MERIDEN — If the city ultimately rejects a development company’s bid to put apartments on the Meriden Green, it would owe the firm upwards of $750,000 under an existing agreement.
“Whatever their current costs to date are ... we would be responsible for paying those pursuant to the agreement,” Corporation Counsel Mike Quinn told the City Council this week during a discussion on whether to extend the city’s current development agreement with Pennrose Properties. After a discussion, the council eventually decided on a one-year extension.
Article 16-2 of the 2016 agreement says “in the event of a termination for convenience … the City shall be liable to the developer for reasonable and proper costs resulting from such termination which costs shall include reasonable compensation to the developer for work performed.”
At the meeting, Charlie Adams, Pennrose regional vice president, said his company has spent “around three-quarters of a million to a million” to date on design work.
The apartment buildings were a part of the original master development agreement between the city and Pennrose, which also included the newly-constructed Meriden Commons I and II apartment buildings. Some residents worry the apartments proposed for the green, which are still in the design phase, will tarnish the landscape and aesthetics of the 14-acre downtown park. One of the apartment buildings would go along Pratt Street across from the firehouse, while the other would go in the northwest corner of the Meriden Green behind the amphitheater.
“The outcry that I’m hearing from the citizens of Meriden is that they do not want any construction on the Meriden Green,” Councilor Bob Williams said at the meeting.
The City Council voted 10 to 2 to grant Pennrose a 12-month extension, giving the company more time to line up funding, finalize designs, and submit a formal plan to the city for approval. Williams, a member of We the People, and Republican Michael Carabetta voted in opposition.
“This agreement proposes a 12-month extension for them to continue to seek funding, to continue to engage the community and the council, ultimately leading to what would be a proposed development plan that planning and zoning would be looking at and the council would be looking at for final disposition,” Council Majority Leader David Lowell said.
City officials have commended Pennrose for responding to the public’s concerns by previously revising designs to reduce the development’s total footprint and the number of units from 170 to 120. Current designs call for 60 units in each building, with 80 percent market rate and the remaining 20 percent considered affordable, according to Adams.
“It’s important to note that Pennrose understands the concerns from the public and elected officials and has worked to greatly tear down the size of the buildings, the number of units in each building and work on the aesthetics to make sure it fits with the landscape down there,” Mayor Kevin Scarpati said in an interview.
Scarpati said while you can’t ignore the potential financial ramifications of backing out of the project, he has always worked under the assumption that the market rate developments would be part of the Green.
“I’ve never really considered this not an option,” Scarpati said.
“I guess the struggle here,” he added, “is that maybe we as leadership didn’t do the best job at communicating that or conveying that to the public ...”
Attracting individuals with disposable income is a crucial step in “making downtown work,” Scarpati said.
The city and Pennrose face “a bit of a mountain to climb,” Scarpati added, in trying to obtain about $6 million in state funding that may be needed to move the project forward. Making more units affordable would give Pennrose tax credits and make the project work financially, but Scarpati said the city shouldn’t give up any market-rate units.
“We’ve already done more than enough affordable housing throughout the inner district. We don’t need more affordable housing,” he said.