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Friday, July 12, 2013

No grant for Simpson Court in Wallingford

As published online at Thursday, July 11, 2013 11:07 pm

By Andrew Ragali       
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224       

WALLINGFORD — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Thursday that 14 municipalities across the state were awarded a share of the $5 million Main Street Investment Fund. Wallingford, seeking $500,000 from the fund to renovate the Simpson Court parking lot near the intersection of Center and North Main streets, was left off the list.

“We knew it was a competitive grant,” Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said after learning the town will not receive the money. “Everyone was not guaranteed money, and I guess quite a few towns did apply. That’s the nature of the process.”

In all, 64 towns submitted projects worth a total of $26 million to the program, but the state only authorized spending $5 million. Not making the cut is “disappointing,” Dickinson said, “but certainly our concerns about the downtown and the needs for improvement here as well as the other facets and locations in town will continue.”

Dimple Desai, community development coordinator for the state’s Office of Policy and Management, said it was “the nature of the application” sent in by Wallingford that prompted the denial. Desai said the application was for maintenance and upkeep of the parking lot. But according to state statute, Desai said, any renovations that are solely the result of a lack of ordinary maintenance can’t be funded by the Main Street Investment Fund.

“It has to be maintained,” Desai said. “This should have been part of ordinary maintenance.”

Desai said a letter penned by three town councilors discrediting the town’s application for the grant had nothing to do with the denial.

“No, those letters were submitted after the application deadline,” Desai said. “Any documentation after the deadline will not be considered.

“To be fair to all, once the deadline was done, that was it,” he said.

Republican Councilor Craig Fishbein joined Democrats Jason Zandri and Nicholas Economopoulos in sending the Nov. 1 letter to the OPM. The town applied for the grant in late September.

“Components of the application do not appear to comply with the grant specifications and should be taken into consideration when reviewing the town’s application,” Fishbein wrote.

After learning why the state denied the town’s application, Zandri said, “That was a lot of the argument we made originally in the letter. ... Craig indicated that.”

Fishbein, in his letter, argued that elements of the Simpson Court project, such as repaving, restriping and new drainage, amount to normal maintenance and should be excluded.

A plan to renovate the parking lot backed by Dickinson, a Republican, and others was defeated in a 2011 referendum. That plan was similar to the one stalled by Thursday’s announcement from the state, but would have been funded through money the municipal Electric Division transfers to the town for capital projects, rather than from a state grant.

In past months, councilors have indicated their concern over the letter sent by Zandri, Fishbein and Economopoulos. In early June, Democrat John Sullivan said, regarding the letter, “I can’t help but feel it’s damaging” to the town’s chances of receiving grant money for the project. In January, Republican Councilor John LeTourneau, a supporter of the grant application, said the councilors are entitled to their opinions but felt the letter was misleading. Councilors found out about the letter in late January. Fishbein said he never intended for the letter, written in October, to be kept private and believed fellow councilors were aware of it when it was sent. But most councilors said they weren’t aware of the letter until the end of January.

“You have to assume it’s not helpful if there’s controversy over a project,” Dickinson said Thursday.

“I stand by my decision to sign that letter,” said Zandri, who is opposing Dickinson in the upcoming mayoral race.

“I had a good feeling about it, but I had no special reason to feel that way,” Town Council Chairman Bob Parisi, a Republican, said of the town’s chances of getting the grant. “The project was needed, well thought-out and well planned. I couldn’t see any reason why we wouldn’t be selected.”

In regard to what happens with the parking lot next, Parisi said, “I think we need to have a chat with the mayor.”

“I’m very disappointed,” LeTourneau said. “If it’s something we should be maintaining, they’re telling us we didn’t maintain it properly. That’s really not good, to lose a grant because we didn’t do what we were supposed to be doing.”

“It’s unfortunate,” Fishbein said, “but certainly I wouldn’t be pointing at the letter. I think the people have spoken through referendum.”

The future of the property may now come down to litigation, in LeTourneau’s opinion.

“It’s not going to go down a good road,” he said. “It’s all going to end up in litigation. That’s the long and short of it.”

“Could it end up in litigation?” Zandri asked. “Absolutely.”

Through a contractual agreement with business owners, upkeep of the lot was the town’s responsibility, Zandri said. “And it’s questionable if that work was done.”

“I don’t know,” said Dickinson when asked if litigation was possible. “Clearly the private property owners there have options that they can pursue.”

From here on out, Dickinson said, the town will have to wait and see what the next step is for the parking lot.

“If everybody can’t sit down and can’t negotiate some peaceful means of repairing the parking lot,” LeTourneau said, “well, then a judge is going to decide.”

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