Contentious East Lyme affordable-housing development returns

East Lyme — Almost three years after an appellate court sided with a developer over the zoning commission's denial of an affordable-housing development proposed near Rocky Neck State Park, the project is moving forward.

Town officials confirmed this week that a Georgia-based developer, who also has planned housing at Waterford's former Cohanzie Elementary School, is pursuing the project.

The 60-unit development, known as Rocky Neck Village, was first proposed by JAG Capital Drive LLC, a development company based out of New London, in 2013. Planned to be located at a 24.6-acre property behind the Divine Wine Emporium off Route 156, the project was shot down by the zoning commission that same year due to its location in a light industrial zone.

The commission maintained that because of the proposed location, future residents would be at risk due to various chemical operations taking place nearby, and that locating a residential complex in a light industrial zone would violate town zoning laws.

After an appellate court upheld a judge's ruling in favor of the developer over the zoning commission in 2016, however, JAG Capital Drive listed the property, as well as its project development rights, for $1.5 million in 2017, according to realtor.com.

JAG, which still owns the property, according to land-use records, bought the tract in 2006 for $425,000.

Developer Harold Foley, owner of the Georgia-based housing development company HF3 Group LLC, said Wednesday he has signed a contract with JAG to purchase the property and its development rights to build Rocky Neck Village but is first “going through the proper channels in town” before closing on the deal.

Foley is the same developer looking to build a contentious 44-unit mixed-income development at Waterford’s former Cohanzie Elementary School.

Foley said if all goes well in East Lyme, he expects that estimated $20 million project to break ground this upcoming spring.

According to zoning official Bill Mullholland, the project still needs to go through a “few more steps," including receiving necessary permits from both the town’s zoning and building departments and submitting a final "affordability plan" to “make sure that what the new developers want to build is the same" as what previously was passed by the town and the courts, as well as “a wetlands signoff, a fire marshal signoff and paying their taxes, as well as other technical hurdles.”

“That’s a minimum of 30 to 40 days to get all that through,” Mullholland said.

Mullholland said that the project does not again need zoning or planning commission approvals, but rather must now go through an “orientation process” with town officials to “make sure everyone is on the same page” with the project. He said he and town officials will schedule pre-construction meetings once the development's groundbreaking approaches.

Mullholland added that Foley and the associated Nehantic Partners LLC listed with the development under Foley’s larger development company still may need to receive sewage capacity through the Water and Sewer Commission. In January, town utility engineer Brad Kargl estimated the development would need an approximate 20,000 daily gallon allotment.

According to Mullholland, the project should be a “straight shot,” assuming the developer isn’t looking to deviate from already-approved plans. He said Foley had tried to submit plans differing from what already was approved earlier this summer, but Mullholland turned down those plans, stating that they would need to go through a separate approval process should Foley want to continue with them.

Mullholland said that Foley then decided to stick with the originally approved plans but now hopes to build 56 units, instead of the approved 60, as well as a community house on the property.

According to site plans and an “invitation to bid” submitted to the town for review, Foley has hired Missouri-based architect Crockett Engineering Consultants, as well as Meriden-based contractors LaRosa Building Group LLC for the project.

Foley, who has completed several housing developments throughout Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee, according to the website of another Georgia-based development company he owns with his wife, started developing in Connecticut in 2015, after rehabilitating a historical Waterbury building into a 35-unit apartment complex with LaRosa Building Group.

During a phone interview Wednesday, Foley said the Rocky Neck Village development would be his third housing development in Connecticut. That does not include the Cohanzie school development, he said, which is still “being worked out.”

Foley said Rocky Neck Village will feature only three-bedroom townhomes, to be rented for an average of $1,400 per month, with included “garages, sidewalks, green spaces and a community center.”

“It will be very nice,” he said. “A great development.”

Foley said his company would retain ownership of the property, with a third-party management company overseeing rentals.

Speaking to why he chose to develop in East Lyme, Foley said, “It is a great location. I like East Lyme and Old Lyme, and I like that the development is directly across the street from Rocky Neck.”

“There is a dearth of affordable housing in the area. We did our assessment and we found that this town fit the demand for affordable housing,” Foley said. “I’ve always been attracted to the New England area. Connecticut is a great state. The people are wonderful and there’s a certain ease to doing business.”

m.biekert@theday.com

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