Though Steve Rocco and his partners nearly a year ago backed out of a controversial proposal to swap 87 acres of forestland in Higganum for 17.4 acres near the Connecticut River in Tylerville, Rocco says the deal could still be revived.
In testimony Monday before the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee Rocco said he and his partners, who run the Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station, have not yet decided whether to give up on their plan take the 17.4 acres that abut their banquet facility on Bridge Street.
And, as he watches weeds grow on a property he says the state is not maintaining, “for that reason alone, it is still imperative to pursue this.” He says he and his partners also are still taking into consideration their long-term business plans and the nuances of the local economy.
“I do not want to see this arbitrarily repealed,” he said.
Rocco’s testimony came during a public hearing before the committee on a bill that would strip from the legislature’s annual conveyance bill an amendment to swap the Riverview land in Tylerville for 87 acres of forest that Rocco and his partners own in Higganum.
The swap, which was backed by former state Sen. Eileen Daily about two years ago and later signed into law by Gov. Dannel Malloy, drew the ire of local residents who formed a grassroots group that opposed it. The fight also drew the attention and support of environmental and conservation groups from around the state.
While the state approved the plan, Rocco and his partners at Riverhouse abruptly abandoned the proposal in April of 2012 when appraisals for the two properties showed that the state-owned land was much more valuable than the forest land the developers were offering in trade.
Under state law, that disparity would have required the developers to either offer additional land to make the trade equal, or pay the state the difference in value.
In testimony before the committee Melissa Schlag, who spearheaded opposition to the land swap, urged the panel to repeal the amendment because it would “finally put to rest a very bad policy that dates back to 2009.”