Town’s $6.1M land deal hits a snag
ORANGE — When residents recently approved a deal in which the state was to give the town a $6.1 million grant to purchase eight acres off Marsh Hill Road, many were skeptical that it seemed “too good to be true.”
It seems the skeptics may have been on to something.
Town officials are learning in the negotiation process that the state is putting all kinds of conditions on the grant, relating to the property that weren’t expected, including that the town not rezone the property — now a Transit Oriented Development District — and that if housing eventually is built on part of the land that it be under the affordable housing act, meaning 10 percent of the units would be set aside for affordable housing.
Avoiding the building of affordable housing on the property — allowed in the TODD district — was something Zeoli mentioned being able to avoid if the town got control of the property. He said residents had expressed that notion.
The property is owned by Edward M. Crowley of Branford, former president of nearby Dichello Distributors and founder of Stony Creek Brewery in Branford. Crowley, along with everyone else, expected a train station to be built there, but Gov. Dannel P. Malloy cut it from the budget. The town would purchase the property from Crowley with the grant money.
According to a Hartford Courant article, Crowley is a major Democratic Party contributor, but Malloy administration officials deny political contributions had anything to do with the deal in which Crowley would be paid 11 times what he paid for the land three years ago.
The state’s restrictions for the property are outlined in a letter to First Selectman Jim Zeoli from Ben Barnes of the state’s Office of Policy and Management that was discovered and made public on Facebook by the Orange Times local newspaper.
“The letter is far from what was originally offered. The town is still negotiating with them,” Zeoli said.
Town attorney Vincent Marino said the matter is in negotiation status and once the deal between the town and state are finalized, town leaders will decide whether the matter must go back to a town meeting for a vote by residents.
When residents approved the deal, they were told the town could do anything with the land — even sell it — with the only requirement being an easement on a portion of the property in case the state ever wanted to put a train station there.
Barnes’ letter states:
“The state’s consistent, overarching goal in this matter has been to preserve the opportunity to develop the Orange train station and associated TODD.”
The letter says: “Thank you for the opportunity to restate and add detail to our positions on critical provisions of this agreement, so that we can move toward its conclusion.”
Zeoli said at that meeting that it was an “unusual deal” for a town to get and an “unusual opportunity.”
Of the $6.1 million urban act grant, $5.5 million was allotted to buy the property and the rest was earmarked for attorney fees and other associated costs, including an environmental study.
Zeoli said at the time the deal made sense on many