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Developer gets green light for New London apartment complex

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New London — The City Council on Monday cleared the path for development of a new $30 million apartment complex on Howard Street by approving a 20-year tax abatement agreement.

RJ Development + Advisors is planning a 203-unit building on long-vacant property that is part of the Fort Trumbull Municipal Development area and had asked for a tax break to help cope with financial strains associated with cleanup of the contaminated property. Hughie's Restaurant is among other businesses that have occupied the site before it was cleared in anticipation of development.

The council approved both a tax abatement agreement and a development agreement negotiated by the city’s development arm, the Renaissance City Development Association, which owns the property. The city can expect an estimated $11 million in property tax revenue over the 20-year period while RJ Development benefits from more than $4 million in tax breaks over that same time period. RJ Development has estimated the cost of environmental cleanup to be $3.78 million.

The company must now seek appropriate land-use approvals for the project. The complex, like the one under construction at the corner of Howard and Bank streets, is expected to contain market-rate apartments with amenities aimed at attracting employees from places like Electric Boat and Lawrence + Memorial Hospital.

Felix Reyes, the director of the city’s Office of Development and Planning, said that in addition to taxes, the project should provide an estimated $700,000 in building permits and fees. The proposal is another step toward creating the critical mass needed to boost foot traffic and help support downtown businesses without further burdening the schools or city infrastructure, he said. It also fulfills the city’s goal of cleaning up contaminated and blighted properties.

The apartment complex would be built on land known as 5C1 and 5C2. Two parcels of the property are owned by Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, which has agreed to a land swap with the RCDA to expand its footprint at the medical office complex across the street.

Monday’s approval did not come without some prodding of Mayor Michael Passero by several councilors over the progress, or lack thereof, of development of a community center.

Councilor James Burke, who voted against the development agreement, said the council was promised that after the sale of the Martin Center, there would be some progress on establishment of a community center task force before any new developments “crossed the finish line.”

The city-owned Martin Center similarly was sold for development of upscale apartments.

“Do we have some sort of tangible movement on the establishment of the community center task force?” Burke asked.

Councilor Curtis Goodwin said city residents have long asked for a community center and he called it one way to help bring equity to city residents. He said now would be an optimal time to show progress, given the increasing calls for attention to a portion of the city’s population that often feels neglected.

Passero, who behind the scenes has been trying to court a YMCA into the city, said he needs help building community consensus and to rebuild a coalition that previously existed and culminated in the proposed purchase of the former Edgerton School property for a future community center. But with no firm plans in place, a previous council passed on the purchase.

Passero said he continues his quest to find a partner to make a community center financially feasible, something the city cannot do on its own.

g.smith@theday.com

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