NAUGATUCK — When it comes to deviations from the approved plan for developing Parcel C, the Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation’s Board of Directors has one answer: No.
The board on Monday unanimously denied changes proposed by developers John Lombard and Robert Oris.
Rebecca Zandvliet, chairman of the board, said the board has been very clear about what it wants on Parcel C, the vacant parcel at the corner of Maple and Water streets.
“They have asked for changes prior to the transfer of the property and we said no. We just felt they need to work in good faith with what the town and burgesses have said we are going to have there. So we need them to build it,” Zandvliet said.
The borough closed on the sale of the land to Lombard and Oris, who bought it for $150,000, in late March. Lombard and Oris have formed a limited liability company, Heritage Downtown LLC, to oversee the development.
The plan borough officials have approved calls for a 30,000-square-foot, three-story medical office building with St. Mary’s Hospital as the main tenant and a 5,000-square-foot restaurant or retail building on the property.
After months of back and forth, the Zoning Commission approved plans for the medical office building last June.
Lombard and Oris proposed changing the medical office to a 15,000-square-foot single-story building and build a 24,000-square-foot three-story building that would have about 10,000 square feet of retail on the bottom floor with about 15 apartments split between the two upper floors.
In a letter sent to Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess, Lombard and Oris state the changes would have meant the medical building would only house offices for St. Mary’s Hospital instead of having St. Mary’s as the main tenant.
Oris and Lombard state in the letter they requested the change because of “the takeover of St. Mary’s by Trinity (Health) coupled with drastic changes in health care precipitated by the national election and the state cutting reimbursements to hospitals.”
In an interview after the meeting, Lombard said he and Oris are not planning to continue forward with the building as it is designed now.
Lombard said in the years since this project was first discussed the wants and needs of St. Mary’s Hospital have changed and they are working to meet them.
“We are going back to the drawing board and trying to hold on to our tenant and see what happens,” Lombard said. “They are really playing with fire here by not going forward and allowing this project to be built. Time is of the essence.”
Lombard said the next proposal they will put forward is a redesigned 30,000-square-foot building.
“From there, if that is rejected, we will sit back and wait for another tenant to come along. That could take five or ten years. Then it will no longer be on us. They will have to explain to the citizens why nothing has been built on Parcel C,” Lombard said.
Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Ron Pugliese said the NEDC’s desire for the parcel has remained steady.
“We were very consistent that we want a 30,000-square-foot building on that property and we want St. Mary’s as a tenant. And the board backed that up tonight,” said Pugliese following Monday’s meeting.
Town Planner and Zoning Enforcement Officer Sue Goggin said the zoning approval for the medical office building is valid for two years, through June 2018. If Lombard and Oris need more time they can apply for an extension, she said.
If they let the approval lapse, Goggin said, they would have to resubmit the plans or submit new plans for approval by the borough’s boards and commissions.
Borough officials were hopeful that construction would begin shortly after the closing of the sale. However, it’s unclear when that will happen.
As of Tuesday, Oris and Lombard hadn’t filed for or received a building permit for the medical building, according to the building inspector’s office. The permit is necessary to begin the work.
Zandvliet said she doesn’t believe the board’s rejection of the requested changes will hold up or stop Oris and Lombard from moving forward on Parcel C.
“We believe they have a solid tenant there and it is in everybody’s best interest to move forward. I understand they would ask if it would be granted, but I expect them to perform now that they have a firm no,” Zandvliet said.