State panel supports selling Seaside to condominium developer

Waterford - A long-envisioned project to redevelop Waterford's former Seaside Regional Center into high-end senior condominiums passed another hurdle Monday when a state committee signed off on a plan to sell the site to a developer for $8 million.

Farmington developer Mark Steiner sat in the audience at the Government Administration and Elections Committee meeting and said he intends to rebuild the interiors of Seaside's four buildings while keeping their historic facades.

The property's 4 acres of Long Island Sound shoreline would remain open to the public as part of the agreement.

Seaside opened in 1934 as a tuberculosis sanitarium, and after a brief stint as a geriatric center, became a residence for the mentally disabled. It closed in 1996.

Steiner has sought to purchase the site for nearly 14 years, but encountered numerous obstacles, including a surprise move in 2007 by former Gov. M. Jodi Rell to hold onto the property.

The tentative deal for 32 acres between Steiner's Seaside in Waterford, LLC, and the Connecticut Department of Public Works will now go to state Attorney General George Jepsen, who would grant final approval.

Proceeds from a sale would, by law, go to the Connecticut Department of Developmental Services.

Steiner said the next step in the approval process involves the Waterford Planning and Zoning department. He anticipated another year or so before groundbreaking, and said it was too early to put a cost on the project.

Residents of the Seaside condo project, though, must be 55 years of age or older.

A handful of Waterford residents attended the committee meeting in the state Capitol complex to show their dissatisfaction with the developer's vision. Debby Green said the condo project is too dense and threatens the character of the neighborhood.

The neighbors also questioned Steiner's commitment to retaining the historical integrity of the architecture.

Seaside is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and was designed by Beaux Arts architect Cass Gilbert, who is considered a father of the modern skyscraper and designed the Woolworth building in New York, as well as several state capitols.

The Seaside complex has been vacant since its mid-1990s closure and shows considerable signs of weathering.

"It's enough to bring tears to your eyes," Steiner said. "We have a major reconstruction process - major."

Rell scuttled an earlier effort by Steiner to purchase Seaside after a private visit to the grounds convinced her of the property's value. The same committee that approved the deal on Monday voted in December 2007, to reject a $7.1 million purchase-and-sale agreement between Steiner and the state.

However, Rell reversed course two years later and announced that the state would consider selling the property and other state-owned lands to raise money.

Steiner on Monday credited Waterford officials for believing in his redevelopment plan.

"A couple times when I said 'to hell with this,' people said, 'stay with us a little longer,'" the developer said. "We are a property that will probably pay at least a million dollars a year in property taxes, so it's a benefit to the town."

Steiner said he has yet to determine the number of condo units that he would build.

Waterford First Selectman Daniel Steward says there could be as many as 120 condos under current zoning, although town officials would prefer that only 80 units be built. Because of the extent of the buildings' disrepair, the developer could potentially raze the historic structures, rebuild them and restore the original façade, Steward said.


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