NEWINGTON - The Newington Town Council has moved forward in accepting a $2 million grant from the state Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) for the demolition and remediation of a building at the former National Welding Company site on Cedar Street.
The Council voted 6-3 to ink the deal at its Feb. 25 meeting, with Republicans voicing concerns regarding the alleged scope of DECD authority, as well as a previous decision--separate from accepting the funding itself--to enlist the aid of the Capitol Region Development Authority (CRDA) for grant administration and advice regarding future development projects.
The value of the grant is meant to cover no more than 50 percent of the demolition and remediation costs.
The 3.9-acre site, which sits near one of two Newington stations for the approaching Connecticut Fast Track bus way, has been a priority for economic development. Exactly what kind of development will take place has been subject for discussion around the Council table. Newington’s agreement with the DECD calls for transit-oriented development--a goal prompted by the site’s proximity to the bus station.
Councilor Dan Dinunzio pointed to a contract provision referring to a Declaration of Restrictive Covenant regarding use restriction and the mandate that the site be pegged for transit-oriented development for a 10-year period.
His concerns were echoed by Newington resident John Slusarski during the public comment segment of the meeting.
“It restricts our ability to do anything without the Commission’s approval for 10 years,” Cilsarsky said. “Who knows who the commissioner is going to be in five, 10 years?”
Others have a different take on the perceived restrictive nature of the transit-oriented development phrasing.
“What the key was to them was that it be transit-oriented, as opposed to being just a shopping center or something with no benefit to having a bus way there,” said Newington Economic Development Director Andy Brecher during the Feb. 11 Council meeting.
Beyond that, what gets built in the place of the soon-to-be demolished building is up to the town, said Councilor Terry Borjeson during that meeting.
“The Fast Track station is [the state’s] property,” Borjeson said. “We own the rest of it [the land]. We decide what gets done there.”
The focus on transit-oriented development was the product of negotiations with the DECD, which originally had other intentions, according to Brecher.
“We were able to get it to a transit-oriented project and not a mixed use affordable housing project, which the DECD wanted,” he said.
When the Council convened on Feb 11, it opted to partner with CRDA in administering the grant and pursuing further development opportunities for the site, and the issue reemerged during the Feb. 25 meeting before the vote regarding DECD was taken.
In a written statement read during the discussion, Dinunzio pointed to a $7 million state Capital Budget request for transit-oriented development initiatives that include mixed income housing near station stops in Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposed budget, in voicing his concerns regarding CRDA.
“Can CRDA do this job?” he said. “Sure, but just remember they will have a vested interest in this project.”
In prior meetings, CRDA representative Mike Freimuth told councilors that the agency, formed in 2012, would be there only to play an advisory role and that the town would have the final say regarding future development projects.
Opinions might differ on CRDA, but securing the DECD grant money was an important priority in of itself, said Councilor Clarke Castelle during a phone conversation.
“That [objections regarding CRDA] is a ridiculous reason to turn down the $2 million, which we desperately need,” Castelle said.