Voila: A fire exposes the best property in Fort Trumbull

The sudden fire that ripped through Bill Cornish's building on the Fort Trumbull peninsula this month not only destroyed much of the 19th century brick industrial building but also exposed what a fine property it is.

Indeed, now that much of the burned wreckage of the building has been scraped away, you can see more clearly that it is one of the choice parcels in the redevelopment neighborhood, just north of the Electric Boat towers on a navigable waterway with wide views down the Thames River.

Before the fire, the site was overwhelmed by the blighted and graffiti-marred building surrounded by rubble, weeds and chain link fencing.

Now, standing on the rocks where Susette Kelo's pink house once dominated the neighborhood, you can look over Cornish's waterfront property, immediately adjacent to the state park and just across a navigable channel from the office towers of Electric Boat.

It's pretty swell.

You can just imagine a new apartment tower there with a banner hanging from the side, pointed toward the office windows of Electric Boat: "If you lived here ...."

This of course leads to the vexing question of how Cornish has been able to remain on the board of the Renaissance City Development Association, a clear and obvious conflict of interest, since development of Cornish's property would compete with the RCDA redevelopment property that surrounds it.

The number of apartments that can be built on the peninsula has been capped by the state, because of the limited vehicular access.

If Cornish gets permission to build apartments there, it could adversely limit the development possibilities and value of the neighboring properties, and vice versa.

It is outrageous to think that Cornish would be privy to negotiations for the development and sale of the neighboring RCDA properties in Fort Trumbull. He has an obvious personal interest in the RCDA properties there not being developed as housing — not something you would generally look for in a redevelopment agency board member.

His conflict is more clear than ever, given the prominence of his property cleared by fire.

I brought Cornish's purchase of the property, for $300,000 in 2017, to the attention of RCDA President Linda Mariani last September. Remarkably, none of the staff of the agency had informed her that a board member had purchased a property within the bounds of the redevelopment zone.

Could it be possible the agency staff didn't know the property there had sold? That's shocking if true. And if they did know, why didn't they tell the president? The sale of any property on the peninsula to anyone should have been a topic of extensive discussion by the agency, its officers and its board.

What's wrong here?

Mariani told me then she thought it was a conflict and that she would look into it. Six months have passed, and Cornish still is on the board.

Cornish was a contributor to Mayor Michael Passero's election campaign, the landlord for his campaign office and hosted a fundraiser at his restaurant.

Passero told me in September he wasn't sure whether Cornish's serving on the RCDA board represents a conflict.

It is just one more thing, it seems to me, that makes the mayor's revived RCDA, funded with scarce city funds, look like an ethics-challenged embarrassment.

This is the opinion of David Collins.



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