WATERFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut officials are pressing ahead with plans to transform a former tuberculosis sanatorium for children into the first new, shoreline state park in decades, despite some local misgivings, a potentially expensive price tag and a private developer who contends his contract was illegally terminated.
Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy stunned local leaders last fall when he announced a proposal to transform the approximately 32-acre, state-owned vacant parcel in Waterford — formerly the Seaside Sanatorium and later the Seaside Regional Center for the developmentally disabled — into a park. Malloy proclaimed the “beautiful piece of land should be used for the direct benefit and enjoyment of the residents of Waterford and the state of Connecticut.”
The parcel, listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places, boasts sweeping views of Long Island Sound, grand lawns, forested areas, and a sandy beach edged by a seawall. It includes several historic buildings designed by architect Cass Gilbert, who was responsible for the U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C., and other notable works. While the property’s fate has been uncertain for years, taken on and off the market by the state and stymied by lawsuits, Republican First Selectman Daniel Steward said Waterford was close to sealing a long-awaited agreement with the developer when Malloy stepped in last year.
“We felt somewhat put back and it wasn’t appropriate,” said Steward, who learned of Malloy’s public announcement a couple hours earlier from a newspaper reporter.
The state has since terminated its contract with Mark Steiner of Farmington, who has been attempting to develop Seaside for about 15 years. It has hired private consultants to study the site and come up with options for the property as a park, scheduling public hearings to collect public input. An online public survey has been created.
“We’re just trying to explore different options at this stage of the process and get public feedback so we get some direction,” said Susan Whalen, deputy commissioner for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. She said DEEP will ultimately decide the property’s fate, in collaboration with the governor’s office, the Office of Policy and Management, and with guidance from the consultants.
“It’s very rare there are opportunities to develop parks along the ocean these days,” she said, calling it “an investment for future generations.”
But in a Dec. 15 letter to Whalen, Steward said there are better alternatives to a state park, especially since there are nearby public beaches and state parks. He said Steiner’s plan included a 100-foot area of public waterfront access, a public walkway and designated public parking — a plan the developer said was crafted with state environmental officials. The proposal also called for the developer to rebuild the seawall and buildings, which have deteriorated since the state facility closed in 1996.
Steiner estimates it will cost $50 million to $80 million to fix up the buildings, and another $2 million to renovate the sea wall.
“Investing millions of taxpayer dollars into another park in this area would be redundant and very expensive to maintain,” wrote Steward, who proposed a public/private partnership where the state retains public access to the waterfront and leaves the remaining property for housing and other low traffic uses. Steward also supports a high-end inn, which is part of Steiner’s proposal.
Steiner, meanwhile, said his lawyers are looking at possible legal avenues. They contend the state, which kept Steiner’s $250,000 deposit, wrongfully terminated its contract with the developer and damages could be in excess of $50 million.
Steiner said he still believes his plan, which included more than 100 condominium units and was estimated to generate $2 million to $3 million in annual revenue for the town, is best for the community.
“It makes absolutely no sense for the state, especially given its fiscal position, to say, ‘Oh, we’re going to turn this into a park,'” he said.
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