Regarding the development of the United Water property, the question that no one seems to be asking is "What's best for New Milford and its residents?" As Mayor, that is the question I am charged to consider in this situation, and all matters, that affect our town.
The Riverkeeper has offered an opinion on the fate of the United Water property that SOD disagrees with. No issue is without opposing opinions and SOD's response demonstrates that there is no room in the conversation for any voice other than their own. Since the property entered into a private sale contract with Hekemian, I have fielded many opinions from residents, many of whom tell me they want a Shop Rite and a field on that property, as long as there are no apartments that would burden the services and infrastructure of this town. Unfortunately, these people have not banded their voices together, and remain virtually silent as a group. Still, as Mayor, I hear them and I have to take their opinions into consideration.
From the moment the United Water property became available to the town, there was never enough support to buy the property. It is well and good to say grants may be available, but that is no guarantee, especially with so many vying for the same grant money. Prior to Hekemian entering into a sale contract with United Water for purchase of the property, even New Milford's grants writer told us the purchase would require a “leap of faith.”
The United Water property is not the first open space to come before the Mayor and Council and prior experience shows that being in the business of buying land is a gamble. A good example is to look at the Carlton Place lot. New Milford purchased that lot for $1.285 million (+interest) to keep it from being developed. We paid triple what the owner paid for it. We eventually got back $600,000 from grants. Was it worth it? Look at it today. You decide.
Using that property as a yardstick, had we purchased the United Water property for $8 million we would only be on the hook for $4 million. It’s no wonder there was no support to buy it….we simply can’t afford it.
The plan to re-zone was voted down 4 – 2. That idea is now off the table, as well. There will be no property deeded back to the town, which could have been used as a field. Instead, the developer’s plan calls for 221 apartments to occupy that space.
Now the only avenue is to hope that the application, whether approved or denied by the Zoning Board of Adjustment, will ultimately be appealed to the courts. We will have to hope that the final decision will be more favorable to New Milford than it will be to the developer. It’s a roll of the dice.
What is best for New Milford and its’ residents? This is the question we should all be asking ourselves. I have no interest in helping or hurting Hekemian or the United Water Company. I thank the Riverkeeper for offering his opinion of the issue.
Mayor Ann Subrizi