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Value Judgments On Land Use

Forum Participants Talk About Town's Need To Balance Preservation, Development

By MARK SPENCER
Courant Staff Writer

January 27 2006

SIMSBURY -- The balancing act between development and preservation has been a major issue in town during the past year and lends itself easily to heated exchanges.

But Thursday night at Eno Hall, more than 120 residents listened in a more relaxed atmosphere as a panel of experts discussed the issue in a forum called "Forging a Vision for Simsbury."

The forum was sponsored by a residents' group called Keep the Woods, a group formed last year to oppose a subdivision on land owned by the Ethel Walker School. Tom Condon of The Hartford Courant moderated the event.

While the panel had a pro-preservation bent, speakers for the most part addressed broad issues and avoided dredging up the details of the Walker development or another controversial potential development, a "big box" retail store on the former Connecticut Light & Power property off Route 10.

David Leff, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said Simsbury is a quintessential Connecticut town, with its mix of inviting landscapes and more urban amenities such as stores and restaurants. While people value both, Leff said suburban sprawl could threaten that mix.

Most land has a recognized monetary development value, he said, but people should also realize it has a preservation value.

"We must rid ourselves of the notion that open space is just vacant land," he said.

Leff encouraged local leaders to work with developers to find the best way for their towns to grow, such as high-density developments that consume less land.

He also advocated seeking regional solutions, a position also endorsed by Susan Merrow, a former first selectwoman in East Haddam and co-chairwoman of 1000 Friends of Connecticut.

Merrow said towns face pressure to increase their local tax base, while also having to deal with more demand for services caused by residential development.

She said regional solutions could lead to developments being built where they made the most sense, such as where appropriate infrastructure already exists.

"Don't run out of the room when the word `regional' is mentioned," Merrow said.

Eric Hammerling, executive director of the Farmington River Watershed Association, discussed the danger that uncontrolled development poses to groundwater quality.

He said preserving open space, avoiding large construction projects and educating homeowners about how to avoid polluting could help protect water supplies.

Copyright 2006, Hartford Courant