Pending sale of vacant downtown Meriden parcel spurs debate
Pending sale of vacant downtown Meriden parcel spurs debate
May 12, 2017 11:07PM
By Leigh Tauss
MERIDEN — The city will be looking into appraising an undeveloped parcel on West Main Street adjacent to police headquarters and Meriden Superior Court after questions regarding the potential sale of the property arose during a heated City Council Finance Committee meeting this week.
We the People Councilor Walter Shamock requested the appraisal after pointing out that a potential buyer of the parcel, local real estate developer and Planning Commission member Ross Gulino, had a lawsuit pending against the city. There are no city regulations preventing a sale of city property to Gulino, according to Corporation Counsel Michael Quinn.
In an interview this week, Gulino said he felt he was being treated unfairly.
“I believe this is a personal attack on me from Walter and I don’t even know why,” he said.
Shamock, who has 60 years experience in real estate, denied having a personal issue with Gulino.
“It’s not personal. I don’t like that someone on the Planning Commission is someone that doesn’t adhere to code enforcement and he’s suing the city,” Shamock said.
Gulino is offering to pay the city $1,000 for a 10-foot-wide parcel between West Main and Hanover streets. The property, at 32 West Main St., encompasses the western wall of his property at 28 West Main St., the former Clements Jewelers. Gulino hopes to develop the property into a restaurant or brew pub, however, because the building only has one egress, his options are limited to retail uses. If he is able to purchase the wall and abutting property, Gulino has said he would explore changing the orientation of the building to face the court house and construct a patio.
After Gulino’s offer, the property sale was reviewed by the Economic Development Task Force, which is comprised of City Planner Bob Seale, Economic Development Director Juliet Burdelski, City Manager Guy Scaife, City Attorney Deborah Moore, Public Works Director Bob Bass, Health Director Lea Crown, City Councilor David Lowell and Community Development Administrator Tyler Fairbarn.
Seale said the task force approved the sale, noting that the price was not as important as the economic development potential for the site.
The matter then went before the Planning Commission in April. Gulino, a member of the commission, recused himself during discussions. Commission members suggested several possible conditions for approval, including that Gulino be given a time limit to develop the property. Commission Chairman Enrico Buccilli questioned why conditions should be attached to the sale, stating, “we don’t put conditions on other people.”
Commissioner Laura Uhrig said the commission may want to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
“I’m not really sure about you (Seale) negotiating with a member of the commission no matter who it was,” Uhrig told Seale during the meeting. “I’m not even talking about the price, I’m just talking about the conditions.”
The commission ultimately approved the sale, which then went before the City Council on May 1. Shamock voiced strong opposition, asking that the matter be vetted first through the council’s Finance Committee. During the meeting, he brought up Gulino’s pending lawsuit against the city.
The Finance Committee took up the matter Tuesday. Neither Seale, Burdelski nor Gulino were present. Seale and Gulino said they were not informed of the meeting. Burdelski did not return requests for comment.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Shamock again voiced strong opposition to selling the property, requesting an appraisal before the sale is approved.
Scaife said an appraisal would likely cost more than the $1,000 proposed sale price. He also noted that no other parties had expressed interest in purchasing the sliver of land, despite it having been listed publicly for sale.
Republican Councilor Lenny Rich suggested the city sell the entire vacant property to Gulino instead of just the 10-foot strip.
“Has anyone approached him to buy the whole thing? I would rather have all 60-feet of the lot next to him (be sold),” Rich said, adding it may attract “a better establishment, a more high priced establishment.”
Shamock suggested restrictions be put on the property to allow only a restaurant-type usage, however, Scaife said such a condition would be an overreach of government.
The committee ultimately voted to table the sale, instructing Scaife to look into how much it would cost to have the property appraised.
Gulino took issue with Shamock’s comments about his lawsuit, which he filed against the city’s Neighborhood Rehabilitation Advisory Board in 2014 after it ruled against Gulino at a hearing regarding code non-compliance in some downtown apartments he owns. The city answered the lawsuit denying several of the charges in 2014, however, no action has been taken since.
“There’s nothing written anywhere that because I am a volunteer for the city of Meriden that I give up my right for due process,” Gulino said. “So (Shamock) is saying a volunteer member of city government does not that the right to stick up for his rights?”
Corporation Counsel Attorney Michael Quinn said the city has answered Gulino’s lawsuit and is prepared to defend its stance.
“It’s his lawsuit. We’re the defendant... it’s up to (Gulino) to prosecute his lawsuit and the city will defend itself in it,” Quinn said.
Quinn said there is no law preventing the city from selling the parcel to him due to an ongoing lawsuit.
Quinn also said he did not a see a conflict of interest with Gulino negotiating the sale price of the property with the task force.
Seale said the appraised value of the vacant parcel at 32 West Main St. would likely be between $15,000 and $20,000, noting other vacant downtown properties of similar size, such as 69 East Main St. and 84-88 Grove St. are listed for sale at $15,000. Seale said he did not believe there was a conflict regarding his role in the property sale.
“Was $1,000 a low offer? Maybe, but we also have a ton of property transfer requests for around that $1,000, $1,500, $2,500 and these are residential lots that are entire lots we sell to a neighbor to have a larger yard,” he said.
Economic Development Associate Paola Mantilla said the city never planned to sell the entire parcel and has hired a consultant to review options for that and other vacant parcels downtown. Gulino said he offered to buy the entire parcel, but was turned down.
Scaife said more work is required before the property can be accurately appraised as the city has no intention of selling the entire lot, which stretches back to Hanover Street, as a portion may be needed if the police department is expanded.