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Watertown Trust plans to start marketing Sewall’s Island to developers

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Efforts to market Sewall’s Island to developers may soon begin with the Watertown Local Development Corp. getting an option to purchase the city-owned island.

Last week, the WLDC, also known as the Watertown Trust, approved a plan to get the city to agree on giving the economic development agency an option to buy the land. Donald W. Rutherford, WLDC’s CEO, met recently with City Manager Mary M. Corriveau and Kenneth A. Mix, the city’s planning and community development coordinator, to talk about the agency’s plans.

“It just makes sense,” Mrs. Corriveau said.

The Watertown City Council has been kept apprised of the trust’s plans to acquire an option, she said.

Mr. Rutherford said recently he has some ideas on which developers to contact to see if they would be interested in constructing rental housing on the site. He declined to identify them.

Some of the island cannot be developed because it contains in-fill, but the remaining site would be ideal for rental housing because of its beauty, he said.

“You don’t feel like you’re in the city. It has the atmosphere of the Adirondacks,” he said.

Land unable to be developed can be made into a park that connects the city’s Black River hiking trail system, Mrs. Corriveau said. The trust is ready to market the site because a five-year project to remove petroleum contamination was completed a few months ago.

Guessing that five to 10 acres would be available for redevelopment, Mr. Mix has said in the past the projects could include residential, commercial or recreational projects revolving around the Black River.

Last year, the city received a $49,000 grant from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to remove a petroleum spill from the south span of the Pearl Street Bridge. The city contributed a $5,444 match to have the work done. Before a developer can be found, however, DEC must agree the work is complete and then remove the site from its brownfield list.

In 2007, the city received a $561,200 DEC grant and $200,000 in federal Environmental Protection Agency funding dedicated during the 1990s to clean up the island. The additional petroleum was found in 2010 while the state Department of Transportation was rebuilding the bridge. But DEC funding ran out before the project could be completed, so the city had to pursue more funds.

The city owns 18.6 acres of the 28.7-acre island property. The other 10 acres contains a hydropower plant.

The city took the property for back taxes from Black Clawson, which closed its foundry in 1991 and demolished the buildings in 2001. The island’s name comes from the foundry’s initial developer, Bagley & Sewall, a machine manufacturing company.

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