Developer seeks extension on Beacon Falls land swap deal

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BEACON FALLS — A Shelton-based developer that plans to build a mixed-use development off of Route 42 is seeking an extension on its contract with the town.

In April of 2010, the town and MJ&J Properties entered into a contract to exchange about 52 acres of land between Frontage Road and Skokorat Street. The town would receive land in the area of Lantern Ridge Road, which would remain open space and be contiguous to other open space in town. MJ&J Properties would receive land closer to Frontage Road, which would fit into a 204-acre parcel it currently owns. The company plans to build a mixed-use development on the land that will include 430,000 square feet of commercial, retail, and office space and at least 308 residential units.

The land swap was approved at a town meeting a couple of years prior to the signing of the contract. Under the contract, MJ&J Properties has until April 1 of this year to obtain the necessary land use approvals. The company has yet to submit any applications to the town’s land use boards. The company can request up to three, six-month extensions under the contract.

Attorney Chris Smith of Shipman and Goodwin, who represents MJ&J Properties, came before the Board of Selectman in February and again Monday night to request an extension.

Smith told the board the company’s delay in action stems from the death of one of its principals. Monty Blakeman, a principal with the company, was diagnosed with cancer after the contract was signed and died in April of 2011, Smith said.

Blakeman’s interest in the company will pass on to his son James, who is also a principal in the company, attorney Stephen Bellis of the Pellegrino Law Firm told the board. He said the matter is currently tied up in probate court, but assured the board the matter will not hold up the plans and the company is liquid enough to financially move ahead.

“There’s nothing that’s going to prevent Jim Blakeman from wanting to continue on to develop this property in your town,” Bellis said.

Smith told the board the contract states the town shall not “unreasonably withhold any requests for an extension.” He said he’s heard concerns over the financial ability of MJ&J Properties to go ahead. He said the contract doesn’t provide for whether a party is financial able to go forward with development.

“With all due respect that is not an appropriate issue for the board to be considering when determining whether or not to grant the extension,” Smith said.

Smith said the project would be a financial benefit to town by bringing in increased revenue and, under the contract, if the land deal goes through the town would receive $250,000.

“If the approvals are obtained and this goes forward it’s going to bring revenues to the town,” Smith told the board.

First Selectman Gerard Smith questioned why nothing moved forward right away after the contract was sign in 2010.

James Martin, a principal with MJ&J Properties, said the company has done all of the underlining work, such as soil and environmental testing, for the project. He said the project can be put on a fast track if the extension is approved and the town’s boards work with the company.

“We haven’t been sitting on our hands,” Martin said. “We are ready to go.”

The issue of the company’s back taxes was also raised by the board. The company owed $60,000 in taxes on the land it owns. Martin told the board a $10,000 payment was made Monday toward the tax debt to show good faith.

If the extension is granted, the company’s first step would be to apply to the Planning and Zoning Commission for a zone text amendment to create new zone and ask for property to be contained in the new zone, attorney Smith said. If the new zone was created the company would then go forward with detailed development planning.

The board made no decision Monday night.

“We are sitting here lawyerless,” First Selectman Smith said.

Smith suggested a special meeting be held to discuss the issue when the town’s legal counsel can be present. A special meeting was scheduled for Monday at 6 p.m. in Town Hall.