Selectmen approve deal with Laurel City Revamp
WINSTED — The Winchester Board of Selectmen voted 4-2 on Dec. 5 to approve a plan by Selectman Michael Renzullo and his nonprofit organization Laurel City Revamp to purchase $89,000 in tax liens on the former Capitol Products building at 35 Willow St. for $25,001.Renzullo’s plan was initially rejected by the previous Board of Selectmen, which was dominated by the Republican party. With Democrats in control of the board after the November elections, the majority expressed support for a proposed revitalization project that they said could become the center of downtown redevelopment.Renzullo, who is a Democrat, has recused himself from all discussion and decisions regarding the matter. His father, attorney Patsy Renzullo, serves as counsel for Laurel City Revamp and gave a presentation to the Board of Selectmen, in which he noted that the town would be forfeiting “uncollectible” tax dollars on the old industrial property in exchange for real money and a plan to redevelop the building with the help of a federal loan.“What we need to do is get the place cleaned up so it is a taxable entity,” attorney Renzullo said. “We need to take these things one step at a time. We’re prepared to move forward to do what we have to do to get the project on the road and get it done. There is considerable precedent in the town for either waiving taxes or making some adjustment with town residents or businessmen if there is a good reason for it.”Renzullo noted that the first dollar of the $25,001 figure would be payable immediately, with the rest of the money coming from Laurel City Revamp over the course of the next three years. Laurel City Revamp would begin paying taxes on the property on July 1, 2012.Laurel City Revamp, which has already purchased the title to the Willow Street property, has secured a loan from the state Department of Economic and Community Development for $200,000 to clean up the property. Additional liens, including one placed on the property by the Internal Revenue Service, must be waived before work can begin. The Town of Winchester’s lien on the property was the first to be issued and needed to be addressed before Laurel City Revamp moves on to the others. “I know many of you ran on the theory of building community. This certainly seems like a good start,” Renzullo said. “Obviously this property is centrally located. It can be something that inspires others, but right now it’s frankly a public health hazard. You’re trading basically $89,000 of uncollectible taxes to get $25,000 in real money. And supposing the project fails — how are you any worse off?”Renzullo said that, in the event the project falls through, the town would be able to place its lien back on the property, as if nothing had happened.Laurel City Revamp has said the old Capitol Products building would be worth about $600,000 after renovations and environmental remediation, and that businesses including stores and a restaurant could move in even before environmental work in the basement is complete. “Once renovated, this building should be earning considerably more than it is now,” Renzullo said, adding that the building would be sold to a private investor and Laurel City Revamp could move on to another project.“I understand these are difficult economic times, but you are not going to get a pot of gold out of this property,” Renzullo said. “It does not make sense to let this go. This is an opportunity. We are on track. We have a loan offer, and we have contractors and professionals who have come forward at reduced rates. I know I have several citizens who have come forward offering time, donations and suggestions. I think this would be a wonderful thing for the community.”Republican Selectmen Ken Fracasso and Glenn Albanesius voted against the Laurel City Revamp deal. Fracasso said he believed the town could not afford to give up the tax lien on the Capitol Products property and suggested that the board was giving Renzullo preferential treatment as a sitting selectman. Fracasso led opposition to the project earlier in the year when it was defeated by vote of 4-2 by the previous Board of Selectmen.