WATERBURY — Communities with commuter rail and CTFastrak stations could receive assistance from the state to develop property around those locations with the creation of a new quasi-public authority.
A bill in the General Assembly, Senate Bill 19, would create the Transit Corridor Development Assistance Authority to help municipalities, including those along the Metro-North Waterbury line, develop and find financing for those projects.
“There’s a desire for businesses to locate and develop near community transit stations, and in the state, which is committing to improving rail and bus rapid transit, there’s a need to connect government investment with private developers who are looking for sites with those characteristics. The valley is full of them,” said Rick Dunne, executive director of the Naugatuck Valley Council of Government.
The Waterbury line soon will undergo $10 million in improvements, including automatic signals and passing sidings in Beacon Falls, Derby and Waterbury. The upgrade will allow multiple trains to operate in the same direction. Currently, the train has to travel 27 miles in one direction and then return because two trains cannot pass at the same time.
Dunne said the changes will allow for more service on the Waterbury line, particularly during the morning and evening peak hours, and thereby make it more attractive for businesses to develop nearby.
State Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, doesn’t support the bill because he said it would usurp the power of the municipality.
“It sort of says, the state knows better and here’s what you’re going to accept in your town whether you like it or not,” Fasano said. “I don’t think the state government should ever tell local governments what they should do in their town.”
Dunne said using the authority is voluntary and the state wouldn’t come into a municipality without an invitation from its leaders.
Having individual communities obtain the expertise to develop land surrounding transit stations — most of the times the sites are old industrial spaces that require brownfield remediation — is an expensive proposition.
“By having a quasi-governmental authority available to them, then you have automatic access to resources of various state agencies,” Dunne said.
The authority could provide an array of services to cities and towns that include generating private investment, developing master plans, remediating contaminated property and developing real estate, he noted.
If invited, the maximum area the authority would oversee is a half-mile radius around the station. That area would be agreed upon by the municipality and the authority before work would begin.
The cost of the authority is $250,000 a year to fund an executive director and an assistant. That money would come from a special transportation fund, said Gian-Carl Casa, undersecretary for legislative affairs with the state Office of Policy and Management.
The ultimate goal would be to make the authority self-sufficient by taking a portion of revenues from projects, such as parking fees.
The authority would be housed in the Capital Region Development Authority offices so staff there can assist on projects.
On March 14, the bill was approved by the Joint Planning and Development Committee with an 11-9 party-line vote.
This is the second attempt to establish the authority.
Last year, a bill died in the House because of concerns about the authority having too much control over municipalities, including usurping local zoning and land use regulations. Another concern was not enough local representation on the authority’s board.
State Rep. Theresa Conroy, D-Seymour, said this year’s bill makes sure local zoning is not superseded, and the authority won’t be able to take properties by eminent domain.
Conroy said the bill would be a “dream” for her, and it is something she has wanted for years.
“It’s a good thing for the whole Waterbury branch line,” Conroy said.