BMS wants more information on zoning change that halted sale of Wallingford campus

BMS wants more information on zoning change that halted sale of Wallingford campus


WALLINGFORD — Bristol-Myers Squibb is asking a judge for permission to investigate whether town officials intentionally made a zoning change to stop the company from selling its property to a Chinese boarding school.

In a June 9 court filing, Bristol-Myers asked for more information about deliberations by Wallingford officials leading up to a vote by the Planning and Zoning Commission to eliminate “education, religion and philanthropy” as uses in the I-5 and IX industrial zones, where the Bristol-Myers campus is located.

The change prevented the pharmaceutical company from selling the campus to the Chinese boarding school.

“Bristol-Myers and the Wallingford public have a right to know to what extent the requested changes were initiated in response to Bristol-Myers’ plans,” Diane Whitney, a Hartford attorney representing Bristol-Myers wrote in a filing dated June 9. “A local legislative change to thwart plans of one landowner would constitute an ultra vires act. The strong suggestion in the record that the town targeted Bristol-Myers deserves investigation through discovery.”

Wallingford officials have denied that the change was made to stop the sale, saying it was done to preserve the zone for industrial use.

It doesn’t make sense to place educational and religious organizations in the industrial zones, Corporation Counsel Janis Small said in March. She added that the change “isn’t about one buyer for one property.”

The Law Department could not be reached for comment Friday.

Bristol-Myers spokeswoman Lisa McCormick Lavery said, “We have been actively marketing our Wallingford site and were close to an agreement for the sale of the property to a for-profit educational organization that would have retained the tax revenue to the town. Discussions with the interested buyer have now ceased and the sale will not happen. The rezoning puts future sales opportunities in jeopardy and may inhibit our ability to repurpose the site as an integrated part of the community.”

Bristol-Myers appealed the zoning change in March, claiming that the zoning commission lacked legal justification for its decision and that the change was intentionally made to prohibit the sale.

The zoning change was presented by members of the Economic Development Commission.

Economic Development Specialist Tim Ryan said town officials started considering changes after Sacred Heart University purchased General Electric’s former 66-acre campus in Fairfield.

Town officials feared a tax-exempt educational or religious organization could similarly purchase property in an industrial zone.

“Wallingford taxpayers have invested a significant amount of money, millions of dollars, in road and utility infrastructure in both zones in anticipation of a sustainable return through the payment of property taxes,” Ryan said at the meeting in February where the zoning commission passed the change. “Philanthropic, educational and religious uses do not represent entities obligated to pay taxes.”

Bristol-Myers has said the Chinese boarding school, which has not been named, is for-profit and would have paid taxes.

Bristol-Myers, at 5 Research Parkway, is the town’s top taxpayer. It has announced it is leaving Connecticut in 2018 as part of a nationwide restructuring of its operations. In 2015, the company paid $2.3 million in taxes on its property, according to Assessor Shelby Jackson.

Ryan and other town officials had been working with Bristol-Myers to sell the property.

According to Bristol-Myers’ March 6 appeal, company officials met with the mayor and town officials on Jan. 9 to inform them of the anticipated sale. The Economic Development Commission submitted an application for the change the next day, the appeal states.

In its latest court filing, Bristol-Myers is seeking information about discussions between town officials, including the members of the EDC and PZC, prior to the zoning commission’s decision.

“When those deliberations began, who was involved in them, and what they considered, will all be relevant to the claims in this matter,” Whitney wrote in the June 9 filing. 203-317-2279 Twitter: @matthewzabierek

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