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NLDC to explore developer's plan for village theme at Fort Trumbull

By Kathleen Edgecomb and Stephen Chupaska

Publication: The Day

Published February 20. 2010 4:00AM
Westport firm envisions 'charming' townhouses

New London - A proposed residential development at Fort Trumbull would take its inspiration and style cues from the Greek revival architecture on Starr Street.

Following a unanimous vote Friday by its executive board, the New London Development Corp. will start negotiating with a Westport developer that has proposed "a village of historic and charming character.''

Father and son developers Irwin and Robert Stillman want to build 80 rental townhouses in the Fort Trumbull peninsula.

The city took properties and demolished houses and other buildings to make way for a development of homes and a conference center/hotel. But no new construction has taken place at Fort Trumbull in the 10 years since.

Contributing to the delay were an eminent domain case that reached the U.S. Supreme Court, other court cases, environmental challenges and the downturn in the economy.

The Stillmans' plans call for two-story townhouses with peaked roofs and small porches close to the sidewalk. Garages and parking spaces would be in the back of the housing units, which would be clustered along East and Chelsea streets.

The housing would sit on 6.5 acres that used to be part of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center and were not involved in the eminent domain takings. It is adjacent to Fort Trumbull State Park and the Coast Guard Station.

The Stillmans said they would develop most of the townhouses for a "relatively upscale rental market'' and would pursue marketing analysis to fine-tune the parameters of the development.

The Stillman Organization is a third-generation real estate development company that has built hotels, condominiums, single-family homes, offices, shopping centers and apartment buildings in metropolitan New York and southwestern Connecticut, according to its Web site, www.stillmanorg.com.

The Stillmans were the only developers to respond to a "request for qualifications" issued in December by the NLDC, but that was not a major issue for NLDC Executive Director John Brooks. "(The Stillmans) seem well qualified and seem responsive to the interests of the community," he said.

Brooks said the majority of the townhouses would be rental properties but some might be converted to owner-occupied in the future.

"I was impressed,'' said Karl-Erik Sternloff, head of the NLDC's real estate committee, which endorsed the proposal and recommended it to the full NLDC board for approval.

"It's a very different concept,'' Sternloff said. "It's closer to what the citizens of New London expect for the residential component of the project. I think it's a happy coincidence market conditions and this proposal meet up in the way that they did."

The Stillmans appeared smitten by the area after visiting the Fort Trumbull peninsula several times. In January, they wrote to the NLDC of their interest in developing housing there.

"The ponderous masonry walls of Fort Trumbull and its lawns sprawling toward the bank of the Thames, the graceful masts of the barque Eagle and the picturesque view to the historic and colorful buildings of downtown New London settled the matter for us, convincingly,'' Robert Stillman wrote in a cover letter to the NLDC.

"I haven't heard a negative thing about them,'' Brooks said of Stillmans, who are expected to meet with the City Council in the next couple of weeks and publicly reveal its idea for the property.

"I liked what I saw,'' said Mayor Rob Pero. "It basically would be a village. It would be something that people have said they preferred to see down there."

Pero said the City Council's Economic Development Committee and the council will meet on the proposal either next week or during the second week of March.

The project is the first new building proposal for the 90-acre Fort Trumbull Development site since 2008, when Corcoran Jennison lost its preferred-developer status to build a hotel/conference center and housing.

The proposal came to light a few weeks after a grassroots effort to bring representatives from a Yale University urban architectural program to the community to discuss the future of the fort neighborhood.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

s.chupaska@theday.com

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