Owners on rebuilding downtown Shelton fire site: 'We have to see how the numbers work out'

The Matto family will decide what to do next with the downtown fire site during the course of the next few months.

“We’re open to possibilities,” Elaine Matto said early this week. “We have to see how the numbers work out.”

The site, where an early morning fire on Jan. 6 destroyed much of a city block, now has been cleared of all debris and filled in with dirt.

A fence has been placed around much of the property, owned by Elaine and her husband, Ralph Matto.

Matto said the dirt has been gently sloped near the top so it is considered safe, in consultation with city officials, and the hole will not be completely filled in. That’s because any future site development would just require removing the dirt to construct a new basement.

Debris trucked to Ohio for disposal

The fire-damaged debris has been trucked to a facility in Ohio for proper disposal. Matto said it all was handled as if it all was “contaminated” because it didn’t make sense to test individual rubble for hazardous items such as asbestos.

The fire destroyed 23 apartments and about a half dozen retail stores. No one was killed in the blaze, but firefighters had to rescue some tenants from upper-floor windows with tower ladders.

The block is on Howe Avenue between Center Street and Bridge Street/Viaduct Square, in the middle of the downtown business district.

Rebuild or sell?

With the demolition stage now completed, attention is turning to what will happen with the property in the future.

“We’re exploring the possibility of rebuilding,” said Matto, noting this would be a long process that will require zoning approval and financing.

She said while they have the right to rebuild the structure, zoning officials likely would have considerable input because it would involve a new structure.

The Mattos also could decide to sell the property to someone else.

“Everything is on the table,” Matto said. “We have to see what the numbers look like, which will take several months. It will be a financial decision.”

One Matto family member is an architect and is working on a possible plan for the site.

Insurance claim payment

The Mattos had insurance on the property and will receive a settlement, but Elaine Matto said it won’t be enough to reconstruct a similar building due to modern building codes.

The main structure that was destroyed dated to the 1800s, and didn’t even have hot water or individual apartment bathrooms when Ralph Matto had purchased it in the early 1980s. The family modernized the property through the years.

Two storefronts to reopen

Meanwhile, the small storefront structure on Howe Avenue that survived the fire is being repaired and could reopen within a few months.

Matto described this process as being “frustratingly slow,” having required getting all the utilities — water, gas and electric — hooked up again.

She said water damage in the basement caused by firefighting efforts will need to be repaired next. The structure will require a new roof, but the side walls are sound, she said.

This building had housed Liquid Lunch and the Joy Lee Chinese Restaurant. Joy Lee was a tenant when Ralph Matto bought the property three decades ago and still is owned by members of the same family, Elaine Matto said.

Both these businesses are expected to reoccupy the space again once the building is ready to open.