Seaside can attract other buyers

Soon.

That was the answer I got more than a month ago when I asked Mark Steiner, the developer proposing to buy from the state the historic Seaside Regional Center in Waterford, when he was going to put down the deposit required in the $8 million purchase and sales agreement.

I also asked Steiner about the pending foreclosure of his home in Avon in which the bank says it is owed more than $600,000 in principal and interest.

The foreclosure lawsuit was also going to be resolved soon, Steiner said then.

It hasn't been.

The deposit on the Seaside property hasn't been paid yet either.

A spokesman for the state Department of Public Works said last week they are still working on a legal escrow agreement with the buyer so that they can require the $250,000 deposit, which was originally supposed to be due back in May.

It's a good thing the state doesn't have to sell big tracts of irreplaceable waterfront land with historic buildings very often. Because it's not very good at it.

Embarrassing is a word that comes to mind, actually, in describing the state's handling of the sale.

Meanwhile, buyer Steiner, who has a history of litigation over borrowing and who can't seem to keep his own home out of foreclosure, is asking the town's Planning and Zoning Commission for two significant zoning changes.

He wants to eliminate the age 55 and older restriction for residents of the proposed condominiums, the rule that is supposed to ensure the development doesn't put more kids in town schools.

He also wants to be able to make it easier to change or tear down some of the Tudor Revival buildings by architect Cass Gilbert, which are on the National Register of Historic Places.

The zoning changes, of course, would make the property more valuable.

Steiner says he has no intention of selling the property once the town loosens the zoning, but he also admits that he doesn't now have the financing necessary to buy the property, let alone renovate it.

Indeed, I would think it might be hard to even get a car loan if your house is in foreclosure.

Watching this debacle unfold have been executives with Northland Investment Corp., a large estate investment company with a lot of holdings in Connecticut, especially in downtown Hartford.

The economy has not been especially kind to Northland, either, and not all of its investment properties have been spared foreclosure litigation.

But, at a glance, Northland, which lost a bid against Steiner for the Seaside property by a hair, would seem to be a more qualified buyer.

More important, Northland, in a July letter to the Waterford Planning and Zoning Commission, said it would still be willing to go forward with a purchase from the state without the zoning changes being requested by Steiner.

"Northland would welcome the opportunity to purchase Seaside and pursue a development plan that maintains the rich historical character of this unique property," Peter M. Standish, Northland senior vice president, wrote to the commission.

I don't think the state should turn around and simply sell Seaside to Northland.

But Northland's letter certainly does suggest some obvious interest in the property, should it go to bid again. Even with the real estate recession, it would appear there is a market for Seaside.

Maybe the next time the state could craft a deal with someone who doesn't need to change the zoning to buy the property.

When it next takes up Steiner's requests, now that the public hearings are over, the Planning and Zoning Commission should resist granting any opportunistic requests for zoning changes.

Instead of soon, the commission should say never.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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