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Developer pursues hotel, condo development at Fort Trumbull in New London

New London — A developer who two years ago pitched the idea of a hotel and conference center on the Fort Trumbull peninsula is back with bigger plans.

Southampton, Mass.-based Optimus Senior Living is exploring the idea of a project that would include an extended-stay hotel and a 104-unit condominium complex spanning three Fort Trumbull development parcels.

Peter Davis, Executive Director at Renaissance City Development Association, said Optimus initially proposed a hotel on the peninsula’s designated hotel parcel, Parcel 1, but like other interested parties that have come and gone, Optimus was turned off by lingering groundwater contamination concerns.

Davis has been negotiating a development contract with Optimus since May and a design review workshop is scheduled for next week. He hopes to have a contract ready to present to the RCDA board of directors by October. If approved, the agreement would go before the City Council for approval at a later date.

Optimus has developed several large senior living facilities, including Elmbrook Village, a 114-unit senior living community in Bozrah. Optimus originally came to New London thinking about a senior living facility but Davis said the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection did not think it an appropriate use of the site, which is located within a flood plain. The flood plain also is cited as one of the reasons the state has capped the number of residential units at 104.

Davis said he’s continued to work with Optimus and thinks he’s come up with a solution for the type of development Optimus wants to build. The result is a request to the City Council to discontinue a portion of East Street, one of the roads constructed at Fort Trumbull after it was cleared for development. A master plan was in place after the controversial 2005 Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London, in which the court ruled local governments could take private land by eminent domain in the name of economic development.

The Optimus development would span parcels 2A, 2B and 2C, adjacent to both the U.S. Coast Guard Station and Fort Trumbull State Park.

Davis said the proposed development straddles East Street, which is the reason for the upcoming vote by the City Council. He thinks Optimus is serious about its proposal and estimates it has spent upward of $100,000 to date exploring how its idea would fit.

“They’ve been around for three years now,” Davis said of Optimus. “The fact that they could not advance the hotel and were willing to look at other sites speaks to their commitment.”

Davis said the idea of an extended-stay hotel would accommodate everyone from visiting nurses to Electric Boat employees seeking a short-term place to stay while they find an apartment. Extended-stay hotels typically have things like laundry service and kitchenettes.

Meanwhile, the city has an architect on board and is poised to hire a structural engineer for the $30 million community recreation center. The city has designated parcels 3B and 3C for the community center.

Davis said he is attempting to solve the water contamination issue at Parcel 1 that thus far has scared off some potential developers.

“The issue is that a number of people, including myself and the (RCDA board of directors) were under the assumption all of the environmental issues were taken care of,” he said. “What we discovered ... is the groundwater issues had not been completely addressed.”

A groundwater remediation plan would need to be included in any new project at Parcel 1. He said while many of the test wells on the parcel have shown no signs of contamination, some of them closer to the water have, a product of fuel oil that leached into the ground from a former oil business located there. Davis said his idea is to split the parcel into two pieces, including one parcel where the commercial fishing operation, New London Seafood, is located.

Optimus’ plan, if it comes to fruition, would be the first project started in decades on the Fort Trumbull peninsula. RJ Development + Advisors LLC has broken ground on a 200-unit apartment complex on Howard Street and lays claim to the first “out-of-the-ground” project in the municipal development area.

g.smith@theday.com

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