West Hartford Council Members Recommend Terminating Purchase Of UConn Property

West Hartford Council Members Recommend Terminating Purchase Of UConn Property

Source: http://www.courant.com, December 7, 2017
By: Nicholas Rondinone and Mikaela Porter

Citing costs to clear environmental damage and other potential liabilities, a West Hartford town council subcommittee is recommending the town terminate the purchase of the UConn property, council member Dallas Dodge said Thursday morning.

Town officials notified the university of the subcommittee’s recommendation in a meeting Tuesday, Town Manager Matthew W. Hart said. The recommendation from the bipartisan subcommittee on economic development was expected to be supported by the council when it is voted on next week.

In September, UConn and West Hartford town officials had agreed to a seventh extension before finalizing a $1 million purchase and sale agreement of the 58-acre campus in the area of Asylum Avenue and Trout Brook Drive.

UConn opened its downtown campus in August leaving the West Hartford campus “virtually vacant,” according to Orr’s letter.

The parties had agreed to a Dec. 15 deadline, according to a letter to West Hartford Town Manager Matthew W. Hart from Richard Orr, UConn vice president and general counsel.

UConn and West Hartford entered negotiations for the town to purchase the campus in July 2016. The original deadline was Oct. 12, 2016, then postponed to Dec. 11, 2016, March 13, May 1, May 19, June 23 and Sept. 15.

Those extensions were granted due to the presence of PCBs found on the campus.

Officials said that the university would not agree to an another extension for due diligence past the agreed date of Dec. 15. The university has been conducting testing on the property with work being done in concert with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

A UConn spokeswoman said: “We received word about the recommendation and are in the process of learning more about it. Once we’ve had a chance to review it, we’ll be able to respond more fully.”

In the agreement with the university, the town paid a nonrefundable $250,000 deposit on the property, a sum that the town will lose if the council agrees to terminate the purchase. With initial testing and surveys, as well as the hiring of special counsel with environmental experience, the town has spent an additional $230,000 related to the property, Hart said.

Speaking to the money lost by the town in the process, Dodge said it was not a decision made lightly with significant due diligence going into the consideration of the purchase since the agreement was made in July 2016.

Officials said that environmental testing on the sprawling suburban campus is not yet complete and the town cannot determine the cost of remediation to clear the environmental damage required by state and federal agencies until that is done.

“Town staff and the town council have spent a significant amount of time on the purchase of this parcel, but the financial costs, environmental concerns, and potential for liability are simply too significant to overcome,” said Chris Barnes, a Republican and minority leader on the council. “Going forward, we need to be cautious and act in the town’s best interest.”

If the resolution passes, the town still hopes to maintain a cooperative relationship with the university on the future of the site, one Dodge said is important to the town.

The subcommittee hopes to engage the community on the future of the site. Both Hart and Dodge maintain that the town has zoning authority over the property, which currently is zoned for residential purposes.

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