WALLINGFORD — The town should leave the year-to-year lease agreement it has with Simpson Court business owners, according to Town Councilor Jason Zandri, a Democrat running for mayor. The agreement offers public parking in the lot behind those buildings in exchange for plowing and other maintenance by the town.
“There is almost never a situation where we don’t have parking downtown,” Zandri said. “We don’t need the lease.”
Republican Mayor William W. Dickinson, who is seeking his 16th consecutive two-year term, said the town has been entering into similar leases for downtown parking since the 1960s, and to stop now would be going against the wisdom of his predecessors.
“If we want an attractive downtown, we should be entering into private-public agreements,” Dickinson said.
The two candidates fundamentally disagree on the issue, most recently Friday during a debate sponsored by the Quinnipiac Chamber of Commerce.
Dickinson said he would be in favor of entering into another 30-year lease and making improvements to the lot behind Simpson Court businesses. With a long-term lease, the lot is basically owned by the town, he said. But Zandri said it’s pointless to renovate a parking lot that the town doesn’t actually own.
Even if the town enters into a long-term lease agreement, “it still is private,” Zandri said. “If we want it, we should purchase it – then at least we’re fixing something that’s our own.”
Last September, the town applied for a $500,000 grant from the state Office of Policy and Management to renovate the Simpson Court parking lot. Zandri, along with Democratic Town Councilor Nick Economopoulos and Republican Town Councilor Craig Fishbein, sent a letter to OPM in November critical of the renovation project.
Zandri said he could be convinced that spending money to renovate the parking lot is a good idea while it’s being leased if a critical need for public parking could be proven.
“There’s no proof we need this,” Zandri said. “There’s no proof yet that public parking is so critical downtown that we need to be leasing privately owned lots.”
According to Zandri, downtown parking is taxed just over 30 days a year, not enough to warrant the need for additional long-term parking.
The town just completed a 100-space temporary lot on the Wooding-Caplan property.
There’s always plenty of parking at Town Hall, Zandri said. Parking is available, he said, as long as residents are willing to walk a short distance. That distance is no different than walking across a large parking lot at a mall or Wal-Mart on a busy day, he said.
“We need to learn how to walk a block to get where we are going,” Zandri said.
It’s not just functionality though, said Dickinson. “It’s also aesthetics.”
The downtown has to be a welcoming and attractive location, he said. Offering attractive parking locations is part of keeping the center of the community vibrant. Dickinson has supported the renovation of Simpson Court for several years. Dickinson was behind a project that would spend $500,000 to improve the lot, but was overturned in a November 2012 referendum.
By fixing the lot, the center of town will continue to grow, the mayor said.
“This is an opportunity to show that we have an attractive and welcoming place, and we should pursue it,” Dickinson said.
Zandri said the town should work together with private property owners that abut town-owned parking lots. For example, when the town looks to renovate a lot, it should ask the abutting private-business if it would like to also undergo repairs as well. By putting both lots onto one bid, prices drop, he said. So the work is done cheaper and both parties still pay for their own share.