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Stonington waives $136,000 in building permit fees for developer; decision divides officials

By Joe Wojtas

Publication: The Day

Published May 13. 2014 4:00AM

Stonington - The Board of Selectmen has waived $136,000 in building permit fees for a proposed assisted living facility on the Coogan Farm, despite warnings from longtime Building Official Wayne Greene and Selectwoman Glee McAnanly that the decision has set a dangerous precedent for the town.

The fees, would have provided additional revenue that had not been included in the 2014-15 budget and combined with the $125,876 in fees that Masonicare is paying could have offset the controversial $250,000 cut in the school budget.

"Let's not give up revenue if we are cutting programs and sports in our schools, " McAnanly said.

The waiver is in addition to the 67 percent tax break that Masonicare is receiving. As a nonprofit entity, Masonicare is tax exempt but has agreed to make a $140,000 annual payment in lieu of taxes to the town on the $32 million project. The PILOT fee is 33 percent of what Masonicare would pay if it was a for-profit entity, according to town Director of Finance Maryanna Stevens. Masonicare is paying taxes based on the town budget and not any school-related items.

First Selectman Ed Haberek who negotiated both the building permit waiver and the PILOT payments for the town, did not respond to a request for comment about the waiver on Monday. At last week's selectmen's meeting, when he and Selectman George Crouse supported the waiver, Haberek said it was needed to bring the 179-unit project to town and its accompanying jobs. He called the benefit from the one-time waiver "amazing."

"We can't delay this over a few dollars," added Crouse. "It's a vital thing for the town."

Greene who will be responsible for inspecting the project and reviewing plans to ensure they comply with building and safety codes, opposed the fee waiver.

"We've never done anything like this before. This is a substantial sum of money," he said Monday.

Greene said the project will require an estimated three hours of his workday for the next year or more. He said this means his review, inspection and issuing of permits for other projects such as new homes, additions and businesses renovations will be delayed.

"Things are going to get backed up. I barely keep up with it now," be said.

He said Haberek cut in half the $30,000 he requested to pay someone to help process these other applications when he is working on the Masonicare project.

He said the $15,000 may not be enough and he'll have to ask for more funding. If Greene needs to devote three hours a day to the project, that means the town would need to pay someone to work 780 hours a year to pick up some of Greene's other responsibilities.

In addition to the $117,876 waived last week, the town had previously waived half of the $29,500 fee needed for an outside review of the project, something the town has done with other large projects such as Stone Ridge and Stonington Commons.

Haberek has said that in the past the town has waived building permit fees for nonprofits but McAnanly said none were for such a large amount. Over the past five years the town has waived fees for 21 small projects ranging from $26 for the removal/replacement of furnace by the Mystic VFW to $2,330 for the new paddle tennis courts at the Stonington Community Center. All 21 combined total just a fraction of the Masonicare waiver. While it is a nonprofit entity, Stone Ridge paid $346,316 in building fees.

Green and McAnanly said they are now worried that other nonprofits will now expect to have their building fees waived. McAnanly said she expects the nonprofit developers of the approved, but not built, Spruce Meadows housing project, to now ask for a waiver of their fees.

McAnanly said she was not told of Haberek's proposal to waive the fees until he handed out the proposal at the selectmen's April 23 meeting expecting a vote. She asked that a vote not be held until May 7 meeting because she had questions about the plan.

In addition to the loss of revenue, McAnanly said other towns have not waived building fees because they are hard costs for the town, adding that Masonicare was coming to town anyway. She pointed out the WPCA is not waiving $300,000 in hookup fees it is charging the project and is working out a payment plan.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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