Minutes - May 17, 2004 - Committee-of-the-Whole
Minutes of the Committee-of-the-Whole Meeting of the
City Council of the CITY OF DARIEN MAY 17, 2004
1. CALL TO ORDER
The Committee-of-the-Whole Meeting of the City Council of the City of
Darien was called to order at 6:00 P.M. by Mayor Carmen D. Soldato. In
attendance were: Aldermen Biehl, Cotten, Hagen, Marchese, Poteraske,
Weaver, and Tikalsky. Also in attendance were: Mayor Soldato, Clerk
Coleman, Treasurer Monaghan, Administrator Vana, Community Development
Director Dreyer, Public Works Asst. Director Mengarelli, Public Works
Asst. Director Rodgers, and Business District Development and
Redevelopment Commissioners Coren, Cozzolino, Dahl, and Jiskra.
2. BUSINESS DISTRICT DEVELOPMENT AND REDEVELOPMENT
Mayor Soldato provided background and articulated reasons for the
recommendation contained within the Business District Development memo
dated May 17, 2004. He noted that comments/direction would come from
Council and Commission members; he stated that residents would also have
an opportunity to offer input later in the meeting. Mayor Soldato
commented that the development would not include the total twelve acres
but would focus on the properties that fronted the east side of Cass
Avenue between Plainfield Road & 75th Street, basically from the Shell
station southerly to the BP station with the strip center between the
two. He said that if the City owned or controlled the property that the
City could drive the timing and nature of the project.
Alderman Hagen stated that this proposed project was more ‘doable’
than the entire triangle; he noted that the project was entirely
different than previously proposed and suggested another RFP.
Alderman Marchese noted that the project was downsized and that the
Gammonley plan would need to be revised, which had been a blend of
residential and commercial. He questioned the impact for development of
the remaining land and if the Gammonley Group had a vision for this
‘new’ proposal. Administrator Vana responded that what was critical
about the development was partnership between the developer and the
City; he said that there were no preconceived/detailed plans at this
time and that Council would need to provide direction. Mayor Soldato
stated that the new plan would divert from that originally planned; that
the new plan would meet the Comprehensive Plan goal.
Alderman Biehl questioned the redevelopment along Cass Avenue,
specifically the parking levels and condominiums; he noted that the
proposed changes now included residential, business, and parking. He
asked if the existing would be demolished. Administrator Vana responded
to the inquiry. He said that Gammonley was interested in the project
even though the scope was reduced; he said that details needed to be
worked out and that the existing buildings would be demolished. Alderman
Biehl inquired about relocation of the existing businesses. Mayor
Soldato responded that there would be juggling to achieve the
redevelopment; he said there was one owner with many tenants and that
the tenants could be relocated within the City. Mayor Soldato stated
that communication was important between the City, owners and business
Alderman Biehl asked Attorney Murphey if the City had to do another
RFP; Attorney Murphey responded that this was not a legal issue but
discretionary. Mayor Soldato stated that the current budget allowed the
City to investigate the whole twelve acres as a TIF District in order to
seek assistance; the procedure contemplates not spending that money by
enticing a developer’s interest; litigation or lawyering costs. He said
that Council needed to provide Administrator Vana with the authority to
ascertain information about development, which could be done through
another short-term RFP but was not necessary.
Alderman Poteraske stated that the City had met with resistance from
some building owners. He asked why the City would take on the role of
gathering money for development of the three parcels and not the
developer. Mayor Soldato commented that the City was asked if they owned
or had control of the land and the City response was ‘no’. He said that
Administrator Vana, a banker and he discussed a bridge loan for a short
term basis until it could be turned over to a developer. He stated that
the City would control it and would find a partner who would purchase it
from the City; he noted that the City would only pay interest for the
period when it owned the land and would then turn it over to the
developer. Alderman Poteraske said that he would like to see progress
and not have the project dragged out.
Alderman Cotten commented that the previously proposed development
was off the table, that parking would be an issue, and that open space
would be limited.
Alderman Tikalsky stated that they had been talking about the three
parcels along Cass Avenue and the City taking ownership. He suggested
that the City aggressively consider purchasing the eleven acres instead
of piecemealing the project even if it took time to develop the entire
area and even if the City became landlord to some of the tenants. He
disagreed with placement of residential on Cass Avenue. Mayor Soldato
stated that if the City was the owner, it could own the property for a
very long period of time and not know what the future market would
dictate. Alderman Tikalsky asked what the market value of the properties
was and what the interest payment would be.
Alderman Hagen stated that the City owns a small lot that fronts onto
Plainfield, he suggested that if the project became a reality that it
might want to swap with the apartment complex. It was noted that $95,000
had been budgeted for studies not for purchasing. Administrator Vana
referred to the aerial map and stated that the City owned the parcel
indicated as 005; he indicated that the City could probably purchase
green space from the apartment complex, which would have no impact on
the apartments. Chairman Coren commented that residents wanted a
downtown area within Darien and that the concept was limited and
‘dressed up’ an existing rundown center. He suggested expanding the
downtown area to include the Brookhaven and Jewel centers instead of
being narrowly focused. Mayor Soldato stated that the owner of
Brookhaven was improving the center and had new tenants.
Commission Member Jiskra was concerned that the downtown area may
look like another strip mall; she liked the proposed mixed use.
Commission Member Dahl questioned the status of the apartment
complex; Mayor Soldato stated that the owners have been non-responsive.
John Keporos, owner of the Heritage strip center, stated that he met
with Administrator Vana and was advised that the City wanted a
development in a horseshoe shape from corner to corner, that TIF money
was available, and that the City would assist; he agreed to work with
the City. Mr. Keporos tried to purchase the Shell property but was told
that the City had the first option; he was recently contacted by the new
owner of the Shell property because he wanted to purchase the strip
center. Mr. Keporos contacted Shell to find out how the new owner
purchased the land; he was informed that the City had the first option
to purchase but had no money. He asked that the City take into
consideration that some of the tenants had been there approximately 25
years. He inquired if blueprints had been submitted; Administrator Vana
responded that the gentleman had a concept plan and made a proposal to
Council in regard to developing the corner and possibly developing to
the south. Mr. Keporos stated that he would offer to purchase the Shell
property from the new owner but would not sell the strip center to him.
Mayor Soldato thanked Mr. Keporos for commenting; he stated that the
City could not offer to buy land or offer an option on land until after
Council publicly voted to enter into an agreement. Mayor Soldato
commented that everything must be done according to law; he said that it
was slow and cumbersome and that no one had the authority to stand
alone. He stated that the City was interested in the Shell property from
a development standpoint but it was impossible for the City to purchase
the land since it never appeared on an Agenda for formal consideration
by the Council.
Dr. Atassi, a dentist in the Heritage strip center, said she was
establishing her practice and that it was not easy to move because malls
have restrictions. She requested better communication and a time frame.
Gloria Anderson inquired if a TIF would be utilized by the City as a
development tool; Mayor Soldato responded “we would hope not; we would
hope that we would not have to”. She stated that someone from the
Gammonley Group informed her that the City was in the process of hiring
a TIF consultant. Mayor Soldato stated that the City looked into a TIF
consultant to find out what the cost would be for budgeting purposes but
dollars were not budgeted; he noted that presentations were made to do
TIF work but the City was not moving forward in that direction.
Administrator Vana stated that there were State Statutes that must be
followed for Public Hearings and that the City would meet all of those
Joe Snyder, owner of Snyder Insurance, wanted to refinance his
business and was informed that the value of his property had
depreciated; the property was appraised at less than half of its value
three years ago. He stated that he would only sell his property for
redevelopment if the price was right.
Mayor Soldato recommended that Council give Administrator Vana
authority to * meet with the three business owners on Cass Avenue in
order to reach an understanding, * contact owners of the other corners
to see if there was a desire to work with the City, and * prepare an
RFP, for sixty days, in regard to the limited project.
Mayor Soldato stated that the City Council and Business District
Development and Redevelopment Commissioners would meet at 6:00 P.M. on
June 7th for further discussion about the Triangle area.
There being no further business to come before the
Committee-of-the-Whole, the meeting adjourned at 7:05 P.M.
Carmen D. Soldato, Mayor
Joanne F. Coleman, City Clerk
JFC:jr All supporting documentation and report originals of these
minutes are on file in the Office of the City Clerk under File Number
05-17-04 Committee-of-the-Whole. Minutes of 05-17-04