The UConn Board of Trustees notified the Town of West Hartford of their plans to sell the land and buildings on its West Hartford campus.
By Ronni Newton
The Town of West Hartford has been officially offered the right to purchase land and buildings currently owned by the University of Connecticut which plans to move its Greater Hartford campus to downtown Hartford in 2017.
“This is just the start of a process,” Town Manager Ron Van Winkle said about UConn’s declaring the 58-acre property that includes five buildings, as surplus. Statutorily the Town has 45 days to decide if it wants to purchase the property at intersection of Asylum Avenue and Trout Brook Drive, and UConn has indicated that an answer will be required by Jan. 15, 2016.
The Town has already appropriated funding to hire a consultant to do a thorough inspection of the entire property, to “kick the tires,” Van Winkle said, and that contract is about to be signed. The consultant’s review will include details about the wetlands on the property as well as Phase I and Phase II environmental studies to determine the presence of hazardous materials.
“We would need to know, if the Town Council wants to have a conversation about the site, what’s there,” Van Winkle said.
Mayor Scott Slifka said that in his opinion, he anticipates that the Town Council will authorize the Town Manager to take the step of negotiating with UConn. Slifka said he had not had the opportunity to formally discuss it with other Council members.
“It’s the final step of our due diligence, just getting the parameters. We don’t know what the price would be,” Slifka said. “The decision on whether to actually purchase the property would come later,” he said.
The Town has not only the right of first refusal to purchase the property, but also has the right of second refusal on the property, Van Winkle said. What that means is if the Town initially decides not to purchase the property, and then UConn decides to sell it to another party, the Town has the right to essentially “buy it out from under” that other party, he said.
Even if the property is sold to another party, the Town will likely be involved in approving its use if a zoning change is required. The UConn property is zoned single-family residential, and there is a special use permit in place allowing for a school on the property. Another school could take over the property, but Van Winkle said the the University of Saint Joseph isn’t currently interested and he knows of no other need for school buildings in town.
Van Winkle said that the Town has made a commitment to have discussions with neighborhood residents about the future of the property before any firm decisions are made. There have been meetings with area residents, but no consensus about what the best use might be.
“We don’t have a particular public need for the facilities. Maybe it could be a park, maybe a dog park,” Van Winkle said. Van Winkle said that the New Children’s Museum will announce this week that it would like to put its new facility on the UConn property, but doesn’t have funding for the project.
Slifka said he is interested in acquiring the property to have control over its disposition. “If we’re able to acquire it for a favorable price, then we will have ultimate control over what to do with it in the future,” Slifka said.
Neither Van Winkle nor Slifka have any idea how much money UConn would want for the land, but Van Winkle said it won’t hurt to explore the options.
Whatever happens with the property, Slifka said, “will not happen without much deliberation and, most importantly, public input.”
The Town Council met on Tuesday night to swear in new members and elect officers, but won’t have its next business meeting until Dec. 10. The Council will also meet on Jan. 12, and will need to determine at one of those meetings whether or not the Town Manager will be authorized to enter into negotiations with UConn.
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