What's the deal with that vacant mill complex in New London?

New London — A developer with experience in transforming brownfields into residences has purchased a long-vacant mill complex on Garfield Avenue with plans for up to 90 apartments.

The vacant 100,000-square-foot mill, sometimes known as the Faria Mill, sold in September for $239,000 to Litchfield-based Park Lane Group, doing business as Garfield Mills, LLC. It was sold by Faria Mills LLC, the same family that owns Sheffield Pharmaceuticals.

The Garfield Avenue mill is one of two vacant structures in New London that inquisitive readers asked about as part of The Day's Curious CT initiative. The other is 158 State St., the former home of the State Street Saloon.

The answer to the status of State Street building is not complicated. The building, owned by Kenneth Capano, remains on the market at what some would call a bargain price of $249,000.

On the other hand, there is behind-the-scenes movement on development of the mill.

New mill owner Ted Lazarus, principal with Park Lane Group, has an ambitious plan to have "hammers swinging," by next summer on a project he said "will have a real positive impact on the neighborhood."

In its heyday in the 1920s and 1930s, the sprawling mill complex that occupies 3.6 acres at 90 Garfield Ave. was a thriving business, home to the Edward Bloom Silk Co. Businesses have come and gone since the silk mill left, but the building has remained largely vacant for decades.

"Our plan is to transform it into beautiful housing," Lazarus said. "We have a real sense New London is on the cusp of a place where people are going to want to move to. We've been looking around here for some time."

Lazarus said he already has made inquiries at the state Department of Economic and Community Development's state Historic Preservation Office, which administers federal and state programs aimed at adaptive reuse of brownfields.

Because of the potential costs associated with cleanup of environmental contamination at older sites such as a mill, Lazarus said things such as low-interest loans and historic tax credits are crucial in such developments, comparing it to a "three-legged stool without the third leg."

Helping to make the project financially viable is a change to zoning regulations approved last year that double the number of housing units in commercial zones, from one housing unit per 2,000 square feet of space to two units per 2,000 square feet.

That change was accomplished through an application by downtown developer Eric Hamburg, owner of Westport-based Industrial Renaissance LLC, who at one time had expressed interest in the mill.

Park Lane Group's most recent project in Bristol included state and federal aid to help fund development of two aging schools into apartments aimed at seniors. One school with 42 units is finished and another with 55 units is nearly complete, Lazarus said.

That project includes energy-efficient geothermal heating and cooling system and solar panels, which Lazarus said would also be used in the New London project.

The schools feature mostly one-bedroom units and aimed at seniors, though Lazarus said he's found tenants are a mix of millennials and seniors, both attracted to modern amenities. He expects the New London units to be "market rate," with about 20 percent preserved for affordable housing.

Felix Reyes, the director of the city's office of Development and Planning, who grew up on Elm Street near the vacant Garfield Avenue structure, said allowing for a mix of rental rates was important component on any development in the city "so we're not creating pockets of wealth or pockets of poverty."

"I'm extremely excited the city's been able to attract a talented developer to New London to bring some vision and potentially bring this building back to life," Reyes said. "This is a big project where the effect on the community would be extremely positive to see the building adaptively reused in this manner."

The mill is bordered by a mix of commercial and residential properties and sandwiched between Jefferson Avenue, McDonald Street and Connecticut Avenue. It is situated near the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Connecticut Waste Processing Materials and a warehouse owned by The Day.

g.smith@theday.com

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