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Council Puts Off DecisionOn Queen Street Properties



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Council Puts Off Decision

On Queen Street Properties

By Steve Bigham

The Legislative Council Wednesday tabled further discussion on the sale of five houses along Queen Street until it has more information, and possibly until after the Fairfield Hills issue is resolved.

Members spent an hour analyzing the proposal before the issue was tabled. Much of the discussion centered on Housatonic Habitat for Humanity’s offer to buy the smallest of the houses (31 Queen Street) for $20,000. It plans to fix up the 1,200-square-foot house and then sell it to a moderate-income family for an affordable price. With the house being valued at $112,000, council members acknowledged this was a pretty big donation from the town. They wanted to make sure they had all the facts before going forward.

Will Rodgers made the motion to table the issue, suggesting the council may need to walk through the houses.

Newtown purchased the properties – six houses and eight lots – from the state for $1.25 million earlier this year. The property was once part of the Fairfield Hills Hospital campus. As required under state law, Newtown was given right-of-first refusal when the state decided to sell the land and houses. The parcels cover about 15 acres along the east side of Queen Street and include empty, asbestos-filled houses once used by staff members of the former state mental health hospital, plus a barn and stone outbuilding.

Five of the houses will be sold privately at an auction. Each sale would have a deed restriction attached, limiting its usage to single-family housing.

Newtown resident Tom Gissen, a Habitat for Humanity volunteer, said the house at 31 Queen Street is perfect for what Habitat for Humanity is looking to do. It is the smallest of the town-owned properties and could easily be fixed up and sold to a family.

“When we first heard about those houses, we were very interested because we could move forward and not have to worry about new construction,” he said. “That house is readily adaptable to a renovation project.”

Joe Humeston, a Newtown resident and Habitat for Humanity official, said the home could be added to the town’s inventory of affordable housing since it falls under the state guidelines due to its deed restrictions. After being fixed up, Habitat would sell the home to a family for about $70,000, which is paid off with a non-interest loan.

New council member Doug Brennan wondered why the town doesn’t just donate $80,000 to Habitat for Humanity. It could use that money to buy two lots somewhere else and get two houses out of the deal.

“Eighty thousand dollars, that’s essentially what we’re giving them,” said Mr Brennan, a Habitat volunteer himself.

True, said Mr Humeston, but we are not in the business of buying a house, fixing it up and then selling it for a profit.

Some council members felt the town could get much more than $112,000 for the home. The donation of tax dollars could be more like $100,000. It was the sentiment of the Board of Selectman that Habitat for Humanity was the right organization to work with.

“Yes, we would be losing some money under what we paid for that house, but, in total, we would not be losing money because we’re making a profit on the sale of the other houses,” Mr Rosenthal said. “We were looking at it as a package deal.”

Melissa Pilchard said she needs more time to make a decision. Still under consideration are the financial aspects of the sale, open space issues and the means of selling the houses.

“I don’t think a half hour discussion tonight is adequate,” she said.

The disposition of town-owned property requires the approval of the Legislative Council and the public at a town meeting.

To qualify for Habitat for Humanity assistance, a family’s total income must not exceed $36,000 to $38,000.

Last January, Newtown residents voted, 155 to 8, in favor of buying the land and houses. Many said they voted for the plan in an effort to control future development along Queen Street. The homes are all hooked up to municipal water and sewer facilities.

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