Mayor Mark Lauretti is defending a property sale in which he sold a 9.3-acre parcel in Shelton for almost six times more than he’d paid for it a decade earlier.
“It was extremely profitable,” Lauretti said. “In America, that’s the objective.”
In 2003, Lauretti purchased the riverfront real estate at 550 River Road (Route 110) from Emhart Teknologies for $325,000. He planned to use the land for a catering facility and restaurant.
“I bought it as a business investment,” he said.
The mayor has owned restaurants in the past in Shelton, including while he’s been in office.
Will become townhouse development
Lauretti recently finalized the sale of the property to Blue Heron Cove LLC of Torrington for $1.92 million. A development with 36 townhouses will be built on the land, combined with another smaller lot owned by Blue Heron to create a 12.4-acre parcel.
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Democratic challenger criticizes Lauretti on the land deal. Click below:
The housing development was made possible through a zone change approved by the Shelton Planning and Zoning Commission. The zone change increased the value of the land.
In 2011, the Lauretti land was assessed at $435,120, with a market value of $621,600, according to city assessor records. The legal owner was Housatonic Way LLC, an entity that listed Lauretti as its member and used Lauretti’s home as its legal address.
Ethics complaint was filed, dismissed
Lauretti’s ownership of the land previously has generated controversy, with two former Shelton mayors — a Democrat and a Republican — filing an ethics complaint against him that was dismissed, and some open space advocates saying the large tract along the Housatonic River should be saved for conservation purposes.
The mayor said he had no inside track, and no favoritism was involved, when he originally bought the land in 2003.
“The property was on the market for three years,” Lauretti said. “A national broker handled it. Other people looked at it.”
He also said he hasn’t had any other dealings with the developer who has purchased the 550 River Road property and will build the townhouse development.
More than half the River Road land will have a conservation easement as part of the zone change approval, meaning it can never be developed, Lauretti said.
Emphasizes the holding costs
Lauretti said the transaction’s $1.59 million profit is misleading because of all the expenses he incurred during the past 10 years. This has included property taxes, engineering work, environmental testing, and drawing up site plans.
Any criticism of the transaction has ulterior motives, he said. “Anyone who wants to make this about me, it’s just personal,” Lauretti said.
He said if the land deal had not been profitable for him, he’d be getting criticized for being a bad business person. “I’ve bought and sold businesses before in this town,” Lauretti said.
Scrutinize other public officials’ finances
The 11-term Republican mayor said he’s surprised at the scrutiny his financial actions get compared to those of prominent Democratic public officials.
“People should start questioning [Congresswomen] Rosa DeLauro’s wealth, [U.S. Sen.] Dick Blumenthal’s wealth, and [Congressman] Jim Himes’ wealth,” he said.
Lauretti said this is not the first time he has sold commercial land with a high value in Shelton. “Does anyone think this is the first time I’ve done this?” he asked.
He said he sold the property on Old Stratford Road where the Hilton Garden Inn now is located for $1.5 million. “There was no issue then,” he said.
On the zone change
Lauretti said zone changes are not unusual in Shelton, and recently have been taking place downtown in particular to encourage development as a way to expand the tax base.
“This is economic development at its best,” Lauretti said of the housing development planned for 550 River Road. “This is what happens in Shelton. The real winner here is the the taxpayers. The taxes we will generate on that property will be huge.”
He said the same thing was true with his former Old Stratford Road land, which he estimated now generates about eight times more in property taxes than when he owned it.
“This is what we’ve done successfully in Shelton that other towns can’t do,” he said. “As long as I’ve been mayor, I’ve always encouraged people to invest in Shelton.”