STONINGTON — A controversial 10-year fixed tax assessment will not be offered to developers proposing an 82-unit residential complex at the site of the former Campbell Grain after voters rejected the plan decisively at referendum Tuesday, leaving developers facing an uphill battle to fund the project.
With a 27% voter turnout, the highest for a referendum since the annual budget vote in 2006, residents declined the proposed fixed assessment, 2,764 to 1,173. Voters also chose not to establish an ordinance banning marijuana businesses by a 2,106 to 1,816, paving the way for the possibility of a recreational marijuana dispensary in the community in the future.
Stonington First Selectmen Danielle Chesebrough said now that voters have spoken, it will be up to property owners and WinnDevelopment to determine how they would like to proceed moving forward.
“Now that this vote is over, we all have another choice in front of us. And I hope that we choose to move forward together as a community,” Chesebrough said in a statement. “Most of our local projects are years in the making, and we hope that many of you will choose to stay engaged.”
WinnDevelopment Project Director Matt Robayna said the results were disappointing and thanked town leaders including members of the Economic Development Commission for their support. He said the company still believes the proposed project would bring quality affordable housing that the community needs and would aid in commercial redevelopment in downtown Pawcatuck.
Under the proposed development plan, Winn plans to renovate the Campbell Grain property to construct a mix of studio and one- to three-bedroom apartments to be rented to those earning 30%, 50% and 80% of area median income, as well as several market-rate units. Other plans for the property include creating a parking garage for residents, and extending the Pawcatuck Riverwalk with public access although funding had not been identified for that aspect of the project.
During an August town meeting, the company received a fixed assessment that would have saved WinnDevelopment an estimated $690,748 in taxes over a 10-year period, while the company would pay $695,000 in taxes to the town during that time. The plan was initially approved at a town meeting Aug. 9 by a 71-36 vote, but a petition filed by Pawcatuck resident Tracy Swain in late August had forced Tuesday's referendum.
The company will now face an uphill battle as they seek a $20 million competitive grant for affordable housing from the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority and Connecticut Department of Housing, one which could put project funding in jeopardy.
“The referendum results mean that the state financing application we will submit in January faces an uphill battle in competing for scarce state funding with other Connecticut communities," Robayna said. “A local contribution is an important part of the competitive scoring, but we will work with town officials to make the best case for why the state should invest in quality affordable housing at Campbell Grain.”