Northland officials unhappy as town 'changes the rules,' plans to explore its options
Preston - A spokesman for one of the two developers vying for the town's piece of the former Norwich Hospital site implied Wednesday that the firm, Northland Investment Corp., is at least considering withdrawing its name from consideration.
The implication came after a tumultuous meeting of the hospital advisory committee Wednesday night that saw some members confront First Selectman Robert Congdon over his controversial proposal to put both Northland and Preston Gateway Partners on the ballot for a townwide referendum.
”We are going to review our options,” said Northland spokesman Chuck Coursey, “but why would we want to participate in a process where, every time we win, they change the rules?”
Congdon surprised fellow selectmen, committee members and the developers last Thursday night by suggesting the town either send a choice of both developers or neither to referendum.
The advisory committee, which had met one night earlier, had worked under the assumption that a referendum ballot that included both developers wasn't a possibility, and were shocked to learn that Congdon had figured out a way to do it with some help from an attorney representing the town in its hospital negotiations.
The hospital advisory committee voted 5-2 last Wednesday to recommend the town negotiate with Northland over Preston Gateway Partners LLC. The next night, the Board of Selectmen voted 2-1 for Northland.
Coursey said Northland had also come out ahead in a straw poll of the committee in February, though there wasn't an official or even informal vote.
In February, Northland officials had criticized the advisory committee's decision to commission a second economic report after questioning the information in drafts of the first one it received.
Wednesday night's meeting was committee members' first face-to-face meeting with Congdon since the selectmen's meeting last week where he sprung his dual-ballot plan, and most had just one question on their minds as the committee prepared to embark on its agenda: to paraphrase, “How could you do that to us?”
Prior to the vote, it merely took the introduction of an agenda item to make a recommendation to selectmen on the format for an informational meeting to provide an opening for frustrated committee members.
”What good is us taking a vote and giving our opinion to the Board of Selectmen?” asked committee member Sandra Ewing.
That spurred a 15-minute back-and-forth pitting Ewing and committee member Allyn Brown III against Congdon, with interjection from member Kent Borner in support of Congdon.
Committee members' tempers had already been stoked at the start of the meeting when they discovered that the front page of the previous meeting's draft minutes were missing and another page erroneously said the committee had recommended PGP.
”I feel that this committee has worked many years and spent lots of time volunteering … to provide time on this committee, and it would have just been common courtesy before Thursday's meeting to let us know (about the proposed change),” said Ewing, who did not attend the selectmen's meeting last Thursday, “not for me to read it the next day in the paper.”
Also at Wednesday's meeting, the committee voted unanimously to recommend that each developer's team make a 20- to 30-minute presentation at a town meeting scheduled for 7:30 p.m. June 19, and that Northland get the choice on whether to present first or second.
The Board of Selectmen will meet at 6:30 tonight in the town hall.