Montville housing plans involve land important to Mohegan Tribe

Montville - Plans for a 120-unit housing project took another blow recently after the proposed site was found to be on land of historical significance to the Mohegan Tribe.

Called The Villages, the housing project was planned for Route 32 near Fort Hill Drive, a short distance from St. Bernard School.

Chuck Bunnell, chief of staff for external affairs for the Mohegan Tribe, said Tuesday the proposed site includes properties that belonged to the legendary Sachem Uncas, for whom the village of Uncasville is named.

"There are properties and sites within that parcel that are important to the Mohegan people and, I would assume, the people of Montville," Bunnell said. "We want to make sure they're not disturbed or damaged."

The proposed site is within an area that was set aside as a Tribal Cultural Property zone during the process of tribal recognition.

A public hearing in January revealed The Villages proposal, estimated at $16 million, dated back six years to when it was first a condominium proposal.

It was altered to become an affordable housing project designed for local professionals, empty-nesters and employed low-income individuals, said Julie Savin, a director for New Horizons Neighborhood, a nonprofit involved in the project.

At the public hearing, Savin lobbied for the proposal to receive tax breaks from the town over a five-year period. Members of the Town Council ultimately chose not to support the tax breaks after many argued they could not offer such relief at a time when other businesses and people are suffering in town.

Mayor Ronald K. McDaniel Jr. said Tuesday a recent environmental impact evaluation raised the concern about the proposed site being located within a Tribal Cultural Property zone.

McDaniel also said the project is contingent upon funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In her presentation to the council, Savin said the project would need a $9 million loan and another $7 million from grants, lenders and contributions.

"It's a significant development," McDaniel said. "Taxwise, it would be good for the town. Developmentwise, whether it occurs there or somewhere else, it's a good project. We're just trying to make it happen."

The proposed units would cost no more than 30 percent of a family's monthly income. There would be one-, two- and three-bedroom units available if the project were to move forward.

Bunnell stressed that officials of the tribe are in talks with the town and the owners of the property about the site.

"Certainly, the Mohegans are not anti-development. We're not anti-affordable housing," he said. "At the same point in time, the tribe does believe very strongly in protecting its culture and history."

jeff.johnson@theday.com

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