City-owned Mas property offers ‘unique possibilities’ for Shelton

The Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) spent some time last week learning more about the city-owned Mas property.

That’s the almost 70-acre parcel near Bridgeport Avenue where Constitution Boulevard could be partly extended to eventually reach Shelton Avenue (Route 108).

Mayor Mark Lauretti is talking to developers that may want to buy the land, and a sale is likely to include contingencies and have a role for land-use boards.

“Anyone we engage with will have the wherewithal to build Constitution Boulevard,” Lauretti told the P&Z during a special meeting, called at his request.

Developer could build the road

The city’s main goal is to get the new road built, and it’s possible the developer may handle that undertaking as part of the sale. “We view this as an asset for the city for many reasons,” Lauretti said of a new road.

The new road section would be about a mile in length and cost many millions of dollars to build.

Any new development also would require buying two small parcels to connect the Mas land to Bridgeport Avenue, one of which now contains a house. The lots are about two acres in size.

Lauretti said the city will have to play a role in getting the lots, with a concern the owners may possibly ask exorbitant prices “if a big heavyweight [developer] comes in.”

Authorized to negotiate a deal

The Mas property extends about halfway to Route 108 from Bridgeport Avenue, and the city has secured the rights-of-way to get the rest of the way.

The Board of Aldermen recently authorized Lauretti to negotiate a tentative deal with a purchaser, and he is doing that now. “I’m not at liberty to tell you who the people are,” Lauretti told the P&Z.

He said there “has to be an economic incentive” to get a developer interested in the property due to “the magnitude of the cost” of building the road.

New fire station?

Lauretti said any developer may be asked to build the entire new Constitution Boulevard section between Bridgeport Avenue and Route 108, not just to where the Mas property ends.

The city may want to keep some land near Bridgeport Avenue to build a new central fire headquarters, replacing the current Echo Hose Fire facility on Coram Avenue.

Past approval for development

In 1988, the P&Z approved a Planned Development District (PDD) for most of the Mas property that included four 10-story office buildings and an 82-unit residential condominium.

The project collapsed in the real estate crash of the late 1980s. The lead development entity was Citytrust, a Bridgeport-based bank that no longer exists.

The city bought the land after it went into foreclosure from the FDIC, and got an adjoining small parcel from the FDIC once environmental remediation was completed.

The Mas property now is vacant. It is mostly wooded with considerable ledge and several ponds. It is essentially between Bridgeport Avenue, Nells Rock Road, Walnut Avenue, and Kings Highway. Part of the land abuts the back of the Perry Hill School property.

New approach, new market conditions

Any new proposed development is likely to be different from the one approved more than 25 years ago, due to changes in the real estate market.

Several P&Z members wondered if the area might attract office development similar to Constitution Boulevard South.

Tony Panico, planing consultant, said there are lots of “unique possibilities” for part of the land, such as a conference center, hotels and restaurants.

Some residential is likely

The new plan “will have a component of residential,” said Lauretti, noting that housing is what developers want to build in the current economy.

He encouraged the P&Z to discuss “the type of burden different types of residential has on the city,” including on the wastewater treatment plant and school system.

Certain types of housing tend to require fewer city services, with detached single-family residences using the most services. A related issue is the city’s goal to encourage dense residential development downtown.

Steep grade for a new road

The steepness of the grade needed to put a road through the property was discussed, with two lanes per direction likely needed due to commercial truck traffic.

The original PDD included the concept of a spur road that was going to come out where the southbound Exit 13 exit and entrance for Route 8 are located on Bridgeport Avenue.

The main new Constitution Boulevard would intersect with Bridgeport near the current Constitution Boulevard South.

'Start doodling'

The P&Z plans to meet in its planning capacity to further discuss the Mas property next month. “We need to throw a map on the table and start doodling with it,” Panico said.

During the Mas discussion, Lauretti mentioned that several developers have expressed interest in the vacant 19-acre United Illuminating property at 801 Bridgeport Ave.

“Residential is the favorite topic,” he said of what the developers might want to do with the UI land.