State disagrees with New London's argument over restrictions at State Pier

New London — City officials say a 20-year-old municipal development plan governs the area surrounding State Pier and gives the city some input in the proposed activity there.

The state disagrees.

“We’re not subject to it,” said David Kooris, acting chairman of the Connecticut Port Authority and deputy commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development.

In a recent interview with The Day, Kooris said the state’s legal interpretation of the 30-year State Pier Municipal Development Plan is that the actions contemplated in the plan have been completed.

The MDP for the 125 acres surrounding State Pier was initiated in the 1990s to allow the city, through the New London Development Corp., to acquire 8.6 acres and a dozen homes to allow the city to market the land for commercial use associated with State Pier.

The NLDC later transferred the property to the state Department of Transportation, which ran the pier prior to the formation of the Connecticut Port Authority, to allow it to expand the footprint of the pier to about 30 acres. The NLDC is now the Renaissance City Development Association.

“The MDP doesn’t really contemplate any more than that,” Kooris said. “The plan is still alive. It still has 10 more years, but the action has been completed. The fact that the plan still exists doesn’t constrain or enable or dictate what any property owner does within the project area.”

Eminent domain was not used in the State Pier plan, as opposed to a similar plan enacted at Fort Trumbull, where some of the properties were seized against the will of homeowners.

The city has argued that the MDP clearly states the plan doesn’t contemplate activity in coastal waters and that planned activity at the pier would trigger either a review by the RCDA or, for a larger modification, approval by City Council.

But Kooris said there are plenty of private properties in the project area, but outside of the “action area,” that are not restricted in any way by the MDP.

“Similarly ... the fact that we are doing something with our property that wasn’t contemplated in the MDP doesn’t having any bearing on what we’re doing because we’re not asking the redevelopment agency to do anything,” Kooris said.

Mayor Michael Passero said he was not surprised by the state’s position but awaits a written legal explanation. The city, he said, then can decide whether it wants to challenge the state’s position.

In the meantime, Passero said, he will continue to lobby for what he considers to be lost tax revenue from the state-owned property. He said he did not consider the MDP a roadblock to development but rather an opportunity for the city to have input on the development being negotiated by the Connecticut Port Authority and the partnership of wind power giant Ørsted and electric utility Eversource.

Kooris said municipal development plans, a way to bestow rights to a redevelopment agency with a funding stream from the state, is a rarely used tool these days.

“It was a tool of the 1990s and early 2000s to a lesser extent,” Kooris said.

Rare instances where they are used are typically surrounding smaller localized projects, such as when land is needed to create a larger footprint for something like a school.

g.smith@theday.com

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