With lawsuit gone, developer renews Fort Trumbull plan

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New London — A Pennsylvania-based developer with one project completed in New London and another under construction has pitched a $20 million multifamily residential project on the long-vacant Fort Trumbull peninsula.

A.R. Building Co. received a nod of approval from the Renaissance City Development Association for the project on Thursday. The initial plan for 104 units still is in the conceptual phase but is likely to include three buildings on parcels adjacent to the Coast Guard station that until this year had been tied up in litigation.

Documents being prepared for signatures will designate A.R. Building the preferred developer on an area covering four Fort Trumbull parcels and authorize the start of negotiations for a development agreement, RCDA Director Peter Davis said.

The Fort Trumbull neighborhood was at the center of the 2005 landmark eminent domain case Kelo v. City of New London, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the city's favor, allowing the city and its development corporation to take over the area, clear out the homes and upgrade infrastructure. However, the economic downturn soon began and the area has remained mostly empty to this day.

While ideas for the area have come and gone, city officials said A.R.’s proposal feels different, considering the amount of money and work the company has invested in the city. A.R. built a $15 million, 104-unit upscale apartment complex on Mansfield Road and now is constructing a 98-unit complex at the corner of Bank and Howard streets.

“They’ve got a track record. You couldn’t have a higher level of confidence in this company,” Mayor Michael Passero said.

“They’ve delivered exactly what they’ve promised and they don’t waste any time,” Davis said. “They’ve delivered the goods ... a solid product to the market. They’re committed to this city. The proof is there. I’m excited.”

A.R. is again poised to be the first to break ground on a new project in the Fort Trumbull Development area. The company submitted a similar proposal in 2015 after the RCDA cut ties with Riverbank Construction and its $24 million Village on Thames project.

A.R. withdrew its proposal when Riverbank filed suit against the RCDA and tied up the property in litigation for the next three years. The suit was settled earlier this year with a commitment of $600,000 — $200,000 from the city and $400,000 from the RCDA. A.R. Building has proposed a $750,000 purchase price for the land.

“We spent a tremendous amount of time and money on the project and had a lot of positive feedback,” said attorney William Sweeney, who represents A.R. Building, a reference to work done in 2015.

“I think a lot of developers would have left with a sour taste in their mouth. We took our project to Mansfield Road and it’s been a tremendous success,” Sweeney said. “We are absolutely the best positioned group to go back in. We were already well positioned when we had to pull the plug. We’re picking up where we left off.”

Sweeney said the conceptual plans submitted to the RCDA for consideration are likely to undergo changes to adjust for market conditions but could include townhouse-style buildings, traditional apartments and/or garden apartments.

“We want to build a development that creates an atmosphere to retain those already employed in New London by giving them a luxury home at the Fort that is accessible to downtown New London,” Jason Kambitsis, A.R. Building senior vice president of development and acquisitions, said in a letter to the RCDA.

“We also intend to attract outsiders that have wanted to move to New London but were not give the opportunity to live in a development that met all of their desires. This development will do just that,” Kambitsis said.

A.R. would build the first phase of the project on parcels 2A, 2B and 2C but also wants first rights to an adjacent parcel, 3B, in the event the city is successful in its bid to increase a cap of 104 residential units imposed by the state because of limited access to the Fort Trumbull peninsula.

Passero said his administration continues to negotiate with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection on adjusting what he considers an artificially low limit on housing that has stifled progress at Fort Trumbull.

Davis said he expects the RCDA and A.R. Building to have documents signed by next week.

g.smith@theday.com

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