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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Parking lot vote could be a deal breaker

Simpson Court business owner says he’ll opt out if referendum overturns deal

As published in the Record Journal, Wednesday August 31, 2011

By Robert Cyr
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224

— If a long-term lease allowing municipal parking to continue behind the buildings on Simpson Court is overturned by a potential town-wide referendum, the owner of a portion of the parking lot says he’ll back out of a previous short-term lease providing public access to his land.

The Town Council recently approved a 30-year agreement with three property owners allowing the town to make repairs as needed to the group lot behind four uptown businesses on Simpson Court and North Main Street in exchange for the lot remaining open for free public parking.

The agreement, written by former Corporation Counsel Adam Mantzaris, essentially updates and amends a year-to-year lease the town has had with varying configurations of property owners since 1961.

The owner of 2 N. Main St., John M. McGuire, had sent the town notice on Aug. 18, 2009, that he was withdrawing from that earlier year-to-year agreement a day after the Zoning Board of Appeals rejected his application to add a third story to his building, home to TD Bank.

McGuire said Tuesday that the ZBA’s decision had nothing to do with his letter informing the town of his one-year notice to exit the agreement, but that he would keep his notice pending due to the upcoming possibility of a town-wide referendum that threatens to overturn the council’s decision to approve the new long-term lease.

The council approved spending up to $500,000 on improvements to the lot, including paving and lighting, as part of Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr.’s 2011-12 budget, passed earlier this year. The money would come out of the capital non-recurring fund made up of revenue from the Electric Division.

A group of local residents including Town Councilor Nicholas Economopoulos have so far collected more than half of the 2,491 signatures required by Sept. 8 to hold a town-wide referendum to reverse the council’s decision.

“My response,” McGuire said, “would be to treat my property as private property and restrict it to people who use my buildings, period. Why should I be maintaining the property for other people? If the town is not going to come in and maintain it as a public parking lot, then I’m going to treat it as a private parking lot.”

McGuire said he had been working to establish the recently approved lease for the past six years and is still strongly in favor of it remaining in place. He has owned his North Main Street property for 11 years, he said.

Town Attorney Janis Small said McGuire was one of the most influential property owners in getting the 30-year agreement with the town to go through, but never submitted a written retraction of his one year notice to exit the prior year-to-year lease.

“He’s always been in favor of the agreement as it is now,” she said. “He continuously negotiated the deal, and I don’t know that he’s told people to stay off the property.”

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