RTM hears Metro Center update, rejects study group resolution
Published 1:03 am, Wednesday, February 24, 2010
First Selectman Ken Flatto gave the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) an hour-long update on the Fairfield Metro Center project Monday night, clicking through a slideshow that included a timeline reaching back into the 1980s; excerpts from the three-party agreement signed by the town, state and private developer in 2003; aerial photographs of the roughly 35-acre plot on lower Black Rock Turnpike; and a Fairfield Chamber of Commerce study from 2003 that favored the expansive development.
The total estimated cost for the Metro Center will be $82 million, Flatto said. Between $65 and $70 million will come from public funds. Flatto told the RTM he's willing to provide updates on the project on a monthly basis, if the legislative board wishes.
Then, after extensive debate, the RTM narrowly shot down a resolution that would create a subcommittee charged with studying the heaps of documents behind Flatto's presentation -- among others -- and synthesizing them for the rest of the RTM. The RTM rejected that resolution by a vote of 23 to 22, with one abstention.
Flatto last updated the RTM on the project in October, 2009. Though his presentation Monday night was steeped in background, he discussed some "significant progress" that has been made since then, including the state's approval of $19.4 million in bonding for the project in early January.
In addition, Flatto said, state contractors have finished about 85 percent of their work, which includes construction of the train platforms and the access bridge from Kings Highway East, over the tracks and onto the private site, owned by Blackrock Realty LLC. This work should be finished by this summer, he said.
Meanwhile, the town has completed design work on the public parking area and should open that for bidding within the next few months, he said. The town has already received bids for work on more than 10 intersections and side roads near the project, which will include "new traffic installations, road paving and safety improvements," Flatto said.
That work will begin in April and run through December, he said.
But Flatto gave little new information about the negotiations that are ongoing between the town, the state and Blackrock Realty as to how fully Blackrock will carry out its obligations under the three-party agreement.
Blackrock Realty, which owns more than 28 acres of the site, has for the past year been in foreclosure proceedings with TD Bank in regard to a $20 million loan.
The Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) has been exploring two options, Flatto said. The first -- the one preferred by the town -- involves completing the full public portion of the project as soon as possible, which would entail 1,500 parking spaces and upwards of 2,500 new parking permits being dispersed among residents. The 3,800 residents currently on the waiting list for parking at Fairfield's downtown train station would be given first stab, Flatto said.
The second option the state is considering involves phasing the project toward completion. That would likely begin with a temporary 500-space parking lot on land leased from outside property owners.
Flatto said he doesn't support the phasing plan and doesn't have details on what it might include.
"Our goal is for the full, comprehensive plan," he said, "and my hope is to get more information on that over the next few months."
Either way, Flatto said, the town hopes to have the station operational by next spring, though that will depend "upon weather and the speed at which final decisions are made regarding work phasing and responsibilities."
"This is a big task," he said, "but it is possible."
Flatto's presentation broke around 10 p.m. to general applause. Then the debating began on the subcommittee, which had only been approved by one of the RTM's five standing committees leading up to Monday night.
David Becker, R-1, introduced a newly worded resolution from what had previously been discussed, designed to emphasize the proposed committee's role as a "study group" on the Metro Center project and not an investigative arm. He and Kathryn Braun, R-8, had introduced the original proposal.
During the public hearing, Ken Camarro, of Carroll Road, said the charter was "woefully inadequate" and that the committee would only have 5 percent of the power it needed.
Speaking next, Doug Jones, former RTM representative from Dist. 4, said that all RTM members should educate themselves and not rely on a subcommittee.
Lawrence Kelly, R-8, expressed fear that the proposed committee appeared investigative by nature.
"We're talking about a three-party agreement," Kelly said. "We need information from the town, state and developer."
As such, Kelly proposed asking a state representative and the developer to speak before the RTM in person.
The vote finished around 11:30 p.m.
On Tuesday afternoon, Braun and Becker issued the following statement to the Fairfield Citizen: "Although the RTM chose monthly updates from the first selectman versus forming a committee, our overall goal of promoting transparency and open government unanimously prevailed across party lines. We look forward to receiving monthly updates and will continue to evaluate the best method to receive information as the project moves forward. As members of the RTM, we will continue our outreach efforts to address the concerns and find the answers to our constituents' questions."