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Simsbury Zoning Commission rejects plan for southern portion of former Hartford Campus

By John Fitts

Staff Writer

 

SIMSBURY – As expected, the town’s Zoning Commission on Feb. 21 denied a New Jersey company’s plan for a mostly residential project at the former campus of The Hartford at 200 Hopmeadow St.

In recent weeks, The Silverman Group, in response to public and staff comments, had further tweaked the Master Site Development Plan application. What began as a 580-unit residential-only project was reduced to 432 residential units. Additionally, the development team lowered the height of eight planned buildings from four stories to three, increased the number of affordable units from 10 percent to 15 percent, and added commercial space, including a 5,000-square-foot restaurant and what the developer called 27,500 square feet of industrial/commercial “flex space.”

But members of the Zoning Commission felt it wasn’t enough to meet the Hartford-Simsbury Form Based Code, and on Feb. 21 voted on a denial motion they had directed town staff to prepare.

The motion alleges the proposal didn’t meet the following criteria:

• “The proposal does not meet the purpose and intent of the adopted Hartford-Simsbury Form-Based Code. The proposal fails to achieve the purpose and intent of a mix-used, vibrant community.”

• “The proposal fails to provide an appropriate building scale and transitions to fit the adjoining design context.”

• “The proposal does not provide a minimum or appropriate level of public benefits such as useable civic and open spaces, economic development, or employment opportunities.”

• “The project represents unknown impacts on the public health, safety, and welfare of the general public.

(The motion went into much further detail for each point.)

After hours of commentary, revisions and public input over at least three installments of the public hearing on the application, most commissioners were ready to vote when the matter came up in the Feb. 21 meeting.

Commissioner Tucker Salls, however, urged his fellow members to vote against the denial and ask staff to prepare an approval motion. He said that while there were legitimate concerns with the application, he felt the developer made a good effort in its revisions, deviated from the code in some positive ways, and would meet many important goals, particularly when it came to housing options.

“The developer, when we gave our feedback, reduced the number of units of the project, increased the deed-restricted affordability from 10 to 15 percent, they added in commercial developments, which in this market, they’ll probably be operating almost at a loss,” he said. “Commercial development is extremely challenging in the modern economy. They also created significant naturally occurring affordable housing through the duplexes, with multiple bedrooms that could be shared by roommates. It provides an excellent housing option for lots of different people at lots of different levels. I’ll remind the commission that we are in a housing crisis and have a homeless population – the highest it’s ever been in Connecticut. Last year it went up by 13 percent, and they were trying to put in 65 deed-restricted affordable units in this development.”

Commissioner Tony Braz said the developer didn’t go far enough with its revisions.

“Tucker raises some good points and I think the developer did make a significant move from the initial application to the revised application. My hope was that there would be a further revision, but at our last public hearing the applicant stated that they wanted a decision,” he said, adding that he couldn’t support the application in its current form.

David Moore, a commission alternate who was seated for the meeting, expressed similar thoughts.

“We have a round project trying to be fit into a square space,” he said. “It doesn’t work, and while I certainly understand the difficulties with creating commercial space, having commercial spaces work – I was the former vice chair of the Economic Development Commission in this town and I know how hard it is to do that – but nonetheless, this particular zoning calls for very specific requirements. Those requirements have not been met by the applicant with the current application, and that’s why I support the denial.”

The commission voted 5-1 to deny the application.

The Silverman Group has an active development on the northern portion of the former Hartford site and has sometimes clashed with the commission over aspects of that buildout.

According to town documents, the group purchased the property in 2015, one year after the establishment of the Hartford-Simsbury Form Based Code. Had the master plan for the south portion been approved, the company would have had to also file a site plan with more technical details of the development.

On Feb. 21, Holden Sabato, development coordinator for The Silverman Group, expressed disappointment and raised the possibility of legal action, even referring to the commission’s agenda item that included voting in favor of a settlement over another housing project.

In a prepared statement given to The Valley Press after the meeting, he stated, “We are very disappointed with the outcome and process which brought this result. Over the past year and a half, our team worked diligently with town staff to create and present the plan which has been turned down. Our professionals affirm that this plan complies with the Zoning Regulations.

The Planning Commission also found that it complies with the Plan of Conservation and Development, which firmly embraces The Hartford Form-Based Code for this site.

The Design Review Board appreciated many of the changes that we made and gave a neutral comment, leaving details to the site plan approval phase.

So now, we will review the decision and record with our team and our lawyers and move forward in some manner.

We note that tonight’s agenda contains other zoning litigation actions. We are hopeful that this is not an indication of a change in the way Simsbury will handle its Zoning responsibilities.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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