New London should take title to Fort Trumbull
Why doesn't the City of New London hold title to all of the property in the Fort Trumbull redevelopment area?
This issue has been raised occasionally in the years since the New London Development Corp., acting on the city's behalf and spending state money, either purchased, accepted from federal surplus or took by eminent domain a series of properties that have collectively become the Fort Trumbull redevelopment site.
This was all done under the terms of a state-sanctioned Municipal Development Plan, and according to state law, the title of the properties are supposed to be held in the name of the city.
Connecticut general statute 8-199 could not be more clear on this: "title to land taken or acquired pursuant to a development plan shall be solely in the name of the municipality."
Thomas J. Londregan, the city's law director, acknowledged this point in a February 2007 e-mail to city councilors in which he suggested the NLDC would hand over the titles once all the acquisitions were complete.
I think of this never-before-made-public e-mail, which someone sent to me last week, as Londregan's treadmill memo, because he told the councilors he wrote it in response to a segment of plumber Murray Renshaw's public access cable show which he watched while exercising on a treadmill.
"NLDC is aware of (statute 8-199). I have pointed it out to them," the city attorney wrote. "There is a clear understanding - so clear I recall putting it in writing - that the title to this land is to be in the name of the City of New London ....
"The clear understanding between the NLDC and City of New London is that when the NLDC has secured possession and title to the entire development parcel then the entire development parcel will be put in the name of the City of New London."
Well, this is 2010. All the parcels have been acquired. Where's the title?
I tried to directly ask the city attorney this question, but he didn't respond to voice mail or e-mail messages.
He did talk to Mayor Rob Pero, after I asked Pero about the title issue last week, and, according to the mayor, Londregan said the city is now waiting for the plan to be "implemented," roads finished etc., before title passes.
Let's be honest. The NLDC, starved of any more new state money, has drifted into sleep mode, with no full-time staff left and no plans to do any more road work or infrastructure improvements any time soon.
Besides, there's nothing in the statute that says anything about implementation. And nothing in Londregan's 2007 menu suggested anything about finishing roads or implementation.
It sounds like he's backpedaling now from his own treadmill memo.
I also couldn't get anyone from the NLDC to comment on why the Fort Trumbull properties are not yet in the city's name.
NLDC President Michael W. Joplin of Chester did not return messages.
I did reach NLDC First Vice President Karl-Erik Sternlof, an attorney, but he wouldn't talk about it.
He referred me instead to the agency's own attorney, Edward B. O'Connell, who also did not return messages.
Actually, I can understand why they don't want to talk about it.
I did get a call back from Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who sounded a bit chagrined about the fact that the property has not been put in the name of the city, as called for by state statute.
"This situation is unique and unprecedented," Blumenthal said.
Blumenthal said the city has the authority and the statutory mandate to move to take title, but that there could also be some action, perhaps by the legislature, compelling enforcement.
"We are continuing to research and examine what the law is and how it might be (applied)," the attorney general said.
He also said a resolution could be fairly straightforward "if there is no objection and the city determines to move ahead and gain title."
When I asked the mayor about the title issue, he noted that he met with state economic development officials after the announcement by Pfizer that it is pulling out of the city, and the discussion included the idea that the city itself would take a more active role in managing the Fort Trumbull project.
The state retains mortgage liens in the amount of $73 million against the properties and will have a say in what happens on them.
"There has to be a greater discussion at the state level about where this is going," Pero said.
"And some of the discussions have already been fashioned around the city having a greater role in what happens on the peninsula."
John Brooks, the Fort Trumbull project director for the NLDC, disclosed recently that a developer has come forward with a proposal, and the agency's real estate committee is expected to report soon to the board about whether to enter into negotiations.
There seems no better time, before a new agreement starts to take shape, for the city, run by duly elected representatives accountable to its citizens, to assert its lawful claim to the title to the Fort Trumbull properties.
This is the opinion of David Collins.