HADDAM – A $1.8 million state grant to clean up a late-19th-century manufacturing site in Higganum Center for redevelopment is just the start of plans for the area, according to Haddam First Selectman Robert McGarry, if the town can secure another grant for a diverse list of projects along Saybrook Road.
Haddam secured the Brownfield remediation grant from the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development last Friday to clean up the Scovil Hoe Company complex at 11 Candlewood Rd., to allow a developer to repurpose the two long, brick buildings on site.
McGarry said the town has lined up a developer willing to take over and develop the site after it’s remediated – a requirement to receive one of the grants. Farmington-based Parker Benjamin was the only bidder on the town’s request for proposals for a developer that has experience with Brownfield sites, McGarry said.
The firm developed the mixed-use Upson Market Place in Unionville, the Winsted Edge Works retail and office space, and the Greenway Apartments in New London – and are developing a retail and office space called Phoenix on Main in Killingly.
McGarry said he isn’t aware of specific plans to fill the site yet, but it could be similar to the firm’s other developments that include offices, retail, a makerspace, art gallery and restaurant space.
There aren’t vacant shops in the center, and some businesses are looking to expand without space to do so, which means more retail space could be welcome, McGarry said. But the main idea is to develop something that will bring people into Higganum Center to help support the other retail in the area.
“I’ve called this property the diamond in the rough for Higganum Center because it’s got so much potential to bring traffic in, which is ultimately what we’re trying to accomplish,” McGarry said.
McGarry said he doesn’t expect that the development of the Scovil facility would connect to the community septic project planned at the town-owned Haddam Elementary School property across Saybrook Road from the Scovil complex if Parker Benjamin develops something like an office space with low water usage that the existing septic on the property could accommodate.
But if they brought in something like a restaurant or brewery, they might need to hook in to the community septic, and that leach field would be expanded into the town green, McGarry said.
The complex was the fourth and final mill Scovil built in Higganum, erecting the first building on the site in 1880. The two buildings that remain were built in 1887 and 1905, according to Preservation Connecticut.
By the 1940s, Scovil – best known for its “self-sharpening” hoe – was consolidating its manufacturing and sold the site to the Connecticut Department of Transportation in 1942. The DOT modified the buildings into garages and still owns the property today.
McGarry said most of what needs to be cleaned up is from the site’s time as a DOT garage – mainly salt and hydrocarbons. The $1.8 million Brownfield grant will fund the remediation.
The town will have to purchase the property from DOT, and the assessed price is $436,540, according to town property records. The town will then sell the property to Parker Benjamin, though it hasn’t decided yet whether it will sell to the developer at a discount, he said.
“If we make that investment to turn what are basically two abandoned and deteriorating buildings into income-generating, tax-paying properties for the town – that’s a plus,” McGarry said.
Seeking another grant
The Scovil redevelopment isn’t the only change McGarry is envisioning for Higganum Center. On Thursday, the town submitted a request to the Department of Economic and Community Development for another $1.2 million Community Challenge Grant for several projects on the other side of Saybrook Road from the Scovil property.
The plan is to remodel the Haddam Elementary School building into a senior center and replace the unsafe existing playground with a “multi-generational space,” including a modern playground, a dog park, pickleball court, and attractions for older people, McGarry said.
“Probably typical of most towns in Connecticut, our older population is growing and our younger population is shrinking,” McGarry said. “So we’re envisioning a multi-generational park where seniors can come with their grandkids and not just sit on a bench.”
That project would also include installing a sidewalk from the school into the center of town, and then down Depot Road to the recently remediated town property on Higganum Cove – where the town is working to make the area more accessible, he said.
“The nice thing about the Community Challenge Grant is it’s multifaceted,” McGarry said. “The grant for Scovil is strictly a brownfield grant, so we can only use it for cleanup. If we wanted to build sidewalks associated with it or remodel a building, then we’d need another grant. I think it’s good that [the Department of Economic and Community Development] realizes that, particularly to revitalize a small community, you need a grant where you can address multiple areas – as opposed to getting multiple grants.”
The town is also interested in buying the property at the corner of Saybrook and Depot roads – formerly the Rossi Corporation lumberyard, and now home to various tenants, including the town, which uses a building as storage for its public works equipment.
“No offense to Rossi, but they haven’t been paying that much attention to it. The site’s deteriorating, it looks blighted,” McGarry said. “I’ve always felt it’s been a detriment to really getting development in Higganum Center, because it’s right there at the center, and it’s an eyesore.”
There is a developer interested in the site, and McGarry said they envision keeping retail on the front third of the property along Saybrook Road, then potentially a mixed-use development or town storage in the back – depending on what comes up in environmental surveys of the property.
“It all depends on the cleanup and what’s economically feasible, but if we just made it look attractive with retail on Saybrook Road, it’d be a great improvement,” McGarry said.