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New London - Everywhere Linda Mariani goes around town these days, she's greeted with congratulations - and a chuckle.
"I don't know if they're happy for me or feel sorry for me," said the lifelong resident and attorney who has a law office here.
Mariani was sworn in Friday as the president of the Renaissance City Development Association, following Michael Joplin's resignation after an 11-year stint at the helm. She was asked by Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio to take the position. Outgoing officers also endorsed her.
"I don't think they're laughing at me. I think they're happy for me,'' Mariani said Friday morning during an interview at Muddy Waters Cafe before the election. Several people called out greetings, congratulations, condolences and encouragement.
"Everyone laughs and asks if I know what I'm doing," she said.
Mariani is well aware that leading the RCDA, formerly the New London Development Corp., is a big undertaking. "I thought about this long and hard. I agonized over it," she said. "It's so controversial and I'm so thin-skinned. Things don't just bounce off me; I take them to heart. But then I thought, sometimes you have to do things that are hard."
Mariani has never run for elected office but she's been involved with the NLDC for years and knows the angst and animosity many people in town feel toward the organization that is best known for taking private property in Fort Trumbull in an epic battle over eminent domain. In a lawsuit that went to the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices decided 5-4 that the NLDC could seize private land for future economic development.
The episode put a national spotlight on the city and on what many viewed as the government stepping on the rights of private property owners.
"Eminent domain happened. We can't change it,'' Marinai said. "It's water under the bridge. We have to start looking to the future."
She said wants to see something happen in the 90-acre Fort Trumbull Municipal Development area, which includes the Fort Trumbull peninsula. She plans to hold a town hall-type meeting and hopes residents will voice their opinions about the development area. She also wants to research the Municipal Development Plan to see if it can be modified.
The Yale Urban Design team held numerous public meetings last year and put out an extensive proposal for the Fort Trumbull area. But Mariani said she still wants to hear from residents. "I think people want to be heard at this moment,'' she said. "And we're interested in what they have to say."
Mariani is still holding out hope that the 103-unit Village on the Thames housing project, planned for seven acres in Fort Trumbull, will become a reality. But the project has been delayed and she said if it doesn't work out the city should move on.
"We can't go backwards," she said. "We can't put it back the way it was. We have to try move in an upbeat and positive way."
RiverBank Construction, owned by father and son Irwin and Robert Stillman, and the RCDA are at odds over financing for the $8 million Village on the Thames for the first phase of the $24 million project. A mediation session between the two parties is scheduled for June 28.
In the brief RCDA meeting Friday afternoon, members of the executive board stepped down and seven new officers emerged, including four who live in New London: Mariani, Joseph Grillo, a businessman and investor, first vice president; Ronald Nosssek, a CPA, second vice president; and Jerold Sinnamon, own of Be On Purpose consulting, treasurer.
Also elected to the executive board were Nick Caplanson of North Franklin, president of Dime Bank, deputy treasurer; Andrew Russell of Old Lyme, vice president and general manager of Hall Communications, secretary; and Paul Geraghty of Haddam, a New London attorney, assistant secretary.
First Vice President Karl-Erik Sternlof and Second Vice President John Johnson, who have been involved with the Fort Trumbull project since 2000, also resigned.