By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer
NAUGATUCK — Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess sees unfinished business in front of him.
Hess, a 70-year-old Democrat, will get at least two more years to work toward finishing the business of improving the borough. He is running unopposed for a fourth straight term as mayor.
“We’re on the right path. We try and make it better every year,” said Hess, who noted he’s running again because he wants to see through the completion of economic development projects in Naugatuck.
Hess, a Naugatuck High School graduate, studied finance at Boston University and graduated from the University of San Francisco School of Law. He practiced law from 1973 until winning his first term as mayor in 2015.
Two major economic development projects, which have been in the works for several years, are at the forefront of Hess’ list of unfinished business — a proposed intermodal transportation hub dubbed the “Port of Naugatuck” and a transit-oriented development project downtown.
The intermodal transportation hub is planned for a roughly 88-acre parcel off Elm Street the borough has agreed to buy from Lanxess Corporation, the successor of Chemtura Corp., for a dollar. The site sits along the Pan Am Railways line that stretches from southern Connecticut to Canada and connects with Portland, Maine.
Officials envision the hub as a facility that can handle goods that are transported via freight train to Naugatuck, where they can be stored in warehouses and loaded on trucks and distributed throughout the tristate area.
There are multiple moving parts for the project, including the pending mergers of freight railroad companies. The project would also likely require federal and private funding to complete.
The borough’s backup plan for the site is an industrial park. The borough has land use approvals for a project that includes a 322,100-square-foot industrial building, two building pads — one about 162,000 square feet and the other 65,000 square feet — for future industrial buildings, and a container yard on the land.
Hess hopes the development turns into the Port of Naugatuck, but the worst-case scenario is a new industrial park.
“We will be developing either the Port of Naugatuck or an industrial park that will put new revenue on the tax rolls,” Hess said.
The borough plans to seek 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. Officials envision a development that will include commercial and residential components, as well as a new train station for the Waterbury branch of the Metro-North Railroad.
In addition to the two large proposed projects, Hess wants to sell borough-owned properties for development and get them back on the tax rolls.
The properties include several on Rubber Avenue, like the former Parks and Recreation and Visiting Nurses Association buildings, and the former recycling center site. He also wants to relocate the public works facilities from Rubber Avenue. This will help revitalize Rubber Avenue, Hess said.
Other borough-owned properties Hess ultimately wants to sell include the Risdon property on Andrew Avenue, which is the site of a temporary recycling center, and the Naugatuck Event Center downtown.
“Our objective is to bring in new revenue from the properties we’re adding to the tax roll and our other development projects so that we can have long-term sustainable tax reductions,” Hess said.
Hess said his focus in on reducing the tax burden on residents. The tax rate is 47.75 mills, which is among the highest in the state. The tax rate was 48.55 mills when Hess first took office.
Hess said new development is key to bringing in new revenue and lowering the tax burden.
“All those [projects] are economic development,” Hess said. “The new revenue will come primarily from those projects.”
“We’re looking at creating new revenue,” he added.