Selectmen deny request for extension on land swap deal

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Attorney Chris Smith of Shipman and Goodwin, right, addresses the Board of Selectmen during a special meeting Monday night. Smith represents MJ&J Properties, which had its request for a contract extension with the town denied. –LUKE MARSHALL

BEACON FALLS — The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to deny MJ&J Properties an extension on its contract with the town.

The board met to discuss the possibility of extending a contract with MJ&J properties during a special meeting on March 19.

The original contract included a land swap of more than 50 acres off of Route 42 in the area between Frontage Road and Skokorat Street. The land that the town would have received under the contract would have been turned into open space. The land that MJ&J Properties would have received was adjacent to land it already owns and incorporated into a plan to build a mixed-use development that would have included 430,000 square feet of commercial, retail, and office space and at least 308 residential units.

Attorney Chris Smith of Shipman and Goodwin, who represented MJ&J Properties, made a case for the extension of the contract.

Smith told the board that the contract entitles MJ&J Properties up to three six-month extensions. He explained even though there had been concerns about MJ&J’s financial standings, those concerns are no reason to deny the contract.

Smith said that the company is ready, willing, and able to move forward with the project once the extension has been granted.

“If we haven’t done anything in that six-month time period, we would have to come back to you again and I think I would be in a much more difficult position, if we aren’t doing anything at that time, to ask for a second six-month extension,” Smith said.

James Martin, a principal of MJ&J Properties argued the proposed project would be beneficial to the town.

Martin said for the past 14 years he has been living in Beacon Falls he has seen the taxes go up every year. He said that he could have put a road onto the property and built new houses.

“I chose not to do that. What I chose to do was see the town’s piece of property that abutted ours … and said how can I, as a developer, build something that will work for this town and generate tax dollars,” Martin said.

Martin told the board that he wanted to do something that helps the town reduce taxes rather than increase them. Martin explained to the board that the reason it has taken MJ&J so long to move on this project was not entirely the companies fault.

“It took the town, the past selectman … almost three years to negotiate a contract, which was then signed in April of 2010,” Martin said.

Martin said that, if the town wanted, it could fast track him through the different boards and committees, so he could begin building sooner. He said if the town dragged its feet on the different applications he needed to submit, it might take more than the allotted three six-month extensions.

Martin said he wanted more than just an extension. He wanted the board behind the project so that the residents could all benefit.

First Selectman Gerard Smith told Martin that the board decided not to grant the extension to MJ&J properties for five different reasons.

One reason was that MJ&J Properties has not moved forward on this project in the two years since the contract was approved.

“Two years have elapsed and MJ&J has provided no evidence that it has filed any applications, including those required for zone change and amendment of the state and local sewer maps. MJ&J has failed in its obligation to move this project forward,” First Selectman Smith said. “The town cannot continue to tie up this property indefinitely because of MJ&J’s problems.”

MJ&J and Martin also owe the town back taxes.

“MJ&J owes the town almost $60,000 in taxes on property which is subject to agreement. On March 12, 2012, James Martin, a member of MJ&J, gave the tax collector of Beacon Falls a check for $10,000 in partial payment of the delinquent taxes,” First Selectman Smith said. “On the morning of March 13, 2012, Mr. Martin demanded the return of the $10,000 check, which was returned to him.”

First Selectman Smith told the board that Martin owes the town almost $30,000 in taxes on property he owns himself.

Smith continued stating the funding for the project is tied up in the estate of Monty Blakeman, a former principal at MJ&J Properties who died last April. He added the town entered into a contract with MJ&J based on Blakeman’s reputation and experience.

First Selectman Smith explained that, given MJ&J’s inability to move forward with this project, the town has little reason to believe the remaining members of MJ&J will be able to carry out this project.

Finally, Smith stated the current sewer map, as drawn, does not allow for sewers in some of the proposed areas.

“The town risks losing water treatment upgrade funding from the state if it allows sewers in areas designated as septic only on the state sewer map,” First Selectman Smith said.

The board moved unanimously to deny granting the extension. It was done without prejudice, which means that anyone, including MJ&J properties, can reapply for the contract.

Martin felt the board’s decision was more detrimental to town residents than him.

“The only one who suffers here is the taxpayer of Beacon Falls. That’s who suffers,” Martin said.