Log In

Reset Password
  • MENU
    Saturday, June 03, 2023

    Campbell Grain proposal brings tax dollars, affordable housing to Stonington

    A fixed tax assessment is different than a tax abatement. The proposed fixed tax assessment with Campbell Grain would not only bring in more tax dollars to the town than the site has been generating, but also meet an ever-growing need for quality, affordable housing and contribute to greater economic growth in our downtown village.

    The site has been vacant for over a decade, despite creative attempts by both past and current administrations to revitalize the site. This is largely due to the challenging site infrastructure needs. In looking at the proposal from Winn Companies, the estimated construction costs, largely related to site infrastructure improvements, exceed $30 million and other developers were not able to justify the construction cost.  However, since this project proposal includes income-eligible units, otherwise known as affordable housing, approximately $20 million can be leveraged through the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority. This competitive funding process asks for a 5% local contribution. The fixed tax assessment allows Stonington to do this by not collecting about $69,000 in taxes per year for 10 years. However, as part of the fixed assessment, the project will increase the town's annual tax revenues by approximately $60,000 per year. As it stands today, the undeveloped Campbell Grain property generates less than $3,000 per year in property taxes

    What seems to be missed in many narratives around this proposal is this very point. The state's process to access these funds is highly competitive and without the 5% local match it is highly unlikely this project would be selected. And we know this because Winn did put forward the application this past year, and it was declined — siting the lack of a local match as a key factor. Without the local match, the state will very likely provide the funding to another town's project.

    Another fact that seems to be often misunderstood, is that while the site may welcome families with school-aged children, the likelihood that this would impact the school budget is low.  With the declining student enrollment, we are experiencing (over 20% decline in the past 5 years) and fixed education expenses, the enrollment of a few children should not impact the education budget. Further, it should not impact our police or fire. The federal government guidelines for the ratio of police officers to residents is one officer per 500 residents. At this time, Stonington's police force is adequately funded for 20,000 residents, more than the current census, so the addition of this project will not impact the police department budget. Further, this brand new, sprinklered building should not add any burden for the Pawcatuck Fire Department.

    Traffic engineers have studied the site and concluded there would not be a significant impact on traffic; further our own Zoning requirements, which are more stringent than many nearby towns, only require one parking space per unit. The project was only required to put in 82 parking spaces, however, understanding concerns, they added in an additional 10 spaces. Winn has proven themselves to be a well-run and considerate company. Their track record of building and maintaining homes across New England has proven to be excellent and their engagement in our own community has been extensive. Starting with the July 2020 Community Conversation to introduce the proposal to the public, with a virtual and in-person option at the Pawcatuck Fire House, followed by months of board and commission meetings and now their efforts to build a website and directly engage to address the concerns, they have heard from residents. All of the actions from Winn have shown them to be a good community partner.

    I share these perspectives, not only as a resident and current member of the Board of Selectmen, but also having served on the Board of Finance, including as Chair, and on our Town's Planning and Zoning Commission.

    The town meeting vote held Aug. 9 on the fixed tax assessment was passed by a margin of 2:1. The referendum question asks if voters want to overturn the results of the town meeting. Please consider all the facts prior to voting Oct. 5.

    June D. Strunk is a member of the Stonington Board of Selectmen.

    Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.