The YMCA has presented an idea to town officials that would allow it to use part of Community Lake Park to build a large Y facility. The plan may be slowly and quietly gaining traction. Folks who belong to the Y may regard this as a great trade. Residents who use the park, however, may not agree. It’s time the administration told us what’s going on.
How and why could this happen? To answer that we flash back to 1947, when the Masonic Charity Foundation of Connecticut (MCFC) owned the property that is now Community Lake Park. On April 24, 1947, it transferred to the Borough of Wallingford the land where the park is now.
The conveyance had a condition, however. The deed to the town provided that Wallingford had to use and maintain the property as “a public park ... to be enjoyed for such purposes by the public generally.” According to the deed, the town was also obligated to keep the property “in a reasonable state of repair for use and enjoyment ... as a place for amusement, pleasure and recreation.” If the town violated these conditions, the deed would be null and void, title would revert back to the MCFC, and the town would lose the property. (This foundation still exists, and it has about 18 officers and directors, a few of whom live or work in Wallingford.)
Despite these conditions in the deed, in 1991, the town leased a portion of the park property to the Boys and Girls Club so it could build and operate a new facility. The MCFC alleged, however, that Wallingford breached the conditions in the deed by executing that lease. It said that title to the land reverted back to the MCFC, and it filed its affidavit on the land records, which formally made that claim.
Somehow, however, matters were smoothed over. The MCFC re-conveyed the land to the town, with the stipulation that the lease to the Boys and Girls Club was specifically permitted. Despite all that stress and effort, the Boys and Girls Club never built its building at Community Lake, and the land remained part of the park.
The YMCA has now reminded the town of its prior decision to lease of part of the park to a non-profit organization. It presented Wallingford with a concept for a new YMCA building and parking lot at Community Lake. It’s retained a local architect to develop plans. Several town departments are in the loop. The matter has appeared on the agenda of the Parks and Recreation Department at least three times. The minutes of its meeting for May 14 said that the YMCA is considering a proposal to build a new YMCA at Community Lake Park. The minutes of the June meeting said that the commission had a brief discussion on the “YMCA proposal to build a new facility.” The agenda for the July 9 meeting was more specific: “YMCA building new 30,000 sq. ft. building on Community Lake property — Effect on park.”
There’s much we should know. For example, has MCFC already signaled to the YMCA that it conditionally supports a lease? (The Y must know the town wouldn’t lease part of the land, if that could result in the MCFC re-claiming title, like in 1991.)
How much land does the Y want? How many cars does it expect at a new facility and what would be the impacts? What would happen to the ball field at the park, and the pavilion, and the tennis courts, Is the Y willing to pay market-rate rent, or does it want a sweetheart deal?
If the mayor’s quiet support has allowed this project to get this far, it’s time for the town council to step up and step in. It should expeditiously decide where are we headed with this plan — and, hopefully, nip it in the bud.
Mike Brodinsky is a former town councilor, chairman of the School Roof Building Committee and host of public access show “Citizen Mike.”