Board backs purchase of General DataComm property

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Naugatuck Mayor Robert Mezzo points out the General DataComm property on a map during a presentation Wednesday night at the Naugatuck Train Station. The Board of Mayor and Burgesses approved buying the 10-acre site for $2 million. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — The Board of Mayor and Burgesses gave its blessing to buying the General DataComm property downtown for $2 million.

The board approved a purchase and sale agreement between the borough and General DataComm, 8-1, during a special meeting Wednesday.

The property, located at 6 Rubber Ave., is two parcels that combined are approximately 10 acres in downtown Naugatuck. The property is believed by officials to be the key to Naugatuck’s downtown revival.

“The collective thought behind this is this is our future, the urban core of our town is in this location. We own the property across the street and we own this (the train station) property. But, what happens to downtown Naugatuck, not just tomorrow but for years in the future, depend on what is being developed on that site,” Mayor Robert Mezzo said.

Mezzo pointed out, during a presentation on the purchase, that the property is assessed at nearly $5 million.

The plan to buy the land has the support of the Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation.

“Gaining control of that property gains control of our town’s ability to control our destiny,” said Jay Carlson, chairman of the Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation.

Mezzo said that if the town did not purchase the property it would only have site control over approximately five acres of land, including parcel C, the train station, and the municipal parking lot.

“Lack of site control in downtown development is a very big obstacle in terms of your ability to have what you would like to have happen and for what’s proposed to come to fruition,” Mezzo said.

The property was originally the site of the UniRoyal Factory and the ground does have contamination and needs environmental remediation.

“Clearly that property was once an industrial property and potentially subject to remediation costs,” Mezzo said. “You will ask, ‘What is the cost to remediate that property?’, and the answer that you’re going to receive is that that number varies significantly depending on what the use or reuse of that property will be.”

The borough plans to seek state assistance to clean up the site.

Burgess Mike Ciacciarella cast the lone vote against the purchase, saying the state might not be in economic shape to help with the cleanup and that the extra costs were giving him pause.

“Based on everything I know right now, I have a hard time voting for this with the risks that are involved,” Ciacciarella said.

The borough will pay for the property through a lease-purchase agreement.

Comptroller Wayne McAllister explained that the current deal being offered is for seven years with 4.2 percent interest. This deal would cost the town approximately $330,000 a year. McAllister described this deal as a worst-case scenario and said he’s confident a better deal over 10 years can be negotiated.

McAllister said he was hesitant to pay for the property with money in the borough’s capital project fund balance because it could impact the borough’s bond rating. He felt that if he were to use capital project money, which is being reserved for the renovations of the high school, it would downgrade the credit rating and could cost the borough $2 million in additional interest on the high school project.

The board is expected to approve a resolution soon detailing how the borough will finance the purchase. The closing date for the sale is Feb. 15.

The future of General DataComm on the property remains to be seen.

Borough Attorney Ned Fitzpatrick explained that he is still in talks with General DataComm about leasing of the four-story building on the land the company currently uses.

According to the terms of the sale agreement, the company will pay two months of rent while the lease is being worked out. Once all the terms of the lease are worked out, the company can either accept the lease or decide to move elsewhere. If they decide to no longer occupy that building, they will have three months to move.

Not everyone was sold on the idea that buying the land was in the best interest of the borough at this time.

“The biggest problem I have is that the purchase price is $2 million. I understand somebody else would have paid a significantly higher price for that, but the reality is that property is not worth $2 million,” Glenn Connan, secretary of the Board of Education, said.

Mezzo said he understood Connan’s concerns, but reassured him that the borough has been discussing this for months and did not just jump into this deal without researching it. Mezzo also felt that the worth of the property lay in what it meant for the future of the borough.

“Is there a risk? Absolutely. There’s risk anytime you try to take hold and look forward to your future, but I think the risk of doing nothing far outweighs the cost of this investment,” Mezzo said.

Connan was also concerned that the borough did not bring this purchase to a referendum vote.

“The question I have is … that, if it is that important and you believe in it so strongly, why not do the cheaper route, bond fund it and bring it before the people,” Connan said.

Mezzo said that there were two reasons for doing it the way they have chosen to. The first was a matter of timing, as the owner of the property is already in discussions with the borough. The second is the flexibility of the plan the borough is seeking versus how rigid a bond would be, since the borough does not wish to own the property longer than it has to before a buyer comes along.

Mezzo also felt that the elected leaders should be expected to lead the town in certain situations.

“I think we elect people to make decisions in this country. I think we do that at the federal level, state level, and local level. This board … is made up of people from different walks of life and different parties, and they put forward a proposal that said we believe this is right for the borough of Naugatuck,” Mezzo said.

Resident Dave Carbonaro voiced concerns over what he felt was a lack of direction in the borough’s plan to purchase this property.

“What is the plan? What is your plan,” Carbonaro asked the board.

He said that he was afraid that the borough would acquire the land and it would just sit there and not get developed.

Mezzo said the town plans to move forward with the smart growth development of residential and commercial uses that had been proposed for the Renaissance Place project.

“The alternative of that is that property sits there as it has since I was a child without being developed, and we go through another cycle, another generation, of lack of any downtown redevelopment,” Mezzo said.