City Hall has long had its eye on the Undercliff property in Meriden’s north end. Close to the mall and just off both the Chamberlain Highway and Interstate 691, Undercliff would seem to be a prime site for development. And yet, decade after decade, the state has made little use of it — unless you consider boarded-up ruins and buildings ringed with “danger” tape to be the highest and best use for nearly 100 acres of real estate.
Many of these buildings are, of course, dangerous, but the various warning signs don’t seem to have done much to prevent creative trespassers from invading the site and posting videos of it on YouTube, with titles such as “Creepiest Place in Connecticut.” In short, Undercliff would seem to be the very definition of an “attractive nuisance.”
Undercliff once housed a tuberculosis sanatorium, and later a mental hospital. There are also quite a few smaller buildings on the site. But the mere fact that the state hasn’t managed to find any sensible use for such a large tract of land, after all these years, never seems to have led anyone in Hartford to think that maybe some or all of it might someday be returned to the city’s tax rolls. That argument certainly didn’t work when the city tried to talk the state into returning the place in 2007. Maybe it will work now?
Not a chance. As if to prove that point, the state recently began demolishing some of the outdated structures there in order to build a new $25 million juvenile court building to replace the one in Middletown. Which should come as no surprise, since nobody had any real cause for hope that Hartford would ever loosen its grip on Undercliff.
What does come as something of a surprise is that nobody at 142 E. Main St. seems to have had any idea that the new courthouse was a done deal, let alone that demolition of the unused Kimball Hall, and other site work, had already begun. Lacking, it would seem, any legal requirement that the state notify someone at City Hall about a major demolition and site remediation and construction project about to start within the city limits — the mayor, say, or the city manager, or the city planner, or some member of Meriden’s delegation in the General Assembly — Hartford apparently notified none of the above.
Which seems just a little bit high-handed, does it not? Even if we assume that this latest project means the city’s chance of ever getting Undercliff back is close to nil, isn’t the city entitled to be informed about what’s going on there? If only out of common courtesy?