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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Will it be a lot — or not? Wallingford - Wooding Caplan

As published in the Record Journal, Tuesday January 24, 2012

Feasibility study on parking plan due in March

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

— Town councilors will receive a report in March on the feasibility of converting the Wooding-Caplan property into a temporary parking lot.

In a letter to the council Jan. 13, Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said cost estimates and drawings would be produced by March 20.

“After discussion with the Engineering Department, we believe that information including estimates and drawings regarding improvements to the Caplan/Wooding property will be completed by March 20th this year,” Dickinson wrote.

Councilor John LeTourneau, a Republican, pushed for the report at the council’s last meeting on Jan. 10. Le-Tourneau said Monday that he is proposing the town use leftover millings from road work to create the temporary lot.

When new paving is done, the surface of the road is ground up, LeTounreau said. Those millings are kept by the town, with most sold back to Tilcon, a local paving company. LeTourneau said the millings could be held, reground and rolled out into a fresh, blacktop-like surface.

“It’s recycling the road surface,” LeTourneau said. “It’s cheaper and it’s temporary until we decide what to do.”

The town bought the Wooding- Caplan property, located downtown off Center Street, 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.

Town Engineer John Thompson said the Engineering Department is “actively working” on the report, but there are factors that need to be examined before drawings can be done.

“We’re looking at all the opportunities and the constraints, and there are a number on both sides,” Thompson said. “The focus of what we’re doing is to come up with a scheme to analyze temporary parking.”

Some of the constraints Thompson mentioned included where the town property ends and where private property begins, easements, drainage and issues of access.

In 2008, the council received a space needs assessment that determined the parcel was big enough for a new 47,000 square-foot police headquarters, but at a cost of more than $20 million. No action has been taken since.

The report is in the early stages, and Thompson admitted “we don’t know where it’s going to end up going.”

Craig Fishbein, a Republican councilor, said temporary parking is good “for the time being,” but that he’d like to see development. He pushed unsuccessfully at the Jan. 10 meeting to have the Law Department review the 2005 request for proposal to sell the property and bring it back before the council next month.

“We as a municipality are privileged to own this property, it is a shame that it has been neglected,” he said. “I’m looking to reverse that wasteful course.”

Not all councilors were in favor of the temporary parking idea. Republican Thomas Laffin said that he’d rather see something more permanent. A temporary lot will create dependence, he said.

“People will get used to parking there,” he said. “You can’t just rip up the parking.”

Laffin said he’d rather have the council commit to a longterm plan.

“Not just a temporary plan while we figure things out. ... How about we figure it out now?” he said.

LeTourneau, who runs Wallingford Lamp and Shade on Center Street, said he hears often that there isn’t enough downtown parking available, particularly in the evening hours. The temporary parking lot is “a very high priority” for him.

But LeTourneau also said the fact that Wallingford is faced with a parking shortage is a good thing.

“It means that you have a vibrant downtown,” he said.

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