Council To Weigh Future Of Sandy Hook Parcel
In the first of what will be at least two presentations, the Legislative Council heard from two municipal officials and a commercial broker about the condition of a vacant town-owned parcel near the center of Sandy Hook.
According to Director of Planning George Benson, who was joined at the September 5 council meeting by Deputy Director of Economic & Community Development Cristal Preszler and Brian Atherton of Northeast Investment Realty, the town has done a number of things to help potential developers of the parcel in question at 7 Glen Road.
Following the meeting, Mr Benson told The Newtown Bee that he supported and received zoning changes to help first accommodate a commercial animal hospital, and then a developer who wanted to put a mixed use retail/residential building and then separate buildings on the property.
“But when they considered the environmental risks, they all backed away,” Mr Benson said.
Mr Atherton has also told Mr Benson that he was unsuccessful in marketing the property because of the unknowns involving possible hazardous materials underground.
The parcel was a vehicle service center prior to its foreclosure and the property being acquired by the town in 2013. Since then, the main building on the property was demolished, and the site was leveled and paved over.
Ms Preszler said she reminded the council that her office was able to qualify for a modest grant that helped assess hazmat risks with the structure, and a minor asbestos abatement occurred prior to its being razed.
Subsequently, Ms Preszler said, a Phase I and Phase II environmental site assessment was performed, resulting in the finding of some contamination on the property — mostly hydrocarbons and lead. She told the council that her office was challenged in finding additional grant monies to apply toward further cleanup of the parcel because grantors require evidence that there will be a final and beneficial outcome.
But with no viable developers or buyers willing to take the risk on what other environmental contamination might lie below ground, she is unable to secure added funds.
Mr Benson said a situation recently occurred with the former Newtown Volunteer Ambulance headquarters, which was also a former auto center and garage. He said a developer was poised to acquire the site, but during the removal of a underground oil storage tank, significant soil contamination was discovered.
“They ended up having to excavate and remove soil from half of the lot,” he said, adding that a prospective buyer paid for a Phase III evaluation but also rejected the purchase without revealing the results of that privately funded test.
Mr Benson explained that the town is exempt from any liability for the Glen Road parcel as a result of its foreclosure for outstanding tax liabilities. But anyone who acquires the parcel would be liable for mitigating any environmental contamination that becomes evident following the deed transfer.
He believes that capping the property and using it as a temporary parking area for Sandy Hook businesses is the current and most viable use, adding that an advanced cleanup to make the parcel usable for commercial or residential use could run $600,000 to more than $1 million.
The 1.1-acre site, formerly owned by Sandy Hook Auto & Marine Corp, is currently appraised at $194,050 according to town records.
Mr Benson said he believes the local business support group SHOP (Sandy Hook Organization for Prosperity) may have some ideas about how to best utilize the parcel, and he was expecting representatives to approach the council at a subsequent meeting to present those ideas.
He said some council members expressed concern about a vote to market the property, as opposed to taking it for municipal use. Mr Benson believes the town could take the property back, turn it into parking, and still make it available in the future if an interested buyer emerges.
First Selectman Dan Rosenthal, who was at the meeting, said he was looking forward to hearing some ideas about putting the parcel to good use.
“I think George [Benson] and I will meet with SHOP to hear what they have to say, and we’ll proceed from there,” the first selectman said.
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