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Demolition of New London's Crystal Avenue high-rises on the horizon

New London — An environmental consultant is preparing cost estimates for the demolition of the vacant high-rise apartment buildings on Crystal Avenue, a precursor to the cleanup and marketing of the long-troubled site.

Consulting firm Tighe & Bond finished up an environmental assessment of the former Thames River Apartments earlier this month. Renaissance City Development Association Executive Director Peter Davis said that while there are known pollutants on site, such as asbestos, PCBs and lead, the samples tested were below the threshold that would have required the federal Environmental Protection Agency to get involved.

“They didn’t find anything that surprised them,” he said.

It means that on the regulatory side, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection will be the agency involved in ensuring upcoming remediation work is compliant with environmental regulations.

Tighe & Bond is now compiling its findings to be used in a request for proposals for demolition of the buildings and remediation of hazardous materials. Davis said there is an urgency to the matter, since the vacant former apartment complex remains a liability the city wants removed as quickly as possible. The timeline remains unknown, though Mayor Michael Passero has expressed his desire to see the buildings gone by the end of the year.

The city bought the property for $185,000 from the New London Housing Authority in 2019 after a joint effort to move out the residents because of deteriorating conditions and a long-pending lawsuit calling for action. The 124 units were federally subsidized and housed very low-income families, the only such complex of its kind in the city. With approval and support from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, the residents were issued Section 8 vouchers to seek private housing elsewhere. The last one moved out in August 2018.

The city gained a $2 million commitment from the state to fund the demolition and turn what was historically a tax-exempt property into a tax generator. The city has rezoned the site for commercial and industrial use. At one point the city had courted the Connecticut Port Authority for use of the 12-acre site property, but the port authority never agreed to pay taxes.

The parking lot of the Crystal Avenue high-rises, meanwhile, is expected to once again become the home for a fleet of buses servicing the New London School District. The city is working out an agreement with the schools to allow First Student to move in as early as Aug. 1.

Felix Reyes, the director of the city’s Office of Development and Planning, said the city continued to work with the school district to find a cost-effective, long-term solution to housing the buses in the city.

Other options are being explored, such as creating a bus terminal on city grounds or leasing from a private entity. Both options are cost-prohibitive for the school district, he said.

“Keeping them at the high-rises buys us a bit of time to do more long-term planning to put them in a permanent location,” Reyes said. “This provides an almost zero cost solution. It’s a way to work together and save taxpayers and the Board of Education a significant amount of money.”

The buses were parked at the high school but construction work is expected to start there this summer.

Reyes said the city is earning tax revenue with the buses being registered in the city, and that is one reason, among others, to keep them in New London.

“At some point they will have to move somewhere else ... and not continue to play musical chairs,” he said.

g.smith@theday.com

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