The committee dedicated to running the city’s library system has taken issue with the way the city handled the sale of one of its venues, and certain declarations made in defense of the sale. The Village Improvement Association issued a statement this week, saying the sale of the former Forest School Building, asking for documentation on certain claims, and disputing statements made by some officials.
In making its statement this week, the VIA maintains it is committed to continuing a service in the Allingtown borough, and cites the current post-COVID-19 situation as a major factor.
“The Village Improvement Association of West Haven, Inc. is dedicated to ensuring that the Allingtown community retains library services. With the drastic rise in unemployment and school children without access to traditional educational resources, the opportunities and services offered by the VIA are more important than ever. The VIA is committed to working with the City of West Haven to ensure these critical services remain in Allingtown,” the statement read.
One of the major points of contention of the city’s sale to the Acorn Group, a development company headed by David Beckerman, is the position the city has taken regarding first refusal of the property to the group. The VIA maintains it has asked for the documentation, but has not seen it.
“From the outset, the city has relied on the notion that Acorn Group maintained a “Right of First Refusal,” which would allow for it to match any bid submitted. The “Right of First Refusal” was not noted in any of the bid materials, and, curiously, was not mentioned by the city’s Corporation Counsel until after the VIA’s substantially higher bid was submitted. The city then purported to rely on the “Right of First Refusal” to weaken the VIA’s proposal and allow the developer to amend its bid. The city’s Corporation Counsel cited the “Right of First Refusal” as a material component of his legal recommendation to the City Council to accept the Developer’s bid over the VIA’s bid,” the statement said. “ The VIA has repeatedly asked for a copy of the “Right of First Refusal” and hired an independent title searcher to review title for 1 Forest Road, but no such “Right of First Refusal” has been found or provided to the VIA.”
The association further contends that public input into the sale of the property has not been allowed thus far.
“The VIA attempted to participate in the April 27 City Council meeting, the meeting at which the Purchase and Sale Agreement was approved, by submitting written testimony. The VIA’s submission is not cited in the minutes of the meeting and it is apparent from the discussion by the City Council members that many had not even seen the VIA’s testimony,” the statement reads. “Additionally, the public has not had the proper opportunity to weigh in on the sale of the Allingtown Library. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 7-163e requires that a public hearing be held when municipal land is sold but no such public hearing has been occurred.”
A major bone of contention was the statement made by Building Oversight Chairman Ken Carney that a deposit check was not accompanying its bid is false.
“The VIA submitted a $25,000 deposit check along with its proposal. A copy of the deposit check is attached hereto. The deposit check was returned to the VIA on June 3, demonstrating that the city had possession of it even as the false statements were made and published,” the statement reads.
Despite what it calls events that have “shaken the VIA’s confidence in the city’s desire to take action, it is vowing to work with officials to maintain an Allingtown presence.
“The VIA has remained committed to working with the city to ensure that critical library services will remain in Allingtown. Now, it is time for the city to take real action by offering financial resources to secure a permanent home for the Allingtown Library,” the statement reads.
Corporation Counsel Lee Tiernan responded to the statement Tuesday, making a point-by-point refutation. As to the matter of the deposit check, Tiernan clarified the matter.
“I never said VIA did not submit a deposit, despite pressure from the City Council and the Developer to invalidate the VIA bid because they had no deposit check I did not do that. The City Council did not reject the library bid because it lacked a deposit check. The developer called me ‘an idiot’ because I did not invalid the Library bid for failure to submit a deposit check. I cannot speak for Mr. Carney, but the “lack of a deposit check” was not relevant and was not considered by the City Council when the library bid was rejected,” he said.
The matter of the first refusal is a matter of record, the counsel stated.
“There is a right of first refusal recorded in the City Clerk’s office, but it was not cited as a reason to give the developer the bid. The right of first refusal was irrelevant. The City Council did not consider it. I did not consider it. We DID NOT have comparable bids. One bidder would pay taxes (property and personal) one would not; one would invest $2 million in improvements to the building generating significant permit fees, one would not; one bidder would close immediately, one would require six months to obtain a mortgage while their operation was closed due to COVID. If they failed to obtain a mortgage they could walk away; one bidder has a history of successful private development in the city the other entity has a history or poor financial performance (deficits in 2015 and 2016, endowment dropping in value, overpaying for a parking lot by $80,000.00 and investing $900,000 over the last five years in one branch and nothing in the other),” he said.
Tiernan said the late delivery of the library bid was also not an issue.
“The City Council received information from the Library at 4:30 p.m. the night of a council meeting concerning the topic of the sale of the Library. That information was distributed to all council members by email, notwithstanding its late delivery,” he stated.
”When the sale of the property is competed all applicable laws and statutes will be complied with. The property has not been sold, yet”
Tiernan indicated other plans are in the works.
The city has committed to selling the Allingtown Fire Station building at some point and the developer wants that building and the city has been supportive of that. If the city fails to sell the Allingtown Library to Acorn (Beckerman), all development in Allingtown by him stops. A new roof will need to be installed at the library building or the building will have to be closed. We did not receive any other bids from private parties for the library. We are under no MARB oversight. Selling the library building to the VIA is fiscal malpractice, irresponsible and is not ultimately in either the best interest of the City or the Library as it makes both entities weaker,” he said.
Tiernan points out the City Council did, in fact, keep in mind the borough needs a library branch, and has made some move toward that end.
“Not that they were obligated to do so, but the City Council had a signed commitment by the developer of the Blake building to consider the Library/Coffee shop option in that space in some for. VIA toured that building. It’s near a bus line, a school, UNH and is in Allingtown. The council knew this when they rejected the library bid, they had this documentation. This administration, under the leadership of this mayor, created the potential option and the Mayor and the Council is committed to a library presence in Allingtown,” he said.
Meanwhile, he questioned the VIA’s contention it is underfunded.
“The VIA claims it does not have enough funds now, yet they can hire a lawyer and afford to buy a building and maintain it for $500, 000,” he said. “The City Council hates the library so much they just voted CDGB (Community Development Block Grant) funds for the library last night in excess of $30,000,” he said.
Finally, Tiernan noted the city has raised rental fees for all nonprofit groups using city buildings.
“(The) administration has raise rent for nonprofits to use city buildings. The Library could not expect its no-rent position to continue in Allingtown indefinitely.”