Town backs construction at wire mill in Georgetown

With 400-plus housing units — a mix of townhouses, single-family homes, housing for the elderly, and some affordable artists lofts — the redevelopment of the 55-acre former Gilbert & Bennett wire mill site in Georgetown is a big project that could boost the local economy.

With that in mind, First Selectman Bill Brennan has written a letter to the state Bonding Commission, backing the town of Redding’s efforts to get funding for site work in the Georgetown area of Redding he said was “critically important.” The area is adjacent to Wilton, which he said is “very supportive of this economic development project.” Redding is seeking about $6 million from the state.

In the works more than a decade, the overall redevelopment plan is for a transit-oriented, pedestrian-friendly village of residential, commercial and retail uses, with village-style amenities, a new train station and a parking garage.

It has all needed approvals, but has been plagued with financial difficulties.

Mr. Brennan wrote the letter Oct. 3 — Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi did the same — after Redding First Selectwoman Natalie Ketcham asked them to support the request to the state bonding commission, hopeful that its approval would get the long-stalled Georgetown project moving again.

The state money would go to two projects designed to advance the redevelopment plans of the Georgetown Land Development Co., which owns the 55-acre wire mill property:

• Redesign of the intersection of Route 7 and Georgetown’s North Main Street, by the Bruce Bennett Nissan dealership, including a traffic light.

• Raising the height of “river walls” on the old mill property that would contain the Norwalk River “in the event of a catastrophic flood” such as the Great Flood of 1955, according to the application.

Flooding at the old mill site is a serious concern both because of the history — the 1955 flood wiped the area out — and because there are contaminated soils on the old mill property.

“In a significant rainfall event there would be serious erosion and subsequent loss of property and possibly life. The heavily contaminated soil within the Georgetown project would be washed downstream creating an environmental disaster,” the bonding application says.

“The new River Walls,” it adds, “will allow for safe use of the river banks for many needs, including passive recreation.”

Mr. Brennan emphasized the importance of raising the height of the walls. In addition to the safety concerns enumerated in the application, he said, “this will also increase overall safety for recreational activities on and near the river. Potential environmental effects downstream would be disastrous should the existing walls fail! Therefore, it is critically important for this project to move forward to obtain the requested state bonding support.”

Redesigning the traffic intersection, he wrote, “will improve traffic flow in town, as well as create a safe egress through this site, which is another major benefit of this project. These improvements to the infrastructure will encourage private businesses to invest in the local economy, bring tax dollars to the town and state, as well as create much needed jobs.

“The boost to Connecticut’s economy in this area is vital and overdue. While this is a project that has been in the works for a long time, it is now in a position to move forward subject to grant funding approval.”

Ms. Ketcham, who isn’t seeking another term as Redding’s first selectwoman, spoke to the Redding League of Women Voters in late September, and described her hopes that the Georgetown project, in the works for more than decade, might finally get off the ground.

“It has been a tortuous path of promise, obstacles and disappointments,” she said. “While I am not authorized yet to be specific, good news should be forthcoming shortly that could have a major impact on the investment of both public and private funds in the development.

“I am working feverishly to make sure this happens, for while I admit to great disappointment that the construction phase for this project will not happen on my watch, I am absolutely committed to setting it up so that it will happen in the next administration.”