The City Council hosted a litany of items on their agenda Monday night. This included approving a Department of Economic and Community Development grant for the Haven project, an amended a referral of street abandonment for the project, and MARB enforced mill rate increase.
Representatives of the Haven project were in attendance to see the approval of the grant and the abandonment of the roads. Some council members, who have been waiting for the developers to attend the meeting, took the opportunity to ask them about timelines for the project.
Third District Councilman Aaron Charney and Second District Councilman Nicholas Ruickoldt were especially inquisitive to the developers. Charney, whose district the Haven is in, asked developer Matt Armstrong when the project would be finished to no avail.
Armstrong said he could not answer hypotheticals but that they are working diligently on the process. When Charney questioned what businesses the developer was bringing into the mall Armstrong said he had to withhold the information due to confidentiality agreements.
Ruickoldt took umbrage with the fact that the road abandonment was the last action the council takes before they are no longer a part of the process. While he said he supported the project, he said he had a lot more questions for the developer before he would feel comfortable approving the abandonment.
The council eventually approved, without Ruickoldt, the road abandonment of Water Street and, in part, Center Street and Richards Place. The stipulations for the measure were that the developer acquired a demolition permit from the city, issues a schedule for the demolition and built a perimeter fence around the property, all within six to eight months. They also put a six-month sunset clause on the referral.
Corporation Counsel Lee Tiernan said the $5 million grant was for “demolition, street improvements and site improvements.” When it came to approving that item, the developers fielded more questions. At one point, a council member asked the developer what skin they had in the game to finish the project.
Armstrong replied to the question by saying the developers had acquired 56 parcels of land and invested $25 to $30 million into the project so far.
“If I don’t answer your questions it is not that I am trying to be evasive,” said Armstrong. “It is that I don’t have the answers yet.”
Charney pointed to blight issues and property value declining in his district. He said while the project was city wide, “Some people are taking more of a hit than others.”
Another issue the council tackled was the approval of a .42 increase in the mill rate. The MARB increased the mill rate when adjusting the city budget last month after not allowing the Rossi administration to use one-time revenue from the sale of city property to fill gaps.
Unlike previous years, the MARB made a stipulation that, in order to get restructuring funds, the city council would have to vote to approve the change.
Sixth District Councilman Peter Massaro said he was tired of how the MARB treats the city and its officials.
“It’s like extortion,” said Massaro. “Putting a gun to your head.”
Chairman Ronald Quagliani said he wished the relationship between the MARB and city officials was more collaborative and pointed out that in Tier 4 communities [West Haven is Tier 3] the council and mayor have a voting role in the process.