The Villages, a mixed income Montville 120-unit housing development project, has been in the works since 2005.
Now, seven years later, the non-profit developer is “angry” that despite all the work, money and time invested, the proposal -- which they claim will generate $1.5 million in new tax revenue and 100 construction jobs – has been stalled and could even be denied federal and state funding support because of a claim that the land on which it is to be built has historical and cultural significance to the Mohegan Tribe.
And that contention, based on federal and state research, surveys and interviews with Mohegan Tribal members, could very well create a
“If the Tribe has said in 2005 this land is so important to us we wouldn’t be here,” said Julie Savin of NeighborWorks New Horizons non-profit housing developer.
“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. "I’m angry. A lot has gone into this. This is important work force housing that this town needs.”
The proposed TCP was raised because the developers for The Villages were seeking funding from Housing and Urban Development and that application triggered what Town Planner Marcia Vlaun called a “government to government review,” the tribe being its own government with an interest in the project because of culturally and historically significant features on the site.
HUD – with input from state historic preservation -- will decide whether the TCP is eligible for listing on the National Historic Register and the hearing Thursday was one of the final steps before the agencies make their decision.
And the Council Chambers in Town Hall, packed with residents, was divided, very divided.
The area inside the boundary includes densely populated areas and the entire commercial section of Montville with the Norwich-New London Turnpike running the length of it.
“A landscape which has been worked and developed,” Vlaun said, and includes Shopping plazas, schools, housing, cell towers, water towers, hotels, gas stations, power station and the like.
And project site landowner 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?”
Speaker after speaker came to the podium to share their thoughts.
"It's a shame you had to go through this," Howard "Russ" Beetham said. "I grew up on that hill (Mohegan Hill) with the Indians. All my friends were Mohegan's." He continued to recall recent Mohegan history and his personal positive relationship with the Tribe. But added that promises were not kept by the Tribe to the town.
"I'm really surprised and maybe I'm a little ashamed that they're doing this to you. Maybe they should be here tonight." And then thanked Town Councilor Rosetta Jones for raising the issue.
And while the majority spoke against the idea of a boundary that within lay private land earmarked as culturally important to the Tribe, others felt differently.
"Uncas' Fort will be obliterated by this development," charged municipal historian John Chase.
Though representatives from both the state and federal government said that even with a TCP, the Tribe has little or no say as to what private developers do on any land within the zone. Not so with parcels that might seek state or federal assistance.
But not everyone in the room was opposed to the TCP idea, though for the first three hours of the hearing, no Tribe member spoke,
But Town Councilor Chuck Longton said people have been misinformed. He said the TCP doesn’t give the Tribe “any additional power.”
But at least one of the historic preservation officials had been quoted as saying the Mohegan Tribe will play an important role in projects that go forward in the TCP.
Public comment will be taken until June 22 and then the agencies, the tribe and, ultimately HUD, will make a decision.