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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

WALLINGFORD - Parcel’s fate still fuel for debate

As published in the Record Journal, Monday January 2, 2012

By Russell Blair
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2225

WALLINGFORD — Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said recently that construction of a new police station isn’t likely next year on the town-owned Wooding-Caplan property, and town councilors have differing opinions on the future of the parcel.

The town bought the 3.5acre property for $1.5 million in 1992, but it has remained largely vacant since. A referendum in 2006 overturned the Town Council’s decision to sell the property to a local developer.

In the five years since the referendum, the fate of the property has continued to be a hot topic. A space needs assessment conducted in 2008 determined that the parcel was big enough for a new 47,000square-foot police headquarters, but at a cost of more than $20 million. No action has been taken since.

“I don’t think the economy is in the condition to support a major project,” Dickinson said. “It’s unlikely this coming year.” But some councilors questioned the need for a police station downtown at a time when officers use vehicles rather than walking a beat, and most want to see action on the land, and soon.

Councilor John LeTourneau, a Republican, said he’s “totally against the police station” on the property, and would like to see it sold to a developer. In the meantime, he’s proposing the town work to create a temporary parking lot on the land. Craig Fishbein, a Republican, said he wants to see the new council take up the issue.

“It’s my intent to have Wooding-Caplan come before the Town Council very soon,” Fishbein said.

Fishbein said he’d like to see a panel study the property and come up with a proposal or “put it out to bid and sell it,” he said.

“I’d like to have the property developed in some manner,” Fishbein said. “I’d like to see the property added to the downtown. The time has come.”

Councilor Nicholas Economopoulos, a Democrat, in October had proposed a town wide Wooding-Caplan

commission, but it was never started. Economopoulos said this week he’d still like to see that commission created.

“We need to have some kind of committee brainstorm to see what they want to do,” he said.

Asked for his own proposal, Economopoulos said he’d like to see moderate housing there for “empty-nesters.”

“I’m close to being an empty-nester myself,” he said. “I’d like to be back downtown.” Democratic Councilor John Sullivan said the town must “fish or cut bait,” on the police station proposal.

“If it’s not going to be a police station, something needs to be done,” he said.

Sullivan said it was another example of the town “dragging its feet on a property,” and pointed to how long it took before action was taken on the building at 390 Center St., which the town bought in the early 1990s. It was finally demolished in 2008.

Jason Zandri, a Democrat elected in November, also wants to see Wooding-Caplan revisited. If the decision is made to locate the police station there, something Zandri said should be investigated further, the town should at least keep up the property better, he said.

“For far too long it has been left in a deteriorating state,” Zandri said. “We could do a little maintenance, put up some lights.”

Personally, Zandri said he’d like to see a park with a parking lot on the Wooding-Caplan property, but he’s open to all options and wants to get input from residents on what they’d like to see there. Zandri said that the 2006 referendum didn’t mean voters didn’t want the council to take action on the property, but rather that the proposal brought forward wasn’t something palatable.

“Don’t blame the voters,” he said. “The council never came back with anything else. They never sat down and discussed it again.”

Thomas Laffin, a Republican who will be sworn into the council on Monday, said the parcel has “sat long enough.”

“I want to see a plan,” he said. “If nothing right away, at least to know when.”

Laffin said he is open to the idea of a police station, but he is “partial to development” on the property. He added that he would like to see plans of either before he makes a decision, but ultimately wants some action taken.

“As long as we know where it’s going,” he said. “Right now, it’s just sitting.”

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