WALLINGFORD — After two five-hour meetings this month, the Town Council on Tuesday night approved funding for three parking lot improvement projects and renewed leases that expand public parking in a portion of Simpson Court’s rear lot.
Like the lengthy debate that occurred at the council’s last meeting Jan. 12, Tuesday’s meeting also ran well into the night.
The original proposal presented to the council by Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. and the town Engineering department was to spend $375,000 on improvements to the leased parking areas behind the businesses of Simpson Court and two municipally owned parking lots off Wallace Avenue.
By the end of the meeting Tuesday, the council had voted 7 to 1 to spend $77,000 on the two Wallace Avenue lots and 6 to 3 to spend $298,000 on the Simpson Court rear lots. The council also approved amended leases for the areas behind Simpson Court by a vote of 6 to 3.Agenda order
Throughout the night Tuesday, there was a lot of procedural back and forth on how the council should consider the proposals, and it started with the agenda order.
The council was slated to consider renewing the parking lot leases first and then the proposed lot improvements. During the Jan. 12 meeting, the items were on the agenda for consideration in reversed order.
Town Council Chairman Vincent Cervoni said he swapped the order of the items on Tuesday’s agenda because if the Simpson Court rear parking lot leases weren’t approved, there would be no need to approve funding for parking lot improvements.
It’s stipulated in the town’s leases with the building owners that the town must maintain its leased portion of the parking lots. A lot of contention over the years over the Simpson Court rear parking area stems from the fact that many feel the town shouldn’t be using public money to maintain private property.
Councilor Craig Fishbein successfully motioned to table the parking lot lease renewals until after the proposed improvements item.
Members of an Economic Development Commission subcommittee gave a presentation on what they saw as the benefits to expanding the leases at Simpson Court.Separating projects
The debate on whether to spend $375,000 on improvements to the Simpson Court and Wallace Avenue lots began at the Jan. 12 meeting, when Town Councilor Christina Tatta asked for a breakdown of costs for each of the three parking lot projects.
She made a motion that night, 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.
Dickinson objected to dividing up the proposal, saying that it needed to be done “holistically” as one project, but revealed Tuesday another reason why he wanted to bundle the projects together into one proposal.
The Wallace Avenue lots are owned by the town. Any paving or construction can be performed by the town Public Works department. The parking areas behind Simpson Court, however, are privately owned and an outside contractor would need to be hired through the town’s bid process.
By separating the motions and then obtaining cost estimates that subsequently were made public, it tipped the town’s hand by revealing to potential contractors what dollar amount the town had in mind for the Simpson Court lot project.
Town Engineer Alison Kapushinski and then Dickinson explained this Tuesday in response to a question from Tatta, who asked what would happen if the Simpson Court project ended up costing more money than the council approved.
“Once we separate the projects, it becomes pretty obvious what the cost is,” Dickinson said.
“Understood,” Tatta said. “It would have been helpful to hear that said two weeks ago (at the previous meeting). We didn’t know what the reason was for these all being combined. We weren’t really given pricing until this evening.”
If the bids come back higher than what the council approved, the scope of the project would be readjusted, Kapushinski said, meaning things might be taken out of the project.Tatta votes ‘no’
Fishbein obtained cost estimates for the Simpson Court and Wallace Avenue projects from documents prepared by Public Works Director Rob Baltramaitis in November. Fishbein gathered the information in response to Tatta’s request on Jan. 12 for figures on each project.
According to Baltramaitis, 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 estimate given for the Simpson Court lot, Baltramaitis said Tuesday, is what he estimates it would cost Public Works to complete the project.
On Tuesday, Fishbein made a motion to allocate $124,000 for paving and reconstruction of two parking lots off Wallace Avenue. He arrived at the dollar amount by combining Baltramaitis’ construction cost estimates.
Fishbein amended his motion to allocate only $77,000 when Kapushinski pointed out that there was approximately $47,000 previously allocated for the projects available. After around two hours of discussion, the council voted 7 to 1 — Tatta voted no — to allocate the $77,000.Final votes
The council then discussed whether to allocate $298,000 for Simpson Court rear parking lot improvements.
Since they were discussing funding the parking lot improvements at Simpson Court before the leases were approved, Councilor Vincent Testa successfully motioned to make approval of funding contingent upon approval of the leases.
Part of the Simpson Court rear parking lot reconstruction would restore the vehicular connection between Center and Church streets, which is prevented currently because Jack McGuire, owner of the corner property at 2 North Main St., withdrew from the lease agreement with the town in 2013.
The council voted 6 to 3 to approve the $298,000 for Simpson Court improvements, with councilors Fishbein, Tatta and Jason Zandri voting no. The council then voted along the same 6 to 3 split to approve the leases for the Simpson Court’s rear parking lot.