CHESHIRE – Local officials are having little success persuading the state to sell them nearly 50 acres of undeveloped land in the north end of town at a deep discount.
On April 29, the state Government Administration and Elections Committee held a public hearing on Senate Bill 1123, which proposes that the state convey approximately 48 acres of land northeast of the Interstate 691 overpass on Route 10 to the town for administrative costs.
As part of the bill, the town would be required to use the parcels for “economic development purposes.” If the town does not use the land for that purpose, does not retain ownership, or leases all or any portion of the land, ownership of the properties would automatically revert back to the state.
At the public hearing, staff from the state Department of Transportation and the Office of Policy and Management both opposed the bill. DOT Commissioner Joe Giulietti wrote in his testimony that all properties “suitable for economic development” should stay under state ownership.
“If the Town desires to use the property for economic development, the Department recommends amending the bill to require the Town pay fair market value plus administrative fees,” Giulietti wrote.
OPM Secretary Melissa McCaw added that the Town Assessor’s Office values the three parcels of land at $3.1 million.
“OPM recommends selling the subject property either to the Town, or any other interested party, for fair market value established by two independent appraisals,” McCaw wrote.
Both McCaw and Giulietti insist that the bill contains contradictory language.
“The bill states that, if the town sells or leases the property or uses it for another purpose it will revert back to the state,” Giulietti said. “This contradicts the economic development use required by the act.”
Testimony was also submitted by the Connecticut Audubon Society, the Connecticut Forest and Park Association, Rivers Alliance of Connecticut, and the Rauch family of Meriden.
Economic Development Coordinator Jerry Sitko said that town staff were not surprised by the response from state officials.
“It was the same response that occurred last year, from what I understand, and we expected that,” Sitko said.
Sitko explained that the property was a focus of the economic development report completed by consulting firm Arnett Muldrow in 2017. In the report, Arnett Muldrow staff recommends the town acquire ownership of the property and solicit proposals for redevelopment purposes.
“That was how the whole thing started,” Sitko said. “Then a request was made to (state) Rep. Liz Linehan to see what she could do with it up at the Capitol. It hasn’t gone too far, but one option was to convey it to the town.”
Economic Development Commission Chairman David Pelletier said that other zoning changes being considered, such as the implementation of a Tax Incremental Finance District in the north end and a Highland Avenue Design District between Creamery Road and East and West Johnson avenues, could draw in more interested developers.
“Having control of the piece (of land) would fit in nice with what the town’s attempting to do,” said Pelletier. “ … It’s positive things that hopefully might spur some development in the north end and help broaden the business tax base, which is important.”
Sitko added that the town made other suggestions to the state, including simply putting the property on the market.
“The state’s looking for money,” he said. “If you have land out there that has the potential for development purposes, put it on the market and see what happens.”
Pelletier commented that, in the 2018 election, Connecticut voters supported a referendum that now requires a public hearing and a two-thirds vote of the state legislature to allow transfer or sale of land currently under control by the state. He said that the new law could make it harder for the town to acquire the land.
“It’s going to make it tougher for the property to be conveyed, but I support (the town manager’s) attempts to try to acquire the property,” Pelletier said. “I don’t know how it’s going to shake out.”