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Latest Offer On SHS Parcel Rejected; Access Options Weighed

The Legislative Council was informed January 8 that the town’s last, best offer on two Riverside Road parcels officials hoped would provide an optimal and alternative entryway for the new Sandy Hook School was rejected by the property owners through their attorney.

First Selectman Pat Llodra reported to the council that a $650,000 offer presented with a caveat was turned down by the Oberstadt family who resides at and owns the 12 Riverside Road property adjacent to the Sandy Hook School. Mrs Llodra said she informed the Oberstadts that she could not ensure that $650,000 would receive final approval by elected officials who also have roles in authorizing town spending.

The first selectman said that offer was “not acceptable” to the property owners.

In mid-December the council weighed the option of taking the property by eminent domain, but unanimously rejected that tactic. Instead council members encouraged Mrs Llodra to continue negotiating on behalf of the town.

After several appraisals were conducted for the town, Mrs Llodra previously told the council a first offer for the properties was made equaling the highest appraisal amount and it was countered by the Oberstadts through their attorney, who said the family wanted $898,000. Negotiations broke off in December after the town’s then final offer of $500,000 was rejected.

Property owner Susan Oberstadt attended the January 8 meeting but offered no public comment on the decision.

Although it appeared the idea of using the 12 Riverside Road parcel was moot, Council Chair Mary Ann Jacob asked representatives of Svigals + Partners, the architecture firm handling design for the new school project, to walk council members through details of both the Riverside Road and a modified Dickinson Drive option for the school entryway.

Firm members Julia McFadden led her team through the two scenarios, using elevation plans, photos and computer generated animation illustrating what the entry might resemble for school visitors from each of the two perspectives. She said while the Riverside Road option offered some minor advantages related to exit and entry sightlines, creating a new driveway spur from Dickinson Drive was equally viable.

She indicated that creating a new driveway from Riverside Road would require significant excavation into and through a hillside, while installing a new driveway spur from Dickinson Drive would require the roadway to pass through and over less than 5,000 square feet of wetlands. Ms McFadden told the council that between the two driveway options, the Dickinson Drive option was “more cost-effective.”

The goal in developing a Dickinson Drive spur is to make the entry experience to the new Sandy Hook School “perceptually different” than what school and community members experienced when entering the former school property. The original school building was razed last fall.

 

Capital Improvement Plan

Wednesday provided the first opportunity for council members to hear about the next five years of proposed capital improvements. Ms Jacob opened the discussion reminding her colleagues that only proposed expenditures in the 2014-15 period were imminently relevant to upcoming budget proceedings because they represented projects the town would go out to bond for in mid-February.

In relation to the upcoming bond offering, Mrs Llodra said she will be bringing a resolution to the council in early February seeking authorization to bond for a Hawleyville sewer line extension project. She said that authorization had to be approved by the council and Board of Finance before the town’s February 15 bond offering.

The first selectman warned that specific costs for the project were not yet clarified, so she would attempt to fix an authorization amount officials believe would be enough to cover the project. But she explained that the full amount authorized might not be required, and council representatives would have two future opportunities to hear about potential costs when the town comes forward requesting both project approval and authorization to spend bond money to complete the project.

That bonding authorization is scheduled to be made at the February 5 council session.

Moving to other subjects, Councilman Robert Merola inquired about capital allocations for the new Hook & Ladder headquarters. Mrs Llodra said she was confident the volunteer fire company would be completing a contract to purchase property from Trinity Church to locate the new fire headquarters off Church Hill Road.

But she also told the council that it will be “critical to understand the relationship between the town and Hook & Ladder to capitalize their building,” and that the town plans to “craft language to clarify the town’s investment in that project.”

Mr Merola was concerned about what would happen if the fire company was unable to raise the necessary funds to complete the land purchase and building project after the town had committed $1.5 million to assist the fire company. Mrs Llodra pointed out that the original concept was to give the fire company the $1.5 million in three annual installments to help them guarantee and pay down a mortgage for the project.

As the fire company struggled through the process of obtaining a viable plot of land for the project, it became clear that Hook & Ladder might need some of the capital funding to purchase land for its new headquarters. As a result, the town will be exploring and redrawing the legal stipulations related to the $1.5 million in funding from the town.

Councilman Tony Filiato asked if the town could explore the option of purchasing the parcel and leasing it back to Hook & Ladder, and Mrs Llodra said it was a possibility. She added that such an arrangement is already in place with the Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Corps, which is currently building its new headquarters on the ground of Fairfield Hills.

The only question to school officials generating any discussion was regarding improvements to the high school auditorium. School Facilities Director Gino Faiella told the council that preliminary costs for planned improvements to the facility were first developed in 2008 and the project was added to the CIP in 2010. In 2013, Public Building and Site Commission Chair and architect Robert Mitchell helped the district rescope the costs for improvements.

Mr Faiella said since then he and school officials learned about some concerns related to the auditorium’s backstage area, so he was bringing in a company that works with a number of New York theaters to assess any additional requirement that would ensure the project was fully conforming with all code and OSHA requirements.

Once that inspection is completed, the district will have a good fix on what the total anticipated costs will be to complete auditorium improvements at the high school.

In other business, the council referred a proposal to provide 100 percent tax relief to totally disabled veterans to the ordinance committee, which is planning to meet in the next couple of weeks.

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