The Middletown Common Council voted unanimously on Monday night to purchase four properties as part of its long-term plan to develop the waterfront.
The purchases, which are valued at $2.55 million, are part of a larger $55 million bonded project to develop properties and improve public infrastructure in Middletown’s downtown and riverfront areas. Voters approved the project in a referendum on November 4.
The four properties include the former Jackson Corrugated Container manufacturer at 225 River Road, and three residential properties at 27, 35, and 41 Eastern Drive. The entire land parcel is nine acres, according to Joseph Samolis, Middletown’s director of Planning, Conservation and Development.
Common Council Minority Leader Philip Pessina said this is the first step in developing a riverfront that has long been underserved.
“That riverfront is a diamond in the rough,” he said.
Pessina said they were looking at a multi-use concept that could include restaurants, boating activities and residential properties.
Common Council Majority Leader Eugene Nocera said the project would definitely include some kind of housing, and praised the view of the Connecticut River that such a housing project could afford.
“It’s more than spectacular,” he said.
He said that residents at earlier public hearings said they wanted the riverfront to be an extension of Main Street.
Mayor Ben Florshiem said that the town was in the process of hiring a consultant who would create a master plan for the riverfront that would extend from the north of Harbor Park to just above the campus of the Connecticut Valley Hospital.
He said that the four properties that were purchased were the ideal spot for any residential or commercial buildings, since they were located outside of the floodplain.
“For every concept we entertained in the past, these properties were always seen as key,” said Florsheim.
The town also received a $300,000 federal assessment grant from the Environmental Protection Agency that will go toward determining what remediation the riverfront properties will need. Samolis said that the 7.5 acre lot that was previously Jackson Corrugated may include some oil deposits or hazardous building materials that would need to be addressed.
Florsheim said that he wants to make sure that the riverfront is open to everyone.
“I think it’s going to be important to preserve public access,” said Florsheim, adding that you “shouldn’t have to live in a condo on the riverfront” in order to enjoy the river.
He said he expects the process to take between one and two years before the plan is finalized.
Nocera and Pessina said there would be opportunities for the public to weigh in as the plans moved forward.
“It’s been a long process and an exciting one,” added Nocera. “Our community has been talking about developing that portion of the Connecticut River for as long as I can remember.”