Westbound traffic begins building up Friday afternoon on Farmington Avenue in front of the former Parsons Chevrolet property in Farmington. (Don Stacom)
Sixteen years after the Parsons Chevrolet dealership moved away from traffic-clogged Route 4 in Farmington to make way for road improvements, the rush-hour backups are still horrendous and the land is now a vacant lot.
The older dealership building and parking lots are long gone, but repeatedly changed plans along with state bureaucracy and red tape have left the former Parsons property as a grassy field fronting one of central Connecticut’s worst traffic chokepoints.
Proposals for a major reconstruction of the “crazy corner” of Route 4 never materialized, and then Farmington’s plan to buy the state-owned land for commercial development fell through.
So far, the small, nondescript property has been the subject of three separate pieces of legislation by state lawmakers, but still remains in limbo.
“Sadly, I think it’s fair to say that 2.5-acre parcel is probably the most scrutinized 2.5 acres in the whole town of Farmington,” state Rep. Mike Demicco told the town council this month.
Town government now wants to use the tract mostly for open space, but even that is proving difficult.
Meanwhile, the local Historical Society said years of delay are getting frustrating and costly. The organization plans to reassemble the historic Phineas Lewis House there once the town takes possession of the land, but has had to keep the components in storage year after year.
“We’ve been dealing with this since 2015,” Historical Society President Portia Corbett told the council. “We agreed to take the home after the developer couldn’t store it anymore. We put the house in storage — we’re up to $8,000 that we’ve spent on this so far.”
After waiting for two years for the state transportation department to give the land to Farmington, town officials and Demicco now think it may take a fourth state law to resolve what happens with the property.
“If there’s a way to do this without legislation, I’ll be happy to try to track that down,“ Demicco told the council. “I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one.”
Farmington Town Manager Kathleen Blonski said the town has been hoping to put up a small welcome center and relocate the 1798-built Phineas Lewis House to there, then use the rest of the land as open space.
But that plan stalled as the town waited for the DOT to transfer the title. This summer, the agency advised Farmington that its staff concluded a previous law enabling the DOT to sell the property to Farmington wouldn’t cover the new plan: giving it to the town for free.
Much of the trouble is that plans for the land at Farmington Avenue across from High Street have changed repeatedly.
More than a decade and a half ago, the DOT had hoped to dramatically reconstruct that section of Farmington Avenue, a key east-west commuter thoroughfare where afternoon traffic routinely backs up almost to I-84.
Farmington Avenue makes a roughly 90-degree right in front of the property, and the DOT wanted to straighten it. In 2006 it bought the land from Parsons, which had sold cars there since before World War I.
But preservationists over the next several years successfully resisted any sweeping reconstruction plan, and Farmington decided to target the area for commercial development. Lawmakers passed bills in 2015 and 2019 allowing DOT to sell the land at fair market value, but Farmington balked when the agency asked for $2 million.
Farmington is now looking for a low-key use, eliminating the requirement for DOT to be paid fair market value. Instead, the agency has been prepared to simply transfer the title at no charge — but its staff has concluded that can’t be done without a new state law authorizing it.
When the council complained about delays, Demicco said the project may have to wait until early 2023.
“If it requires legislation, then it’s going to have to happen starting in January because the legislature doesn’t meet again until then,” Demicco said. “I don’t want this to get delayed any more than anyone else does.”
Copyright © 2022, Hartford Courant
Copyright © 2022, Hartford Courant