PAWCATUCK — At an estimated $1.1 million, the cost of environmental remediation has been the stumbling block to finding an investor to redevelop the Stillmanville Woolen Mill site, but the town continues to search for solutions.
About 50 people, many who live near the mill, crowded into the Pawcatuck Fire Department on Wednesday for a community conversation about the future of the site, which also once housed the Connecticut Casting plant. The gathering was led by Jason Vincent, director of planning for Stonington, and sponsored by the Economic Development Commission.
Fronting the Pawcatuck River, the 1.2-acre site at 75 Stillman Ave. contains a three-story, 18,000-square-foot brick building constructed in 1848. There are broken windows and the roof is partially collapsed. A plan to build 15 condos in the existing building and an additional 24 units on the property was approved in 2005 but never executed. The owner, Pawcatuck Landing LLC, of Worcester, Mass., has stopped paying municipal taxes and has been fined $100 per day for blight violations, accruing to about $7,000 so far.
Vincent said the town conducted a tax sale in April but no one came forward. The estimate for environmental cleanup was done in 2006 and needs to be updated. The town could foreclose on the property but the liability and benefits would need to be determined in advance, he said.
Suggestions for redeveloping the site included creating a park with water access for kayakers or rehabbing the building for commercial use.
Jim Lathrop, a member of the Economic Development Commission, said he had toured the building several weeks ago with historians from the state.
“This is kind of an architectural wonder. For a factory of that age and the architectural features it has, the building has a lot of historical value,” he said.
Vincent said state and federal grants could be available if the building were to be preserved, but the town was more likely to be chosen if it showed “it had some skin in the game” by investing in the property.
Sal Ritacco, an Economic Development Commission member, said marketing the project to the right investor will be key in moving the process forward. “Right from the beginning while we’re looking for grant money we’ve got to look at who is going to partner with us so that we can get someone who is going to do a quality project,” he said.
Earlier, when asked how many people thought the town should take action toward cleaning up the site, a sea of hands went up.
The community conversation was a catalyst for generating solutions for the long-abandoned mill, said Selectman John Prue. “This is the beginning, this is where ideas start,” he said. “We’re in it for the long haul and we want you to be with us for the long haul also.”