NAUGATUCK — If the borough is to achieve significant long-term economic growth, officials must look south of downtown. That’s the message Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess reiterated throughout his campaign and since winning his first term in office in November.
Hess once again emphasized that point as he addressed a crowd of more than three dozen people Dec. 11 during the Naugatuck Chamber of Commerce’s annual Mayoral Breakfast at Jesse Camille’s Restaurant.
“In my opinion, if we’re ever going to have long-term sustained economic growth we have to head south,” Hess said.
If the plans for parcels A and B (the former General DataComm building and adjacent parking lot) and Parcel C (the vacant lot at the corner of Water and Maple streets) downtown come to fruition, the development will equal about a 3 mill decrease, according to Hess. That’s not the substantial tax relief taxpayers are looking for, he said.
“They’re not looking for a 3 mill tax decrease,” Hess said. “They’re looking for something significant, something big.”
Hess talked of the 86-acre Chemtura property off Elm Street as the lynchpin for significant economic growth.
The property, which is a mostly-empty lot aside from two buildings and several smaller sheds and storage areas, once housed approximately 35 buildings. Without going into the detail, Hess said he has spoken with developers that are interested in the site.
The property is owned by Chemtura and is need of substantial environmental remediation. Hess said developing the site will take a combined effort from the local, state and federal government as well as Chemtura officials. He said Chemtura officials are eager to work with the borough.
Access to the site is an issue, Hess added. In order to make the land more accessible officials are discussing another entrance, which could come in the form of a bridge over the Naugatuck River in the area of Cross Street. If the bridge comes to fruition, Hess said it could open up more of Andrew Mountain and New Haven Road for development.
Developing the Chemtura property and land south of downtown is a long-term vision that Hess said will take years. He wants to set the direction for Naugatuck that will be carried on by subsequent administrations.
“I’m putting a plan in motion that’s going to head south from downtown Naugatuck,” Hess said.
In the short term, Hess has formed two subcommittees of the Board of Mayor and Burgesses to explore options the borough has to attract new businesses immediately. The subcommittees are tasked with looking for land for a potential new industrial park, making changes to the current tax incentive ordinance and creating a new tax incremental district.
“If someone comes here and wants to develop we’re going to have something for them now while we are moving forward on our long-range plans,” Hess said.
Hess’ short-term plans also call for developing amenities that he feels will improve the quality of life in Naugatuck. The plans include building a dog park on open space on Andrew Mountain, and connecting the Larkin Bridle Trail with the Naugatuck State Forest and trails in Middlebury.
Hess added that he is working with developer Bob LaFlamme about building a drive-in movie theater in Naugatuck, and is in talks with other developers about building an indoor sports complex.
The biggest issue facing the borough in Hess’ mind is also a pressing one.
Naugatuck is facing the possibility of spending about $80 million over the next few years to make federally-mandated upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant. Of that total, about $13 million of upgrades must be done before March 21 of next year or the borough could face repercussions, Hess said.
Hess said the borough has developed an “integrated town-wide resource management plan” that will be presented to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials in January. He said the plan, which includes making upgrades to incinerators at the plant over time using new technology, could eliminate or defer the upgrades until the borough is in a better financial positon to bond for the work.
However, borough officials must convince the EPA that their plan is the best option.
Hess said upgrading the wastewater treatment plant is the only issue that causes him to lose sleep.
“The only thing that scares me … is the wastewater treatment plant,” Hess said.