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New London can't find land to sell

By Kathleen Edgecomb

Publication: The Day

Published May 14. 2012 4:00AM   Updated May 14. 2012 6:56PM
Few city-owned parcels are attractive options to ease budget crunch

New London - The city owns 121 properties within its borders, from the sprawling 50-acre Ocean Beach Park to a narrow strip of vacant land practically under the Gold Star Memorial Bridge.

It has hundreds of acres of parks, parking lots, schools, municipal buildings and wetlands.

With inventory like that, which has combined assessments in excess of $170 million, the mayor's office was hoping there might be a few parcels that could be sold off to help raise revenues for the cash-strapped city.

But after reviewing each piece of land, the city's chief administrative officer has concluded the city is not as land-rich as first believed.

"I thought we had some viable options,'' Jane Glover said during an interview last week at her office in City Hall. "Now we can see we don't have any options."

Glover, with assistance from Economic Development Coordinator Ned Hammond, developed a list of all city-owned properties, reviewed each property and its current use or potential use.

Hammond's list included size, assessment and a description of potential use. He came to the same conclusion as Glover.

"There's just not a lot there,'' he said.

Glover, who was hired in December by Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, said she had heard from various people that the city had land it could get rid of and put on the tax rolls.

"But when it was all laid out in front of me, it wasn't much,'' she said.

In January, Finizio called for a closed-door meeting with the City Council to talk about "potential purchase and sale of real estate by the City of New London.'' But the meeting never took place after some councilors questioned the legality of having such a discussion in private.

Zak Leavy, the mayor's executive assistant, said Friday, the January meeting was called to discuss general land assets, which the administration believed was a proper topic for executive session.

That same day, Finizio revealed that there was a budget crisis that could top $12 million over three years. All options were on the table to raise money, including selling off property, he said at the time.

There are 17 properties that have been considered for sale over the years, including Riverside Park, a 16,400-square-foot lot behind Union Station, the Water Street Parking Garage, and the Martin Center. But Hammond said the city now has identified specific uses for all the properties once thought of as expendable.

And the Coast Guard is no longer interested in Riverside Park, Glover said.

"Riverside is off the table, for now,'' she said.

At a budget hearing last week, former City Councilor Bill Cornish offered the city nearly $2 million for the Water Street Parking Garage and an adjacent lot. But Glover said the city is not interested.

The garage is needed to encourage downtown growth, she said, and the city can control the costs of parking for residents and businesses.

Hammond identified two properties that the city has no use for - a 0.16-acre sliver of land on Terrace Avenue and a 0.8-acre lot on State Pier Road. Abutting property owners to the Terrace Avenue parcel, which is assessed at $37,450, are not interested in buying it, Hammond said. The State Pier Road property, assessed at $210,280, is narrow and may not fit a structure, making it unmarketable, he said.

One property that was mentioned as possibly expendable is the police substation on Truman Street, assessed at $267,050.

It turns out the police department uses the space for driving simulators for police training, repair and storage space for bicycles and restrooms for officers in the field.

"With us having outgrown our Head Quarters, we can't afford to not have 40 Truman Street,'' Chief Margaret Ackley said in an email to Hammond.

One possible sale, still a few years away, is Harbor School on Montauk Avenue. The more than 100-year-old brick building is expected to go on the market in the fall of 2013, Glover said. Students will have moved to the city's three new magnet schools, one of which is still under construction, and Harbor will close. It is assessed at $2.7 million.

"We're open to what developers want and what the neighbors want,'' said Glover, who added the city has already started discussions with some of the residents near the school.

The city owns seven schools, nine parking lots, 11 municipal buildings and 17 parks, including Ocean Beach, Greens Harbor Beach, Riverside Park, Calkins Park, Waterfront Park, Veterans Field and Toby May Park.

It also has about 30 smaller pieces that make up traffic islands, greens in the middle of some streets, rights-of-way and sewer pump stations.

There is other vacant land in the city, which when developed will start generating taxes, but there are restrictions as to what can be built because they are part of redevelopment projects.

The properties include the Fort Trumbull Municipal Development area, a 3-acre parcel at the corner of Bank and Howard streets and 1.1-acre parcel on Winthrop Street.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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