As published in the Record Journal, Thursday November 17, 2011
By Russell Blair
WALLINGFORD — The future of a parking lot off Center Street remains unclear after voters overturned the town’s decision to enter into a 30-year lease agreement with property owners to upgrade the lot in exchange for continued free public parking.
Town Attorney Janis Small said a year-to-year lease agreement to keep the lot behind the buildings on Simpson Court public in exchange for plowing and other maintenance from the town remains in place, and that only one property owner, John McGuire, has given the required one-year notice to quit the arrangement. For any of the other property owners to consider charging or limiting access, they would have to file similar notice.
McGuire , who owns two of the four buildings involved, filed his notice to quit in 2009. Shortly after that, he withdrew his notice orally, but not in writing. He has said he would consider restricting access to his lots and possibly charging for parking if the 30-year agreement fell through. He was not available for comment Wednesday.
But Ernest Frattini , treasurer of the Masonic Temple Corp. and one of three principal owners of the building that houses the Half Moon Cafe, said he doesn’t think charging for parking is feasible.
“You’d have to pay someone to work there, and it would hurt the businesses in the area,” he said.
Councilor John LeTourneau, a Republican who owns Wallingford Lamp and Shade on Center Street and supported the lease agreement, said that it’s possible a new lease could be negotiated.
“There are always alternatives,” he said. “It can be renegotiated, the term of the lease, the amount of the improvements.”
LeTourneau said that despite the outcome of the referendum Monday, he wasn’t afraid to re-enter negotiations with the property owners.
Craig Fishbein, a Republican councilor who opposed the lease agreement, said that future negotiations would require “all parties to come to the table.” Fishbein said he didn’t think it was fair for the town to foot the entire bill for repairs.
“I’d like to see fair, open and frank discussions,” he said.
Fishbein said there was still some anger over the referendum, and that he would “wait for the smoke to clear” before bringing up any alternatives for the lot.
Frattini, however, said he believes opponents of the council’s earlier decision would be against any spending by the town on the lot.
“No matter what we do, it’s still tax dollars being spent on private property,” he said. “How can we negotiate?”
But Robert Gross, the local resident who started the petition drive that forced Monday’s referendum, said he didn’t want to comment about any future lease agreements for the parking lot.
“It’s tough to speculate when it’s not on paper,” Gross said.
Gross said that any future lease agreements were something that the town and the property owners would have to work on.
The referendum, Gross said, simply puts the situation “back at square one.”
“That’s all it does,” he said.
Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said he felt the council’s lease agreement “had the best prospect of success.” The agreement overturned by the referendum was negotiated for nearly 10 years, he said.
While opponents of the lease agreement said the money could be spent to improve the Wooding-Caplan property and make a parking lot there, Dickinson said that does nothing to help the Simpson Court area.
“I don’t see Caplan-Wooding as replacing Simpson Court,” he said. “I don’t think one lot is adequate or convenient enough to be a solution for the loss of any parking.”