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Letter: The Selectmen are Not Listening

July 20, 2016 Government, Opinion No Comments

To the Editor:

Three members of the Canton Board of Selectmen – First Selectman Leslee Hill, Beth Kandrysawtz, and Larry Minichiello — are intent on trying to reconstruct the town Department of Public Works garage on its current site on the Farmington River.  They are doing this despite widespread public opposition, serious site flaws, survey data that should steer them elsewhere, the extensive analysis and recommendations of the Permanent Municipal Building Committee, and the vision of the Town Plan of Conservation and Development.

Comments at the recent town public meeting and in the town-wide survey made it abundantly clear what the public wants them to do:

  • Not re-build on the river (56% opposed in survey; 59 spoke or wrote in opposition);
  • Buy 674 Albany Turnpike (67% supported in survey);
  • Reconsider Commerce Drive (122 people stated this in the survey, despite not being asked the question; 18 wrote or spoke in favor; only 8 people spoke or wrote against this site and 6 of them live on one road somewhat near the Industrial Park).

Many comments and survey answers clearly showed that price is an absolute, undeniable factor.  The town must make sure the new garage is as inexpensive and no-frills as possible.  The good news is that the current design is just that: smaller, more economic, and more functional that the last one voted down on Commerce Drive.  The problem is that a new garage will cost money – most likely at least $4 million, even with a small footprint and cheaper design.  The only way to make it even less expensive is to build it in stages over time, but that requires a building lot that accommodates staging.   But make no mistake – we need a new garage.

One huge misconception among residents is that the river site will be cheaper.  All indicators are that it may be the most expensive site.  In order of cost, including purchasing land, here’s a ranking of the three sites:

  • The cheapest appears to be Albany Turnpike, which has good road access, easily developable land that will allow staged development and a less expensive design (e.g., no need for two stories), a moderate/high acquisition cost, and lacks utilities; it also offers additional recreational and open space to the town which meet additional goals stated in the Town Plan;
  • The next least expensive would be Commerce Drive which is zoned industrial and has utilities and good road access, has a moderate acquisition cost, and has some challenges for site development; of all three sites it has the greatest distance to residences;
  • The most expensive would likely be the river site. A professional estimate for its cost was over $6 million without any land acquisition cost – there are enormous costs for wetlands/flood mitigation, earth moving, drainage changes, multi-story design, road access, and more.  We have no guarantees of the many Federal and State permits required for reconstructing the flood plain; we are unsure of any environmental hazards that will be found on the site; and it cannot be staged for development. The only cheap aspect of this site is that the town owns it.  The town staff has come up with an estimate that is considerably lower but has been shown to be incomplete and highly optimistic.  This is not a cheap solution.

So where are we now? The Selectmen did make an offer for the Albany turnpike property, but it was very low and was done without any possibility of negotiation or partnerships to “get to yes”.  It was turned down by the sellers.  If we really want this property, we need to work for it.  Anticipating that their offer would be declined, the Selectmen voted that, once the offer was turned down, the town should immediately spend $25,000 to design the new garage on the river.  There was no discussion, public input, or other opportunity to look at other options or return to Commerce Drive.

Why, you might ask, would these three selectmen do this?  Because they are rushing to put something on the November ballot, and whatever that is needs to be set by early September by state law.  They don’t want to take more time to get to the right answer.  They do this knowing that the river site is very likely to fail at referendum, wasting even more taxpayer money.

So, what SHOULD the Selectmen be doing?

  • They should stop looking at the river immediately – it will not pass, and it is very likely to be the most expensive of all the sites
  • They should immediately stop the design for the facility on the river – again, it will not pass and this is a waste of $25,000 of public funds
  • They should work cooperatively with the sellers for Albany Turnpike and find a way to acquire this land
  • They should meet with the handful of neighbors close to the Industrial Park to address and resolve their concerns about Commerce Drive – which is zoned industrial and pre-dated their own houses
  • They should purchase and move forward either Albany Turnpike or Commerce Drive
  • They should NOT rush into a choice just to put something on the November ballot

Most of all, the Selectmen should listen to the voices of their residents.  We’ve been clear – we want a cost-effective, long-term solution that is NOT ON THE RIVER.

Sarah Faulkner 

 

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