Mansfield Mayor Antonia Moran admonished the University of Connecticut Tuesday for buying up land which the town had been working to develop as a large housing project in an effort to boost its tax revenues.
Last month, UConn’s Board of Trustees voted to purchase 19.4 acres where Mansfield and a developer, Capstone, had been pursuing a 358-unit housing project. During a press conference from Mansfield’s town hall, Moran and other officials decried the purchase saying it will damage their anticipated tax revenues and upset the town’s affordable housing plans.
Moran told reporters the purchase undermined years of collaboration between the University of Connecticut and the municipal host of its flagship Storrs campus.
“We’re angry about this. That’s really an understatement,” Moran said. “We are currently exploring all our options to fight this decision and any future action by the university.”
But officials said the sale had been completed and caused Capstone to withdraw plans to develop the housing complex in the Four Corners area of Mansfield, which is located close to the UConn campus and near its recently constructed Tech Park.
Michael Enright, a spokesman for the university said that UConn had environmental concerns about the housing project and had appealed a decision by the local wetlands commission, which allowed the project to move forward. He said the university and Capstone resolved the appeal “amicably.”
“UConn was deeply concerned about 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,” he said.
During the press conference, Moran said the environmental argument belied another issue: the availability of student housing.
“In private conversations, university officials have made it very clear to us that the real issue is student housing,” she said.
Moran said the planned housing development had been poised to bring the town about $2 million a year in tax revenues. Due to the sprawling university campus, much of Mansfield’s revenue comes from the state in the form of payments in lieu of taxes, which amount to less than a private landowner would pay and are sometimes inconsistently funded.
Deputy Mayor Ben Shaiken called the PILOT value of the land “negligible” and said the town has sought to develop other revenue sources.
“We are at the whim of the state legislature and the state budget when it comes to whether or not PILOT is fully funded,” Shaiken said.
Moran said the failure of the Four Corners project also spelled trouble for another development on South Eagleville Road, which was expected to be funded in part by the first project. That development was designed to provide more affordable housing in town. Currently, she said the town was falling short of a state requirement on the availability of affordable housing.
“Without this funding from this development that project is essentially dead on its feet,” she said.