Building committee eyes homes on Rubber Avenue

The Hair Chalet at 533 Rubber Ave. is one of five houses that stand between Rubber Avenue and school parking lots. The building committee in charge of renovating the school is interested in buying the properties to reconfigure parking and possibly add an entryway. –RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — The building committee in charge of the Naugatuck High School renovation project wants the borough to buy five single-family homes that screen the eastern half of the school from Rubber Avenue.

In budget talks, the Joint Boards of Finance and Mayor and Burgesses shot down a $280,000 request from Burgess Robert Neth, chair of the building committee, to buy two of the five houses. Neth, however, said he plans to try again next year.

If the borough buys and demolishes even some of the houses, the land could be used to expand parking and build a new entryway, Neth said. The current entrance to the school could become an exit, improving traffic flow, Neth said.

“I’m hopeful that we would be able to do it down the line,” Neth said. “We’re going to be kicking ourselves 10 or 15 years from now, saying, ‘Why didn’t we do that?’”

Robert Butler Jr., chair of the finance board, said the request was rejected because the budget was already seen as too high for next fiscal year and because the plan to reconfigure parking lacked specifics.

“We didn’t want to raise the possibility of a further increase,” Butler said.

No part of the $81 million the borough has bonded for the renovation project can be used to acquire land, Mayor Robert Mezzo said, so the money must be budgeted separately, if at all.

Neth said his request was based on appraised values from Vision Appraisal, the company that conducted the borough’s revaluation five years ago. Neth said he intends to acquire property through negotiations with the homeowners, two of whom have expressed a willingness to sell.

If others refuse to sell their homes, Neth said, he does not want the borough to use eminent domain.

“If you can’t make any kind of deal to secure anything, I wouldn’t go crazy and try to force people out of their homes,” Neth said. “I don’t think that’s right.”

The borough is in the midst of another revaluation that could lower property values, but Neth said homeowners will want to recoup what they paid to buy and, in some cases, renovate their houses.

The borough is not formally negotiating with the Rubber Avenue homeowners, Mezzo said.

Mark Ferrari and his wife, Donna, own two of the houses, at 521 and 527 Rubber Ave., which they rent out. After talking with Neth, Mark Ferrari said he would be willing to sell the homes at the right price. One of the houses, bought in 2005, was last appraised at nearly $173,000, and the other, bought in 2010, at more than $167,000, which Ferrari said would adequately pay him back for his acquisition and remodeling costs.

Ferrari lives in Middlebury and also owns the building at 160 Rubber Ave. that houses Ferrari’s Appliance and the soon-to-open Dickey’s Barbecue Pit.

“The kids need the room for the school,” Ferrari said. “That’s more important than rentals. There’s houses everywhere.”

State law outlines a number of steps before a municipality can acquire property using eminent domain. The property owner must be paid 125 percent of the average of two independent appraisals under state eminent domain law.

If the borough does not use eminent domain, it cannot buy land without the property owner’s agreement and must still get a referral from the Planning Commission for the purchase. If the commission’s referral is negative, the borough board can override it with a two-thirds vote.