Town’s $6.1M land deal hits a snag

New Haven Register (New Haven, CT) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Pam McLough­lin

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

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