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Updated: June 29, 2020 Town Profile: East Windsor

Amid ‘lightning-in-a-bottle’ developments, East Windsor eyes 138 acres of historic farmland for future growth

Photos | Contributed A view of some of the bucolic Bass family parcels located along North Road in East Windsor. The nearly 140 acres is now on the market and carries commercial potential.

There are a few types of developments that don’t come along often or ever for most towns, but East Windsor has two of them in the works.

The first — a joint casino proposed by the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes — has been slowly plodding along through zoning entanglements, and will ultimately need further legislative approval.

The second, first reported this month by the Hartford Business Journal, is a 485-acre solar array planned on old gravel pits that would be the largest solar installation in the Northeastern United States. It still needs state Siting Council approval.

Combined, the two projects could generate an estimated $6 million a year in new local property taxes, an 18% increase over the town’s 2019 collections.

Jason Bowsza, First Selectman, East Windsor

“Those lightning-in-a-bottle moments don’t come along very often,” said First Selectman Jason Bowsza. “You can’t sit back and wait for them.”

As he waits for further movement on the casino and solar projects, Bowsza said the town is pursuing other smaller and medium-scale developments when they make sense.

One target is a stretch of bucolic land on North Road/Route 140 that’s now for sale, after its longtime owner died last summer.

[Read more: HBJ examines developments in CT towns, cities]

East Windsor attorney Walter Bass Jr. had many plans over the years for 138 acres of historic farmland that surrounded his family home and spanned to the west on the far side of North Road, where his office was also located, in nearby Bassdale Plaza, which was developed by his father, the late Walter Bass Sr.

Over the decades, some of those plans, like a driving range, mini golf course and ice cream shop, became a reality. Others, like an 18-hole golf course and bowling alley, did not. The younger Bass won local approval for a 20-unit condo development more than five years ago, but the project has not been built.

Bass died unexpectedly last August at age 68 after his heart stopped during a business meeting.

Caroline Bass, Real Estate Agent, Corcoran Group

Now his family, led by daughter Caroline Bass, a 2004 UConn alum who has since moved to New York City and made a name for herself in the residential real estate market there, has put the five parcels on the market for $2.5 million (the purchase price could be less, if a buyer combines some of them in one deal).

Since listing the land in January through Berkshire Hathaway New England Properties, Bass said she has been in close contact with Bowsza, a high school classmate who is eager to do what he can to facilitate further growth of the town’s commercial tax base.

“It’s prime real estate,” Bowsza said of the parcels, which are less than two miles from I-91 and about 10 minutes from Bradley International Airport.

East Windsor also has a below-average mill rate of 34.25 and boasts plenty of sewer infrastructure.

“We could do the casino project three times with room to spare,” he said of the sewer plant’s 60% capacity.

Bowsza said the North Road parcels are zoned for commercial use and could be a good fit for mid-to-upscale retail, medical offices or luxury apartments.

“The market in general is not excited right now about office space, and with COVID-19 I think you will see more of that,” he said.

Bass said the listings have drawn a few serious nibbles. One party was interested in a solar development, while another was interested in the approved condo project that fronts nearby Winkler Road. The local permit expired last year, but there’s potential for someone to renew it, possibly with a denser layout and more units, since recent zoning changes would allow for it.

Photo | Contributed
The Tobacco Valley Solar Farm in Simsbury.

Caroline Bass said she was a bit surprised to see interest in the property during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she said has produced plenty of opportunistic offers in her own broker work in the city.

“In New York my buyers and sellers are getting low-ball offers left and right because they assume everybody is distressed,” she said.

She said the East Windsor tract’s location and price are both attractive, which could explain it.

Bowsza said he hopes the town is on the verge of a development wave. Besides the casino and solar projects, and the potential the Bass land presents, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union recently wrapped construction on a 25,000-square-foot training and office facility on Craftsman Road East, while construction of a 55-plus age-restricted, 122-unit apartment community called Water Mill Landing — developed by realty firm Calamar — remains ongoing.

There’s been lots of development in adjacent Enfield and South Windsor over the last decade or two, and now Bowsza hopes it’s East Windsor’s turn.

“We’re kind of that in between just waiting to pop,” he said.

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