What's the deal with that place? (Part 2)

This month, CuriousCT readers are wondering about blighted properties in Groton and Quaker Hill, an abandoned restaurant in Noank and a proposed restaurant on a pier in New London.

Is there something in your neighborhood or that you drive by often that you're curious about? Ask us a question about it at bit.ly/CuriousCT.

Q. What happened to the proposal for a restaurant to be built on one of our piers in New London?

A. Whaling City Dock, a seasonal restaurant and oyster bar overlooking the water on Custom House Pier, is unlikely to open this year despite an approved lease agreement with the city.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has cited a probable conflict with the Connecticut Coastal Management Act and discouraged "over-the-water restaurants in Connecticut waters."

The owner of Sunset Ribs in Waterford and other waterfront restaurants, Frank Maratta, approached the city with the idea last year. The well-received plan was to construct the restaurant out of shipping containers so they could be moved off the pier when the need arose.

The city has long sought ways to expand uses of its waterfront and the City Council voted unanimously on Nov.5, 2018, to approve a $2,300-a-month lease with Maratta's Restaurant Consultants Inc. for a 60-foot-by-150-foot area of the pier.

Mayor Michael Passero and Development and Planning Director Felix Reyes remain in talks with officials from DEEP over how to satisfy state requirements mandating water-dependent uses on the pier.

Brian Thompson, the director of DEEP's Land & Water Resources Division of the Bureau of Water Protection and Land Reuse, in an Oct. 31, 2018, letter to Passero, discouraged what he called "any privatization of the Downtown Waterfront Park piers by any non-water dependent structures such as a restaurant."

While Thompson said the downtown piers create a "tourist destination unparalleled in the region," the purpose is limited to "provide public access, berthing for visiting boats and Tall Ships, fishing opportunities, viewing opportunities and other water-based recreation..."

The state issued a permit on Aug. 31, 1999, authorizing construction of components of Waterfront Park specifically for "public access and recreational boating, both of which are water-dependent uses," Thompson wrote.

Reyes said the city is looking to revise the plan for the restaurant to include things like paddleboats and fishing rod rentals.

"We're developing what makes sense there beyond a restaurant," Reyes said. "The owner is willing to add additional water-dependent uses to satisfy DEEP requirements. This is a great opportunity, a new type of business for the city."

Reyes said the city will continue to work with DEEP through the application process but does not foresee anything being finalized before the summer. If the state does eventually sign off on the application, Reyes said the restaurant needs no further city approvals.

— Greg Smith

Q. How about looking into the mystery of the long-dormant Fisherman restaurant in Noank? The once flourishing business has sat derelict for about 5 years.

A. The future of The Fisherman Restaurant, the Noank restaurant that has been closed at its 937 Groton Long Point Road spot for the past few years, remains uncertain.

Owner John Williams, who purchased the building from Thomas and Lynn Tsagarakis in 2002 for $1.25 million, did not respond to phone and Facebook messages seeking an update.

The Noank zoning enforcement officer, chairman of the Noank Zoning Commission, assistant planning director for the Town of Groton and town clerk all told The Day they don't know what is happening with the restaurant.

"Everyone in Groton Long Point wants to know, and probably everybody in Noank," Noank Zoning Official Bill Mulholland said.

The only indication of somewhat recent movement on file with the town is a permit application for a $6,500 installation of a boiler, which the building official signed on Dec. 14, 2018. The contractor listed declined comment to The Day.

The last permit application was filed in April 2015, and was to "replace outer door, front deck + columns, stairway with concrete etc."

Just over a month prior to that, The Fisherman Restaurant announced on its Facebook page the restaurant would be closing for renovations on March 8. On the page, the restaurant said in April 2015, August 2015 and June 2016 that it hoped to have an opening date "soon."

The page hasn't been active since August 2016, when the restaurant posted a few times that people could park there for an Esker Point Beach concert.

On both Feb. 12, 2019, and July 23, 2018, the Noank Water Department issued certificates continuing water use liens on the property. The one this year was to secure payment for an outstanding balance of $263.80, while the one last year was for $1,262.80.

According to the Groton tax collector's office, there are no taxes owed on the property.

— Erica Moser

Q. I would like to know the story behind the blighted properties on Poquonnock Road in Groton, including the building formerly occupied by Supreme Blenz and others that have been abandoned far longer.

A. Under Blight Enforcement Officer Glenn Frishman, the city recently worked with the property owner of 331 Poquonnock Road, who put a new roof on the vacant former barber shop building and took down an adjacent boarded-up garage structure, said Michael Spellman, chief of the City of Groton Police Department.

"We seek voluntary compliance whenever possible because an engaged community stakeholder is key to any blight mitigation," Spellman said.

"Our region was slow to rebound, not only from the Great Recession but from the industrial slowdown in the '90s and 2000s," added Spellman, who remembers when Groton City was booming in the '80s.

Now, with Electric Boat ramping up hiring to levels not seen since the '70s and '80s, and redevelopment slated for the former Groton Heights School, he said "a rising tide lifts all boats." Blighted properties could benefit from those positive developments, start to be redeveloped and, "slowly but surely, Groton comes back."

While the plans for the former barber shop building remain unknown, Spellman called it a "very good sign" that the property owner is putting in repairs.

Sunrise Properties of Stonington, care of O Italia, owns the property at 331 Poquonnock Road and the two buildings date back to 1956, according to the records. Odhavaji Italia could not be reached by phone or email.

The city is taking proactive measures under Frishman, a retired lieutenant colonel from the U.S. Army, to address other blighted properties on Poquonnock Road, Spellman said.

"We didn't get here overnight, and we're not going to get out of it overnight, either," he said. "We're starting to see some movement in the right direction, and we have people committed to bringing things back and we're going to work hard to get there."

Supreme Blenz moved to its current location at 79 Gold Star Highway about five years ago.

— Kimberly Drelich

Q: What's the story on the former Ameri-Gas building on Bartlett Cove in Quaker Hill? This is a beautiful, waterfront spot. The building is falling apart and is in a quiet, residential area.

A: Tucked between the Thames River and railroad tracks along Bartlett Point in Quaker Hill, the former Ameri-Gas building continues to deteriorate while back taxes pile up.

Long the subject of litigation between a Manhattan lawyer and two Manhattan-based businesses, the boarded-up, fenced-off property at 52 Lower Bartlett Road is in foreclosure proceedings, according to town officials. Town records show about $69,000 is due, with few taxes paid since 2013.

The town, after sending the owners a letter when they were behind on tax payments in 2010, received a partial payment of about $40,000. The town then initiated foreclosure proceedings in 2012, and placed a lien on the property for the years 2013 through 2016.

The owners, Macarthur Properties Ventures LLC and Working Realty Ltd., according to town records, made an interest payment of about $2,000 in 2016.

Waterford First Selectman Dan Steward said recently the property is "in the court system for foreclosure and we will continue to work on that step. It's a long process and not an easy process."

Steward noted that he was unaware of the status of any litigation over the property, which the businesses bought from Ameri-Gas for $570,000 in 2006. The 5.5-acre site is zoned commercial but is close to multiple Bartlett Cove homes not far from the Waterford-Montville town line. Town records show the property's assessed value as $398,590.

Working Realty Ltd., Macarthur and Eric Shames, an attorney who claimed to own 100 percent of Working Realty's stake in the property, could not be reached.

— Benjamin Kail

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