As published in the Record Journal on Friday August 12, 2011
By Robert Cyr
WALLINGFORD — The recently approved project to rebuild the parking lot behind Simpson Court businesses has a history that stretches back more than 10 years, and the cost of renovations has nearly doubled since officials first looked at designs.
The Town Council approved an agreement with four property owners Tuesday night, giving the town the authority to make $500,000 in improvements to the lot while extending public use for the next 30 years. Under the agreement, the town will also provide maintenance, including snow plowing.
The intent is to create a safer, more attractive parking lot that will continue to provide an alternative to the often crowded parking area in front of the Simpson Court businesses.
Not everyone is happy about the deal, however. Two town councilors voted against it, and Robert Gross, a local Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for the council, started a petition Wednesday to get the issue sent to referendum to overturn the council’s decision.
Gross and councilors Craig Fishbein and Nicholas Economopoulos said they oppose the project because they feel it’s inappropriate for the town to spend money to improve private property. But Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said the project is nothing new, having been discussed for more than a decade, and that the lot has long been dedicated to public use, which will continue over the 30-year life of the agreement.
“We’re getting back the value we’re putting into it,” Dickinson said. “How is that not a significant benefit to the public?”
The town budgeted $250,000 for the project in 2006, according to Record-Journal archives, but had to put it aside after negotiations fell through with businesses, some unable to decide whether they wanted to enter into a long-term agreement.
“Those are original estimates, and it was certainly an old number,” Dickinson said. “Once we had designs everyone agreed to, then a new estimate was put together.”
Town Engineer John Thompson confirmed the original $250,000 figure, which he said had doubled over a decade because the cost of materials and labor has continued to climb, and the Department of Public Works will no longer be doing the paving work.
“We felt that because the owners were imposing conditions about maintaining portions of the lot for use during construction, public works would not be able to phase the work like that,” he said. “This has more to do with the allocation of manpower. The project is essentially the same as it was.”
The project will be paid for out of the town’s capital nonrecurring fund, which consists of revenue from the municipal Electric Division.
For several years, a fifth business on North Main Street, the Wachovia Bank at 86 N. Main St., expressed interest in being included in the project, but it officially pulled out in 2009, causing Thompson to have to redraft the plans.
Jack McGuire, CEO of local insurance company Ferguson and McGuire, owns two of the four properties through a limited liability company, one at 2 N. Main St. and another at 26 N. Main St. He was not available for comment.
Masonic Temple Corp. of Wallingford owns 48 N. Main St., home to the Half Moon Cafe. Ernest Frattini, a principal of the corporation and president of Masonic Compass Lodge No. 9, did not return calls.
The building housing Gaetano’s Tavern at 36 N. Main St. is owned by Gail Debaise, Mary Lee Pimentel and Barbara Farrell. Farrell is of no relation to Town Councilor Jerry Farrell Jr., he said. Pimentel said the arrangement has been talked about for many years and stems from easements on the lot the town has held for 40 years.
“We are paid no rent, so the only thing we are getting out of this is maintaining what’s there,” Pimentel said. “I really saw this as a benefit to the town as well as the property owners.”