Haddam architect Steve Rocco made his pitch before the East Haddam Economic Development Commission Thursday night for a transfer of 17 acres of state-owned land near the Connecticut River in exchange for an 87-acre tract that developers own near Cockaponset State Forest in Higganum.
His Power Point (see attached) presentation explained what he sees as the benefits of the land swap.
Rocco began the meeting with a history of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection's involvement in the proposed transfer of land in the Tylerville section of Haddam and Higganum.
The DEP, Rocco says, was in favor of the land swap in 2006, but circumstances placed the plan on hold.
“This was approved by the DEP, but then unfortunately Gina McCarthy, the commissioner, got hired by the Obama Administration to go to the [Environmental Protection Agency a year ago]. David Leff retired [in April 2006] because of a back problem. Thomas Morrissey, outdoor recreation bureau chief, took early retirement [July 2009]. "These were three people involved in this and we basically were orphans,” Rocco said.
The architect spoke of the economic benefits to Haddam and East Haddam.
"This idea of tying the two towns together … I’ve been bouncing it around with people since the ‘90s. I was part of this idea called Swing Bridge Merchants Association, I’ve lived down here on the other side since ‘85. I think there’s such a willingness on both sides because we know the synergy of the two — it’s critical mass. The more you have, the more people will come. Right now, there’s not enough to sustain a real healthy environment — here or over there.”
Commissioner Patricia Stricker questioned Rocco about a possible anchor tenant in the proposed plan.
“I’m going to put on my hotelier hat,” she said. “I was director of sales for over 20 years. Are you going to be looking at a flagship hotel or are you going to be looking at an independent hotel?”
Trevor Furror is president of the Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station. “Preliminary indications are an individual hotel,” he said. “It could be anywhere from 30-70 [rooms]. I wouldn’t see it being any bigger than 70.”
EDC coordinator Melissa Ziobron told Rocco of the importance of keeping East Haddam Village business owners’ considerations an integral part of expansion in Haddam and encouraging activity and commerce on both sides of the Connecticut River.
“My main concern has always been a pedestrian walkway on the Swing Bridge,” said Ziobron. “For two years now, I’ve been trying to get funding to be proactive because I knew this was coming down the line. Our concern for the village is nobody is going to be bothered to come across the bridge if all the development is in Haddam. What is going to incentivize them to come over the bridge?
Ziobron also expressed concern over the cruise ship that docks at Eagle Landing State Park on the Haddam side of the Connecticut River board and unload passengers only there in past years.
“For the second summer in a row, we have had many complaints from local businesses regarding the boat, Lady Catherine cruises, that docked over in Haddam. The Goodspeed Opera House is owner of the dock down there and [village business owners] felt by directing all customers over to Haddam to get on the boat to go on a tour and then come to the Goodspeed, they really felt the loss of revenue and foot traffic when they incorporated that.”
“We all see common sense benefit of having the boat go to both sides of river, but what is the reality of that?” she asked.
There may be a General Assembly hearing on the conveyance bill issue in Hartford Monday. The agenda has not yet been posted.