Value of Rolfite land to be determined; Downtown parcel could be part of 'land swap'

The city will hire a surveyor and appraiser for the Rolfite property on Canal Street as it considers transferring the land to developer John N. Guedes as part of a riverfront redevelopment project.

The Board of Aldermen has approved spending $2,500 to survey the 1.5-acre parcel, and $5,000 to appraise the property.

“The purpose is to establish the value of the property,” Mayor Mark Lauretti said.

Guedes, who developed the nearby Birmingham on the River condominiums, wants to combine the Rolfite property with the adjacent one-acre Sponge-X property for a residential and commercial project.

He has offered to build a new municipal two-way road to connect Canal Street to Bridge Street, closer to the Housatonic River, replacing the current one-way access road that runs alongside the Sponge-X factory building.

New road, green space and parking

The new road would give Guedes the frontage and access he needs to develop the Rolfite site, but also could benefit the city. Guedes would turn the existing one-way access road into green space to be part of a residential complex. In addition, he would construct new parking as part of the development.

The city owns the Rolfite property through condemnation, and remediation work has been done at the former industrial site with the help of federal funding, Lauretti said.

The appraisal on the value of the Rolfite land would help determine the financial terms of any transaction with Guedes, who operates Bridgeport-based Primrose Cos. It is possible the city would give Guedes the land in return for the new road, with no additional payment from Guedes.

The exact terms of any land transfer could include various conditions.

Guedes’ idea

“I am proposing to the city a land swap, of the land on the Sponge X site needed for the relocation of Bridge Street [one-way access road] in exchange for the Rolfite site,” Guedes write in a letter to Lauretti. “In addition I am requesting that the city provide a mechanism for the abandonment of the portion of Bridge Street [one-way access road] that is to be relocated.

“This abandonment,” Guedes continued, “shall be with the condition that it will be landscaped and made part of the apartment complex generated by the conversion of the Sponge X Building.”

Apartments and commercial building

Guedes plans to turn the existing Sponge X mill building into 45 residential apartments, and construct a new 18,000-square-foot commercial building on the Rolfite land, close to the water.

The new road would go in between the Sponge X building and the new commercial building.

The Rolfite property borders the Sponge X building to the north and the Housatonic Railroad freight line to the south, where there is a railroad bridge crossing the Housatonic. The city would own the new roadway, including the land on which it sits.

Potential benefits to the city

Lauretti said he views the agreement as a potential “land swap,” in which the city would transfer the Rolfite property to a private developer in return for a new city road, including the roadway construction costs.

This exchange would benefit the city not just by getting a new road but also by encouraging private development to boost the tax base and help the revitalization of downtown and the riverfront, said Lauretti, a Republican.

‘Would enhance downtown’

Board of Aldermen President John F. Anglace Jr. said the potential land transfer would help commercial development, increase the tax base, and create parking spaces that might be usable at night by the public.

Anglace, a Republican, said new retail and office space along the water would be a plus. “That would enhance downtown,” he said. “People are looking for services, such as places to eat.”

He said an appraisal will show how much the Rolfite property is worth so it can be compared to the value of constructing a new road.

Alderman Jack Finn, a Democrat, also said the project could make sense for the city. “It’s something worthwhile to explore,” he said.