Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Cleanup at Vernon's Roosevelt Mills site could begin soon

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
April 15, 2005

VERNON — Environmental cleanup of the long-dormant Roosevelt Mills site could begin in the next two weeks, making way for the planned revitalization and renovation of the five-story structure on East Main Street.

The town has entered into a $195,000 contract with the state to remove contaminants such as trichloroethylene from the soils and water table surrounding the building, Town Administrator Laurence R. Shaffer said.

When the cleanup is done, architect and developer Joseph Vallone of Westport can then begin transforming the 83,000-square-foot reinforced concrete structure into 68 market-rate apartments and 9,000 square feet of commercial space.

Vallone said he expects to go before the Inland Wetlands Commission on April 26 and then on to Planning and Zoning Commission for approval of the project, known as Loom City Lofts, around Memorial Day.

When interior construction gets under way, as early as this summer, it will mark the culmination of a process that began in the summer of 2002 when Vallone came to Rockville looking for a historic building to revitalize.

For Vallone, the Roosevelt Mills project represents his first entree into north-central Connecticut

It's also one of the first projects where he has served as both architect and developer.

As an architect, Vallone said, he has worked on a number of revitalization projects in New York City.

For this project he looked at sites in Norwich, Killingly, and New London.

"I looked at a lot of other buildings around this state," Vallone said, then called Shaffer. "We said we wanted that building and we entered into an agreement with the town."

Vallone said he liked the Roosevelt Mills building because of its concrete construction, which is largely fire proof and has held up well over time, preventing toxic chemicals from being absorbed into the actual structure.

Vallone said he also liked the area surrounding the site, which includes two waterfalls, one of which passing motorists will be able to see when several outbuildings on the property are demolished.

Shaffer said the beginning of cleanup at the site is a positive step, given the number of potential pitfalls that could have stopped the rejuvenation plan dead in its tracks.

Chief among the concerns was the environmental contamination at the 7-acre site, which has served as an industrial use since 1834.

The main building was constructed in 1906 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

At its high point in the mid-1970s, the factory employed about 250 workers, but in 1988, the building abruptly closed after workers — left unpaid for three weeks—walked off the job.

The cleanup costs are being funded by grants, notably a $500,000 grant secured by former U.S. Rep. Sam Gejdenson, D-2nd District, in 2000, shortly before he left office.

Once cleanup is complete, the town can complete its foreclosure against the property and ownership can be transferred to Vallone so he can begin the $12 million to $14 million transformation, Shaffer said.

The now-defunct Roosevelt Acquisition Inc., the owner of the mill property, owes the town roughly $800,000 in back taxes.

"This is not the kind of project that is for everybody," Shaffer said, referring to the legal red tape that developers need to clear before beginning construction. "There's only one path to success and if you stray off it, you can't get there."

Both Town Planner Thomas J. Joyce Jr. and Economic Development Coordinator Neil S. Pade said rejuvenating the long-vacant and blighted building would be a positive step for the community.

Vallone said he has been impressed with the commitment of town officials to facilitate the project.

"I'm thrilled to death with the amount of support I get when I walk into this building," Vallone said Thursday from Town Hall. "This is a part of Rockville history."