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Friday, August 24, 2012

Parker-N. Cherry OK’d for train station

As published in the Record Journal Thursday August 23, 2012

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

WALLINGFORD - The state Department of Transportation has received federal approval to move forward with designing and planning a new train station near the intersection of Parker and North Cherry streets, part of a $647 million project to revamp rail lines from New Haven to Springfield, Mass.

John Bernick, project manager, said the Federal Railroad Administration recently approved the site. The Town Council backed the location in June, 5-2, over Ward Street near Judd Square.

To build the new station, the state will need to acquire land from Cerrito’s Auto Sales, at 180 N. Colony St. Bernick said the state was already in discussions with the property owner. “It’s a lengthy process, so we’re starting it now,” he said. “We have to purchase the property and the business owner has to look at relocation options.”

Final designs are expected to be completed in August 2013, with construction beginning as soon as October. Bernick said the DOT would be back before the public in Wallingford once design plans were near completion to seek input.

But some in town still have concerns, including Republican Town Councilor John Le-Tourneau, who cast one of the two votes against the site.

“It’s not going to work,” Le-Tourneau said. “I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think so.”

LeTourneau said he’s concerned about handicapped access to the site, as well as that there’s no room for expansion. “I think there was some long-term planning that wasn’t done,” he said.

The Parker Street station would be a split site with two parking lots, one on each side of the tracks, totaling 210 spaces. One of the lots would be at the intersection of Parker and North Cherry Streets on the south side of Parker and the west side of the tracks, with entrances on North Cherry. The second lot would be placed on North Colony Street, on the site of Cerrito’s used car lot.

Town Engineer John Thompson said the Ward Street site posed public safety risks because trains stopping there would tie up Ward Street, a main east-west artery through town, preventing emergency vehicles from getting to their destination.

“The Parker site afforded us a greater degree of assurance that the fire trucks would have the opportunity to get across the tracks,” Thompson said. “That was the compelling factor.”

A parking garage had also been proposed for the Ward Street location, a plan that town staff and some councilors opposed.

With all the parking on one side of the tracks at the Ward Street site, congestion would have been worse, Thompson said.

Republican Town Councilor Craig Fishbein, who supported the Parker site, said it “seemed to make a lot more sense.”

“I preferred the surface parking to the parking garage,” he said. “And I had concerns about the roadway in the area.”

LeTourneau said he is worried about buses having difficulty exiting on Route 5 from the Parker Street site and that he wishes councilors had been included in discussions between Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr., Police Chief Douglas Dortenzio, Fire Chief Peter Struble and Thompson that preceded the council vote.

“The process we went through, in my opinion, was a terrible process,” he said. “I think some councilors were not informed.”

The Federal Railroad Administration approval of the Wallingford site was part of a larger “Finding of No Significant Impact” report, which freed $121 million in federal funds for the New Haven-to-Springfield rail project.

“That was a big step,” Bernick said. “We hope to have that grant obligated shortly and gain access to the money.” Construction of the entire rail project, which also includes a new station in Meriden, is targeted for completion in 2016.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Parking lot work ready to start at Wooding-Caplan

As published in the Record Journal Thursday August 23, 2012

By Laurie Rich Salerno
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2235

WALLINGFORD - The town is about to begin construction on a temporary parking lot at the Wooding-Caplan property and related improvements to the area, town officials said Wednesday.

Town Engineer John Thompson said work will begin in a few weeks on the first stage of the three-part project, which will eventually result in a 100-space parking lot on the town-owned Wooding-Caplan property. Officials would like to have the project done by the time Celebrate Wallingford takes place, on Oct. 6 and 7, but that depends on how construction proceeds, Thompson said.

The lot will provide what some say is much-needed parking.

“I’m very happy,” said Town Councilor John Sullivan, a Democrat. “Uptown needs more parking. Hopefully this will fit that need. As long as we can direct people to that lot, it is going to be a key to the success there.”

The land is near the center of town, behind buildings on North Main, Center, Academy, and North Elm streets. The project is expected to cost $200,000.

The Town Council approved the plans last spring after asking town staff to report on the feasibility of putting temporary parking on the Wooding-Caplan site. The request came after voters rejected a plan in November 2011 for the town to repair a privately owned lot behind Simpson Court.

The first stage will involve milling and resurfacing the parking lot behind the police station, which will be next to the new lot. The work will fix potholes and other breaks in the pavement, restripe the lot, and install new drainage, Thompson said.

The town selected R.P. Dalton Asphalt Paving, of Waterbury, to do the work on police lot, and Thompson said he expects work to begin in the next few weeks.

The rest of the work will be done by the town Public Works Department.

The second phase is widening and paving of Wallace Avenue, an alley that will serve as the access road to the new lot. Department of Transportation permits will likely be obtained in the next two weeks for the project, Thompson said.

The street is now about 12 feet wide, within a 50-foot public right of way. The final road will have two 13-foot lanes, one headed in and one out, with an added 8-foot parallel parking lane on the east side of the street.

“We’re constructing this Wallace Avenue Connection as though it’s going to be a town street,” Thompson said. That means digging up the road and moving some of the utilities — including water and sewer pipes under the street, which Thompson said may slow construction.

“Once you start digging, you never know what you’re going to encounter,” Thompson said.

The final road will have lighting and curbs. It is being constructed not only for the parking lot, but for any structures that may come after the parking lot.

The final stage will be creating the temporary parking lot itself. The Public Works Department will take millings gathered from a resurfacing project on North Plains Industrial Road and roll them out to create the lot surface. The lot is expected to last seven to 10 years. Construction on North Plains Industrial Road is set to begin in the next two weeks, Thompson said.

The surface will be more stable than gravel, but won’t be as permanent as pavement, said Public Works Director Henry McCully.

“It binds very solidly together,” McCully said.

The final lot will have lights and a sidewalk connecting it to Center Street. Initially there will be no time limit on parking there, Thompson said,but if cars are parked there for days, or other issues arise, the town may consider putting some regulations on the spaces.

Thompson said some residents of North Elm Street have raised concerns about flooding from the work. He said that after meeting with residents and investigating the property, it was discovered that there are drainage issues on the Wooding-Caplan site. The town will put in a drainage system that will collect groundwater and route it to Center Street so it doesn’t affect North Elm Street residents.

“We heard the comments from the residents — it was legitimate — and we’re using conventional engineering strategies to try and solve it,” Thompson said.

The Wooding-Caplan property was bought by the town in 1991 for $1.5 million. There have been many plans for the site, including a 2006 sale to a developer for condominium and commercial space that was rejected in a referendum, and as the location of a new $20 million police station that was explored in 2008 but not pursued.

As for the current plans, “the pieces are falling into place,” Thompson said.

Wallingford council looks at new rules for outdoor dining

As published in the Record Journal Wednesday August 22, 2012

By Laurie Rich Salerno
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2235

WALLINGFORD — Town councilors will consider changes to an outdoor dining ordinance that could give them the power to approve or deny sidewalk seating for certain businesses.

Only restaurants interested in serving alcohol in an outdoor sidewalk dining space need to apply to the Town Council for permission, according to an ordinance passed in 2004. If the restaurant wants the outdoor dining space that takes up part of a public sidewalk but won’t serve alcohol, it doesn’t need to go before the council.

But a resident’s concern has caused the council to re-examine the ordinance, which it will do at a special Ordinance Committee meeting Thursday night.

According to Town Councilor Craig Fishbein, who co-chairs the Ordinance Committee with fellow Republican Vincent Cervoni, someone told him that an establishment was not complying with the regulations set out in the ordinance for its sidewalk patio. A closer look at the ordinance, Fishbein said, led him to see that it only covered restaurants serving alcohol, and the business in question was not. Neither councilor would reveal the name of the business that had been the source of complaint. “The way the ordinance is drafted, it can be construed to only apply to those establishments that sell alcohol — which is an issue,” Fishbein said. “I think the intent to a certain extent is public safety.” Fishbein said having outdoor spaces that don’t follow town guidelines for size can be a hazard for pedestrians.

“I’m not looking to restrain trade, but there’s ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements for sidewalks,” Fishbein said.

Several businesses downtown have outdoor seating, including Gaetano’s Tavern on Main, Archie Moore’s, Half Moon Coffee and Grill Cafe and Mr. D’s cafe and bakery, all on North Main Street.

Neither Half Moon nor Mr. D’s serves alcohol, though Half Moon does allow guests to bring their own alcohol. Both could be affected by an ordinance change that regulates outdoor seating for all businesses. Owners of those establishments could be reached by phone Tuesday.

Gaetano’s co-owner Debbie Pacileo said her business brought the issue up to the council years ago, when the restaurant wanted to serve alcohol in its sidewalk space. The request was approved. Today, she said, most summer nights the patio is completely booked.

“People love it; it’s so nice for the town, too,” Pacieleo said. “Uptown has really blossomed since this came into effect.”

Among several requirements, the ordinance says that the sidewalk spaces must have a sturdy rail or other divider separating the section from the rest of the sidewalk, and that the space be accessible only through the restaurant and not from the outside.

The applicant also has to submit a drawing of the space, including tables and chairs and how they are arranged, as well as a certificate of insurance that includes the town as an “additional insured party.” It requires the certificate to be a minimum of $2 million for damage or injury related to the business use of the sidewalk. It also has to leave enough space to allow wheelchairs and other supportive devices for those in need, in line with ADA standards.

Cervoni said he was not convinced that the ordinance needs to be changed.

“I thought it was interesting that they chose to regulate outdoor dining based on whether or not they were serving alcohol,” Cervoni said of reading the document. “While I find that interesting, I get the point. While I want to hear what the complainant has to say, I don’t see the need to further regulate, necessarily.”

He said he thought issues with particular businesses could be addressed directly with a small business owner.

Fishbein said he’d like to discuss other changes to the ordinance, saying he’d like to make it a provision that businesses reapply each year for approval, while now there’s no expiration date on approvals. He said that since insurance has to be renewed annually, this would allow businesses to submit new insurance certificates each year.

In another issue, the committee will discuss revisions to its open burn rules Thursday. Last year, it approved an ordinance that made burning in fire pits and commercial outdoor chimineas legal, with certain restrictions. This year, the Fire Department is asking to revise those rules to add that open burning must stop from midnight to 6 a.m., residents have to have the means to extinguish the fire available at the site, and that it has to be attended at all times.

Fire Marshal Carmen Rao said the recommendations were made to the department by residents. One was tired of their neighbors leaving their fire smoking the next day.

“It’s to help people to be a little bit safer, give them some guidance,” Rao said.


Photo by Dave Zajac / Courtesy of the Record-Journal

Above: Patrons of Archie Moore’s bar and restaurant relax across North Main Street.

Photo by Dave Zajac / Courtesy of the Record-Journal

Above: Bartender Tarry Radnoczi talks with customer Debbie Gravell, right, who opted for outdoor dining to celebrate her 59th birthday with her husband, Thirl, on Tuesday at Gaetano’s Tavern on Main in Wallingford.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

No more wood probes, Legion building may be rented

As published in the Record Journal Wednesday August 15, 2012

By Laurie Rich Salerno
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2235

WALLINGFORD — At its meeting Tuesday night the Town Council voted against further investigation into the alleged mishandling of town wood, and also decided to put the American Legion building out to bid for purchase or lease, this time requiring a 10 percent payment up front.

In an 8-1 vote, the council chose not to pursue an independent investigation into allegations that Public Works employees were selling woodcut from town parks. Only Democrat Nicholas Economopoulos voted to continue the investigation.

“This has been a root canal for me the last 6 to 7 months,” Councilor John Sullivan, a Democrat, said of the wood investigation.

The vote followed the first formal discussion by the council of a second investigative report prepared by Personnel Director Terence Sullivan at the council’s behest and released in late July. The 35-page report concluded that there was not enough evidence to prove that town employees were selling town wood. Terence Sullivan and Public Works Director Henry McCully fielded additional questions from the councilors during the meeting.

The initial investigation stemmed from an incident last January in which wood reportedly cut from damaged town trees following the October nor’easter was taken to the private lot of Public Works employee Randy Mangino. Acting on a tip that town trucks were taking loads to a private lot, Economopoulos asked the town to investigate the matter. In an initial report, the personnel director said the wood ended up on Mangino’s lot because McCully allowed him take it under a private contract Mangino held with the Water Department to haul clean fill and debris. McCully said he had misread Mangino’s contract, allowing him to take a town truck and haul logs, and the incident was called “an honest mistake.” But the council asked the personnel director in June to return to the matter with a second, more in depth investigation.

Most of the Republican councilors thought Sullivan’s second report was sufficient, and that the investigation could be closed.

“I felt that the report was consistent. Twenty-six people were interviewed, of the 26, 25 stories completely jibed. Unless those 25 gathered in some secret conspiracy meeting, I don’t see how those stories could come together,” said Councilor Thomas Laffin, a Republican.

They also felt the issue had been sufficiently dealt with earlier in the year when the council voted to restrict town employees from bidding on outside contracts with the town that were similar to their job descriptions or in their departments.

Councilors Craig Fishbein, a Republican, and Democrats Jason Zandri and John Sullivan said they felt the second report was flawed and they still had questions about the incident — but they thought that the town’s investigation needed to end.

John Sullivan voted against continuing the investigation, saying that he did not feel the wood was stolen, but that there were holes in the report and disappointing operational lapses in how Public Works handled the situation.

He said he was still disturbed by the fact that a Public Works employee used a town truck, likely on town time, to move wood from the town to his private lot, and did not suffer any sanctions for doing so. He also took issue with the statements that McCully and Mangino could consider logs “debris.”

“I think there’s a big difference between debris and logs,” John Sullivan said. “I define debris as dirt and twigs ...”

McCully said that the definition of debris was loose and, as an example, told councilors that a FEMA worker who came to assist the town following the October storm and measured piles of brush for the town was called a “Debris Specialist.”

Economopoulos took issue with the three different addresses that have been mentioned for Mangino’s dump site throughout the investigation. The first address was listed as 1171 S. Broad St. on his contract; in a January letter from McCully, the Public Works director said he went out to 1179 S. Broad St. with Mangino to look at the wood brought there; and then, in June, Mangino said the actual address was 1173 S. Broad St., that he’d made a mistake on the contract.

“I recognize the different addresses — but there’s no proof, there’s no evidence, and that’s what we need here,” Terence Sullivan said.

McCully said his error was due to the fact that many properties were accessed by one driveway.

Economopoulos took issue with what he felt were shifting stories.

“Everything I said to you has never wavered — and I don’t intend to waver — I know what happened and I believe what happened to this day,” Economopoulos said.

As for the American legion building, the vote to issue another request for proposal for the purchase or lease of the building also came on an 8-1 vote, with John Sullivan as the only “no” vote. He supported selling the building, but rejected the addition by Fishbein of an option to allow bidders to lease the structure.

Councilors supported Fishbein’s other recommendation, as well, which was to make bidders pay 10 percent of the purchase price up front, upon acceptance.

“I think when somebody’s got a little skin in the game, I think things will change,” Fishbein said.

Two bidders who had been approved to purchase the property dropped out in the last year, one just in July.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Wallingford’s Clean and Lien makes a difference with vacant sites

As published in the Record Journal Saturday August 18, 2012

By Laurie Rich Salerno
Record-Journal staff
) 317-2235  

WALLINGFORD — The Health Department is reporting early success with its month-old Clean and Lien program.

The program uses a new $5,000 fund to address various maintenance issues at vacant homes that are in the foreclosure process. The town then puts a priority lien on the home to recoup those costs when the mortgage lender that is foreclosing takes full ownership.

During its first month, the fund has been used to clean up four vacant homes. The town came in and cut the grass at one home and performed pest control at another, and health issues at the other two homes were dealt with by the mortgage lenders themselves after they were informed of the lien program, according to Health Director Eloise Hazelwood.

“We’re very excited that it’s working,” Hazelwood said. “We’re more excited that the mortgage company has recognized that we have the ability now to take action and are taking action first.”
The Town Council approved a $5,000 allocation at its June 26 meeting to start the fund, which provides money for the Health Department to hire contractors to remove garbage, perform a one-time mowing and exterminate pests.

Hazelwood is hoping the program will help reduce public nuisances — smells, vermin and other issues coming from foreclosed property. Public nuisance complaints throughout Wallingford have been rising since the economic downturn began, according to the Health Department. In 2011, the department investigated 154 complaints, almost double that of 2006. Complaints logged were for both vacant and occupied properties. The Clean and Lien program deals only with vacant homes; there is other recourse for occupied homes.

Foreclosure rates are also up, according to the Town Clerk’s office, with 44 foreclosures in 2011 versus 25 in 2009. The impetus for the program came from Town Councilor Tom Laffin, a Republican, who had been approached by constituents about a vacant home in their neighborhood where they believed rats were breeding. Laffin said he was happy that the program has worked out so well so far, and credited Hazelwood with finding an elegant solution.

“It’s fulfilling,” Laffin said, that “a new program that was cheap is having this kind of positive impact on everybody.” According to Hazelwood, multiple calls to Bank of America, the mortgage lender on the property, yielded no help. But after she e-mailed the details of the program to customer service representatives, workers showed up at the property and performed pest control and general cleanup.

A Bank of America media relations representative issued a statement when asked about the property.

“We’re committed to maintain properties to neighborhood standards. We work with service providers to inspect and maintain more than one million properties each month,” the statement said. “When we learn that a property is not being maintained, we take action to remedy the situation.” The statement referred residents to report issues using its website.
Residents said they are happy that the bank sent a maintenance crew.

“I haven’t seen any more rats after that,” said Rick Petrillo, who lives down the street. “They probably did a pretty good job of it.”
Michele Gargiulo, who lives next door to the house, has been fighting the rat problem for a few years now. She’s seen hundreds of them and stopped using her garage because they had taken up residence there. She has paid $1,000 for an exterminator thus far, she said, and more on her own rat traps and poison.

Gargiulo said she’s happy that after years of calling, the bank finally came out with an exterminator. She said workers had shown up before, covering the home’s pool, which was a breeding ground for mosquitoes, she said. On the most recent visit, workers also drained the pool, she said.

She hopes the bank continues to monitor the house.

“I definitely hope that at some point they do continue to follow up on it and make sure this doesn’t get out of control,” she said. “If they miss a couple, they breed very fast.”

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Consider signing the Petition To Suspend the Early Release Program

The Early Release Program allows criminals who have committed violent crimes such as rape, arson, kidnapping, or sexual molestation of a child under 13 out of jail before their sentences are finished. 

The intention of the petition is to request to Governor Malloy that the program be suspended and order an investigation into how it is being administered and how it affects public safety. 

If you feel the same you may wish to sign the online petition.

Frankie Resto was one of the beneficiaries of the Early Release Program. Resto was imprisoned for armed robbery, but earned 199 days worth of “good behavior” credits under this policy. Resto was released early and has been accused of murdering a 70 year old convenience store owner in an attempted robbery of a Meriden EZ Mart in early June.