By Elio Gugliotti, Editor
NAUGATUCK — If there is a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, borough officials say its rising home values.
“It’s been a difficult year, it’s been a weird year — a lot of crazy things happening — but there’s also been quite a few silver linings that we gleaned from this year that I think will help us as we move into the future,” said Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess as spoke Nov. 23 during the Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation’s 17th annual meeting.
Hess said the brightest silver lining has been an increase in home values due to people relocating from more populated metropolitan areas like New York City.
According to data compiled by the Greater Waterbury Board of Realtors, the median sales price for a single-family home in Greater Waterbury was $225,000 in October, which is 23.3% higher than October 2019. Through October this year, the median sales price was $199,900, an increase of 13.3% compared to the same time last year, according to the data.
Hess said rising property values can lower the borough’s tax rate after the next property revaluation, which can help attract new businesses. But, he said, the most effective way to reduce the tax burden is through development and growing the grand list.
“Our goal in Naugatuck is not just to reduce the mill rate, it’s really to reduce the tax burden,” Hess said.
Hess said the rise in property values makes now the right time to move forward with large developments projects.
“We have to use it to our advantage,” Hess said.
The borough is moving ahead with seeking 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, retail and residential components.
Hess plans to issue a request for proposals for developers by the end of the year.
“We have the potential for a very large development,” he said.
In 2021, the borough will also move forward with a project to reconstruct and beatify about two-thirds of a mile of Rubber Avenue from Elm Street to Melbourne Street. The borough also plans to sell properties it owns on Rubber Avenue, including the former recycling center and the street department building, over time to get them back on tax rolls.
“Rubber Avenue is the gateway to our high school. It’s what people see when they come to Naugatuck to visit. I think it’s fair to say that at some point in the last 50 years Rubber Avenue sort of lost its way,” Hess said.
Hess also pointed to the “Port of Naugatuck” project, a proposed intermodal transportation hub officials are looking to develop on a mostly-vacant 86.5 acre parcel of land off Elm Street. He said officials are almost finished with the remediation plans for the project, but are still working on securing funding for it.
One way or another, he vowed, the project will be developed.
“I think the year 2021 is a very critical year for Naugatuck because we’re going to move forward and accelerate all of our projects,” Hess said.
Ronald Pugliese, CEO of the NEDC, said many new businesses and companies have opened in Naugatuck despite the difficulties brought on by the pandemic. He pointed to Drew International opening its corporate offices at 333 Church St., Coca-Cola Beverages Northeast Inc. returning to the building it once occupied at 80 Rado Drive, and Blackwater Services Group opening at 117 Great Hill Road.
“I believe that 2020, with all its challenges, was still a good economic development year for Naugatuck,” he said.
Pugliese also touched on efforts to get the former Peter Paul candy factory property at 889 New Haven Road sold and developed.
The 36-acre tract, which is owned by Hershey Corp., has been vacant since 2007. Pugliese said officials worked to help broker a deal between Hershey Corp. and a national company based in Texas, but the two corporations haven’t been able to reach an agreement.
“In my mind, we’ll get it done,” he said.
The NEDC also elected officers for its board of directors. The board reelected Rebecca Zandvliet chairman. Carlos Santos was elected vice chairman. Lisa Shappy and Christopher Stokes were elected secretary and treasurer, respectively.