Column: State regulations stall Wallingford church project

Column: State regulations stall Wallingford church project

Infrastructure investment is now a hot topic. Suddenly it has become apparent that we are years behind, and we need to catch up — fast. But one recurrent theme of this column has been my lament, my frustration, my despair of how long it takes to accomplish even the simplest of infrastructure improvements (reconstruction of North Plains Industrial Road, Center Street Bridge, Quinnipiac River Linear Trail).

This is so because we have ensnared ourselves in an ever-more-complex web of regulations that builders must navigate before even the first spade of earth is turned. Please keep this thought in mind as I describe yet another example of meddlesome, unnecessary government intrusion and its consequences.

AT&T approached the First Congregational Church of Wallingford over two years ago, asking if we would be interested in allowing them to install an array of cell antennae in our steeple. A small committee was assembled, of which I was a member, to perform due diligence to insure that, among many other factors, such an installation was safe to have over our heads, architecturally compatible with the building and of sufficient financial benefit to be worth it.

A hundred hours of volunteer time were devoted to examining every single aspect of this proposed project, especially by our moderator (i.e. CEO) Ron Graziani. The contract AT&T offered was reviewed word by word by attorney Vinnie Cervoni, and modified significantly in our favor. We sought out other cell installation lessees, including Roger Dann from Wallingford’s Water and Sewer Division, who provided incredibly valuable input and advice. Months later, in the summer of 2014, a 17-page contract was signed, with construction to commence in the spring of 2015, at which point so would our compensation.

When spring arrived and we had heard nothing from AT&T, who was slogging through the permitting process, Ron contacted them. It was at this point that we learned that the project was stalled. Why? Because someone in the State Historic Preservation Office, inside of Office of Culture and Tourism, which is in the Department of Economic and Community Development, decided that the roof shingles on our church steeple were historic and thus the project could not go forward, at least until AT&T proved to them that no harm to the historic nature of whatever it is about these shingles would be done. AT&T, having multiple projects in front of them, chose to move on for the time being. So the project is on hold until this gets cleared up.

This situation begs many questions. Let’s start with these: 1) Was the church ever contacted by anyone regarding this? The answer is no, never did the complainant or the State Busybody Preservation Office ever contact us to get our side of the story. 2) Is anyone in the State Busybody Office prepared to offer us the substantial compensation that the church is losing because of its interference? Of course not. 3) Did this office really think that our church would submit to a project that would not protect the appearance of our beautiful building? Apparently they feel that someone in state government needs to intercede so that we ignorant rubes don’t get rolled by the evil AT&T, and that we require the wisdom of the State Busybody Office personnel for protection. 4) Are the shingles really historic? Of course not. They’ve been replaced several times since the church was built in 1869.

Failure to complete this project because of the overweening government regulation colossus we have built will do significant financial harm to this church. And to think that we have arrived at the point where state bureaucrats are so disdainful of the people they govern that they do not feel the slightest obligation to extend the courtesy of even making contact with those to whom their rulings do so much damage.

As Pogo presciently and famously stated: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford Town Councilor.


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