From her property at the corner of Great Hill Road and Birmingham Boulevard, Ansonia resident Millie Rios has watched the massive Fountain Lake Commerce Park take shape for nearly a decade.
Ever so slowly.
More than six years after work began, the site has no tenants.
What’s more, Rios blames construction activity there for devaluing her home and damaging her property.
Rios brought her concerns to the Planning and Zoning Commission’s monthly meeting Sept. 30, telling commissioners that a fence to separate her property from the development during construction had vanished, and that she’s worried her land is being eroded.
Rob Scinto, who’s overseeing the development of the project, said Thursday (Oct. 17) that though progress on the site hasn’t been moving at breakneck speed, “it’s just a matter of time” before the development is built out.
Scinto also said he’s working on addressing some of Rios’ concerns.
The 44-acre project was first approved by Aldermen in 2006, when they sold the city-owned land to Shelton developer Robert Scinto for $1.12 million.
“This is truly a tremendous project for the city,” Mayor James Della Volpe said at the time, according to the meeting’s minutes.
City leaders have been lauding the site and its potential for more than a quarter century — the city’s then-mayor lauded the site’s potential in this 1987 profile of the city by the New York Times, for instance.
The location — with quick access to Route 8 and Route 334 — makes the site ideal for use as, say, a distribution center.
But just when work began there, the global economy tanked.
Work to prepare the land is still going on — during a visit to the property this month, trucks were hauling out fill from the property — but actual construction of a building won’t occur until a tenant is signed, Scinto said.
Rios said living next to a never-ending construction zone is like water torture. She’s had enough and went public with her complaints during the meeting last month.
First, she said a temporary orange construction fence that used to separate her property from Scinto’s has disappeared.
She said that leaves a steep slope with no barrier from her backyard to the access road for the project, creating a potentially dangerous situation.
“I do not have family members with small children come to my house,” she said.
Further, she worried the construction activity is eroding her property.
“Behind my yard was nothing but forest, it was woods,” she said. “When they excavated everything, they pushed everything down . . . little by little, as the erosion of the land is happening, my retaining walls, my steps, everything little by little is just falling apart.”
“Put yourself in my shoes. This is decreasing the value of my home. I tried refinancing but I couldn’t because the value is so low,” Rios told the PZC later. “Selling? Forget it. Who wants to try to buy a property that I can’t even tell them what’s going to happen behind there.”
Beyond her specific concerns about her property, she said she just wants to know what’s going on with the development.
“It’s the end of 2013,” she said. “Where are we with this development? Do we know what’s happening? Nothing has happened. This has gone on since 2006.”
PZC Chairman Responds
Members of the city’s planning and zoning commission responded to her complaints Sept. 30.
“He’s continued to work on it. I think what really happened to it was the economy. That just put the brakes on all development,” Bart Flaherty, the chairman of the PZC, told Rios. “We can only assume that now that the economy’s hopefully starting to turn around that he will go forward at a faster pace in developing it.”
The chairman also emphasized that what Rios is seeing is not the finished product.
“That’s a temporary cut that he’s doing,” Flaherty said. “It’s not permanent, it’s not the way it’s going to finish up.”
Still, Flaherty said, Rios’ concerns need to be looked into.
“It shouldn’t be eroding your property,” he said. “If it’s being eroded and it’s your property, that has to stop immediately. If it’s his property that’s washing down, that’s a different situation.”
Flaherty also asked City Engineer Fred D’Amico to visit Rios’ property and investigate whether any problems need to be addressed.
D’Amico said Thursday (Oct. 17) he hoped to visit the property over the weekend.
Developer Weighs In
Rob Scinto said Thursday he’s in the process of addressing Rios’ requests.
“We’re putting up a fence,” he said in response to Rios’ first concern. “I try to be as good a neighbor as I can . . . She feels it’s needed, so I don’t have a problem doing it.”
Regarding possible erosion of Rios’ property, though, he said he disagreed that any washout was taking place.
“I don’t think there’s anything I could really do about it,” Scinto said, adding that he’d work with D’Amico to resolve any problems.
Scinto said that though the economic meltdown did slow down the project, it was always going to be a long-term development.
The company has to move 400,000 cubic yards of fill, he pointed out.
“That doesn’t happen in one to two years . . . We’re probably about halfway through,” he said.
The company has been moving about 50,000 to 90,000 yards per year, he said.
“There has to be a home for the material,” Scinto said. “As homes come up we are getting rid of the material. You can’t just move it across the street.”
Development would accelerate if the company can ink a tenant for the site, he said, adding that he’s trying to lure a couple of tenants there now.
He said nothing is final yet, but he’s “very optimistic” he’ll be able to sign one to a deal for about 100,000 square feet of commercial space.
He declined to be more specific.
Another possible tenant expressed interest in building a distribution center at the commerce park, since the property is close to Route 8.
Two years ago Peapod listed Fountain Lake as one of four possible sites for a 300,000-square-foot distribution center, he said, but ended up choosing a location in New Jersey, instead.
“I understand her frustrations,” Scinto said regarding Rios. “It’s not like we haven’t been working on the site. We talk and I try to be as good a neighbor as I can.”
“It’s just a matter of time,” he added.