As published in the Record Journal, Sunday October 23, 2011.
This week’s FROM WALLINGFORD was written by Mike Brodinsky a former town councilor from Wallingford, chairman of the School Roof Building Committee, and host of public access show “Citizen Mike”
If you can’t catch the show on TV you can catch it online on their Video On Demand page.
The referendum on November 14 will decide whether the Town will spend up to $500,000 to build a parking lot in back of Simpson Court on privately-owned property the Town proposes to lease for 30 years.
The parking lot was originally proposed as an amenity. Desperate for a win at the polls, however, advocates for the project argue that this enhancement is actually a “need. ” If we do not have it, some claim, it will lead to inevitable economic decay in uptown Wallingford. That’s a scare tactic, just in time for Halloween. And, it’s quite a stretch.
To make their case, these advocates predict that the owners, without a long-term lease to the Town, would be irrational and commit financial hari-kari by preventing potential customers from parking behind Simpson Court. Their assumption is that the owners would act against their own interests, strangle commerce uptown, and be the instruments of their own demise.
The scare tacticians’ wildly speculative progression goes this way: It’s time to panic. If the Town does not build the new parking lot, the owners will opt out of their short term leases. By doing that, they take over from the Town all the costs for snowplowing, repairs, and maintenance for their property. They grow unhappy. They never expected those costs because they thought the taxpayers would assume them. In time, they come to believe that it is in their best interests to prevent the public from parking on their lots, because potential customers have become a liability. So they exclude the public and drive off their tenants’ customers and guests.
In the process, they undermine the economy of the uptown area, and the success of their own businesses. Wallingford Center is finished. That’s a wild story but it reflects their logic.
Advocates of the project also fail to explain the impact of the planning and zoning regulations, which require businesses to have public parking. Because of these regulations, this parking lot will always be a parking lot, regardless of whether the town leases it. It won’t be used for anything else. As you go to vote, also consider whether the owners should be required to pay a fair share of the construction and maintenance costs. This project increases the value of the owners’ properties, increases the rents they can charge for their commercial space, and results in bigger resale prices. The terms of the proposed leases, moreover, require the Town to assume all the costs for maintenance for 30 years. That means the owners of the properties will have avoided costs for construction and maintenance while retaining the benefits of the bargain. During the negotiations, therefore, the Town should have insisted on some contribution to reflect these financial realities.
In reply, advocates for the parking project say the owners have lost control of their lots, so it’s a fair deal. But, to make that pitch credible, we need to know why “control” is so valuable. What would the owners do with this control that makes even more financial sense than demand these leases which provide the owners with unlimited parking passes to 70 percent of the parking spaces the Town plans to create, while the town pays for, builds, and then maintains a spiffy parking lot on their properties.
The parking lot, if built, would benefit the uptown. Many would use it and experience the enhancement. If the deal, though flawed, is the best choice under the circumstances, voters should vote “no” meaning don’t override the Council’s divided vote.
On the other hand, if the project is not built, the money could be used for some other public benefit. So if the deal is too imprudent despite the benefits, voters should vote “yes” to reverse the deal. But rather than base the decision on scary tales, it should be based upon an understanding of the complexities. Either way, business in the uptown area will go on.