WALLINGFORD — A proposal to spend public money on improving a private parking lot has pitted the mayor against the Town Council.
The Town Council is scheduled to revisit the proposal at its meeting Tuesday, after a lengthy debate on Jan. 12 about whether to spend $375,000 on three parking lot improvement projects and renew leases for a portion of Simpson Court’s rear parking lot.
The three parking areas include the string of leased parking areas behind the businesses of Simpson Court, near the intersection of Center and North Main streets, plus two town-owned lots off Wallace Avenue, one behind St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and one near the police department’s parking lot, which is the former Wooding-Caplan property.
Town Engineer Alison Kapushinski requested the money be placed in the Capital and Non-recurring Expense Fund for construction expenses. The funds would supplement approximately $47,800 previously allocated for the projects.
At the Jan. 12 meeting, Town Councilor Christina Tatta asked for a breakdown of costs for each of the three parking lot projects. She made a motion, which passed by a 6 to 3 vote, to divide the spending proposal into separate motions, one for the Simpson Court rear lot and one for the two lots off Wallace Avenue.
Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. objected to dividing up the proposal, saying that it needed to be done “holistically” as one project, meant to provide safe parking for both sides of North Main Street.
“At this point, administratively, we’re either going to do this correctly and do all projects or we’re doing none,” Dickinson said. “This has been argued up and down, 14 ways to Sunday, forever.”
Town Councilor Craig Fishbein said he would seek the dollar amounts through a Freedom of Information Act request.
He followed through, and on Wednesday Fishbein delivered to the Town Council a packet of documents reflecting research of town Law, Engineering and Public Works department records, including cost estimates for the three projects.
According to cost estimates prepared by Public Works Director Rob Baltramaitis in November, the Simpson Court rear lot project would cost $219,367, the lot off Wallace Avenue to the west behind the Episcopal church would cost $59,752 and the lot off Wallace Avenue to the east near the police department would cost $64,350.
The Town Council also discussed on Jan. 12 whether to renew the leases on the various parking areas behind Simpson Court, ultimately deciding to postpone the vote until the next meeting.
The town holds leases from several private property owners. F&M Bank Wallingford LLC owns 2 N. Main Street, Barnes Homestead LLC owns 34-40 N. Main Street, Masonic Temple Corporation of Wallingford owns 50 N. Main Street and 60 N. Main Street LLC owns the corresponding property.
Under the 25-year lease agreements, the town agrees to “maintain and keep in good condition and repair” the public parking area — which includes paving, utility pole and light fixture maintenance, storm water drainage repairs, snow removal, greenery maintenance, parking line striping, surface litter removal, pothole and crack repair — and enforcing municipal parking rules.
There are 85 proposed public parking spaces within the town’s lease area.
Dickinson made the request to renew the leases. Town Corporation Counsel Janis M. Small presented the proposed lease agreement.Referendum stalled plans
The privately owned but publicly leased Simpson Court rear parking lot has created its share of controversy over the years.
In 2011, a petition drive led to a townwide referendum — six days after the municipal election — that overturned a Town Council decision to spend up to $500,000 on improvements to Simpson Court’s rear parking lot in exchange for continued free public parking.
The 30-year arrangement between the town and commercial property owners on North Main Street stipulated that up to half a million dollars from an Electric Division fund for nonrecurring projects would be used to upgrade the privately owned lot with assurances that it would remain available for free public use for the life of the lease.
A petition drive during the summer forced the vote, with opponents saying they were against a deal they felt was too favorable to business owners, who weren’t chipping in for the repairs, and supporters saying the parking lot was essential to the area’s vitality.
In June 2012, Holy Trinity School officials asked the Town Council to repair a retaining wall along the Simpson Court rear lot that is within the town’s leased area and borders the school’s playground.
Reconstruction of the wall had been included in the deal rejected by voters at the referendum. Ownership of the dilapidated wall came into question, and the debate was further complicated when the state denied a grant application in July 2013.
A month later, Jack McGuire, owner of the corner property at 2 North Main St., installed concrete barriers that blocked the entrance to the parking lot from Center Street, signaling his withdrawal from the lease agreement with the town.
The proposal to improve the Simpson Court rear lots would remove the barriers and restore the vehicular connection between Center and Church streets.
The remote Town Council meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. For information on how to access the meeting, visit www.wallingford.ct.us and scroll to the upcoming meetings and events calendar.