Again, I must compliment my counterpart, Lorraine Connelly, on a stimulating column last Sunday. Using interesting research concerning “blue line thinking” by business professors and references to efforts taking place in New Haven, she concludes that the administration of town government is too slow and does not plan for the future.
Unfortunately, she has dredged up the same Democratic Town Committee talking point we have all heard for decades and artfully given it a new set of clothes. But the argument still falls flat. Here are three points she makes, and the reasons why they don’t hold up:
Point 1: “Unfortunately, Wallingford has had a short-term approach when dealing with complex economic and town planning issues.” She uses the Brothers parking lot as an example of short-term thinking. Let’s see. The town has an Incentive Housing Zone developed several years ago to plan for the redevelopment in the very same location as the proposed Brothers lot. With the hope of eventually drawing developers to bring in the upscale housing she dreams of, the Town of Wallingford is preparing to provide the very parking required to revitalize the area. Add to that the Transit Oriented District developed in partnership with the state, and one might rightly conclude that putting parking availability that will attract long-term redevelopment is precisely the long-term thinking that she accuses the town of not doing.
Point 2: She touts “the efforts of the Town Green District in New Haven, a Business Improvement District (BID) funded by a property surtax, as well as by grants and partnerships.” [underlining emphasis mine.] Let’s forget for the moment that New Haven is on state-funded life support. Also ignore that New Haven State Senator Martin Looney has now proposed a statewide one-mill property tax to funnel yet more money from towns like Wallingford to the ten-mile-deep money pits that are, unfortunately, all of Connecticut’s major cities.
Is it at all realistic to think that New Haven’s ability to draw “grants and partnerships” and their government applying a “property surtax” can be replicated in Wallingford? The state government is controlled by those same urban areas. Of course the grant and partnership money flows swiftly from the state capital downstream to the New Havens and Bridgeports. Of course their Mayor and Board of Alders can demand a surtax on property owners with impunity to fund such projects. Who is going to challenge them?
The City of Meriden did a wonderful job attracting federal and state grants to build their beautiful new Meriden Green. But Meriden is on the state government’s list of Distressed Municipalities, which is defined on Portal.CT.gov as “the state’s most fiscally and economically distressed municipalities and are used by state agencies to target funds for needs which may include housing, insurance, open space, brownfield remediation and economic development programs, among others.”
Let me quickly note that Meriden is to be congratulated for their successful efforts to attract the federal and state support that built the Meriden Green, and it is certainly hoped that it spurs the redevelopment of the downtown as envisioned by their leaders. However, to suggest that our town can compete for government funding with either of the aforementioned Distressed Municipalities is denying political reality.
Point 3: “Wallingford desperately needs a destination point, and with it, a pride of place.” We’ll skip the snarky insinuation that the present administration has no “pride of place.” As to “destination point,” why in the world is the town willing to spend money on parking and exploring the possibility of commercial development of the old railroad station if not to spur the creation of exactly that?
Unfortunately, in the real world of towns our size, 99% of the residents who come to the center of their community do so in automobiles. If the town doesn’t provide safe, convenient parking for them so that they can visit restaurants and stores in the town center, They. Will. Not. Show. Up.
The town could build a park to rival New York’s Central Park in that area, and it will go begging because there’s no place to park a car nearby. And, let’s face it, if a park is put in this area, it will forever and a day remain just that — a park. It might be a nice green space, but it will have the net effect of killing any chance of the redevelopment for which the Incentive Housing Zone was created.
The Town of Wallingford is being farsighted in its choice to improve the parking in the downtown section of its town center. Unfortunately, Lorraine Connelly has dusted off the same baseless argument that has been used against this mayor for the past thirty years. We need realistic redevelopment envisioned in the Incentive Housing Zone plan. We don’t need to reverse course and have a Wallingford version of the Green New Deal.
Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.