This letter appeared in the March 2006 issue of Simsbury Life.

I share Michael Juda’s frustration with the manner in which the Powder Forest development is proceeding. But his comparison of that project with the potential development of a portion of the Ethel Walker School (EWS) property shows an understandable, but very distressing, lack of comprehension of the vast differences in how the use of these two parcels of land will directly affect our quality of life here in Simsbury. The serious issues about which all of us should be vitally concerned include the following:

First: Water. Every Simsbury household depends upon an underground source for its water supply. The consequence of this fact may be of little relevance with respect to the Powder Forest development. However, the 450 acres Ethel Walker is considering for development sit on top of a huge aquifer. This aquifer feeds many of our wells. Much more significantly, it is the major source of water for Aquarian Water Company, Simsbury’s only public water company, which also uses this source to provide water to a large number of customers who live in Granby.

We need to get a clear understanding of what impact a development comprising 120 homes would have on the quality of the water in the aquifer under it. Will some of our wells become unusable? Who pays the costs of converting to city water? Will there be a need for a new water tower, and if so, who pays for that? And, most importantly, will the quality of our drinking water deteriorate because of this new development?

Second: Financial impact on owner. Landowners are entitled to reap the economic benefits of the land they own. Apparently Ensign Bickford no longer had any economic interest in keeping and maintaining Powder Forest. Because neither the Town nor any organization devoted to conservation was evidently interested, selling this land for development was very likely the only economically prudent course of action for the landowner to take.

EWS, on the other hand, has potentially viable alternatives to consider. For example, because of its extensive and highly regarded equestrian program, use of this land continues to be economically important to EWS. In addition, the extensive network of trails on this land makes it of considerable potential value to Simsbury as part of the Town’s Open Space Program.

Thanks to the sensitivity of our Board of Selectmen and the efforts of a group of concerned Simsbury residents calling themselves “Keep the Woods” (KTW), the Trust for Public Land has entered into discussions with EWS and the Town to determine whether EWS can receive what it would consider to be just compensation for the value of its land, and at the same time be able to continue using it in its natural state for its equestrian program. Multiple funding sources make this a possibility. The perception that KTW is attempting to deprive EWS of the economic benefits of the land under consideration for development is completely without foundation.

Third: Financial impact on us (Simsbury and its resident taxpayers). In the face of such high property taxes, it is very inviting to jump on the bandwagon that espouses the notion that any project that generates additional tax revenue from another source must be a great idea. The fact is there are many reports showing that, more often than not, property taxes generated by new housing developments are not enough to pay the additional expenses associated therewith. The result is that, in the long run, new housing developments actually increase, rather than decrease, property taxes for those living outside the new development.

We must obtain an accurate and impartial estimate of what new tax revenue the proposed EWS development would provide to Simsbury and, equally important, what new Town expenses the development would generate, such as the costs of maintaining and protecting the new development itself, not to mention the costs of providing new space and teachers to educate the children who will live there.

By contrast, the Powder Forest development is designed to become an adult community. That factor alone will greatly reduce the costs associated with it since it should not lead to an increase in the number of children in our schools.

Recreational use. The Powder Forest property was devoted to the storage and use of explosives. Justifiably, the public was denied any access whatsoever to the property, as evidenced by the plethora of NO TRESSPASSING signs surrounding it. The development of this property results in absolutely no loss of outdoor recreational property to the residents of Simsbury.

Just the opposite applies to the EWS property, which for years has been made available to Simsbury residents for hiking, bicycling and cross-country skiing. Instead of Powder Forest’s prolific array of NO TRESSPASSING signs, the trails lacing the EWS property advise users to “Take only pictures-Leave only footprints.” It is a major natural habitat for many plants and animals, as is noted in several walk books and brochures.

It will benefit everyone if these and other significant concerns can be resolved in a way that best serves the needs of the Ethel Walker School, the Town of Simsbury and all of its residents. This can happen only if all of us, including our elected Town officials, become fully informed and commit ourselves to address these issues with a fully open mind. Toward that end, KTW has already held one forum for public discussion of these and related issues, and plans future activities of a similar nature in the hope we can all work together to achieve our common goal of building a better Simsbury.

Ken Jacobson
17 Merrywood
Simsbury, CT