Monday, November 3, 2008

Common Council - November 3

Monday evening’s Common Council meeting did not have a marquee bout or momentous decisions with which to draw the public downtown on the eve before election day. Nevertheless, two dozen high school students and a dozen other interested members of the public observed amicable council members conduct several important items of business.

Riverview Parking Garage replacement
Funds for design of a new 3-story parking garage and a deck behind the Police Station were approved. $480,000 were set aside from the general fund as a loan for the engineering design and development of plans. This loan is to be repaid upon receipt of Federal grant funds, part of $17M in the 2005 Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU, do the Feds have an acronym czar?). Virtually all of the council members supported this expenditure, noting that downtown needed more parking, and that the existing garage was old enough to begin to be a hazard. Councilman Pessina urged the city to look at transportation creatively, including alternative forms of transporation. Bill Warner, Director of Planning, said that after the garage, most of the Federal money would be available for transit improvements. He indicated that once the parking garage issue is settled, the city would look at light rail viability, at increasing the number of bicycle routes, and at forging connections between bicycles and buses. The sole dissenting vote on setting aside money for the parking garage design was from David Bauer, who expressed his concern that high gasoline prices and a changing economy will make parking a problem of the past.
The grant money from the Federal Government is contingent upon 20% matching funds from the city and state. Warner indicated that if the engineering and design went well, the city would be in a position to put a bond referendum before the voters in 2010, to fund part of the non-federal portion.

Sale of the former Remington Rand property
The Mayor was authorized to execute the sale of the Remington Rand building and associated property to TWB properties, LLC (for $1.2M). Several council members expressed their admiration for the developer and his plans. John Hall, of the Jonah Center for Earth and Art, expressed his support for the sale, noting that the Jonah Center is interested in the highest possible use of that building, and the developer is committed to using the building well. Bill Warner tried to allay concerns over one of the financial aspects of selling the property. The city technically will be obligated to reimburse the state for money that it invested in the building, and with the current state budgetary shortfall, there is concern that the state may not waive this reimbursement requirement. Warner assured the council members that the State Department of Economic and Community Development would view this sale extremely favorably, and he anticipated that the waiver of the reimbursement requirement would be forthcoming. The Council crossed its collective fingers, knowing that this reimbursement has already been allocated in this year’s budget. The sole dissenting vote on authorizing the mayor to execute the sale was from David Bauer.

LEED certification tax credit.
The Council unanimously approved amending the Code of Ordinances to offer Tax Abatements for construction which achieves Leadership in Energy and Environment (LEED) certification. LEED is a voluntary program which evaluates the environmental impact of new construction for residential, commercial, and industrial uses. Jennifer Weymouth, who worked as a volunteer intern in the Planning Department, helped develop a tax abatement program for Middletown to promote sustainable building practices. This program will provide a 10% exemption from real estate tax to all buildings with an assessed value of over $5M that are certified as Gold or Platinum, and the same exemption to buildings certified as Silver but valued at less than $5M. Ms. Weymouth, who did this work while pursuing her masters from Antioch University of New England, was profusely thanked by Warner and by Council Members, for her effort on this initiative. Middletown is the first city in Connecticut to provide an incentive for LEEDS certification, and there is hope that companies seeking to construct sustainable buildings will use this incentive to come to Middletown.

In other business, Ryan Kennedy (Republican) was appointed to the Board of Education. He will be filling the seat of Barbara Weiss, who served as a distinguished member of the Board of Ed for many years, but who has now moved to Cromwell. The council also approved a change in the ordinance regarding the delivery of notice and agenda for regular meetings of the Council. Individual council members will now have the right to waive the delivery of Council information by the police. For special meetings, Council members will have the right to use electronic mail instead of telegram to waive the special police delivery.

No comments: