Decision on ‘Chung Property’ postponed but public comments all the same

Even though the Town Council postponed any further decisions or discussion on what to do with the “ugly” site at 311-349 New Britain Ave., across from the Connecticut Commons, members of the public made their opinions heard in regards to a recent proposal.
Last month, it was proposed to provide owner of the “Chung property,” John Senese of Calco Construction, with a $300,000 loan. The loan would be secured by a lien on the property. This loan would allow Senese to start tearing down the remaining buildings on the property, which have made the site an eyesore for many years.
The property is private, however, Town Manager Robert Lee said he believes a partnership with the owner is needed if the town wants to see the property cleaned up and potentially developed.
“The immediate removal of the buildings will not only enhance the aesthetics of the property, it could also speed up the development of the property by making it more attractive to future tenants,” Lee said at the December council meeting.
The property has become overgrown with brush and grass. Over the last 10 years, Lee said development on the property has not happened due to, among other things, lawsuits between a developer and former owner, pollution on the property due to previous businesses, and the weak economy.
Under the proposal, Senese would begin work within 30 days of approval, and complete it within 60 days, starting with the removal of the buildings. After that, he would begin environmental cleanup of the property. The $300,000 would not be paid until the buildings are removed, Lee said, adding that Senese has said in previous meetings he is reluctant to clean up the property without permanent tenants, and there may be a pricey cleanup cost since a previous business on the lot was an automotive shop.
Lee said if a 75,000 square foot building was constructed on the site, it would bring in an expected $158,000 in additional taxes, which would be used to pay back the $300,000 which is not expected to gain interest.
Lee said towns provide loans with liens, or some kind of tax abatement to developers for a few reasons, such as attracting businesses to stay in town and to encourage development of the property. The proposal that was brought forward to the council is essentially a two-year tax abatement, Lee said. However no tax abatement would be requested for development of the site, just to demolish the buildings and clean up the property. The $300,000 loan would come out of the town’s undesignated fund balance and would require an additional appropriation for the 2013 budget.
The council held a public hearing last week, which brought forth some mixed opinions from community members.
Chairman of the town’s Economic Development Agency, Val Dumais, said the commission supports the proposal brought to the council, and encourages councilors to approve it.
“This property is desirable,” Dumais said, adding that once it is enhanced and presentable, development will move quicker and businesses will start popping up.
There are several properties surrounding the Chung property, which also are not developed. Dumais said once the Chug property begins to build up, the others will follow.
“This loan would allow  for removal of an ugly sight,” and an “ugly site,” Dumais said, adding that the developer would not receive any other financial assistance, other than the $300,000 to remove the buildings. Senese will be paying, out of pocket, for environmental cleanup.
While many speakers were in favor of seeing the property finally cleaned up, others like resident John Kisluk said “Plainville is not a bank” and he didn’t want to see his “hard-earned tax dollars go to” Senese, who purchased the property for over $1 million.
Chair of the council Kathy Pugliese said the town has given incentives to businesses in the past, and that providing Senese with the $300,000, after the work is done, is not something new.
Resident Arthur Screen was also opposed to the loan, and said Senese knew what the property looked like and contained when he purchased it.
“He’s asking the town to pay his bills for him,” Screen said.
However, Town Manager Robert Lee said Senese did not go to the town, the town went to him because “about every other month we receive comments from residents complaining about the property” so the town decided to try and do something proactive to bring business in quicker.
“This is an attempt to get things moving, and keep him focused on Plainville” Lee added.
Kathleen Bergonzi, a member of the Board of Directors for the Plainville Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is supportive of the proposal, especially because any visitors who come to Plainville and see that property, which is right off of the highway, automatically think “Plainville is an unhealthy town.”
Richard Williams, also a member of the Board of Directors for the Plainville Chamber of Commerce, said while the chamber is supportive, it advises the council to add an interest rate on the loan, which is not in the original proposal.
Plainville resident Ken Headman said he wanted to remind the public “how long that property has been sitting there, deteriorating.” A lot of the time is due to court proceedings and the town was not able to do anything with the property. He said he thinks this proposal is an “unusual opportunity” but hopes the council will support it.
Pugliese, and the other council members, decided to not vote on the proposal at last week’s meeting since two council members were absent. The council meets next on Tuesday, Jan. 22, where discussion on the matter is expected.

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