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Leavitt Tries to Alleviate Pheeny's Island Concerns

Selectman Robert Kimball addresses option to buy the island.

With the continuation of the public hearing on the Pheeny’s Island team building camp looming, residents of Norton are drawing the line of support and opposition.

The island is currently up for sale by a private owner who is in talks with Ken Leavitt, former owner of the Powder Ridge Ski Resort. Leavitt’s vision is to create a team building adventure camp on the 5.3 acres available on island with rope bridge courses, zip lines and other challenges.

“We are promoting the experience of nature,” he said.

To try and ease some concerns brought up by citizens, Leavitt answered the following questions:

How will Norton benefit from this? Leavitt said that the camp would provide about 30 jobs in the first year. Twenty of those positions would be held by guides trained to oversee the safety of visitors and belaying the climbers. Others will work in the office, drive the Jon boats or be be trained for the expedition portion of the experience.

The goal is to also give people a fun way to get exercise. Since the camp will focus on the natural aspect, Leavitt also hopes to get historical and environmental agencies involved to inform the public of their surroundings. Finally, Norton will see some revenue.

“On the island, when we build the building there, when we build the course, that gets taxed,” Leavitt said.

How will you respond in emergency situations? “The accident record for this kind of thing are minimal,” Leavitt said. “But you never know.”

He said a ferry will be designated for emergencies to transport people back to the mainland or safety officials to the island. They will also be looking to hire people with a safety background, such as firefighters looking for a second job.

“We are very concerned about safety,” Leavitt said.

Will the project stop here, or will anything be added in the future? Leavitt said this will strictly be a rope park. No water slides will be added.

How will the sewerage be dealt with? According to Leavitt, the camp will have a state-of-the-art sewerage treatment called composting technology by Clivus Multrum

“They use natural process to render this waste material to be regenerated into soil.”

How will people be kept off the island during off hours? There may be guides staying overnight on the island or a security guard. There will also be cameras, and the ladders to the platforms will be taken down at night.

Can't you just go somewhere else in Norton? "I just haven't seen another place," Leavitt said. The island has all the elements he wants for the camp, including the space, trees and an overall natural feel.

What happened with Powder Ridge Ski Resort? “The ski industry is a very tough industry. It’s been very tough for a long time because you’ve got incredible seasonality,” said Leavitt. So he came up with an idea to closely couple the ski aspect with a natural water park integrating the ski hills and topography at Powder Ridge to utilize more seasons.

“We could see by the numbers that the ski area was going to die the way it was. But with our plan, it had a chance,” he said, noting that he already had several successful technology ventures like CGX Corp. under his belt.

The state of Connecticut supported the water park plan, even giving a commitment to loan $2 million and a $500,000 sales and use tax exemption. Working with the town officials, Leavitt and his group got most of the permits needed and took their advice to buy the land to show his commitment. He bought the ski area and began operating it in 1996.

A group of people near the resort weren’t so supportive, however. They fought against the water park proposal, stopping it from being implemented. Though they couldn’t agree on what they wanted to do with the land, they agreed they did not want the ski resort or the water park in their backyard. One of these people became elected as the Board of Finance chairman.

Ten years later, the resort went bankrupt. The Board looked to buy the development rights to the property in 2006.

“There was very questionable practices that took place,” Leavitt said. “We signed a deal with the selectmen, but there was other dealings going on.”

The town independently appraised the property at $6.5 million. Leavitt’s appraiser felt it was $6.5 million as well.

“Somehow the town was able to acquire the property for about $2.5 million over 18 months,” Leavitt said.

Leavitt then sued Middlefield Holdings LLC in June of 2011.

So what’s next? Residents near the reservoir are not the only ones questioning this project.

“I have a whole host of concerns that are going to need to be addressed,” said Norton Fire Chief Paul Schleicher. “There will be up to 200 people on an island with no immediate access for us other than launching a boat, so when someone gets injured or something, It could be very time consuming, very costly.”

Chief Schleicher says that working with Mansfield to coordinate efforts poses as a potential problem as well. Island visitors will first be introduced to the park through a video at an office located at 888 S. Main St., Mansfield. They will then be ferried to the island from there.

“We got a real concern because the project is launching from Mansfield, so it’s two different communities being involved now,” he said. “It would be a little bit easier for me logistically to have everything based in Norton.”

Another worry is that police presence may be needed if unruly behavior occurs.

“We want to make sure the public is safe,” Schleicher said.

Since the island is up for sale by a private owner, selectmen say that there’s not much the townspeople can do to stop the sale, short of buying the island.

“It would be up to the taxpayers of Norton,” said Robert Kimball, noting that he is unsure how much the island would cost. One website puts it at $149,900. “If they really want to protect the quality of that island then they need to step up and figure out a way to purchase it. The town could use it, but we’d have to go for a short term loan or some kind of loan option and it would have to be approved at Town Meeting.”

But if that does not happen, other buyers may come along.

“We don’t know what’s up the pike next,” said selectwoman Mary Steele.

“Someone could buy it, cut down all the trees and put up a house,” added Kimball.

While the next Conservation Commission meeting must begin in Town Hall, the hearing will resume at the library March 12 at a time to be announced.

Bill Gouveia February 24, 2012 at 05:14 PM
There is and has been more pollution put into the reservoir from private homes along the water with inadequate septic systems than would ever be put into the water by a business such as the one proposed. I've lived here all my life also, and took swimming lessons in the reservoir when I was a kid. My wife grew up in a house right on the reservoir. This is not about "saving" some kind of environmental treasure, it is about people trying to protect what they see as a threat to their quality of life and their property values. That's ok - this is America, they are entitled. But please, spare me the bald eagle and the otters. This is a man-made reservoir consisting of flooded-over farmland, not a national sanctuary.
norton February 24, 2012 at 05:37 PM
Mr. Gouveia. I am very saddened by your demenor. As a former selectman, finance committee member and now the Town Moderator that you feel this way. even more saddened that you are a life long resident and still feel this way. You just want it for the "tax money" that the town will supposedily get. There are other places Leavitt can put this adventure park. As a town "OFFICIAL"(and i say that lightly) do you want the town to be sued byt Leavitt when the adventure park goes bankrupt. Like he has done with Powder Ridge. Have you really researched this "BUSINESS MAN" (and i say that lightly). I think not. I am also a life long resident of this town. and yes i do agree that we need more businesses in town. but i do not agree this will be the right one. The Reservoir may not be an "ENVIRONMENTAL TREASURE" as you say but it is a TOWN TREASURE. You and other "TOWN OFFICIALS" may not appreciate the beauty of the res but i know i sure as hell do and so does my family and thousands of other towns people. I am very saddened that you are a representative of this town with the feelings that you have. If you do not love this town as we do then i suggest that you move
norton February 24, 2012 at 05:50 PM
and you made me want to fight more now. thank you Gouveia
save the island February 24, 2012 at 06:48 PM
Mr. Gouveia, maybe you would like a copy of the videos taken by one of those "people trying to protect what they see as a threat to their quality of life and their property values" of our majestic bald eagles right out on the reservoir, eating, sunning and flying overhead or the otters playing in the water as kayaks paddle by. From your comment about " more pollution put into the reservoir from private homes along the water with inadequate septic systems" , It sounds as though you are unfamiliar with the fact that all of the homes and business that surround the reservoir are on town sewer and this was deemed necessary years back as to eliminate the waste and pollution to the reservoir which is now a non contaminated body of water. The fact that it was and I quote you land " consisting of flooded-over farmland" does not lessen or demean it's value at all as I'm sure where ever your home is sitting at this very moment in time was also at one time farm land. I do agree that no one in their right mind wants their property value decreased no matter where one lives but each and everyone of us fighting for the island and the home of what you so crudely put "But please, spare me the bald eagle and the otters" would put aside property value concern to save this small treasure that we love in our town. It is truly unfortunate you are so greedy in thought to feel it is proper to eliminate it.
Bill Gouveia February 24, 2012 at 06:49 PM
So if I don't agree with you, I'm a bad official? This is my opinion, not my official stance. And I don't know if I would be in favor of such a business until I see the proposal and how the problems are addressed. Unlike you, I am not rushing to judgment without having the facts. If I don't agree with you I should move - nice attitude. Clearly you are the one with the reasonable stance here. You don't want this business near your home - I understand. I don't begrudge or belittle you for that. You should try extending the same level of respect.
Bill Gouveia February 24, 2012 at 06:55 PM
I understand and respect your concerns - I really do. And I do understand much - if not now most - of the homes are on town sewer. But there are other ways homes put pollution into the water, not just through the sewage system. I want the REservoir to be an active recreational area, with boating and people able to enjoy it. The town bought it, it should use it. But I draw the line at telling people what they can and cannot do with land they own, provided of course it complies with the applicable laws. When a business locates in town, you can't keep it out just because you think it is not a good fit for the community. I chuckle when you call ME greedy, while the vast majority of those trying to "save" the island are actually those who live around it and rightfully concerned about their own situation.
Norton Deals-Happenings February 24, 2012 at 07:19 PM
Can this person buy property elsewhere in town to build this park? Maybe the old put-put golf course next to cumberlands perhaps? Why must it be on the island?? Has everyone looked at this man's past? His multiple lawsuits against the towns he's done business in, in the past? It will cost the town more in defending lawsuits than to just buy it and have it for everyone to enjoy.
Bill Gouveia February 24, 2012 at 07:31 PM
I think the answer to your question is that none of us have any say over where he puts any business he wants, as long as he meets zoning laws, conservation laws, and any other requirements. I don't know, but I am guessing that having it on an island is a marketing thing for a business like that. I'm guessing he likes the setting and thinks it will attract people. As for his lawsuits with towns, most of them appear to be with one community over a very sensitive issue. We have businesses in town now that at one time or another have had legal issues with the town. Doesn't make them bad people. I don't know if this project will meet zoning requirments and be able to comply with Board of Health regulations and things like that. But I do know that so far all the man has done is make a proposal and he has been chastized when he has done nothing wrong here. I strongly urge all those opposed to the project to continue to make their opposition known as strongly as they desire. All I and I think others ask is that the project be given a fair shake at addressing concerns before being shutdown.
norton February 24, 2012 at 09:18 PM
Now i have heard that the island is only zoned for commercail. is this correct? I have also hear d that he would need a variance in order to sell food/drinks? what is the correct information
Bill Gouveia February 24, 2012 at 09:35 PM
I know you need a common victualers license from the selectmen in order to sell food and drink, not sure about any kind of variance - doesn't sound like a zoning thing. I'm not sure what the zoning is on the island, but I would imagine it must be commercial or you couldn't even think about putting a commercial venture there. Good question to ask, though - town planning office should be able to tell you.
Bob Havey February 25, 2012 at 12:46 PM
"[Mr. Gouveia] If you do not love this town as we do then I suggest that you move" Really? Hey, Norton Residents Against The Adventure Park - I have no dog in this fight, but that's one of the most ignorant things you could have said. So let me see if I have this right - anyone who disagrees with YOUR position should move out of town, is that correct? Asinine!
Norton all my Life February 25, 2012 at 01:15 PM
what EXACTLY are these folks afraid of? Noise? I'm so sick of the Grove people telling me what a treasure the resevoir is. It's a POTENTIAL treasure, vastly underused. Again, the bald eagles, the otters, the dinosaurs, dragons or great spotted whatevers will not be affected. Get over grove people!!
Keep the Reservoir nonprofit February 25, 2012 at 03:40 PM
It does not have to be underused. I would enjoy nothing more than watching boaters, swimmers, kyakers, fisherman, etc enjoy the Reservoir. Your comments are rather uneducated.
norton February 25, 2012 at 05:06 PM
The reservior has gone unused due to it being pulluted for so long. So yes people didnt want to swim/boat/fish. in it becasue of that reason. If we raise awarness that the lake is now clean then people will use it. In the past few years i have been seeing people use it more. I see boats on it all the time. I have even seen people swimming. and this is not just "GROVE PEOPLE" who are against it. the grove is only a small part of town it does not cover the entire reservoir. there are houses all over the res not just in the grove.
save the island February 25, 2012 at 07:22 PM
Mr. Havey, it seems you have a great deal of animosity toward the families that live and surround the reservoir. From your uncalled for and derogatory comments of "grove people" , for your information, we make up a good deal of the town of Norton, and we are not a separate entity nor are we a group of people to be discounted or disrespected by your comments. We are a working and loving group of families and friends that have made our home around the reservoir, formed a tight knit neighborhood in the town of Norton, we know our neighbors, we look out for each others homes and children, invite each other to social functions and family gatherings and love the area we live in. All something you will never be a part of since from your comments you feel you are superior to us, but, inreality, your comments just make others see how very small you really are.
evrery man for himself--NOT February 25, 2012 at 08:13 PM
Ok everyone ..take a breath. The island is privately owned. The owner has a right to sell it. Whomever buys it has a right to pursue whatever avenue they wish. The few, and I mean few, surrounding residents cannot and should not dictate to the rest of the town. I'm glad you are all great neighbors, now be good citizens and do what is best for the town.
Greg Steele February 25, 2012 at 10:06 PM
Love the video. Can't wait to take my family.
norton February 25, 2012 at 11:43 PM
I think the misconceptions people have from the grove are because of the past. But in reality the Grove has changed so much. yes there are still drugs and what not but that is everywhere. Yes we are the most populated area of the grove but you know this all used to be summer homes. Until people either settled here perm or sold the summer cottages. yes we do have great neighbors. we are a close nit neighborhood. If we are so bad then tell me why in the world do people from all over town bring their kids here on halloween to trick or treat. why do people go walking here all the time. This past Halloween we have over 200 Kids now you know thats just not this area. yes we have had problems in the past but what neighborhood doesnt. We are not trying to dicatate what people do as someone said. we are just trying to stand up for what we believe in. and we happen to beleive in perserving the Res. I'M A GROVE RESIDENT LOUD AND CLEAR AND PRETTY DAMN PROUD OF IT.
Blacktop the whole thing February 25, 2012 at 11:53 PM
now I know why the Eagles are there.. chasing the loons
Bob Havey February 26, 2012 at 01:05 AM
Hey, Save The Island - What the heck are you talking about? I never mentioned the word 'Grove' in my comment, I'd suggest you reread and then you can apologize. I'll be waiting.
Bill Gouveia February 26, 2012 at 02:26 AM
Let's not let this drag us all down into a personal thing. The Grove is a great area, one of Norton's true neighborhoods. We can disagree on a topic without calling each other names. I don't think we should discriminate agaisnt residents or any area, or businessmen from any area or state.
where's freeman when we need'em February 26, 2012 at 01:27 PM
shut up Bill ..please for a change
Trot Nixon February 26, 2012 at 01:59 PM
I guess they don't like your comments, Bill because your not one of the good ole boys in Town Government like the rest of them because everything you say is the truth regarding this situation instead of being like bob kimball and telling the grove residents the town could buy the island with the little money this town has to keep them dillusional about the situation.... dude if you want freeman advocating your issues, then you must be on drugs bc thats the last guy I want advocating anything for me in this town.
Bob Havey February 26, 2012 at 03:07 PM
Hey! 'Save The Island' or whatever your REAL name is! I'm still waiting for a retraction of your accusations against me since I said NOTHING that you alleged. I also find it interesting that most of the inflammatory statements on this thread are made by those hiding behind pseudonyms. The term 'Gutless' comes to mind.
Linda Clark February 26, 2012 at 07:06 PM
I think that person was reading the comment below yours. Unfortunately.
norton February 27, 2012 at 03:03 AM
That totally came out the wrong way and some of my post got cut off im not sure why. I really didnt mean that. I have not personal issues with Mr. Gouveia. Sorry for what was miss read and cut off. :-)
norton February 27, 2012 at 03:05 AM
Correct Mr. Gouveia, But saddly people do discriminate against The Grove because of past history. and I did not mean anything by what was said before about leaving town. alot of my post got cut off. Sorry. :-)
Linda Clark February 27, 2012 at 06:14 PM
I am saddened to learn that someone has vandalized the island. This is NOT the way to go. All that will be accomplished by these actions will be making it more difficult for those of us who are working diligently through research of the law, regulations and the proper agencies to deal with. Lets fight this fight the right way.
norton February 27, 2012 at 08:23 PM
Right on Linda. We do need to fight this fight the right way
Bill Gouveia February 27, 2012 at 09:09 PM
The vandalism reflects poorly on the town, even though we don't know that it was anyone from town who did it. It is just unfortunate and makes a difficult situation worse. I hope they catch whoever did do this and they are prosecuted. And I did get a chuckle out of the person who asked me to shut up - fat chance though! I hope this can be discussed calmly and reasonably going forward.

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