The selectmen moved forward with a long discussed lease-sale of some of the Schlumberger property to an art collector Wednesday night in part of a three pronged plan to recover some of the $7 million taxpayers invested in the property.
The board voted to:
- Sign an agreement that should lead to voters being presented with a $3.4-million lease-purchase agreement for an approximately 12-acre area that would be used largely to house a private art collection;
- Put out a second “request for proposals” from buyers interested in developing a 10 acre multifamily-zoned area off Sunset Lane, where voters recently rejected a $4-million sale to the construction firm Toll Brothers, which planned building 30 condominium units to be marketed in the $700,000 range;
- Move ahead with plans to demolish most of the old Schlumberger buildings, leaving the four structures in the “campus area” that are expected to be re-purposed by the art collector.
The vote 3-to-2, with Selectmen Di Masters and Maureen Kozlark joining First Selectmen Rudy Marconi in favor of the plan, while Barbara Manners and Andy Bodner were opposed.
“I’m all for moving this forward. Let the time-line start. Let the people decide,” Ms. Masters said.
The proposed lease-purchase agreement with the art collector is outlined in a contract the selectmen had been negotiating for close to two years, and which their lawyer had reviewed with them in an executive session Wednesday afternoon.
Mr. Marconi confirmed after Wednesday night’s meeting that the deal involves a total amount of about $3,450,000, with payments of $240,000 a year — $60,000 of the annual payment simple rent and $180,000 credited toward the eventual purchase.
The deal is a lease with an eventual purchase because the selectmen are wary of any proposal to sell the property in the near term. Under Connecticut law, the town would become responsible for clean-up of environmental pollution on the site if sells the property before the state approves as complete the clean-up that is currently being financed by Schlumberger.
The selectmen will be pushing ahead with the demolition of buildings on the site in part to advance both the environmental clean up and potential reselling of parts of the property.
The contract has two due-diligence periods, and the selectmen envision the proposal going to a public hearing and a referendum if the buyer still wants to pursue the purchase after the first 60-day due diligence period is up.
There is also a second 30-day due diligence period, and one of the reasons the selectmen acted Wednesday night after receiving the finalized contract that afternoon was to get the process rolling with the hope the final proposal could be put before voters as part of the November election ballot — possibly along with plans for a sale of the 10-acre parcel, as well.
On the 10-acres off Sunset Lane, the selectmen seemed inclined to see what prospective buyers propose doing with site, which is zoned for multifamily use at six units an acre, or eight units an acres if substantial portion of the meet “affordable” standards.
The Toll Brothers offer that voters narrowly rejected involved a $4-million purchase price, and plans for a 30-unit condo development.
The board’s discussion touched on opinions offered during three public hearings that board had called in the wake of the ‘no’ referendum vote on the Toll Brothers deal.
Board members noted that Toll Brothers still seemed to be interested, but that numerous other parties were also interested.
They discussed a perception that some of the opposition to the Toll Brothers plan stemmed from the plan to market the units for $700,000 or more — a price range which would exclude many Ridgefielders hoping to retire and sell homes that would likely bring about $400,000. But selling units at a lower price would require either that the density be increased above the 30-units Toll Brothers had planned, or that the town accept a lower price in selling the land — arguably subsidizing the units lower price.
Some board member seemed uncomfortable with either of these possibilities.
“I’d be very careful trying to engineer a price point,” said Selectman Maureen Kozlark.