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Some suggestions for developing Fort Trumbull

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published November 29. 2013 4:00AM

On the subject of New London taking title to the Fort Trumbull properties now held by the successor to the New London Development Corp., former city law director Thomas Londregan could not have been more clear, when he wrote about it in a 2007 memorandum.

"NLDC is aware of (Connecticut 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 the 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."

After all, the private NLDC, rechristened Renaissance City Development Association at the behest of Mayor Daryl Finizio, has never paid a dime of property tax on the land, which rightly belongs to the people of New London.

It's hard to understand why the mayor, who campaigned against the NLDC, hasn't moved to correct this glaring problem with the deeds, as required by state law.

The state's liens on the property should not matter. After all, the state is willing to let the deeds pass to a developer found to be suitable.

Surely the Democrats who control Hartford would let a Democratic mayor follow state law and take title on behalf of city residents and voters, with the state liens in place again.

Could the mayor be worried about ceding control of the property to the City Council?

After all, he seems so far to be trying to put the old NLDC in his pocket. He left some of the leftover players from the eminent domain era in place, but he helped install a new president and renamed the agency after a closing line of his election night acceptance speech in which he coined the expression "Renaissance City."

Is the person who campaigned on the promise of taking away the power of the NLDC in a power play of his own?

One previous City Council tried to take the deeds to Fort Trumbull. But the effort failed on a 5-2 vote in 2007.

NLDC officials objected at the time, saying it could jeopardize agreements they were making with developers. Of course, that was several years ago, and nothing was ever developed.

I liked the suggestion by Linda Mariani, the new Renaissance City president, made at the time she took office last summer, to hold a public hearing to invite city residents to discuss what to do next at Fort Trumbull.

Indeed, some interesting ideas about Fort Trumbull have been percolating lately.

Instead of building a parking garage there, for instance, as Renaissance City has been proposing, why not narrow Howard Street, the corridor leading to downtown, and create more on-street parking and a more urban environment.

For that matter, why not connect the peninsula to the downtown with a pedestrian bridge. Put new parking on top of the existing city garage, available both to visitors to the new National Coast Guard Museum, or anyone else who wants to walk from Fort Trumbull.

Instead of giving the best site at Fort Trumbull to a Fairfield County developer, why not break it up into smaller pieces and let local developers build smaller mixed-use buildings.

For that matter, why not create house lots and give them to homesteaders?

Once the city takes title to the land, the development staff will be in place to help market and develop it. Renaissance City has no full-time staff, not even anyone to answer phone calls from prospective developers.

Renaissance City can create a forum for city residents to provide community input, as elected officials on the City Council decide what to do next.

Renaissance City could even put some of its substantial endowment - as much as $200,000 or more once given in private donations - toward marketing Fort Trumbull and creating a new neighborhood to replace the one they destroyed.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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