Brownfields Survey in Old Saybrook Inches Forward Mariner’s Way Redevelopment

OLD SAYBROOK — In collaboration with the University of Connecticut’s Connecticut Brownfields Initiative, Old Saybrook will survey and determine which of 40 properties located on Route 1 East, from Saybrook Junction to Ferry Point Marina, are environmentally contaminated.

“We have some suspicions, and there is a state list of potentially contaminated sites, but we don’t know for sure, because the research hasn’t been done,” said Susie Beckman, the economic development director for Old Saybrook. “We want the research done so we have a concrete list and know how to market them.”

The survey is funded entirely by the Brownfields Initiative, and serves as a research project for a master’s degree for students pursuing careers in planning, environmental science and law.

“We had two responses from our efforts in the spring, but nothing concrete, just some telephone calls with a couple of developers who wanted to learn more,” Beckman said. “We are still trying to promote the redevelopment and revitalization concept, but it’s not a big push right now.”

According to Beckman, the expectation is that if some of the parcels are not contaminated, or are minimally contaminated, developers may have more interest in purchasing and developing the properties. So far, three of the parcels are confirmed to have contamination issues, and six do not.

In 2014, Old Saybrook adopted a revitalization plan rebranding this stretch of Route 1 East, between Saybrook Junction and the Ferry Point marina as “Mariner’s Way.” In 2016, the town received a $200,000 Brownfield Area Revitalization (BAR) Grant from the state to help survey nine of the 40 parcels along the road and to determine costs to clean up pollution in the area which may have discouraged developers in the past.

With the final $15,000 of the BAR Grant, the town marketed the idea of a culinary center and mixed-use housing and stores to developers across New England, with little tangible success.

“We had two responses from our efforts in the spring, but nothing concrete, just some telephone calls with a couple of developers who wanted to learn more,” Beckman said. “We are still trying to promote the redevelopment and revitalization concept, but it’s not a big push right now.”

The parcel originally targeted, and which project organizers believe has the most potential for development, is not currently on the market.

“It is all privately-owned. It’s not up to me or the town, all we can do is offer a competitive landscape by controlling our tax rate and offer any incentives that we think are appropriate,” said First Selectman Carl Fortuna.

Last year, the town spent $20,000 of the BAR grant to designate Mariner’s Way as a Tax Increment Funding (TIF) District – a financing plan that would return half of any resulting property tax increases to a fund for the district. Businesses could then apply to a funding committee for aid.

Public planning for private parcels of land is still in the hands of whoever owns the property, said Fortuna.

“It is all privately-owned. It’s not up to me or the town, all we can do is offer a competitive landscape by controlling our tax rate and offer any incentives that we think are appropriate,” said First Selectman Carl Fortuna.

“Not a lot has happened out there for 25 years. The idea behind the last seven years was to try to instill some ideas of what it could possibly look like and market that. We have not been successful yet,” Fortuna said. “We can dream, we can’t make it happen, but we can dream.”

The next step, according to Fortuna, is to design and install a more inviting streetscape with sidewalks and a bike path. Old Saybrook is currently waiting to hear whether the town has received an additional state grant to complete the project.

“I’m not going to go to town meeting for $500,000 to do this planning work,” Fortuna said. “It’s a much more slippery slope if we are using large amounts of town money to do this type of work.”

Until now, Old Saybrook has contributed only employee hours to the project.

Despite the slow progress, Beckman said she has not lost hope for her vision of Mariner’s Way.

“It’s frustrating when you think about how much time this takes, but every little step gets us closer to revitalization,” she said.


Previously reported by CT Examiner

Old Saybrook Courts Mariner’s Way Developers (5-19-2019)

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