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Letter to the Editor: The Rossi Property, To Buy or Not to Buy

The views stated here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of this newspaper. We welcome supporting or opposing views on any published item. Received October 21, 2022.

What feels like years in the making may finally be happening. The purchase of the Rossi Property, located at 300 Saybrook Road in Higganum, by the Town of Haddam for $2.5 million is coming to a town vote Wednesday, November 9, 2022 with a public hearing November 2nd. I’ve listened to the well thought through pitch deck presented by our Town Planner, and have heard our First Selectman’s reasons for supporting the purchase. I have to say, there are many compelling reasons to purchase the property. One of the biggest being that if we don’t purchase it now, we could lose the opportunity for state Brownfield remediation money, and it continues to sit as a contaminated eyesore in the heart of our town for another 30+ years. Or worse, the Rossis can sell it to someone else and let the buildings deteriorate, piling up with more waste.

There’s no arguing with the fact that the Rossi Property is the linchpin for Higganum Center. Developing that property (the right way, with architecturally appropriate design) makes strategic sense for the revitalization of Higganum. However, even with all the reasons that compel me to agree with the purchase, I also have many reservations.

First, paying $2.5 million for a property valued at much less just doesn’t add up. The land, buildings, and detached outbuildings on the property have an appraised value of $921,400 according to the Haddam GIS (Geographic Information System). Far less than the $2.5 Million price tag, even with the $300-$500K environmental clean-up costs as indicated in the Town Planner’s pitch deck. The math just doesn’t add up.

Second, the plan as it stands today only develops the front area (Parcel A, approx 2.2 acres) along Saybrook Road – seemingly to benefit one interested developer who would like to put a drive-through pharmacy (note: a drive-through is currently not allowed under Higganum Village District Zoning regulations), large parking lot, pill packing facility and medical buildings. If the town does move forward with the purchase and the site is cleaned up, a formal RFP process will take place, so more developers may emerge. However, I have to ask myself what happens when the town buys the property, the one interested developer backs out for whatever reason, and no new developers come to the table (particularly because the property and how it’s being remediated will not allow for housing, which could turn off many developers.) We are left with another property we can’t lease (see HES) and the town is left with the bill.

Third, the back portion (Parcel B, approx 2.5 acres) which is half of the property, will remain what it is today: an eyesore. There are no plans to develop that parcel anytime soon. In the pitch deck there is mention of sidewalks and a connection from the Cove to HES and Swan Hill, which would be fantastic, but I question if that will really happen. It certainly isn’t a priority or part of any larger vision.

Fourth, moving the Town Garage out of the center and off the Rossi property is not part of this deal, even though the Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) made it very clear the Town Garage should move out of the center. There is also mention about moving the salt shed from the Town Garage site to the Rossi property if the town buys it due to the current Town Garage site sitting in a floodplain. Again, not a decision moving us in the right direction toward our POCD.

Last but not least, I’m left with the question of why we should buy new property when we can’t take care of the properties we currently own? From HES to the Jail and Old Town Hall, our town properties are sadly being left to deteriorate. These are buildings we should be proud of, buildings that define our sense of place. Yet, they are being neglected.

If we do decide to purchase the property, I hope our Planning & Zoning Commission can protect our village and respect the POCD as they consider development and special permits such as allowing a drive-through.

Please come out and make your voice heard. The future of Higganum Center is in our hands.

Mike Karam, Higganum

 

 

 

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