Plainville planner addresses opposition to canal trail

Published on Saturday, 9 December 2017 20:16
Written by BRIAN M. JOHNSON

STAFF WRITER

PLAINVILLE - At last Monday’s Town Council meeting, town leaders responded to the concerns raised by a vocal group opposed to the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail.

For the past several council meetings, a consistent group of residents have been voicing their opposition during public comment. Monday, Town Manager Robert E. Lee read a memo by Mark Devoe, town planning and economic development director, rebutting many the points of contention.

“Mark’s response was that a thoughtful trail design can enhance both public and natural spaces,” said Lee. “A trail can highlight areas with scenic overlooks and nature can be enjoyed without causing harmful adverse impacts. Historic features can be showcased and protected for generations in lieu of allowing them to continue to slowly decay.”

Lee went on to say Devoe noted that neighborhoods can be improved through “safety enhancements, aesthetic improvements and traffic calming” as a common element of trail design.

Lee then read Devoe’s statements addressing the opposition’s points one by one.

Devoe said that while there may be some environmental impact, the design would “make every effort to mitigate them along every foot of the proposed trail.” The town and state are not exempt from environmental regulations.

As for floodplain impacts, Devoe said the trail would be considered a “recreational platform” and not a building and would therefore be permitted within floodplains when designed and engineered correctly.

Devoe also said he contacted the State Historic Preservation Office regarding the old Mule Haul Trail that runs behind homes on Hollyberry Lane. The office said there were no significant concerns raised about the current trail proposal. The goal of the Steering Committee, he said, is to preserve the trail. Other multi-use trail designs have been able to do so with historic amenities in other communities.

“He also points out that (the late) Ms. Ruth Hummel, the former president of the Plainville Historic Center, fought to have a trail constructed alongside the remnants of the Farmington Canal at the Pine Meadows Condominium Project in a manner that respected the canal and highlighted its historic significance,” said Lee. “The future design phase for this project will accomplish the same, but to a greater degree. There is no doubt that awareness of the historic canal will be raised while helping to preserve it from the slow erosion of time.”

Devoe stated in his memo that the first and foremost concern of the trail design is safety.

“Appropriate design can make an effective and sometimes stark improvement to the appearance of the street,” said Lee. “Further, with respect to Pierce Street, Town of Plainville representatives have repeatedly stated that there are no plans to make this road into a one-way street.”

Finally, Devoe stressed that the current trail plan is conceptual only. He said the concerns that have been raised are “premature” and that the final design will be chosen “based upon how it best marries safety with aesthetics.” It is the purpose of the design phase, not the current planning phase, to ensure that measures to mitigate or remove impacts are implemented.

The same group of residents who are opposed to the trail, which includes Roberta Lauria, Joel and Joanne Edman and others, continued to state their opposition at Monday’s meeting. However, one also spoke in favor of having the trail.

“I love the trails,” said Gail Blackfort. “I’ve used them in Simsbury, Avon, Farmington and Cheshire. I used to rollerblade but I can’t do that anymore after I hurt my ankle. Still, I like to exercise and right now I have to drive out of town for it. Soon I won’t be able to drive due to medical reasons. I’ve seen people on the trail and they’re decent people; if they see something bad they will call the police.

“I don’t think that the people complaining about the trail even use it. Walking a trail makes you healthier and most of the time I’ve seen property rates go up from being near a trail. Plainville seems to be the complaining town; people don’t have anything else to do when they retire.”

Lauria asked the council what she and other residents that were opposed could do to “make the council better understand the importance of voting no” on the project. Council Chairwoman Kathy Pugliese said she would reserve judgment until she had more information about the final proposal. No final plans have yet been made. New council members Jesse Gnazzo and Ty Cox said they would do the same.

Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or bjohnson@bristolpress.com.



Posted in The Bristol Press, Bristol, Plainville on Saturday, 9 December 2017 20:16. Updated: Saturday, 9 December 2017 20:18.