State, Wittek not agreed yet on Fairfield Metro deal
The developer in partnership with the town and state on the Fairfield Metro train station may be touting a deal that could save the town some of the $7.5 million recently approved to cover cost overruns on the project, but state officials are not yet on board with the proposal.
Kurt Wittek of BlackRock Realty recently sent an email to officials just before the Representative Town Meeting's vote to authorize an extra $7.5 million needed to complete work on the town's third train station. In the email, Wittek outlined his offer to take the unexpectedly large amount of contaminated soil from the public portion of the project -- a major factor in the cost overruns -- and move it to his share of the property, where someday he anticipates building a multi-use commercial complex. That would save the town roughly $2 million in soil removal costs, and Wittek said he would also give the town $1 million in cash.
In exchange, however, Wittek wants the state to give him the air rights over the nearly 1,500-slot commuter parking lot so he can build a parking deck overhead -- something interim First Selectman Michael Tetreau said the town has no control over.
The state Department of Transportation's goal, said DOT spokesman Judd Everhart, is to get the train station opened by the end of October. "Any other ideas, such as a proposal for a parking deck on the site, are not part of our agreement with the town," Everhart said.
The state has committed to reimbursing the town up to another $3 million on the project, which initially had estimated construction costs of $34 million.
"The department is willing to discuss other issues, but it is not making any additional commitments at this time," Everhart said when questioned about Wittek's proposed deal.
On Monday, though, Wittek said he had a meeting set up for later this week with DOT Commissioner James Redeker. "Commissioner Redeker and I have talked," Wittek said. "We are both committed to trying to make a deal."
Wittek reiterated that his offer is conditioned on securing the air rights for a parking deck because the contaminated soil would take away a portion of his property that he had planned to develop as an underground parking garage. Without the ability to build the parking deck, Wittek said, he would be in the same boat as the town -- paying millions to remove the contaminated soil.
The town wound up with responsibility for cost overruns on the project when, several years ago, Wittek went into foreclosure and the state, in order to get the stalled project moving last year allocated $19.1 million to build the train station parking and access road.
The Republican candidate for first selectman, Robert Bellitto, recently castigated Tetreau, who is the Democrats' first selectman candidate, for not informing elected officials about Wittek's offer. Bellitto, vice chairman of the Board of Finance, was the only member of that board to vote against the $7.5 million authorization.
"Mike cannot continue to negotiate everything behind closed doors and expect us to just trust him," Bellitto said in a press release. "Blind faith in the first selectman is no longer an option."
Belllitto also contended the plan to have the station open by the end of October, just before the Nov. 8 election, is a political scheme.
But an Aug. 23 letter from the DOT's Redeker to Tetreau sets forth the terms for the additional $ 3 million from the state and says, in part, "In consideration of this additional funding from DOT, the town commits to: (1) Having the remaining work complete and the public project ready to open to the public by no later than October 31, 2011."
"That is our main goal -- the get the station open with 1,400 parking spaces -- to serve the residents of Fairfield and many neighboring communities, and to address the large waiting list for monthly parking," Everhart said. "We are currently in discussions with Metro-North about when we will officially begin service at the Fairfield Metro station and hope to announce that shortly."
While acknowledging the rail station project is vital to the community, Bellitto said the town should not continue to "throw good money after bad." He said Tetreau "failed to prove his case" for the extra money before town bodies. The RTM approved the $7.5 million by a 32-5 vote in August.
According to Tetreau, Wittek's proposal is not new, and that negotiations between Wittek and the DOT regarding the parking lot air rights have not involved the town. Wittek, he said, lacks leverage with the state to get the air rights for nothing, and is holding the town hostage in order to get what he wants.
Wittek said he made the proposal "several months ago," and said then-First Selectman Kenneth Flatto was aware of it.
Bellito also said if outside counsel hired by the town concludes either Flatto or Town Attorney Richard Saxl acted negligently or illegally in regard to agreeing to cover construction overruns, Tetreau "must immediately replace the town attorney and explore all legal avenues for restitution."