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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

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Town's role as landlord draws questions from RTM

Updated 7:57 pm, Thursday, February 28, 2013

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  • The report on short-term leases of town-owned property indicates all current rents are up-to-date. One of those properties is the American Legion building at Owen Fish Park. Photo: Genevieve Reilly / Fairfield Citizen
    The report on short-term leases of town-owned property indicates all current rents are up-to-date. One of those properties is the American Legion building at Owen Fish Park. Photo: Genevieve Reilly

 

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The town serves as landlord for a number of properties, ranging from a cottage for the golf superintendent to outdoor dining patios for two downtown restaurants.

During a report on those leases Monday, the Representative Town Meeting learned all the current rents are paid up, but they had other questions.

For example, why were some rents only $1 a year? Why didn't these leases come to the RTM for approval? What about the space at the Southport Railroad Station? And why aren't other restaurants' outdoor dining patios being assessed rental payments by the town?

Dana Kery, R-8, asked if the dollar value of a lease doesn't require that it come before the legislative body, but Town Attorney Stanton Lesser said the value of the lease has nothing to do with it.

Under the town code, leases of less than three years' duration at a fair market value are approved solely by the first selectman.

Moderator Jeffrey Steele, R-2, questioned why some of the leases call only for a $1 annual rental payment to the town.

"It's a significant opportunity for us (if the lease fees were higher)," Steele said.

Lesser said the leases were negotiated by the previous administration of Kenneth Flatto. "They decided it was fair to do a dollar a year," he said.

The town code allows the first selectman, with the approval of the Board of Selectmen, to lease property to charitable or veterans' organizations for "nominal consideration."

Of the 10 properties included in the lease report, which is required under the town code, three are leased $1 annually. Those three are: Pilot House, the American Legion Post at Owen Fish Park and Haydu Farm.

Nick Mirabile, R-9, wanted to know if there was a set amount that the town charged for the rental of dining patios. Lesser said there is not, but that the rents for the two restaurant patios on town property are comparable.

Centro pays $1,650 monthly during the summer to use the southeast corner of Sherman Green for outdoor dining. The fences that delineate the dining area are taken down during the winter months.

At Old Post Tavern, $1,700 is charged for sidewalk space in front of the restaurant during the summer, while the rent in the winter is $250 a month. Old Post Tavern is charged during the winter months because the area is marked off by a stone wall and used by diners as a smoking lounge.

Old Post Tavern, while up to date on current monthly payments, had a past due balance of $19,825 that to date has been reduced to $12,825.

Mirabile wanted to know why other outdoor seating was not included on the list, specifically citing Molto, a restaurant that has seating on a stretch of sidewalk in front of its Brickwalk site.

"I don't believe Motolo has even had a short-term lease I'm aware of," said Mary McCullough, R-3. "Is there a lease?"

Lesser said if they are leasing town property, it would be on file in the town clerk's office.

But Assistant Zoning Director James Wendt said Post Road restaurants like Molto use private property for their outdoor dining.

And if they were encroaching onto public sidewalks along the Post Road, it would not be the town they would need to secure a lease from, but the state. The Post Road, or Route 1, and its sidewalks are state property.

Peter Ambrose, R-2, raised the issue of the space in the renovated westbound depot at the Southport Railroad Station. Lesser said that space would be leased through the Parking Authority, with terms negotiated by that agency.

The train station is leased by the authority from the state Department of Transportation, whose approval for leases of station property is also needed.

greilly@ctpost.com; 203-556-2771; http://twitter.com/GreillyPost