Ansonia Mayor David Cassetti hopes that in two years the land pictured above off Main Street will be redeveloped into a PetSmart store and a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant.
Those are the stores Cassetti mentioned specifically during a Valley Indy podcast interview two weeks ago.
But many things still have to fall in place to make the development a reality, including a land swap involving property owned by the mayor that was foreclosed on last year.
The mayor said the development idea fits his mantra — lower taxes, more business.
“I’m more concerned with economic development and lowering taxes. That’s what I work on, that’s what I delegate my staff to do,” Cassetti said.
Cassetti is a key player in the development plan, which is still very much a work in progress.
- Mark Tice, of Oxford, owns (through a limited liability company) a 1.6-acre plot at 420 Main St., between Target and Chesnut Street. Tice wanted to use the property as a construction yard, but those plans were thwarted by local zoning rules, which were then upheld in court.
- Cassetti said he persuaded Tice to purchase 8 and 10 Riverside Drive to use as a construction yard. That’s land formerly owned by the mayor and his former company, Birm-1 Construction. The land was taken over by a creditor through foreclosure Feb. 8, and then sold to Tice within six weeks.
- With Tice and his construction yard moving to Cassetti’s old place, the land next to Target still owned by Tice is being eyed for purchase by California developer Eclipse Development. That’s the firm that tried unsuccessfully to develop a commercial center in the City of Derby’s redevelopment zone along Main Street and the Housatonic River. Sheila O’Malley, Ansonia’s current economic development director, was Derby’s economic development director when Eclipse was a player in Derby.
- Keep in mind, this project is conceptual. Eclipse has yet to buy Tice’s property at 420 Main St., and no development plans of any kind have been submitted to the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission or building department.
Tice said he paid Hayden Asset about $400,000 for the mayor’s former land. Cassetti said he helped broker that deal, which brought an end to Hayden Asset’s foreclosure action against him on Riverside Drive.
Hayden Asset had three foreclosure actions total against the mayor and his companies. All three are now resolved.
The foreclosure actions alleged Birm-1 had stopped paying mortgages dating back to 2002 connected to Cassetti properties on Riverside Drive and Beaver Street.
Cassetti’s Riverside Drive mortgages were originally with Naugatuck Valley Savings & Loan, but were purchased by Hayden Asset in 2013.
In its various foreclosure lawsuits against the mayor and his former company, Hayden Asset claimed Birm-1 owed $539,982 in payments and interest on the Riverside Drive land.
Hayden Asset’s foreclosure on the Riverside Drive properties ended Feb. 8 when the court gave the land to the LLC.
Then, on Feb. 19, Hayden transferred the Riverside Drive mortgages to Tice.
Tice’s company formally took control of the Riverside Drive properties on March 22.
“They (Tice’s company) made a deal with the bank and the foreclosure’s over with,” Cassetti said last week.
Last year the Internal Revenue Service filed several tax liens against the mayor and his former company, alleging he owed nearly $200,000 in back taxes.
While the mayor said last week the old bills have been taken care of, the tax liens were still on file in Ansonia City Hall as of 12 p.m. July 5.
Typically, the IRS files “release of lien” documents when a taxpayer pays back taxes. No such documents have been filed in Ansonia with respect to Cassetti’s former properties.
The mayor blamed the IRS for the oversight, saying he would call them to correct it.
“They’re all done,” Cassetti said. “Everybody’s been paid off. It’s been rectified, everything.”
The interview is posted below. Cassetti’s discussion about the potential tenants, the land deals, and his back taxes begins about 12 minutes and 36 seconds into the interview:
Eclipse Development Is Back
The company trying to buy Tice’s land at 420 Main St. is familiar to Valley Indy readers.
Eclipse Development, based in California, had a year to secure financing and get a redevelopment project off the ground in Derby. The project never came to fruition.
During the Valley Indy podcast interview, Cassetti mistakenly said Eclipse wasn’t involved in the Ansonia deal, but in a subsequent interview he identified the developer as Douglas Gray.
Gray is Eclipse Development’s CEO.
Despite the setback in Derby, O’Malley, Ansonia’s economic development director, said Eclipse has a solid track record in the state and across the U.S.
O’Malley said the Derby redevelopment became “cost-prohibitive” for Eclipse because of delays by the state in widening Route 34.
“I just think that the timing was not right in Derby,” O’Malley said.
Reached via e-mail Thursday, Gray confirmed a deal to buy Tice’s property is on the table, but said it has not yet closed.
He said he’s waiting for the results of environmental tests from the 420 Main St. property before proceeding.
Tice said that decades ago, when Ansonia was an industrial powerhouse, oil from an above-ground tank leaked into the property. He said the contamination didn’t matter to him when he bought the property because he just parks vehicles there.
He said Gray has a September deadline to finish his testing and decide whether to buy the land.
The mayor said Gray is in talks to get an easement from Target to access the property through their driveway. That’s being done so Target’s main entrance can be used as access to the new development, should it proceed.
Is This OK?
The City of Ansonia has a Code of Ethics prohibiting city officials from participating in real estate deals when the city is directly involved.
The code reads: “No official or employee who has a financial or personal beneficial interest in any transaction or contract with the city, or in the sale of real estate, material, supplies, or services to the city, on which he may be called to act upon in his official capacity, shall vote upon or otherwise participate in the transaction or contract.”
Asked if he was concerned the land swap involving his company’s property could lead to ethics charges, the mayor said no.
Cassetti said the Tice deal involving his old property is OK because it doesn’t involve city property.
“That’s my property,” Cassetti said. “I don’t think there’s a conflict of interest, by no stretch of the imagination.”
Tice said he had been trying to use his property at 420 Main St. as a construction yard for years, but was denied by the city. He hoped he would be allowed to proceed under Cassetti’s new administration, but realized it wasn’t going to happen.
“I guess they just want retail in there,” Tice said.
The Riverside Drive property, where Cassetti ran a construction business, is more conducive to Tice’s plans.
Four city Democrats declined to comment on the Republican mayor’s dealings for this story.
Incidentally, even if an ethics complaint were to be filed, the city’s Board of Ethics wouldn’t be able to hold a hearing — because it doesn’t exist.
The city’s Code of Ethics says any ethics hearings “must be conducted with no less than four members of the board present.”
Currently, the ethics board has only two members, Bruce Goldson and James Murphy, according to the city’s website. Derby has the same issue with its dormant ethics board.
The links below include previous Valley Indy stories on the mayor’s lawsuits and tax problems: