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City courting seniors

O’Leary sees benefit in families without school-age kids

BY PENELOPE OVERTON REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

WATERBURY — With his kids grown and retirement looming, Bobby Zinno is starting to think about downsizing, swapping his big house in Watertown for something a little smaller and cheaper.

Zinno would like to move back to Waterbury, where he was born and raised, but the city can’t offer him what he wants: a nice, new small house in an age-restricted development that won’t break the bank.

“Some people want to go to Florida, but I want to stay here, close to family,” Zinno said. “I love Waterbury, and it has some nice neighborhoods, but taxes are too high to build the kind of place I want.”

That kind of talk captured the attention of Zinno’s childhood pal, Waterbury Mayor Neil M. O’Leary. He wants people like the Zinnos, who like to eat out, shop and go to the theater, to return to Waterbury.

And although O’Leary loves kids — he helped revive the Police Activities League in Waterbury — he understands the financial benefit of luring residents without young children back to Waterbury.

The city spends almost $14,000 to educate every student, which is far more money than most households pay in property taxes, making families without school-age children, like the Zinnnos, attractive to cash-strapped cities.

O’Leary believes the answer may lie in age-restricted communities, a housing trend that took the nation’s suburbs by storm about two decades ago, when baby boomers turned into empty nesters.

He wants to consider offering tax freezes on new construction in traditional retirement communities, similar to what the city is doing to encourage residential development downtown.

The city agreed to delay taxing the developers of the Brown Building, located on the edge of the City Green, on improvements made to the upper-story apartments for 15 years to facilitate the $13.2 million project.

O’Leary hasn’t worked out any of the details of how an age-restricted freeze might work, saying he wants to discuss the idea with developers and the city officials, but thinks it would be a home run for the city over time.

City Planner James Sequin said there are about 900 already approved housing units that have stalled for lack of financing or demand across Waterbury now. None of are age-restricted units, however.

“The properties aren’t doing anything for us now,” O’Leary said. “I think that delaying the tax benefit is worth it, at least for a while, if we can bring people back who will eat in our restaurants and shop at our businesses.”

Some say the age-restricted trend has peaked, noting that many projects have stalled, with lots unsold, at first because baby boomers didn’t downsize in the huge numbers expected and then because of the recession.

In suburbs like Wolcott, developers begged the towns to let them lift the age restrictions, saying the demand just wasn’t there anymore for upscale retiree housing, especially not in this recession.

Watercreek at Wolcott built only six of the 63 approved units when the bank foreclosed on it. Developer Keith Mahler of Waterbury bought it and went to court to eventually force the town to lift the age restrictions.

But age-restricted housing is still working in Oxford, where developments such as Oxford Greens and Meadow Brook Estates have fueled its population boom, which jumped 29 percent from 2000 to 2010.

Waterbury has only one age-restricted community, Woods Edge. But the 20-home project, off Beth Lane, stalled when the original developer, Half Moon Associates, went bankrupt, with only seven homes built.

In 2012, a Roxbury-based developer, The Corbo Group, bought Woods Edge. Principal Ralph Corbo owns several already-approved, but mostly unrealized, housing developments in Waterbury.

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City acquires Risdon site

Sen. Murphy, mayor tour brownfields

BY CALEB BEDILLION REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

WATERBURY — Waterbury has acquired the former Risdon Manufacturing site, city officials announced during a Wednesday visit by Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.

Murphy and Waterbury Mayor Neil M. O’Leary visited sites eyed for redevelopment in Waterbury’s South End and on Freight Street.

O’Leary and Murphy both emphasized that the economic health and future vitality of Waterbury and the Naugatuck Valley region depends on the ability to restore brownfields sites and put them back into productive use.

“The only way cities like Waterbury can survive is to get these properties back on the tax rolls in meaningful ways,” O’Leary said.

To that goal, O’Leary described the Risdon property as a large site with “enormous economic development capacity.”

The former Risdon Manufacturing building is an 80,000-square-foot warehouse sitting on a 25-acre property at 2100 South Main St.

Murphy swung through Waterbury as part of a Wednesday tour of regional brownfields sites, areas contaminated by past industrial usage.

Murphy also toured brownfields in Derby, Torrington and Bridgeport.

Murphy and O’Leary began the Waterbury stop at the back end of a 17-acre lot that was formerly home to Anamet, a metal hose factory located off Washington Street.

Environmental studies are being done on the Anamet property now to determine contamination levels. O’Leary said the city hopes to acquire the property soon.

Due to its location on the Naugatuck River, O’Leary believes the Anamet property could be put back into productive use soon.

For his part, Murphy pledged a commitment to go after all the federal dollars he can garner for brownfields remediation.

This commitment involves two efforts. First, of the federal grant funds available for brownfields remediation, Murphy said he wants to ensure a sizable share comes to the Naugatuck Valley.

“It’s a matter of fairness,” Murphy said.

He pointed to the manufacturing history of the Northeast as a significant component of industrialization in the United States. However, this manufacturing heritage has left many communities in Connecticut and beyond saddled with brownfields.

Murphy said the total amount of such federal funds for remediation efforts must be increased. Currently, Murphy said, the federal government sets aside a little less than $200 million for brownfields remediation annually.

“That’s just not enough, the senator said.

He tied this claim to efforts undertaken by Democrats in the U.S. Senate and House to lift domestic spending caps imposed by previous sequestration agreements.

Beyond a push for additional federal dollars, Murphy also emphasized the need to develop a regional strategy for dealing with brownfields. Cooperation is in the interest of the entire area.

Said Murphy, “As Waterbury does better, the region does better. As the towns around Waterbury do better, Waterbury does better.”

Murphy said remediation of properties in the city is a top priority.

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Waterbury mayor chosen to represent cities on state advisory board

WATERBURY — Mayor Neil M. O’Leary was tapped to represent big Connecticut cities on a state advisory board that studies issues between state and local governments.

His gubernatorial appointment to the Connecticut Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations was suggested by Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.

The 30-year-old commission serves as a forum, conducts research on intergovernmental issues, and creates policy and makes recommendations to all levels of government.

The 24-member commission is supported by the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management.