Canton Advocates for Responsible Expansion

interview with c.a.r.e. in today magazine

C.A.R.E. Canton Aims to Safeguard Valley's Character and support sound commercial development with an eye toward saving our essential identity and open space

President Jane Latus answered this Q&A on behalf of C.A.R.E. (special thanks to Editor-in-chief Bruce Deckert)

Year Established 2000

Mission — To encourage responsible economic development in Canton, while protecting its character, identity and quality of life.

Slogan: C.A.R.E. — it’s your town, too

Most fulfilling aspect of your work?

• That there has been a sea change in public understanding of economic development and land use. Most people now understand that land is finite, so make the most of it.

• That development isn’t always a new building going up, but more often revitalizing what you already have — e.g., the Collins Axe Factory.

• That preserving land as open space is an economic win.

• That sacrificing the characteristics that make your town unique and appealing is an economic loss.

Your biggest obstacle, and how you overcome it?

Suspicion that we were anti-development. We spoke out in favor of development applications that were suitable for Canton. For those applications that we opposed, we explained why they would be costly mistakes. Also, our directors and board members are from all geographic parts of town, so it is clear that the only “backyard” we are concerned with is the greater one, the entire town.

Most satisfying accomplishment?

Successfully educating residents and town leaders about the importance of smart growth measures — that they are economically advantageous AND preserve rather than destroy the things you love about your town. We suggested the town organize a series of community meetings, called charettes, to seek public input from all facets of the community, including residents and business owners.

From that dialogue, the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission adopted form-based codes that are designed to streamline redevelopment and development approvals so they reflect the consensus expressed from the public.

Can we name another? Founding the Collinsville Farmers Market.

Anecdote that illustrates how you fulfill your mission:

Most recently, when we learned of a developer’s plan to blast traprock ridge six days a week over a two-year period in an area where most residents relied on well water, we mobilized to alert residents of three towns affected by this plan.

The developer wanted to export nearly 140,000 cubic yards of traprock from the signature rock at the gateway to Canton. We hired experts to provide science-based testimony, researched what the town’s Zoning Regulations and Plan of Conservation and Development had to say about such plans, and educated citizens from Canton, Simsbury and Avon about the potential impact such a development would have and how they could respectfully express their concerns.

This large traprock ridge is just to the east of, and not to be confused with, the relatively small rock ledge in front of the former La Trattoria restaurant that was destroyed earlier this year — see the accompanying photos for clear visuals.

(ABOVE PHOTO) The triangular area ​delineated by the blue lines is the larger traprock ridge on Route 44 at Canton's eastern gateway — to the right is the commercial complex with Best Buy and the Hoffman car dealerships. The circled area at the left identifies where the relatively small rock ledge was located in front of the former La Trattoria restaurant — that ledge was demolished earlier this year (BELOW PHOTO).

The smaller rock — although it looks sizable, and got everyone’s attention — was just a "tiny" ledge in comparison. And it was mostly in the DOT (Department of Transportation) right of way, so they made the decision. The new owner of the former La Trattoria restaurant site wanted to be more visible. Well, the site sure is, for better or (definitely) worse.

By the way, the larger traprock ridge isn't preserved yet, as the developer still owns it, so we’re waiting to see what he does next.

Editor’s Note In June 2021, Canton’s Planning & Zoning Commission rejected the developer’s original plan for a 20-dispenser gas station, electric vehicle showroom and convenience store on Route 44 next to the West Simsbury-based Hoffman car dealerships and West Simsbury-based Best Buy.

Interesting stats + numbers:

• 60 — Height of a retaining wall (measured in feet) that the Canton Zoning Commission approved in 2008. 

147,000 — Square footage of a big-box home improvement store that would have been located under that wall. 

175,000 — Number of cubic yards of earth that would have been moved to turn the steep hill into a flat building pad. 

85 — How high that pile of earth would be (measured in feet) if it were spread over an NFL football field including both end zones.

Big box retail is, at best, a zero-sum economic deal for towns. Allowing drastic reconfiguration of the land, especially for a loser of a project, is a dangerous precedent. Fortunately, the big box chain backed out due to the cost of building on this unsuitable lot. We hope land use officials will never again make such a mistake.

Editor’s NoteThis potential Canton project was for a Lowe's Home Improvement center on a 24-acre site next to the West Simsbury-based Valley Car Wash on Route 44 near the tri-town convergence of Canton, Avon and Simsbury.

Goals for the next 1-5 years?

• Cleanup of the J. Swift Chemical Superfund site.

• Work with elected officials to improve the state regulations regarding quarrying and mining.

• Continuous improvement in the training of land use officials and educating the public about how the local planning and land use decision-making process works in Connecticut.

Volunteers — Our volunteers include attorneys, environmental professionals, scientists, professional planners, social media pros, writers, historians, architects, door-to-door canvassers and more. If you care about your town, you can help.

Besides donations, how is your work funded?

We are completely supported by donations, with the exception of a small state historic preservation grant in 2009.

How closely do you work with other agencies?

We regularly collaborate with many area nonprofits.

What do you appreciate most about the Farmington Valley?

Its one-of-a-kind character! Its people, beauty, the Farmington River, outdoor recreational opportunities, land trusts, historical buildings, rare traprock ridges, farms, locally owned businesses, history, great schools and actively engaged citizens. How can anyone pick just one of those as the best?

What constructive change would you like to see in the Valley?

Greater regional economic development and land use planning, and statewide reforms that reduce reliance on the local property tax.

Number of employees — We are all volunteers.

Board officers:

• Jane Latus, President

• Donna Burkhardt, Secretary

• Alan Weiner, Treasurer

Board members — 10

How has the COVID pandemic impacted your work?

It hasn’t, other than conducting meetings virtually.

Today Online and Today Magazine cover the heart of the Farmington Valley — We aim to report the underreported upside of the Valley's five core towns — Avon • Canton • Farmington • Granby • Simsbury — Connecticut • USA

preserve historic barns in canton, ct

We are asking for your help to save three early-1800s barns in the Canton Center Historic District and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Please sign and share this petition.

We, the undersigned, urge the Connecticut Historic Preservation Council to oppose the demolition of the barns at 225 Cherry Brook Road, Canton, Connecticut, by the current owners. These three outbuildings were listed on the National Register as contributing buildings to the Canton Center Historic District in 1997. They were once part of Humphrey's Cherry Brook Farm, which remained in the Humphrey family for over 250 years beginning in 1742. A member of that family, Frederick Humphrey, wrote in 1997 in support of the farm being included in the National Register of Historic Places. Some of these buildings are the last example of their type in Canton and include, as described by Mr. Humphrey:

Dairy barn: "built around 1811 and of typical post and beam construction with five bays, has been added to lengthwise on two occasions."

Tobacco barn: "constructed in typical Connecticut Valley fashion, long and narrow, with a post and beam frame, and with six bents where the broad leaf tobacco was hung to dry."

Engine House: contained a motor to operate a "hay fork rope heist" and run a grindstone to sharpen tools.

Of particular note is the tobacco barn. The Agricultural Census for Canton showed that 84 farmers were growing tobacco in Canton in 1880 – especially in the Cherry Brook Valley.  But you'd never know it now, because there are no tobacco barns left to tell the story – except for this last one that the owner wants to tear down. Canton Center was settled by Europeans in the mid-18th century for the purpose of raising crops, and its agricultural appearance is threatened by this proposed demolition. According to its National Historic Register listing:

"Barns with weathered wood siding, sheds, dairy barns and an occasional silo are seldom out of sight. Their contribution is as important to the district's makeup as the open spaces.

"The total resource of farmland, associated buildings, and town-center cluster constitutes a good example of a well-preserved rural agricultural district in its entirety, unusual in Connecticut’s Central Valley Historic Context Region."

In his 1997 letter, Frederick Humphrey wrote, "Cherry Brook Farm represents a vanishing American institution: the small New England farm. Its white Colonial house, red barn buildings, and the adjacent fields and woods all stand for an earlier era."

Please also consider writing a letter in support of preserving these barns. For details on the Canton Center Historic District and 225 Cherry Brook Rd., see the National Historic Register Archives.

Send your letter to:

Todd Levine

State Historic Preservation Office

450 Columbus Blvd., Suite 5

Hartford, CT 06103

Thank you,

Canton Advocates for Responsible Expansion, Inc.

C.A.R.E.'s mission is to encourage responsible economic development in Canton, while protecting its character, identity and quality of life.