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Road Work to Help Pave Way for Growth in Orange

New Haven Register Logo

nmcnamara@newhavenregister.com / Twitter: @neal_mcnamara 

ORANGE >> Two infrastructure projects may portend developments coming to Marsh Hill Lane, including a town train station and a user for the Stew Leonard’s parcel.

Citing “progressing” talks between the state and a developer, the town will use eminent domain to secure a piece of Salemme Lane, key to providing access to a potential future train station. And a project already underway to extend Edison Road to Marsh Hill Road would provide easier traffic access to the so-called Stew Leonard’s parcel — just as out-of-state companies are expressing interest in the site.

The Edison Road extension would connect Prindle Hill and Marsh Hill roads, easing traffic congestion and opening up access for companies along the road, like Pez and Aurora Products, First Selectman James Zeoli said.

FIX IT: What is the best use for the Stew Leonard’s parcel?

Zeoli said that two companies recently inquired about the 44-acre Stew Leonard’s parcel, which is perhaps the most high-profile piece of developable land in town because of its history and location at an exit off Interstate 95. Zeoli would only say that the companies — one from New Jersey, the other from Texas — would fit the zoning in the area, which is for commercial or industrial use, not retail.

“It could be great for a research company,” Zeoli said, because of its proximity to the Yale University west campus. “It’s a site that has been considered by some already for science and research.” Zeoli also said a hotel and conference center would be another acceptable use.

The Edison Road extension would open approximately 34 acres of the Stew Leonard’s parcel to road access. Completion of the road, including utilities and drainage, could come by fall, Zeoli said.

Stew Leonard bought the site in 1996 for $2.2 million, intending to build a large dairy store there. A legal battle with neighbors, however, stopped that project. The Hamden-based developer Belfonti Companies now holds an option to develop or buy the property. Leonard said that he would be OK selling the parcel to a new user.

“There’s been an incredible amount of excitement for that site,” Leonard said. “People love it. I’m in love with it myself. The question is, really, getting the town to approve what’s going there.”

Paul Grimmer, director of the Orange Economic Development Corp., said that vacancy rates in the industrial area of town along Marsh Hill Road are low, making it a good time for development. He would not give details about possible development activity at the Stew Leonard’s site. “There is activity and action by the current developer,” he said. “I’m not at liberty to say what it is he’d like to do, and as far as I know all ideas are preliminary. He’s doing his due diligence.”

Officials from Belfonti Companies did not return a call seeking comment.

South of the Stew Leonard’s parcel across Interstate 95 is Salemme Lane, which contains a few houses and dead-end streets near vacant woodland that would be the site of a train station.

The Board of Selectman voted at its July 10 meeting to use eminent domain on a small chunk of the road. Zeoli said when the road was first created, a portion was “roughed in” — bulldozed but never paved — which left it “cloudy” as to who actually owns it. The town is using eminent domain to clear the title.

“The town needed to proceed in this manner to clear the title to that right of way,” he said. “Nobody is losing any property that was approved as building lots or developable property.”

But, the move is entirely in service of developing a train station. Zeoli said that talks between the state and the potential train station developer, Ed Crowley, are “progressing.” Salemme Lane would be the main vehicle access point to the station.

“There have been multiple discussion between the state officials and several different departments and the site developers,” Zeoli said.

A new train station in West Haven is set to open later this summer. In preparation for a train station in Orange, the town rezoned the area at the end of Salemme Lane a “transit-oriented district.” That means, along with a train station, a developer could build a mix of retail and housing, said Town Plan and Zoning Commission Chairman Walter Clark IV.

 “A different type of housing opportunity there would be a great option for commuters,” Clark said of potential mixed-use development. The zone allows up to 250 units of housing with a mix of retail.

 Town Attorney Vincent Marino said that the town would commence the eminent domain action by mid-August.

Zeoli said that train station developer Crowley would reimburse the town for the cost of the eminent domain action. In 2012, the state gave the town a $500,000 Small Town Economic Assistance Program grant, which will pay for “90 percent” of the Edison Road extension, Zeoli said.