Town to Further Investigate ‘Satan’s Kingdom’ Site, Consider Surveying Residents About Town Garage Options
By John Fitts
Before deciding on a final direction for the next iteration of a proposed public works facility, the Board of Selectmen is seeking further information for the “Satan’s Kingdom” property and strongly considering a public survey.
For years the town has looked to replace its aging, rapidly deteriorating facility along the Farmington River at 50 Old River Road. Since 2010, three town garage related referendums have failed and a fourth plan never quite made it to voters. Earlier this year, the town developed a concept to rebuild at its current location and incorporate river access and amenities. But the idea of rebuilding near the river at the current site has met with some resistance from residents – many of whom spoke out a recent hearing on garage options.
While that recent hearing opened up discussion on several sites, selectmen on Wednesday essentially narrowed their focus to two – the current one and the “Satan’s Kingdom” parcels.
In 2014, the “Satan’s Kingdom” property, consisting of 40 acres over two lots at 674 and 684 Albany Turnpike (Route 44), was the subject of bitter controversy after developer Allan Borghesi proposed it for an industrial park, a plan he eventually withdrew. He later sold the property to an LLC run by members of the Bahre Family.
But in its multi-year search, the town has also long mulled the idea of a project on the Albany Turnpike property.
Before Borghesi purchased it in late 2013, town officials and the Permanent Municipal Building Committee discussed a project that could include a garage and recreation fields. More recently, the building committee suggested looking at it again and the town says the parcels are available for $1.2 million.
Selectmen are intrigued with the idea of building in the front, eastern portion of the property but have a myriad of question on how the plan would fare in comparison to rebuilding at the river, which the town is approximating as a $4.5 million project.
One is price. Chief Administrative Officer Robert Skinner said the building should look different if it were on Albany Turnpike — bigger than the 15,000 square feet the town is talking about at the current site and without the need for two stories.
And other questions remain. Selectman Tom Sevigny said many nearby residents have made it clear they want the rest of the property preserved as open space.
But some selectmen wondered if others in town would support the idea of recreation and oppose that much additional cost for open space, whether the developer would just sell the front portion of the lot and more.
“I need more information on 674 Albany to say ‘is that a viable alternative’?” Selectman Beth Kandrysawtz said.
Chief administrative Officer Robert Skinner said there are also other possibilities for the property, such as state grants for open space, partnerships with other organizations, utilizing the home there and even lease potentials.
“There area multiple assets and partners there that you may be able to utilize to help offset some of that cost but there are some threshold decision that need to be made before you move forward,” Skinner said.
And while they wait for information on the Route 44 piece, some selectmen also said they wouldn’t necessarily oppose the idea of bringing the plan to rebuild at the current site to voters in November.
Kandrysawtz acknowledged that many spoke against the idea at the recent hearing but said selectmen don’t know how the whole town feels.
“The voters have never spoken on this,” she said.
During the public portion of Wednesday’s meeting, two residents added further detraction from the plan of rebuilding at the current site.
Gil Small, of East Hill, said it would be shortsighted to build a 15,000 square foot facility with no room for expansion when experts say the ideal size is approximately 25,000 square feet.
“I consider it fiscally irresponsible to put it at that location,” he said, later adding, “In the past when we’ve done something trying to clip corners it’s ended up coming to bite us back,” Small said.
David Sinish, of Dyer Avenue, also spoke, stating he and others in town that do oppose the current site due to its proximity to the Farmington River, are advocates for a new facility
He said the goal was to raise “local support for any site that you choose expect one that would be on the river.”
Sinish said he and other supported the last proposal but perhaps too late.
“We were just too small too late,” he said. “I’m quite sure that’s not going o happen this time around, so I’m here to offer my assistance.
Soon, several residents will have lawn signs stating “Garage Yes, Not on our River.”
Contacted after the meeting, Sinish said there is currently not an effort to form a more formal group or Political Action Committee but did not rule out the possibility.
On Wednesday, before focusing on the current site and Route 44, selectmen also briefly discussed some of the other sites that the Permanent Municipal Building Committee had recommended taking another look at.
One was 51 River Road, the area between the current police station and Collinsville fire station. That has also been the area of some controversy but selectmen feel the property is tight, very close to residents and could perhaps come into play for future needs of the town of Canton Volunteer Fire and EMS Department.
“I personally don’t like the idea of trying to wedge that into the neighborhood,” first Selectman Leslee Hill said of the property.
Hill also brought up 325 Commerce Drive, calling it the elephant in the room. In May of 2013 and November of 2014, rejected $5.4. million and $4.78 million plans for a facility at that property.
Controversy surrounded those two proposals, but Hill said talk about the reasons it failed is almost beside the point. Additionally, the price would only be higher now, she said.
“I do not feel a strong compulsion to try and float 325 Commerce again,” she said. “The voters spoke loudly, twice.”
Sevigny agreed, stating it would be like kicking a beehive.
“I think it would be voted down again,” he said.
That line of thought is essentially what selectmen have been saying for months but the property did come up again in the building committee’s list and from some residents at the recent hearing.
Additionally Skinner said the property owner of the Commerce Parcel has indicated there is a potential plan in the works for the industrial park land that would not be compatible with a highway garage.
Also on Wednesday, selectmen discussed the idea of a survey to gain additional feedback on whether people prefer the Route 44 site or the idea of rebuilding at the current location.
Hill said she had begun working on potential questions and venues and spoke in support of the idea. However, she said it would not be the same as a “vote.”
Several selectmen agreed that surveys do tend to have a low response rate, can be manipulated and sometimes only draw participation from those of a certain mindset. Still some thought it would be useful.
“It doesn’t have the power of a vote to me but I think it is worth getting public input and getting the public involved in all these different avenues,” Kandrysawtz said.
Selectman Larry Minichiello had more reservations about a survey.
“I love the idea of the board of selectmen taking time to discuss the data among ourselves and what we think are the top-down choices and using that to spirit the debate amongst the voters,” he said.
Minichiello said he also loved learning from emails, letters and speakers in public, adding “I personally appreciated listening to Gil’s point of view as opposed to a survey.”
Selectmen have hoped to get a plan on the November ballot when the turnout will be high due to the presidential election.
On Wednesday, Hill said she still hoped for that but acknowledged it might or might not happen.
“As much as I’d really would love to have something on the ballot in November given the turnout we’re going to have, I also feel that if its something that the community feels we rushed and didn’t take the time to collect the feedback and do the due diligence on it no matter what it is going to get voted down. It’s a rock and hard place.”
Selectmen have also agreed that there’s no perfect solution.
“There is no ideal site in this town for the garage there just isn’t,” Kandrysawtz said during Wednesday’s meeting.