Waterford residents question plans for old school site

Waterford - The Board of Selectmen voted Monday to extend an option to purchase the Cohanzie School property to Centerplan Companies, following a hearing in which residents raised concerns about the impact the proposed development would have on the community.

First Selectman Daniel Steward clarified during the hearing that extending an option is not the same as selling a property. Possessing the option will allow Centerplan to request zoning changes and approvals necessary to build what the firm has presented.

The developer has proposed a market-rate multifamily rental development on the property of the former school. The development is proposed to include four new buildings containing 154 apartments, plus a swimming pool and children's play area. The firm plans to renovate the original 1923 portion of the school and use it to house a private clubhouse for residents, plus a common space open to the public.

Some attendees of the hearing said they were concerned that the developer would not be able to fill the complexes with tenants if rent was too high.

Dayton Road resident Dave DeNoia said that eventually the firm would have to lower rent to what attendees considered unacceptably low levels.

"If you can't get 15 (hundred dollars), it goes to 12, then it goes to $1,000, then it goes to $800," said DeNoia.

Kenyon Road resident Janet Smith said building a rental property could negatively impact home values, and said that the developer should consider condominiums. Her neighbor, Gail Perrelli, suggested imposing a 55-and-older age restriction on the proposed development. The suggestion drew murmurs of agreement from other residents.

Centerplan Vice President Yves Joseph said that there is currently greater demand for rental properties than condominiums and that rentals are easier to finance. He described the apartments proposed as having luxury amenities like marble counters.

"The rental mark has elevated over the last four to five years," added company CEO Robert Landino.

Landino said the firm was targeting young professionals and "empty-nesters." He later responded to resident suggestions to impose an age restriction by saying that older people could also reside at the proposed development.

Steward said that a previous applicant wishing to build age restricted housing on the property had determined age-restricted housing would not make financial sense.

Other concerns of residents included density, whether the development would visually mesh with the single-family home neighborhood within which it would stand, and whether it might generate more traffic than nearby roads can handle.

Town Attorney Robert Avena responded to a suggestion that single-family homes be built on the property by saying that keeping the school would make such a development difficult.

Cohanzie School was left vacant in 2008 as part of a building project approved at a 2002 referendum that consolidated the town's five elementary schools into three because of declining enrollment and increased operational costs.

Last year, the Representative Town Meeting approved funds for the cleanup and demolition of the school, which has been eyed as a site for redevelopment for a number of years despite objections from some who attended the former elementary school. A group of residents started the "Save Cohanzie School" effort last year to save the school from the wrecking ball.

Joseph said the firm projected that the project as currently proposed will cost $20 million to build, which the firm plans to fund with private investment. He said the firm may apply for tax credits associated with historic preservation. Joseph noted that plans were preliminary and could change.


Twitter: @ConnecticuTess

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