Officials Recommend Funds For Additional Demolition At Fairfield Hills
What can the town do to generate activity for demolition at Fairfield Hills? First Selectman Pat Llodra told the Fairfield Hills Authority members Monday, November 24, that town officials recently have had “quite a bit of discussion” about the question.
She soon handed members a draft of Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) recommendations that include three $3.5 million requests over consecutive years between 2015 and 2018 for demolition.
“Such improvement enhances the look of campus and could interest investors that we’re moving ahead,” Mrs Llodra said, although that movement is “incremental,” she said.
These CIP items are “extraordinarily good news,” Mrs Llodra said. For the first time in ten or more years, “We can say this is our commitment,” she said. As other government bodies such as the Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen review the CIP — a five-year plan that is revised annually — they have “tried to incorporate more funding” for demolition with the hope of razing some of the remaining larger buildings, the first selectman pointed out.
While costs to remove bricks and mortar “is one thing,” Mrs Llodra said that abatement of hazardous materials is always an unknown and drives up costs.
“I’m hoping $3.5 million is enough for big buildings,” she said. Looking back at the buildings razed so far — the most recent demolition taking place at Danbury Hall earlier this year — and glancing ahead to the buildings still marked for removal, she said, “We will get to the end run at some point, and those that come after us will thank us for having the courage to purchase this jewel.”
Authority member Terry Sagedy said Monday that money in the town’s CIP would send the message to prospective developers that the town is addressing the buildings. Mrs Llodra brought members’ attention to past development proposals, which had raised the questions of who would be responsible for the demolition: should the expense fall to the town or the developer?
Authority member Renata Adler told Mrs Llodra that the town’s strategies to entice developers are not working.
Explaining the demolitions funds in the CIP, Mrs Llodra said, “Every time we make substantial improvements on our dime it makes us look like a worthwhile location to consider — the more buildings we take down, the better.”
Mr Sagedy considers this “a great move forward. Empty lots are an incentive.”
The Master Plan
According to the Fairfield Hills Master Plan for redevelopment, which was most recently amended in 2013, “At the June 2001 Town Meeting, the voters of Newtown approved the bonding for the purchase of a 186-acre southerly portion of the Fairfield Hills Hospital site,” for $20.1 million.
Recreation and municipal uses have been part of the Fairfield Hills reuse vision since its purchase, and have also welcomed the element of commercial development. As stated in the 2013 Master Plan, “The following plan balances the competing needs within the community in a way that adheres to the vision articulated by the 2010 Fairfield Hills Master Plan Review Committee.
“We envision Fairfield Hills as a vibrant sustainable destination where all members of the community can go to enjoy recreational, social, cultural, indoor and outdoor activities. The campus would provide a home for some municipal services and a gathering place for a variety of townwide events. Small retail stores, restaurants, and professional offices would be nestled harmoniously within a core section of the campus. The well-designed campus would connect the history of the site with its future, with the town maintaining overall control of the property and preserving the campus environment and architectural style.”
While several buildings have come down in past years, and development has taken place in two private ventures at NYA Sports & Fitness Center and the Newtown Volunteer Ambulance garage, and the town has renovated another building to become Newtown Municipal Center, other development has been slow.
Although various past and current investors or developers propose plans, they encounter hurdles such as finances, failure to meet approved uses, and the cost of razing existing buildings.