The powerful historical and spiritual significance of Mohegan Hill to the MoheganTribe has been summed up in this excerpt from the Tribe’s opinion, “ expressed formally in a letter from James Quinn, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, to federal Housing and Urban Development on February 10, 2012. “
“The sacred stone piles on Mohegan Hill are a critical feature of the traditional landscape of Mohegan Hill; they were created by the “Little People” who live deep within the ground of Mohegan Hill. These “Little People” or Makiawisug are the ancient culture heroes of this region. These stone piles also possess powers that protect the Mohegan people from outsiders. Not only do the “Little People” still live within the ground on the Hill and continue to guard the stones, these stone piles are perceived as being made of the bones of Mother Earth and they contain messages that guide generation after generation of Mohegan People. Contemporary Mohegan tribal members make offerings to the “Little People” in hopes that they will continue to protect our Tribe.”
It was this and Uncas Fort, Uncas Rockshelter, Uncas Spring and Cabin, Moshup’s Rock, adjacent to the Mohegan Congregational Church, which features a stone called the footstep of the giant Moshup, the Tantaquidgeon Museum and myriad stone features that made the case for an approved albeit a much reduced boundary than originally requested.
But not scaled back enough to allow a mixed income 120-unit housing development project hoping for federal Housing and Urban Development loans to move forward without an understanding between the developer and the Tribe. The Traditional Cultural Property boundary would be recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.
“The revised boundary encompasses a district of clearly identifiable historic resources that together reflect significant aspects of Mohegan history and traditional cultural and religious practices,” the State Historic Preservation Office letter states.
Town Councilor Rosetta Jones, who has been a Villages supporter said the “substantially scaled back” boundary came as a result of “support and public outcry of the our citizens.”
The bottom line?
The TCP has been recognized and if The Villages wishes to move forward, it’s going to have to work with the tribe to mitigate impacts. The $19 million project is planned for a 12.2-acre parcel near Fort Hill Drive off Route 32. The developer was required to do an archeological study since it was applying for federal funding.
Seven years in the making
The non-profit project developer said she was “angry” at a June public hearing on the proposed boundary.
“If the Tribe has said in 2005 this land is so important to us we wouldn’t be here,” Julie Savin of NeighborWorks New Horizons non-profit housing developer said in June.
“This project got a HOD (special housing zone approval) in 2005. We had public hearings. The Tribe was there and there were no objections," she said at the time. "I’m angry. A lot has gone into this. This is important work force housing that this town needs.”
The hearing was required to gather public input before HUD and the state made their decision on the TCP boundary. Some in town, including Town Planner Marcia Vlaun and Jones, the Town Council liaison to the Planning and Zoning Commission, had publicly said that while they were sensitive to Mohegan history and culture, the original boundary included much of the already built commercial area along Route 32. The revised boundary no longer includes the commercial section of town known as Montville Center.
Property owner and development team member Vlad Coric said that it wasn’t until affordable housing was proposed that the Tribe acted.
“They say spirits will be harmed. This area was extensively quarried in the 60’s. That wasn’t an issue when they built the second largest casino in the world or the power station. There was no assertion of TCP in previous projects. It’s interesting that now we want affordable housing in Montville and there’s a TCP,” he charged. “And the core of the TCP has a turnpike running right through it. How can that be?”
Tribe Chairman Bruce "Two Dogs" Bozsum wrote a letter to Patch in which he shared his sentiments.
‘No cost mitigation’
Jones said Coric has “offered a few no cost mitigation offers to the Tribe.”
Among those are a mutually acceptable archeological mitigation plan to avoid and preserve and or grant a conservation easement of “all stone features of concern” as well as an offer to a near half-acre around the stone features as well as grant pedestrian access for the Tribe.
“As you can see, the (Coric and developer have) a very strong desire to respectfully work with the Tribe to ensure preservation of the area of potential effect and remains ready to resolve any cultural concerns, amicably,” Joes said. “In the spirit of cooperation, this could truly be a ‘win-win’ for all involved entities.”
Villages promises to bring workforce housing and jobs.
Developers have said The Villages project would generate $1.5 million in new tax revenue and 100 construction jobs and 120 modern affordable housing units. The project received a DECD loan for pre-development work.
“Ultimately, this could be a win-win for all participants involved,” Jones said. “…(C)itizens, developers, local jobs, adjacent business, families and Tribe, and community. I hope it works out that way.”