New London council to hold public meeting on city office plan
New London — Facing an emotional outpouring of concern and a renewed round of questions from the public, the City Council has agreed to hold a public forum to discuss the idea of consolidating city offices.
Council President Don Venditto said the council hopes to address concerns directly and clear up some of the misconceptions about a proposed move from three outdated city-owned buildings into modern office space at 6 Shaw’s Cove.
Residents have been showing up at council meetings and asking for the forum in recent weeks. Monday’s council meeting was no different and about a dozen people voiced their opinions about the move.
Venditto said a date for the forum should be set by May 20, the next council meeting.
One of the lingering misconceptions is City Hall is part of the proposed move.
“Abandoning City Hall has never been part of the consolidation plan; in fact, the consolidation plan is inclusive of a renovated City Hall,” Venditto said. “The city outgrew the footprint of City Hall many years ago. That is what drove the decision to purchase other buildings to accommodate the overflow.”
Under the plan, the city would retain and rehabilitate City Hall but consolidate numerous city departments — including some from City Hall — under one roof while selling off the Richard R. Martin Center at 120 Broad St., the finance building at 13-15 Masonic St. and the Stanton Building at 111 Union St.
The Martin Center is already for sale and what city officials call a good example of long-deferred maintenance. The recreation department moved out earlier this year and joined other departments on Union Street.
Some residents have argued that the move would create a vacuum in the center of the city and impact surrounding businesses. About 65 employees could be potentially involved in the move.
Joan Sullivan-Cooper, in her third appeal to the council in recent weeks, said she has not been convinced it’s a good move. She said she’d rather see the city invested in existing buildings.
“You seem fixated on consolidation,” she said. “We’re an historic old town. How many towns, from the 1600s and 1700s, have everything in one building? I can’t imagine it would be too many.”
Rob Pero said he was skeptical of the plan and the best approach was to halt negotiations and “put the brakes on.” He compared the plan to the unpopular idea of the pay-as-you-throw trash removal plan pitched last year.
“You’re being saddled with a bad plan right now. A lot of people have come and want to have dialogue with you,” Pero said.
Felix Reyes, the director of the Office of Development and Planning, has led the consolidation effort — an idea that dates back at least to Mayor Michael Passero’s time as a city councilor.
Reyes provided the cost-benefit analysis of bonding money to update the existing buildings versus a long-term lease. After a public request for proposals, Julian Enterprises offered a 35,000-square-foot portion of the 6 Shaw’s Cove office building on Howard Street to the city at 230,907.28 in taxes on the building for the 2017 grand list year.
Residents also have questioned the number of pending lawsuits against Julian’s company, arguing it could taint the entire deal.
“I don’t want to do business with anyone with serious ethical questions, allegations of unethical behavior. It’s not good for New London,” Judith Schiavone said at Monday’s meeting.
“I’m opposed to the sale of city properties, generally speaking,” she said. “For the future, it may be expedient and right now may meet our needs, but ... we’re selling out our future.”
Jason Julian, a principal with Julian Enterprises, directly addressed the City Council on Monday to combat what he considered unfair attacks on his businesses reputation. He thanked the council for the opportunity to “clear the air,” and touched on pending lawsuits from a contractor and another with the town of Fairfield.
Venditto said the council would continue to engage with the city administration as the due diligence portion of the lease negotiations with Julian continues.
“To the best of the council’s knowledge to date, there is nothing that legally precludes us from entering into an agreement with Shaw’s Cove 6 and there is nothing that has been proven as unethical about Julian Enterprises,” Venditto said.