REDDING Former selectmen suggest takeover of old wire mill
REDDING — Former selectmen are advocating for the town to assume ownership of the old Gilbert and Bennett wire mill after failed attempts at revitalizing the property and amid an ongoing foreclosure case against the developer.
Former selectmen Donald Takacs and Leon Karvelis have submitted a letter to First Selectwoman Julia Pemberton about the use of the 50-acre property. They propose the town take the building and use it for a solar farm and recreation.
Pemberton declined to comment on the plan but said it would be brought up at the next Board of Selectmen meeting.
“The idea is this needs to move forward,” Takacs said. “It’s an eyesore and a financial burden for the town.”
The developer, Georgetown Land Development Co., owes the town $3.5 million in back taxes and $2.2 million in sewer costs. The fire district is owed $180,000.
Georgetown Land Development Co. also owes millions of dollars to a special tax district that was created in 2005 that allowed the project to float nearly $14.5 million in government-backed bonds. The tax district is overseen by the same company that owns the site.
Pemberton has said that the only way the tax district can be dissolved is if there is no debt or the town agrees to take the district on.
Plans were drafted by Georgetown Land Development Co. more than a decade ago, which would have added housing, commercial uses and a railroad piece. That plan expires in 2018 and cannot be extended but can be altered.
Nothing has come of the plans, largely due to the recession that came shortly after the company acquired the property.
“It seemed like a great idea at the time,” said Takacs, who was on the board then. “But it got caught in the housing bubble.”
The town started foreclosure proceedings on the property in 2014 and officially filed in 2015. A judge has since ruled the town is the first creditor to be paid back.
Last year, the selectmen presented three options on how to deal with the financial problems with the old mill.
The options include the foreclosure proceedings with the town and the fire district assuming control of the property and either selling it to a private developer or maintaining it for public use. The third option would have the town assume ownership of the property and all of the junior holders would write off their debts in exchange for part of the sale and future tax revenues.
The letter from Karvelis and Takacs advocates for the town to assume the property for public use and have the bond holders write off their debts.
“It’s just festering and not benefiting anyone,” Takacs said.
The former selectmen also propose selling the unused capacity of the Georgetown sewage treatment plant to Ridgefield, which is developing the nearby Branchville area. The plant was expanded to 245,000 gallons in 2008 to meet the expected demand from Georgetown Land Development Corporation’s plans. But since those plans haven’t materialized, the plant is left with an average of 60,000 gallons a day.
Takacs said the site would be a lovely area for people to visit if the building wasn’t there, especially with the Norwalk River right there.
“It has a lot of potential for recreation,” he said.
This isn’t the first suggestion that’s come to the selectmen on how to use the site.
In March 2017, Jane Philbrick, who led a team of brownfield-remediation experts and college students, presented a proposal to remediate the site, and add artist studios, commercial space and inter-generational housing. Philbrick had received a state grant in 2013 to create a plan for the property.