By Josh LaBella
Mayor Nancy Rossi said her opponent’s statement that there has been no progress made on the Havens Project in four years, “absolutely untrue.” The mayor took issue with many of the statements made by Republican mayoral candidate Michele Gregorio during a Oct. 11 press conference.
Rossi, who said the City Hall email servers were down when a request for comment was sent to her last week, said when she took office, the project was stalled. She laid out a number of steps her administration had taken in order to get it back on track.
“The developers were promised by the previous administration of $20-$30 million in state assistance,” said Rossi. “City Treasurer Michael Last and I traveled to Hartford to speak to then-Gov. Dan Malloy, and there was never any such promise made by the State of Connecticut.”
The incumbent said the Bayview Park sale to the developer needed to be negotiated with the U.S. Department of Interior, adding that it should have been dealt with years earlier. The park ended up selling for $257,000.
Rossi also pointed to the site review plan being approved by Planning and Zoning and the project being approved by the Connecticut Department of Transportation for OSTA certification as progress on the project during her administration.
“On July 22, the City Council gave approvals for road abandonment,” said Rossi. “The developer now has applied for demolition permits, is requesting the final road closures and wants to move forward with the remediation and demolition of the commercial buildings on the site.”
The mayor questioned where Gregorio has been during her 22 months as mayor.
“Is she not paying attention or does she just want to (make) false and untrue statements?” said Rossi. “My administration has made more progress on the Havens project in the last 22 months than the previous administration did in four years.”
Rossi said any large-scale project is going to have issues. She acknowledged the project has taken too long and that promises “were made in the past that did not help public trust or progress.” She said the developer is now working with an administration that “speaks facts” and they can trust.
In reference to blight and safety issues, which Gregorio highlighted as a primary issue with the Havens project, Rossi said the developer did hire a security company after a fire broke out in an abandoned building last year.
They are serious about cleaning up the property and the evidence is the fact that they have applied for demolition permits and are in the process of awarding a contract to begin demolition,” said Rossi. “No, it has not been easy for the city, the residents in the area, or the developer, but we will be much better off working as team than criticizing them in the newspapers.”
The mayor said it is important to remember the developer is a private taxpayer and is already “within the top-10ten taxpayers in the city. She said West Haven needs to become more business-friendly and the project is now moving in the right direction.
“I do feel bad for the people in the neighborhood that have had to live this day and night for years but I thank them for their patience, and the future will be much brighter with the Haven project and well worth the wait,” said Rossi.
In reference to the meeting Gregorio spoke of between the administration, legislative delegation and the developers, Rossi said the creation of a special taxation district would put the city in a win-win situation. She said if the district was approved the city would be able to do away with the seven-year tax abatement the developer is signed on to.
According to Rossi, the legislation for the special tax district is still being finalized.
As for the completion date, Rossi said the 2022 would be “realistic” but that she does not like to make promises when the city has no control over the “a private developer and the project.
“Our job is to facilitate wherever we can so the project can be successful,” said Rossi. “I will say that this project has never been in a better place.”
Rossi said her administration has been as transparent as possible vis-à-vis the Havens project. She said when she came into office her administration documented where the project stood and what needed to be done to revive it.
“We were very transparent when we demanded security on the parcel after experiencing problems on the site,” said Rossi. “When the Developer couldn’t get security in place for a few days, the WHPD secured the property and the Developer paid the bill for the WHPD security. We tried to keep everyone updated on the State’s approval process. We applied and were granted a $5 million grant for the project.”
While Rossi conceded it could be frustrating, she said the developer is a private company and does not have to disclose information such as tenant lease negotiations. Rossi asked how Gregorio could say no progress has been made on the project.
“She needs to be more truthful with the residents of West Haven and factual with her statements,” said Rossi. “West Haven has several large and small economic development projects underway. Our financial situation is on the mend and our grand list grew by $30 million in 2018 and continued growth is expected.”