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The state owns the problem of empty, untaxed land at Fort Trumbull

September 25, 2018

So it appears another project of the Renaissance City Development Association is dying on the vine.

Shipway 221, a planned apartment complex on Howard Street proposed by the Tagliatela family, which abandoned its failed Harbour Towers project on Bank Street last year, appears to be defunct, with the developer recently telling the RCDA it has been unsuccessful in finding an equity partner to move forward.

The Shipway development agreement expires next month, and short of an ill-advised extension by the RCDA, the property goes back on the market.

This is just another in a long line of failed development projects by the RCDA and its predecessor, the New London Development Corporation, during the decadeslong redevelopment debacle in and around Fort Trumbull.

The last big failure resulted in a lawsuit, still pending, with a trial date in the fall of next year, which has blocked new residential development on the Fort Trumbull peninsula. That doesn’t leave much wiggle room to make something happen there before the next recession.

I believe Mayor Michael Passero’s well-meaning attempt to resuscitate the RCDA, which his predecessor had pledged but failed to kill off, is draining city resources with no payoff in sight. Worrisome is the haphazard management of the agency, with conflicts of interest and surviving ties to the agency’s use of eminent domain, still a stain on the city’s reputation.

It’s incredible to me that the owner of some of the city’s most blighted properties, including one inside the redevelopment footprint in Fort Trumbull, sits today on the RCDA board with the former NLDC executive director most associated with the worst hardball tactics of eminent domain.

I can’t think of a better example of the agency’s dysfunction than the serving of cocktails during a board meeting.

City taxpayers deserve better, and they should expect some oversight and input from the state Department of Economic and Community Development, which created the NLDC in the first place, paid for the eminent domain purchases, demolished the taxpaying neighborhood there and continues to this day to partially fund the RCDA.

The state has an obligation to fix what it broke. Indeed, the state signed off on the decision to break ties with the developer who is now suing, the source of new paralysis of the peninsula.

I believe New London generally got short shrift during the Gov. Dannel Malloy years of bonding munificence, with the city’s biggest haul being money for a pedestrian bridge to a Coast Guard museum, which may never happen.

Next time you see Rep. Chris Soto, Democrat of New London, Sen. Paul Formica of East Lyme, the Republican who represents the city, or his challenger, Democrat Martha Marx of New London, this campaign season ask them what the state plans to do to replace the neighborhood, the tax base it destroyed in New London.

This has been a city problem for too long.

It’s an open wound inflicted on the city by disgraced former Gov. John Rowland, a Republican who created the NLDC as an end game to avoid giving the Democrats who run the city control of the state-funded project.

When the plans unraveled, it fell to the city instead to make it work.

It’s time the state met its responsibility for what it has done to the city, and there is no better time than election season to extract promises that the right thing will be done.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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