A mixed-use commercial-retail development planned for the former Lexington Gardens site at Church Hill Road and The Boulevard is expected to bring about $10.5 million in commercial improvements to the area. Developers for the project — the Villages at Lexington Gardens — showed off plans and renderings of the proposed development to members of Newtown’s Board of Selectmen January 7 as part of a request for consideration for short-term tax abatement through the town’s Business Incentive Program.
In an unusual move, selectmen asked the applicants and members of the town’s Economic Development Commission to reconvene so they can confirm the application, the amount of relief requested, and the timeframe in which to award the tax relief is optimal for both the developers and the commission.
Economic and Community Development Director Elizabeth Stocker said the commission hastily approved a first draft request from developers Alan and Keith Weiner, which was received by the EDC on the day of its December 2013 meeting. That initial request, Ms Stocker said, would provide a 45 percent reduction to the anticipated increased assessment on the property based on the current mill rate once the development is completed.
A mill represents one dollar for every $1,000 in assessed property.
Ms Stocker based her calculations on an anticipated $10.5 million improvement. If approved as originally requested, the incentive abatement would amount to $150,000 annually for a three-year period or 45 percent of an anticipated $350,000 annual tax bill.
But Mrs Llodra said she wanted to see the developer and the EDC fine tune the request if it can serve the project and its potential tenants better.
“This is a big project. Every community is competing for these kinds of projects,” Mrs Llodra said. “I don’t want us to be overly generous, but other communities might extend [these types of] benefits beyond three years.”
Selectman Will Rodgers asked Alan Weiner if he and his brother might prefer an option that reduced the annual abatement, but extended it for a longer period. Alan Weiner responded that they would, saying a longer period of benefit might help the developers market longer-term leases for some or all of the occupants.
The selectmen also learned that if new owners occupy any of the commercial spaces, versus leaseholders, the abatement benefit could transfer to them. Ms Stocker said after the meeting that occupants could also come to the EDC and request further benefits through the program for locally taxable personal property.
Selectman James Gaston said, “Whether it’s 30 percent over five years, or 45 percent over three years, the EDC should have that discussion.”
The 45 percent abatement is available on qualifying developments that will create in excess of $3 million in improvements. But the first selectman said in view of the fact that the Weiners are anticipating a $10.5 million improvement, they might be entitled to a slightly enhanced benefit.
Ms Stocker said the EDC guidelines are flexible, and the town has the latitude to act within the scope of state statutes governing such commercial tax benefits, which allow up to 100 percent of property taxes forgiven for up to seven years. She did not anticipate this project would request or qualify for that level of benefit, however.
Mr Rodgers said if the gross amount of the benefit was going to remain about the same at $450,000, it would be financially advantageous to the town to extend the period of the tax benefit beyond three years.
During their presentation, the Weiners described a mixed-use development that would greatly enhance the upper Church Hill Road commercial district, which is within the Borough of Newtown and subject to its more stringent zoning and land use regulations.
The development will consist of two new commercial buildings each approximately 13,500 square fee, a third building that will be approximately 28,000 square feet, as well as improvements to an existing building fronting Church Hill Road. That building currently houses offices, a Chase bank branch and the Bagel Delight deli.
Alan Weiner said that existing building would be improved with exterior features that would match the new buildings. They would have a brick masonry exterior, with colonial features including cupolas, and a clock or clock tower on the largest building.
The Weiners confirmed that the state Department of Transportation has approved a traffic light installation that would control traffic exiting the development, as well as vehicles on Church Hill Road and The Boulevard. There will also be an additional 6,800-square-foot pad developed for a possible future bank branch.
That development is not part of the current proposal. The Weiners are anticipating a groundbreaking this spring, with the initial development ready for occupancy by fall of 2014.
The developers believe the development will eventually create 80-plus new jobs.