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New London — Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio has proposed that the city’s development association transfer most parcels of land on the Fort Trumbull peninsula to the city, which would effectively eliminate the Renaissance City Development Association and fulfill a promise Finizio made as a candidate.
But the news seemed to come as a surprise to the RCDA, which called a special meeting Thursday morning to discuss the mayor’s request.
Finizio wants the RCDA to convey certain parcels to the city and instructed the city’s law director to draft a memorandum of agreement between the city, the association and the state, according to a letter Law Director Jeffrey T. Londregan sent late last month to an attorney for the RCDA.
The memorandum, a draft version of which was attached to Londregan’s letter, would make official the intention to transfer all parcels not bound by federal Defense Base Closure and Realignment laws to the city. The Naval Undersea Warfare Center was once located at Fort Trumbull.
“All of the titles currently held by RCDA can be transferred and should be transferred to the city of New London, save one,” Finizio said Thursday at a press conference.
The RCDA board of directors on Thursday morning refrained from making a decision about the land until it considers what effects the transfer would have on both the city and the association.
“Basically, we want to do whatever is best for the city of New London,” RCDA President Linda Mariani said after the meeting. “I have no opposition to it if it makes sense.”
A major part of Finizio’s 2011 mayoral campaign platform was a promise that he would abolish the New London Development Corp., as the RCDA was formerly named.
Finizio said he believes the ruling in Kelo v. City of New London — the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court case that upheld the city’s powers of eminent domain to take private property in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood for economic development — was wrong. The case, he said, has sullied the city’s reputation nationally and is still harming it.
“The creation of an independent agency backed up by the state under a city manager form of government effectively took from the people of New London the development control over what was happening in their own city,” Finizio said.
Transferring control of the land back to the city — now operating under a strong-mayor form of government — would put development in the hands of people elected by New London citizens, Finizio said.
“This would bring RCDA under the control of the city of New London,” he said. The city “would use the economic development fund established in 2008 for the Fort Trumbull peninsula both to pay for the land transfers and also to fund RCDA for as long as funding was necessary to effectuate development of those properties that must legally be held by a development agency.”
Finizio said he began conversations about the transfers with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy earlier this year. On Feb. 10, Finizio sent Malloy a letter asking that the state not object to the transfer of deeds for the Fort Trumbull parcels, “reasonable requests” for changes to the Fort Trumbull Municipal Development Plan or a change to the city funding RCDA rather than the state.
“I firmly believe that your acceptance of this proposal would be a game-changing decision that would finally spur meaningful economic development in and around the Fort Trumbull peninsula,” Finizio wrote in the letter.
The state has oversight of development of Fort Trumbull and holds liens on some of the property.
The governor did not send Finizio a written reply, but the mayor said he spoke with him and the governor has agreed to the transfers.
Finizio said the next steps will be for the City Council and the RCDA board of directors each to pass a resolution approving the transfers. The mayor said the city is not close to any agreement with a developer, nor does he have a developer in mind.
Mariani said Thursday that the parcels that could be transferred to the city are still in need of environmental remediation.
“My understanding is that there are only three parcels that could possibly legally be conveyed because they aren’t restricted by federal law, and those are the ones that need the most work,” she said.
The roughly $300,000 in the city’s economic development fund would not be enough to pay for the remediation, Finizio said, though the city could pursue grant funding through the Environmental Protection Agency to cover those costs.
The prospect of transferring land to the city came to light, Mariani said, after the RCDA did not receive its annual funding appropriation from the state. After trying to work through the Department of Economic and Community Development to find out the status of the association’s funding, Mariani and other board members arranged a meeting with Malloy.
“He told us that he had received a letter from our mayor indicating that the mayor was going to take over, with the city, the RCDA or at least to take over the funding for the RCDA, and asked the governor if he would agree to transfer the real estate to the city,” she said.
Mariani said that was the first she had heard of the proposal and still has not received or seen a copy of the letter, even after meeting with Finizio to request it specifically.
“I did ask to see the letter. He didn’t have it at his office. He said he had it at his house, and I asked him if I could pick it up at his house, and he indicated that that wouldn’t be possible,” she said. “I do not have the letter, I have never seen the letter and he never showed it to me or read it to me.”
Finizio, however, said Thursday he showed Mariani a copy of the letter during a meeting at the Washington Street Coffee House in mid-February.