It's no time to sign up a Fort Trumbull developer
Say no. The answer should be that clear and simple for the City Council, when the New London Development Corp. brings around its new candidate for developing a part of Fort Trumbull.
There are a lot of good reasons to say no.
First and foremost, the city should be negotiating with any prospective developers for Fort Trumbull, not the part-time, volunteer remnants of what was once a state-sponsored, well-funded development corporation.
The city needs to take title to the Fort Trumbull properties, as required by state statute, and henceforth take clear responsibility for what happens there next.
This isn't my legal opinion. In fact, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said as recently as last month that title belongs in the name of the city, and the city should do something about claiming it.
If this isn't resolved sometime soon, it could cast a long legal shadow over whatever development does eventually occur there.
How can the NLDC sell or lease property that state law says it shouldn't have title to in the first place?
The NLDC may still have a role in the future of Fort Trumbull, but not the lead one. That belongs to the people who have been duly elected by voters to run their city.
A second good reason not to sign on with this developer is that the city doesn't really have a viable plan for what to do with all of Fort Trumbull.
Why give away the best piece of the property to the first person who comes along?
And why give away almost the entire allotment of housing units in the existing municipal development plan, in the event you can't change or modify that plan, just because someone asks for them?
Why undermine the prospects for the development of the rest of the peninsula by front loading all the best opportunities?
Some city leaders have smartly shown an interest in working with the Yale Urban Design Workshop to develop a plan for the future of Fort Trumbull.
This would be a collaborative effort that would invite city residents to participate and help generate ideas and new concepts for rebuilding the neighborhood.
Not only is this good urban planning, but it would be cathartic for New London.
Perhaps if the NLDC's developer is as excited as he says about Fort Trumbull, he'll stick around and participate with city residents and leaders in drawing up a plan for the entire peninsula.
Another good reason to say no is that this developer, despite some vague suggestions of future condo conversions, is proposing rental units.
The city removed from Fort Trumbull a neighborhood of mostly owner-occupied houses, and that is what the city needs to put back. There should be no compromise on this point.
Sure, there can also be a hotel, a museum, mixed-used commercial and retail space or offices, but it needs to be largely a neighborhood of homeowners.
That should be the goal for all new residential development in the heart of the city, not just Fort Trumbull.
This is what people want and expect.
You don't have to take my word for it. Ask around. Read the comments on the news story about NLDC's new developer on the day.com and you'll see that owner-occupied housing is the overwhelming choice for developing a new Fort Trumbull.
I know that some with the NLDC will tell you that there's no market demand to build new houses for sale in New London right now. I disagree.
Just recently a house on Prospect Street in New London sold for $253,000. It's on a very small lot on a charming street close to the downtown.
Imagine how much more it might have sold for if it were not only on a charming street close to the downtown but also alongside a beautiful state park with views of the river and the city skyline.
The fact that a developer is interested in building in Fort Trumbull, even in a housing recession, is of course a good sign.
Everyone else in the city should focus on what he sees, a wonderful site and a great opportunity.
The City Council should not act rashly in this. Don't be desperate.
Better opportunities are possible if the city develops a strategy, rather than settling. Fort Trumbull could be a dynamic and exciting part of the city's waterfront and its future.
Don't let the final chapter in this long saga read that you let them build an apartment complex there.
This is the opinion of David Collins.
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