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Wallingford seeking grant money for Simpson Court parking improvements

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WALLINGFORD—The town is once again seeking a grant to improve the rear Simpson Court parking lot.

Mayor William W. Dickinson wrote in a letter to members of the Town Council on April 14 that he recommended they approve a resolution allowing him to apply for funding through the Main Street Investment Fund. Administered by the state Office of Policy and Management, the grant offers up to $500,000 for downtown infrastructure improvements. The town requested funding through the grant in 2012 but the request was denied. A second round of funding was announced last month.

“After review with all parties involved and town staff, it is recommended that application be made again for that project,” Dickinson wrote. “As articulated in the past, this project will provide public parking for 30 years. As in the past, it is a partnership between public and private sectors with a private sector contribution of $50,000.”

There are five property owners bordering the parking lot, and each has agreed to contribute $10,000 to the project, Dickinson said. The lot is near the intersection of Center Street and North Main Street.

“It supports the town’s interest in a vibrant, commercial downtown, and overcomes the stalemate created by the lease terms dating back to the 1960s,” Dickinson said.

The town has a year-to-year lease agreement with Simpson Court business owners. The agreement offers public parking in the lot behind those buildings in exchange for plowing and other basic maintenance. Dickinson has said he would be in favor of a long-term lease. A plan to renovate the parking lot backed by Dickinson, a Republican, and others was defeated in a 2011 referendum. That plan would have been paid for with local funds.

Councilors will discuss the grant application during next Tuesday’s Town Council meeting. Most have said they are in favor of seeking state funds.

“I want the parking lot done,” said Town Councilor John Sullivan, a Democrat.

“I’m in favor of going forward with this and seeing if we can get the grant,” Democratic Town Councilor Vincent Testa said.

The downtown parking situation has gotten worse, Republican Town Council Chairman Vincent Cervoni said, so “I definitely want to see something done.”

Opposed to the project is Town Councilor Craig Fishbein, a Republican. Fishbein, along with former Democratic town councilors Jason Zandri and Nick Economopoulos, co-authored a letter to the state in 2012 asking that the town’s grant application not be approved.

“The audacity baffles me,” Fishbein said Wednesday. “If this town would put as much energy into improving its own property instead of that of others, at taxpayers’ expense, we would all be a lot better off.

“This irresponsible proposition to utilize tax dollars to pick winners and losers is basically the reason why so many businesses find it difficult to compete in the marketplace.”

Fishbein said he planned on sending another letter to OPM voicing his opposition to the grant application.

Dickinson wrote in his letter that the parking lot project is significant.

“It provides not just public parking on a long-term basis but addresses storm water and retaining wall issues as well,” he said. “It also provides a possible blueprint for future parking areas that, while similar, have circumstances even more complex than this project with multiple private owners.” (203) 317-2224 Twitter: @Andyragz

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