As reported by the Chronicle in April, the town was deciding what to do with two properties: 8 River Road South and 282 Kent Road South, which had been delinquent on property taxes for decades. The town opted for a lien sale, which finally took place on the morning of Friday, October 27th at Town Hall. The properties are infamous in town lore due to their former designation as EPA superfund sites. It was unclear until the day of the auction who, if anyone, would be willing to take on the task of addressing the likely soil contamination, other environmental issues, and, in the case of 8 River Road South, structural issues.
In the end, three parties expressed official interest in the properties: Karl Saliter of Cornwall Bridge and an unnamed party who declined to go on record. The unnamed party won the auction for 8 River Road South with a $56,000 bid, while David Berto, president of Housing Enterprises Inc. of Enfield, Connecticut, was the lone bidder on the 282 Kent Road South property. According to the conditions of the lien sale, the current title holder now has six months to pay back the property taxes and any other liens, otherwise the winning bidders will gain possession of the titles.
Besides a handful of town officials, most attendees hailed from the Cornwall Bridge neighborhood abutting “the creamery,” the former factory on River Road South, out of curiosity about what would become of the haunting, decrepit structure near the railroad and the Housatonic River. Additionally, two members of the Cornwall Housing Corporation, Maggie Cooley and Ginni Block, were seen in discussion with Mr. Berto. As the auction concluded, with Mr. Berto securing the property for the minimum bid of $71,140.49, the connection became clear.
According to Berto, his company helps “develop affordable housing throughout Connecticut” and noted that the auction offered “a real good possibility to work with a local nonprofit. Develop some additional affordable housing.” Berto had been in discussion with the Cornwall Housing Corporation (CHC) and was at the auction on their behalf, stating, “this was an opportunity that we didn’t really want to lose to someone else if there were other bidders.”
The CHC had been aware of the property for years, but it wasn’t until the lien sale became a real possibility that they could make a move on the property. Block mentioned that they had done their research but initially felt “it was too risky for the organization.” After discussing it with Berto, the CHC’s long-time grant writer, they decided the potential was worth the risk. Berto agreed to acquire the property in his own name, which alleviates the burden on the CHC.
While not dismissing the potential for environmental issues, Berto stated, “With properties throughout Connecticut, it’s not unusual that there are some environmental issues.” As previously reported in our article, the EPA excavated 300 cubic yards of contaminated soil from the property in 1995, enough to qualify the site for removal from the EPA’s superfund list. Since then, DEEP has suggested the owner “enter into the state Voluntary Clean-up Program” according to files at Town Hall.
Berto emphasized that it was too early to make definitive plans for the property because there was still a significant amount of information to gather and assess, particularly regarding soil health, septic and water capacities. However, he did say that “this site is large enough that it has the capacities for different types of things at the same time. So that’s part of figuring out what the right thing to do is, as far as different types of housing perhaps, and still some open land and some farmland perhaps, and some energy conservation.” Block added that it’s quite challenging to find land in town with acceptable topography that isn’t state land. For the CHC eventually to acquire this property, with its varied ecosystems, views, and easy road access, may turn out to be something of a coup.
Due to the conditions of the sale, it will be spring before we have more to report. For now, it seems that, with a little luck and the right funding, both sites could contribute to the already quickening pace of economic and social life in Cornwall Bridge.
—John W. W. Zeiser
📸: John W. W. Zeiser (photo above: The railroad side of 8 River Road South a.k.a The Creamery)
🎥: Juergen Kalwa