Mansfield officials said Tuesday they’ve taken steps to push back on the University of Connecticut’s purchase of land planned for an affordable housing development.
“We’re angry about this. That’s really an understatement,” Mansfield Mayor Antonia Moran said during a press conference Tuesday.
On July 13, developers and landowners Capstone Collegiate Communities LLC of Birmingham, Ala., and J.E. Shepard Co. of South Windsor formally withdrew their application from the town to create “The Villas at Four Corners.”
That development would have been a 358-unit, multi-family residential complex at Four Corners at 1621 Storrs Road and Middle Turnpike.
This withdrawal followed a June 30 UConn Board of Trustees meeting where the passing of a consent agenda granted approval for the university administration to enter into agreements necessary to begin the acquisition of the two land parcels for the project.
UConn was approved to pay approximately $4.2 million, mostly funded by previously approved state bonds, to purchase a total of nearly 20 acres of land on Route 44, immediately north of UConn’s Tech Park Parcel B.
In doing so, the university essentially killed the housing development project.
“We’re exploring all our options to fight this decision and any future action by the university. The university has already filed an appeal of the inland wetland’s decision on another development and I’m very concerned that this is a pretense of future interference with town business,” Moran said.
Moran announced the town filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking for communications around the use of bonding funds, spending on consultants and legal counsel on this purchase as well as additional project proposals.
The FOIA request was submitted July 12, according to town records.
UConn previously claimed its reasoning for the land purchase is due to concerns over “the potential impact of the proposed large and dense development on an environmentally sensitive vernal pool on its adjacent property, and the restriction and reduction in potential development that would have resulted on UConn’s Tech Park Parcel B,” UConn spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said.
Mansfield town officials, however, claim this is due to UConn potentially losing revenue from students moving off campus into these types of proposed housing developments.
Mansfield officials, however, said the new housing, while technically desired under affordable housing goals, could pull students away from rental housing in residential neighborhoods.
That has been an issue in the past, with many residential homes in neighborhoods being rented out to students, resulting in noise complaints associated with typical student revelry.
“This particular construction would have helped relieve the pressure on our neighborhoods, it would have provided housing for people who want to live off campus, but who are now living in communities,” Moran said.
The Villas at Four Corners would have provided the town with 30 needed affordable housing units for people with low to moderate incomes, according to Moran.
The complex also would have provided an additional $1.4 million toward another low-income housing project which is being built by the Mansfield nonprofit housing corporation on South Eagleville Road, Moran said.
That project would have created 42 units of affordable housing units, however, it now does not have its base funding.
“That project is essentially dead on its feet, unless we find some other source,” Moran said.
This is a loss for Mansfield not only in the category of the demand for affordable housing, but also in economic development and loss in potential tax revenue, officials said.
The nixed affordable housing development project also removed an estimated $2 million in potential tax revenue because UConn’s property is tax exempt.
Additionally, town officials said the university previously threatened to take away access to the sewer system from developers of projects they did not agree with.
“If UConn does not like a project, they’ll either take you to court for a decade or buy you out,” Moran said.
The loss of these 19.4 acres to the university is a loss of about 16 percent of Mansfield’s developable land, according to Moran.
“The idea of home rule is the towns get to determine their own futures. The state doesn’t. And with this action, the State of Connecticut has really overstepped its bounds,” Moran said.
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