Chairman of the City Council Ronald Quagliani (D-at-large) wants some answers, and he’s hoping to get them on Sept. 28. Quagliani is inviting the Haven Development Company and Economic Development Commissioner Fred Messore to the council’s next regular meeting.
At issue is the chain of events that will take place over the next months and years toward the completion of the retail outlet mall that was first announced in 2014. An August editorial in the Voice wondered when the demolition of the project footprint would begin several months after traffic was closed on Water Street, leading to its eventual abandonment.
In fact, it is the final abandonment of that artery that Quagliani hopes to leverage in order to get some answers.
“I and the City Council have not lost sight of this project and your queries are shared by me and many on this council as well as our residents,” Quagliani responded this week. “I do not have answers to your questions nor does the council and that is why I am requesting the developers and the Economic Development Commissioner join us at our Sept 28 meeting to update us and the community as to the status of this project.”
Following the publication of the editorial, the developer stated it was awaiting a sign-off by the Center District fire marshal in order to begin demolition. That signature has reportedly been received, but nothing has happened on the property.
Quagliani is looking for answers to questions in several areas, saying the neighborhood, which has had to deal with fires, squatters and vermin on the abandoned properties, is beyond reasonable expectations.
“The lack of progress has negatively impacted this area for far too long,” he said.
According to the chairman, he is looking for answers to several questions as far as an update from the developer. Those include environmental cleanup on the site, a timetable of demolition in all its phases, an update on leasing of space with the percentage of contracts signed and the percentage needed to commence construction, and expectation of when the project might be completed and opened.
But his questions go beyond just construction issues.
“Also, I would like to know if there are any non-construction related items that will impact the project from moving forward such as the State of Connecticut legislation on the Special Taxation District; additional State of Connecticut funds requests; Elm Street reconstruction; and approvals based on submitted timelines/permit expirations.
From the city, he wants answers in the following areas: meetings with developers; all blight investigations on subject properties/letters issues/fines; roadway closure impact on residents in the area/traffic; and legal issues pending (if any). He is hoping he can get those answers from Messore.
Though the city closed Water Street on April 27 to accommodate the beginning of demolition, Quagliani has reserved the final approval of abandonment. He is hoping that leverage will elicit the answers he is looking for from the developers and city officials.
“The City Council has been clear that we will not approve the final road abandonment until we get a better understanding of these listed items. A project update is long overdue to the community and especially the residents in this area,” he said.
Last week, one actual demolition took place. The former filling station on the corner of Water and Elm streets was razed.
The Haven was announced in the fall of 2014 and is the latest of several projects that were heralded for the Water Street area. In September 1997, then-Mayor H. Richard Borer, Jr. announced the “Water Street Project,” which was to use the Yale Architectural School and the aid of Bilco Door officials to come up with a multi-purpose commercial/retail zone, which would include the extension of the beach walk all the way to lower Elm Street.
The project was to utilize the history of the area as a ship-building hub to bring in development. Originally the project was to extend from Main Street east to Wood Street, but that was quickly abandoned. It was to be part of Borer’s “Gateway Project,” intended to upgrade the entrances to the city at all locations.
After wallowing for several years, the plan was redesigned as the West River Crossing plan, which was to use some of the elements of the original, bringing about commercial and retail construction extending to the river. That, too, never got off the ground. The city’s high taxes brought about by a dwindling tax base scared away potential developers.
That plan did get some traction, but was vetoed by incoming Mayor John Picard when it was determined the bulk of construction would be high-end condominiums that would not add to the city’s tax base and continue the problems of draining revenues in services. Picard hoped for commercial development.
The closest he came was an announcement in 2012 of 5 Water Street, a six-story office/commercial structure. That, too fizzled, and Picard began the negotiations with the developers to begin work on the Haven. His loss in 2012 to Edward O’Brien did not end the plan, but was announced under that administration.
O’Brien had the same disappointments as his predecessors as timetables were pushed back when property owners fought over sale of their properties. Several budgets showed revenues expected from the permits anticipated from the project, only to be pushed further back.