August 14, 2018

Developer withdraws sports complex plan; residents voice opposition

PHOTO | Contributed
PHOTO | Contributed
A rendering of the proposed All Sports Village in Windsor Locks across a 76-acre lot on Route 20.

Disgruntled residents spoke out Monday in Windsor Locks against a plan to develop a massive sports complex at the intersection of Route 20 and Interstate 91, even though the developer withdrew the proposal before a public hearing was to be held.

The primary controversy over the plan pertained to a provision that would have used 7.5 acres of the Waterworks Brook property, which is subject to a conservation easement that prevents development of the roughly 200 acres.

Voters in a 2008 referendum supported the town's acquisition of the land as open space by a margin of 89-11, and previous owner Connecticut Water Service Co. later transferred the property on the stipulation that it would be maintained as such.

However, an application filed by New York-based JABS Sports Management LLC included a provision that would have required using a piece of that property that abutted the proposed development area for the All Sports Village complex. The plan included a 5,000- to 7,000-seat indoor arena, an outdoor stadium of similar size, two hotels, and a movie theater.

First Selectman Christopher Kervick said the developer had offered a number of trade-offs in exchange for the chance to acquire the piece of land, including developing 1.25 miles of a planned 3-mile trail that would run along the boundary line between the two properties.

But JABS lawyer Paul Smith told the PZC his client will withdraw its plan for now as it seeks to eliminate the waterworks property from the proposal, which he said will necessitate a "complete redesign of the site plan." Smith said his client will seek to submit a revised plan next month.

Smith said some public amenities would need to be cut due to the change, but he said the developer "could make it work" reasonably well.

Andrew Borgia, a principal of JABS, later told a reporter that he "realized the concerns of the community in regard to the preservation of the land and how important it is to them."

Borgia added, "I'm going to be part of that community and I wanted to make sure everyone was comfortable."

Despite the plan's withdrawal, many residents still spoke out during the public comment period of the commission's regular agenda.

Police arrived several minutes into the meeting as shouting persisted.

"It's not supposed to be touched in the condition that it's in," Michael Bracken said of the land, adding he was concerned about the town making a "backroom deal" favoring the developer.

Carl Schiessl, chairman of the Waterworks Conservation Group that worked to push the initial agreement to preserve the land, said he was happy with the developer's decision.

"We appreciate very much your willingness to redesign your project in order to preserve the sanctity of the Waterworks property," he said, adding that the group, which he encouraged those in attendance to join, would "do (its) best to monitor the evolution of the application."

William Russo said he worried that the postponement of the meeting was done in order to hold another meeting when fewer residents would attend, only for the developer to propose a similar plan of development.

Kervick spoke toward the end of the public comment period, addressing questions from some residents as to how the issue came before a public hearing to begin with.

"You can't say that I should've stepped in and said, 'No way, no how — you can't do this,' and at the same time say (I'm) making backroom deals," he said, adding that he doesn't have the authority to prevent a site plan application from going through the legal process.

Kervick added that he warned the developer that it would find "a very passionate citizenry about this issue" when the application was filed.

Some remained unsatisfied, including Bracken, who was asked to leave the meeting after several outbursts.

Smith today said that he and Borgia were encouraged after speaking to many residents who attended the meeting.

"The sense we got was many of them were supportive of the project in concept," he said. "The real issue was the waterworks property. We got some positive feedback from many of the people there."

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