By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer
Officials say time is right to move forward with request for proposals
NAUGATUCK — Borough officials are searching once again for a company to turn a vacant lot downtown into a mixed-use development.
Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess is putting together a request for proposals (RFP) for a developer to buy the vacant lot at the corner of Maple Street and Old Firehouse Road, known locally as Parcel B, and build a transit-oriented development on the borough-owned site.
“Parcel B, I think, is the heart and soul of what it’s going to take to enhance our downtown and to get people to live in downtown so that we have a more vibrant downtown and things can emanate from there,” Hess said.
Borough officials envision a development that will include commercial, retail and residential components, as well as a new train station for the Waterbury branch of the Metro-North Railroad.
The train station is on Water Street now, but officials want a new station to be part of development of the property. Developers will have to present their plan for the site, while reserving an area for the train station.
Officials view the rail line, which runs along the property, as a key component to the development’s success. Local officials have been pushing for improvements to the rail line, which is owned by the state Department of Transportation and operated by Metro-North, as well as new rail cars to provide more frequent service.
A $116-million upgrade to the Waterbury branch is underway. The project includes signalization, positive train control, and sidings that allow for two-way train service. The work is expected to be finished in 2021.
While there is no state funding earmarked for new rail cars for the branch line, Hess is hopeful the state will provide used rail cars.
“We’re anticipating we’re going to get used train cars, so we’re going to have increased train service,” Hess said.
Hess said the improvements to the rail line combined with a rise in property values and an influx of people moving from metropolitan areas to the suburbs makes now an opportune time to seek a developer for the project.
“I’m confident the time is right now,” Hess said.
Burgesses, who authorized the mayor to move forward the RFP at their Nov. 4 meeting, agreed.
“The time is right Pete,” Burgess Bob Neth said. “Move it.”
“We’ve been talking about it for a while,” Burgess Rocky Vitale said. “It’s going to certainly help our businesses, attract new business, help our tax base and that’s going to take care of lowering taxes.”
Hess plans to issue the RFP by the end of the year with a deadline of at least 90 days for developers to respond. Once officials receive responses, they will determine how to move forward.
This isn’t the first time the borough has tried to develop the land.
In 2015, the borough granted an exclusive agreement to Benjamin Zitron, the former chief executive officer of Sustainable Development Corporation, to develop the land. The project didn’t move ahead, and in 2018 both sides ended the contract because Zitron fell ill.
In 2012, the borough ended an exclusive five-year contract with developer Alexius Conroy to develop vacant land downtown as well as the former General DataComm building, which is now the Naugatuck Event Center. The project, known as Renaissance Place, included developing Parcel B.