By Dave Moran
As published in the Record Journal Thursday January 21, 2010
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WALLINGFORD— Since they waited eight years to try the case, both sides decided they could wait a little longer.
No sooner had the trial between the town and the state Attorney General’s Office gotten under way Wednesday in New Haven Superior Court, than both sides agreed to table the matter for at least another week while the judge reviews the facts. “All this preparation for a delay,” Town Attorney Janis Small said after the proceedings had concluded for the day, a little less than an hour after they began.
Shortly after Alan N. Ponanski, the attorney representing Richard Blumenthal’s office, delivered his opening arguments, he asked that Judge Robert Berdon allow for a legal process known as stipulation to agreed facts.
The process lets the disputing parties come to an agreement about the facts in a case and present them to the judge for review. Ponanski said his intention was to streamline the proceedings and save both parties time and resources.
Berdon and Small agreed to the request, and Berdon told the two sides to contact him Jan. 27 so they could discuss a date to continue the trial.
“In trials where you both can agree on the facts, you submit them to the judge for review,” Small said. “It’s meant to save time.”
Resolving the fate of the 41 S. Main St. structure, however, has been anything but expedient.
The town purchased the building — which is next to Town Hall and listed on the National Register of Historic Places — in 1994 from American Legion Shaw-Sinon Post 73 for $194,000.
At the time, Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said the intent of the purchase was to gain space for additional parking and a possible expansion of Town Hall.
But when the town attempted to demolish the building in 2002, since it did not want to be responsible for its upkeep any longer, Blumenthal’s office filed an injunction on behalf of the Connecticut Historical Commission.
Since then, the edifice has deteriorated, while the Town Council has rejected a string of interested buyers for a variety of reasons.
Dickinson, a trained attorney, sat beside Small Wednesday as the defendant in the case.
In his opening arguments, Ponanski said that any building listed on the historic registry in Connecticut is protected by state law just like clean air or water, if not more so because of its historical significance and inability to be replaced. He shifted the blame to the town for knowingly purchasing a historic structure with the intent of demolishing it.
“It doesn’t matter if George Washington slept in this building or not, it has the same protection as Mount Vernon; it is a treasure to the United States of America,” Ponanski said. “This building was on the register and (the town) knew it and they bought it and they wanted to take it down.”
When the council discussed possibly selling the building at its Jan. 12 meeting, Small said that Wallingford Center Inc., the nonprofit organization that promotes the town’s central business district, lobbied for the structure to be placed on the historic registry in 1993.
She said the building itself was not historic, but was added because it is considered a part of what makes up the town’s parade ground.
Ponanski said his office was seeking a permanent extension of the injunction and to compel the town to adequately maintain the building until a buyer could be found.
“Make sure the doors are closed, the windows are shut — or if they’re broken, to be repaired — and that any water seepage is closed,” he told the judge. “We’re looking for something low cost until the building can be sold.”
Small said she would deliver her opening argument when the trial resumes and that she expects the case to take only a couple of days to argue. However, it could take Berdon several months to issue his decision, she said.