Ansonia Aldermen voted April 12 to extend a taxes-for-demolition deal with Ansonia Copper & Brass, the owner of an eyesore industrial property downtown.
Under the terms of the deal, the company has until Aug. 1 to take down a 170,000-square-foot building off Liberty Street.
But the city’s sewer authority is not on board with the deal, and it’s unclear whether that will complicate the agreement going forward.
The Ansonia Copper & Brass property, a sprawling, 40-acre complex between Liberty Street and the Naugatuck River, was once an industrial powerhouse, with thousands of employees working day and night.
But its long-dormant smokestacks and acre upon acre of rusty, deteriorating buildings now exemplify the decline of American manufacturing more than anything else. Politicians often use the site as a backdrop for photo ops to hammer home that fact.
After taking office in late 2013, Mayor David Cassetti tried to push demolition at the property with a view to clearing it for a redevelopment inspired by projects like Bridgeport’s Harbor Yard and West Hartford’s Blue Back Square.
In August 2014, the city announced an agreement with the company by which the company would demolish about 30,000 square feet of buildings, with the cost of the demolition deducted against years of unpaid property taxes totaling nearly $600,000.
That demolition began in December 2014.The company has spent about $75,000 on demolition at the site so far, city officials said Tuesday.
The New Deal
The company and the city have been working to extend the deal since.
On Tuesday, Aldermen voted unanimously to strike a new “memorandum of understanding” with the company after discussing it behind closed doors.
The executive session was allowed under the state’s Freedom of Information Act because the Aldermen were discussing a possible real estate deal and litigation strategy, John Marini, the city’s corporation counsel, said Thursday.
Article continues after the document.
The agreement calls on the company to demolish the 170,000-square-foot “flat wire building” on the property by Aug. 1.
Article continues after photo of the site from Sheila O’Malley, the city’s economic development director, with the flat wire building marked.
In exchange for the company doing the demolition, the city will deduct the cost of the work — once the company provides Ansonia with documentation — against its massive tax liability.
The city also promised to “refrain from commencing further enforcement action” to recoup the company’s back taxes.
The deal allows the company to deduct up to $250,000.
The company will also be allowed to sell scrap metal from the site, provided they allow Tax Collector Tammy Blackwell to witness the sales and provide receipts to the city for any metal it sells for scrap.
In addition to years of unpaid property taxes, the company also owes the city’s Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA) roughly $144,000 in unpaid fees dating back to 2010.
The agreement includes those fees as part of the deal.
But discussion during the Aldermen’s meeting Tuesday indicated the city’s sewer authority isn’t on board.
During the public portion of Tuesday’s meeting, Horace Behrle, the chairman of the Board of Assessment Appeals, asked about the company’s taxes and sewer fees.
Marini told him the Aldermen would be discussing a deal to forgive some of the back taxes in exchange for demolition, and that the WPCA had agreed to the deal.
Behrle wondered why the city was cutting the company so much slack.
Charles Stowe, a First Ward Aldermen who also sits on the sewer board, then interjected to say that the WPCA had voted earlier this month not to be involved with the new deal.
“WPCA last year in cooperation with the city agreed to do that,” Stowe said, referring to the demolition agreement. “But this year we sent a letter, we want our taxes. We had enough, we sent them a letter last week.”
The letter, posted below, asks city officials to include the company’s sewer charges in an auction of tax liens the city is planning to hold this year.
Members of the sewer board discussed Ansonia Copper & Brass a couple of times during their monthly meeting April 6, according to a draft of the meeting minutes.
During a discussion of the WPCA’s collection efforts, William Nimons, one of the members of the board, expressed concern that the liens are about a decade old, and could become uncollectable after 15 years.
Stowe complained that the company “is not following the arrangements agreed upon with the City.” Nunzio Parente, the chairman of the WPCA, told Stowe to bring the matter up during an Aldermen’s meeting. Stowe said that “would not be constructive.”
Nimons then suggested the WPCA send a letter saying that it “is ready to take legal action” and asked the company’s accounts with the WPCA “be incorporated into any agreement made with the City of Ansonia.” The motion passed unanimously.
Later, board members discussed the city’s plans to auction tax liens this spring. Nimons made a motion to include the company’s sewer fees in that sale. That motion passed with Stowe voting no.
Article continues after a copy of the draft minutes.
Parente said Thursday he just wants the matter to be resolved.
“We’re a preferred lien-holder,” Parente said. “We’re going to get something one way or another.”
Before voting on the deal Tuesday, the Aldermen noted that Ansonia Copper & Brass would not be included in the upcoming tax lien sale.
There was no other discussion of the deal by the Aldermen.
Article continues after video of the vote.
Cassetti said after Tuesday’s meeting that the WPCA made “a big mistake,” but said it was theirs to make if they so chose.
“They’re a separate board,” the mayor said.
Cassetti said the city’s ultimate goal is “clearing the whole property and bringing a developer in.”
“We’re already negotiating with some people now,” the mayor added.
Marini, the city’s corporation counsel, said Thursday that the agreement had not yet been signed.
He said city officials only learned about the WPCA’s action Tuesday night, but that in light of it, he’d remove the mention of sewer charges from the document.
“The agreement will count only for city taxes,” he said.
Asked if the WPCA’s action could jeopardize the deal, he said, “It’s definitely not convenient.”
He said he’d have to review the WPCA’s minutes and that city officials would then revisit the issue with the sewer authority.