shown last summer. The overall effect hasn't changed.”
Still, Silverman representatives appeared to show where their objections were at the beginning of the hearing Monday.
After calling the changes to the application ‘unique” and “the first of its kind,” a representative said what Silverman was calling for was not a zone change, but a modification of the master site plan for The Hartford campus.
Several hours later, that representative — just prior to the hearing being closed — asked the commission whether Silverman had filed a conforming application.
The commission did not respond.
The commission will consider the application at a 7 p.m. meeting Feb. 21. It will take place at the Simsbury Public Library. The Design Review Board meets earlier at 5:30 p.m.