Wednesday the Board of Selectmen voted 4 to 1 to let the public weigh in on whether a multi-use trail should replace plans for a sidewalk along a new business development along Lawton Road.
As approved by the Zoning Commission, a sidewalk would be built along Lawton Road next to the parcel on the corner of Route 44 where CVS is being built and other businesses planned.
But Konover Development Corp. is willing to instead have contractors build a multi-use path, extending the Farmington River Trail.
"We're willing to accommodate it," Stan Glantz, Konover's Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, said this week.
However, the town has to submit the application since it would take ownership of the right of way and be responsible for its maintenance. The trail is designed to be a loop to the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail. Currently it connects in Farmington and goes to Route 44 near Best Cleaners. The portion from Lawton Road to Simsbury remains unfinished although but many road cyclists still use the state-designated route.
While the town would gain some 400 feet of trail at no cost, a sidewalk would be five feet wide, while the trail would be 8 feet wide with about three feet of buffer on each side, according to town documents. That could potentially affect the landscaping on the property, an item of concern to neighbors, the documents state.
Selectmen Lowell Humphrey said he was concerned that it could indeed be a “trail to nowhere" and based on the map available at the meeting was also not sure if trail users would cross Route 44 on the west side of Lawton Road and then have to cross that road, a plan he thought dangerous.
“It behooves us to make sure it is a safe project,” he said.
Chief Administrative Officer Robert Skinner said he thought pedestrians and bikers would cross to the east side but said he was not initially 100 percent certain. He did say many safety measures were being put in place as part of the changes and traffic would stop all four ways when people cross Route 44.
Thursday morning, Glantz said there will in fact be crosswalks that allow people to cross Route 44 to both the east and west sides of Lawton Road.
Town Planner Neil Pade has also said that changes to Lovely Street will make it a little easier for trail users to cross that road as well.
Other selectmen also felt those changes were already in place and the issue was whether to have the Zoning Commission move forward with a public hearing slated for Wednesday, July 18 to consider the path idea.
First Selectmen Richard Barlow said he felt residents should speak out on the pros and cons.
“It’s got to be fully vetted out on that issue,” he said.
Many are officials and bicycle enthusiasts hope to eventually finish the Farmington River Trail loop from Lawton Road to Simsbury. It currently ends near on Route 44.
R. Bruce Donald, president of the Farmington Valley Trails Council, said he felt that even if the loop were never completed the small section of trail would signal to cyclists and others that they could cross safely.
Selectmen David Gilchrist said he is not convinced the route to Simsbury will be the best way for the path to go but joined Barlow, Tom Sevigny and Steve Roberto in voting to let the issue go before the Zoning Commission as planned.
“I think we should let the zoning commission do its job,” Sevigny said. “It’s free. That’s hard to turn down in my opinion.”
Humphrey voted against the idea.
Barlow said the town is also in discussion with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to see if the trail could be extended by its property. He also hopes they would allow some parking there for it as well. Officials have discussed the idea of placing a trailhead in the upper parking lot of the Shoppes at Farmington Valley but Barlow said there has been no commitment.
“The Shoppes, for whatever reason, have dragged their feet on it,” he said.
Also Wednesday, selectmen voted to have the town apply for a Small Town Economic Assistance Program grant of up to $500,000 for the hydroelectric project in hopes of bringing one or both Collinsville dams back online.
The state has generally been awarding grants of $200,000 and energy production has been a recent priority, giving the town a good chance of getting one, Skinner said.
The town is hoping the U.S. Senate will join the U.S. House of Representatives in passing a bill that that would allow the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to transfer permanent licenses to the town. If that doesn’t happen, the funds could be used to go through that process, which would cost between $100,000 and $150,000, Barlow said. If congress comes through, the funds, if received, could be used for other related costs such as design and perhaps some construction, town officials said.
"It kind of gives us two paths," Barlow said.
In addition, selectmen voted to set a public hearing, likely at its next meeting, on a proposed ordinance to ban most motorized vessels from the Farmington River.
The ordinance would also have to pass muster with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection before being enacted.