About a decade ago, Connecticut started getting serious about reclaiming and reusing former and abandoned, environmentally tainted industrial sites known as brownfields. Around that same time, Newtown’s Director of Economic and Community Development Elizabeth Stocker began compiling an informal list of local brownfield sites.
Once she realized there were grant and other assistance programs offering funds and services to assess these contaminated former industrial sites, she also began applying for help in the hopes of eventually returning some or all of these local parcels to some degree of productive use.
Pursuing that goal would not only provide financial benefits to the community and its taxpayers by returning these unused or abandoned properties to the tax rolls, but would also help to mitigate the types of public health issues that arise around these sites like contaminated water tables.
Today, Ms Stocker’s office is administering more than a half-million dollars in brownfields grants, and has recently seen a federal investment in Newtown’s brownfield reuse initiative. In 2013, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provided a surface cleanup of one of the community’s most familiar brownfield sites — the Batchelder parcel off Swamp Road in Botsford.
Last week, Ms Stocker told the Board of Selectmen that the federal investment at that site was worth in excess of $2 million, and she was aggressively looking for other programs and grants to help return nine classified brownfield sites back to productive use.
One of those sites is already partially cleaned up and is being used daily by hundreds of residents — Fairfield Hills. This high profile, town-owned location is among nine key sites spread across the community that possess great potential for reuse.
The other sites are at 75 Church Hill Road, 57 Church Hill Road, 7-9 Glen Road, 28A Glen Road, 350-352 South Main Street, 2 Buttonshop Road, 11 Prospect Drive, and 46A Swamp Road.
Five of the nine sites are currently in arrears for property taxes, with the aforementioned Batchelder site, which has been taken over by the town, currently showing a tax liability of more than $1.9 million outstanding.
The tax collector’s office reports that the 75 Church Hill Road property owners owe $541,730; the 7-9 Glen Road owners owing $290,558; the 350-352 South Main Street owners owing $1,845; and the 2 Buttonshop Road owners owing $581,370 to the town with another $300,000 owed to a company that previously purchased an outstanding tax lien on that parcel from the town.
Current assessments on these brownfield sites are as follows: 75 Church Hill Road, $93,510; 57 Church Hill Road, $131,730; 57A Church Hill Road, $952,850; 7-9 Glen Road, $248,260; 28A Glen Road, $427,220; 350 South Main Street, $101,690; 352 South Main Street, $631,270; 2 Button Shop Road, $1,376,410; 11 Prospect Drive, $274,330; 46A Swamp Road, $3,023,490.
Bryan Atherton, a Newtown resident and commercial real estate broker who is familiar with each of the sites, offered some ideas about what these sites could be worth if they were cleaned up or otherwise made available for reuse.
Mr Atherton cautioned that was offering only his best opinion of value, and does not take into consideration things like specifics on building conditions, structural components, environmental conditions.
He said that “feasibility of development and the highest and best use analysis is the only way to understand what demand is if it even exists for a specific piece of property in a specific market and that is determined by many variables, but most important is demographics.
“Everyone misconstrues that demographics mean income and how many people,” Mr Atherton added. “Well it does, but that is just scratching the surface. Density, daytime population, nighttime population are some of the many other variables that are most important in determining the feasibility with any one of these properties or any properties in a community.”
That said, he provided the following estimates on the possible value or worth of the following brownfield parcels:
75 Church Hill Road — 1.10 acre of land B-2 zone. Land of similar quality has traded between $100,000 to $300,000 per acre over the last few years.
57 & 57A Church Hill Road — two separate parcels, 57A has improvements of a 31,194-square-foot building, while 57 is a 1.20-acre parcel. Buildings similar to this have traded in the $20 to $70 per-square-foot range, depending on quality, location, tenanting ability, utility of building etc. More details would be needed to offer a more specific price range. Mr Atherton noted this would be closer to the bottom range.
7-9 Glenn Road — There has been some serious interest in this parcel in the past. The value for raw land in the Sandy Hook Design district with similar qualities have range in the $200,000 per acre value in my opinion.
28A Glen Road — 1.58 acres, M-4 zone. Land similar to this has traded in the range of $50,000 to $200,000 per acre. In a residential area, most likely not a viable industrial location.
350-352 South Main Street — 350 South Main Street, .53 acre R-2 zone. It is a nonconforming lot, so there would be no opinion as to valuation direction. It may have no value depending in what is needed for improvements to stabilize to have the ability to rent for cash flow. No commercial value for sight lines, access and visibility are all limited at best. Highest and best use would be to consider renovating residential structure, but do not know condition so cannot conclude if feasible.
2 Button Shop Road — 120.26 acres, M-1 zone. A large track of land with watercourse and such. In order to make an opinion more details are needed with site maps, surveys to see what is useable and not useable. When a useable land ratio is determined, the value could be in the range of $20,000 to $100,000 per acre.
11 Prospect Drive — 11.49 acres M-1 zone. Acreage similar to this is trading in the range of $20,000 to $100,000 per acre. In this current market with the site limitations to access, utilities, etc, suggests the lower side of that range.
46A Swamp Road — 30 acres, M-3 zone. Making an assumption that buildings are in poor condition and would be demolished, land value would be in the range of $20,000 to $100,000 per acre (trending toward), the lower side of that range because of the limited access, utilities or lack of sewers.
Ms Stocker told The Bee that her office is in the process of determining its own estimated values for each of the properties, and she is currently researching some of the unknowns pointed out by Mr Atherton. Her office hopes to have those details available to report to applicable town boards in the near future.
First Selectman Pat Llodra said she expects Ms Stocker will be regularly reporting to selectmen on the future progress at various local brownfields sites.