While Attorney Tim Corey, hired by the City of Middletown to represent it in negotiations with Midfield Corporation, admitted, in his opinion, that Midfield and Middlesex Mutual illegally exercised an "opt-out" clause on property at the corner of Broad and College Streets, a settlement reached was preferable to a long litigation with the insurance company and its representatives.
The property in question, is the grassy plot adjacent to Middlesex Mutual and it's parking garage. In its original agreement with the city, the plot was to have been "phase 3" or a plan which was filled in "phase 1" by the Middlesex Mutual office tower, and in "phase 2" by the parking garage.
"Phase 3" was to have been the construction of a corporate office building.
Former Mayor Domenique Thornton, and the Common Council at the time, voted to extend the period during which Middlesex could "opt-out" of its agreement to build the corporate office building until December 2007. That document was never signed by Thornton in the waning days of her tenure as mayor. Nonetheless, Middlesex filed an "opt-out" notice on land records after its original deadline was past.
By contract, Midfield's obligation to develop, as agreed, ends in 2020.
The City of Middletown challenged the "opt-out" and has been in ongoing negotiations with Midfield. The city's contention was that because the "opt-out" was illegal, the city had the right to take the land back. Midfield and Middlesex Mutual disagreed, and a legal battle began which has cost the city $15,000 in attorney fees.
An agreement was reached after Midfield promised a stiff legal challenge to Middletown's assertions, and Corey recommended a compromise in which Midfield and Middlesex would agree to only develop the property under zoning obligations for downtown development, and that the development would have to measure at least 50,000 square feet to add a substantial development to city tax roles.
In addition, Midfield and Middlesex would have to submit all plans for approval to the city's Redevelopment Commission and the Economic Development Commission both of which have the ability to reject plans which they feel are inappropriate. In addition, any development would have to be approved by the appropriate city committees and commissions including Planning and Zoning.
EDC commissioner Gerry Daley questioned whether the new agreement holds promise for immediate development.
"This does not ensure that by 2020 that there will be a significant development there?" Daley asked.
City planner Bill Warner said that no development was required under any timetable.
Daley also asked if, had the city chosen to fight, that the city would be able to re-acquire the land.
Corey said, in his opinion, the city could gain the land back, but that Midfield and Middlesex Mutual promised a long and sustained legal battle to retain ownership of the property.
The EDC voted unanimously to send the agreement to the Common Council for approval at its next meeting.