M. MATTHEW CLARK
Preston - In what town leaders are calling a “significant change” regarding the development of the former Norwich Hospital site, First Selectman Robert Congdon will write a letter to Northland Investment Corp. asking that the two parties begin negotiating under non-exclusive terms.
The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously Thursday night to have Congdon draft and send the letter to Northland Chairman Lawrence Gottesdiener as soon as today.
”I believe we've made every good-faith effort we can to move this forward,” Congdon said.
The town and the development firm appear stuck in the process of working out the terms of an exclusive negotiating agreement, which would establish ground rules for the two sides' discussions.
The letter will ask that the town and Northland proceed under the terms of the original request for proposals for the ex-hospital site. Preston has until Jan. 5, 2009, to declare its intentions for the property before it is returned to state control.
When an audience member at Thursday's meeting asked for clarification on the purpose of the letter, Congdon noted that the word “exclusive” wasn't in the motion.
It's been six weeks since voters in a townwide referendum overwhelmingly selected Northland as the preferred developer of the 419-acre property, but progress has been minimal at best. Congdon said that while the attorneys for Northland and Preston have been in frequent contact, the principals have only met face-to-face once.
”We look forward to receiving this letter and we'll respond accordingly,” said Northland spokesman Chuck Coursey after the meeting. He declined to comment further on the negotiation process.
The board's vote came a day after resident Mike Clancy submitted a petition to the selectmen to have the town work with other developers. The selectmen received the 23 signatures Thursday, and voted to get a legal opinion from the town attorney and Hartford-based Shipman and Goodwin, which has represented the town on the hospital-site matter.
Selectman Michael Sinko, who is also the chairman of the town's hospital advisory committee, wondered if Clancy's petition sought to override the six-week-old results of the referendum, which Sinko said was a mandate from townspeople.
Congdon and Selectman Gerald Grabarek said that was immaterial if Clancy's petition is deemed legal.
Clancy, who was at the meeting, said his purpose was not to derail any negotiations, but to get things moving toward a recognizable goal.
If Clancy's petition is legal, the town has 21 days to schedule a town meeting.