Does Finizio's Fort Trumbull move benefit New London?

Then-candidate Daryl Justin Finizio made a brilliant political move back in 2011 when he called for the dissolution of the New London Development Corp. Many voters held the NLDC, and its board controlled by leaders who came largely from outside the city, in low regard.

The NLDC was synonymous with the seizure of homes in the old neighborhood of Fort Trumbull to make way for redevelopment. In 2005, the NLDC and city prevailed when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the seizure by eminent domain was constitutional. It was a pyrrhic victory, however, the decision widely criticized. Development plans never came to fruition.

Mr. Finizio's vow to dissolve the NLDC helped elect him mayor in a strong showing. The campaign promise was not easy to fulfill, however. The development agency was in the midst of trying to close on a development deal (it failed). Additionally, the state had made a massive investment in Fort Trumbull and its legal paperwork referenced the development agency.

However, the mayor did do something. He renamed the organization the Renaissance City Development Association (RCDA), borrowing on his optimistic campaign reference to New London. And he negotiated for local people to take leadership control, including well-regarded local attorney Linda Mariani as its president. Arguably, this approach made more sense than his call for dissolving the agency.

But on June 19 Mayor Finizio - who has said he will not seek a second term in 2015 - returned to his earlier pledge. He called upon the state, RCDA and City Council to approve an agreement transferring most of the Fort Trumbull properties to the city and giving it all fiscal control. While the RCDA would continue as a shell agency, the city administration would essentially assume responsibility for Fort Trumbull development efforts.

The RCDA would only remain in control of the property that formally held the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, relocated as part of a federal base-closing initiative. That land was transferred to the development agency under a federal law intended to encourage economic reuse.

The City Council should approve the change proposed by Mayor Finizio only if the mayor can make the case that it is in the best interests of New London. He has yet to do that.

In his June 19 press conference, Mayor Finizio talked of erasing the dark stain the eminent domain decision left on New London. This transfer will not do that. The rest of the nation is not concerned with the details of who controls development of the property. In any event, the properties seized by eminent domain "are already in the name of the City," wrote Law Director Jeffrey T. Londregan in a Jan. 6, 2014 memo to the mayor. It's the other properties RCDA owns.

Reversing dark stains should not drive the council's decision.

Then there is the matter of fulfilling that campaign promise. That is also not the council's concern.

What the council should consider is whether this change improves the ability to develop the largely vacant property and get it on the tax rolls. So far, there is no evidence it will.

The council must also consider what the city has to gain by assuming liability for these properties. Because it has been hit with a series of lawsuits in the recent years involving alleged negligence, New London has seen its deductible rise to $500,000. Liability in Fort Trumbull now rests largely with the RCDA. This does not seem a good time for the city to seek more liability exposure.

Some of the properties still need environmental remediation. What is the justification for the city directly assuming that burden? RCDA has qualified for a $400,000 Environmental Protection Agency grant. Could that be lost?

Attorney Londregan's January memo brings into question Mayor Finizio's most basic justification for the change - that the city, not the development agency, should be in control. Mr. Londregan wrote that the city is already in charge.

"Nothing can happen to those parcels without the City's approval and consent, thereby putting the property within the City's control," wrote the attorney.

The council needs to critically examine the mayor's proposal.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.


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