Editorial: Looking good

The Schlumberger purchase is continuing to look like one very smart move by the town.

The observation was prompted by the recent opening of the Atria Senior Living facility on Old Quarry Road. The 86-unit assisted living and memory care facility was built on land the town bought in the Schlumberger purchase and then resold to recover some of the costs. It will serve a need — and pay about $408,000 a year in taxes.

The Schlumberger purchase, back in 2012, has cost taxpayers about $8 million. The town paid $6 million for the 45-acre property, and appropriated another $1 million at the same time for demolition and cleanup of the property. The cleanup ended being more expensive than anticipated, and costs eventually got up into the $8 million neighborhood. And there are of course some continuing carrying costs.

But most of the money has come back, in income from land resales and then taxes. And the taxes — like those on Atria — will keep rolling in.

The town recovered more than half its expenses fairly quickly with two land sales. The town sold 10 acres off Sunset Lane, a bite out of the main part of the 40-acre main Schlumberger campus, to Charter Group Partners for $4.3 million. And it sold five acres on the opposite side of Old Quarry Road to developer Steve Zemo for $1,250,000.

So the two sales brought back $5,550,000 — and left about $2,450,000 still to be recovered.

With the 10 acres purchased from the town, Charter Group Partners built a complex of nine townhouses and 45 coach homes — the development called 77 Sunset Lane. Assessor Al Garzi estimates the 54 units in the completed project probably pay $500,000 to $600,000 a year in taxes.

The new Atria facility is paying $408,000.

And beside the Atria facility is a building Steve Zemo put up — a combination of storage units and apartments — on the other half of the five acres of Schlumberger land, across Old Quarry Road from the main campus, that he bought. That pays about $65,000 a year in taxes.

The three developments together are paying about $1 million a year in taxes.

So, the $2,450,000 the town has spent and didn’t get back in short order with the land sales would be covered by just two and half years of taxes from the developments built on the land. And although not at today’s rates, which reflect the value of the completed developments, those properties have been paying taxes every year.

The town also reached a lease agreement with ACT of Connecticut to refurbish the theater on the site — which it was putting to very good use, drawing people to town to see high quality theater, until this spring when COVID-19 put public theatrical events on hold. And the town found an office tenant that lovingly restored the 1950s-modern building designed by noted architect Philip Johnson.

At this point the town has about 30 acres of property left, and a good portion of that can still be put to a variety of uses — the land has been talked of as a site for new police and fire facilities, and the idea of an outdoor amphitheater was talked of for a while. Or maybe some affordable housing could fit on the site. Or just nothing — land bank it.

The nothing option wouldn’t be a bad one at all, at least in the near term. Between the land sales and taxes on what’s been built there, recovery of the $8 million expended to buy and clean up the property has been taken care of. And the big phrase when the Schlumberger purchase was being sold to taxpayers was to “control the destiny” of the property. What that meant was to get ownership so some developer coiuldn’t get the site and turn it into something that would overwhelm the location.

In the extensive surveying conducted by the very diligent Schlumberger Study Committee, open space was a consistently popular option.

But whatever the town does or doesn’t decide to do with the remainder of the property, it’s already ahead of the game.