Council approves land lease

With the Town Council's approval, Trumbull will control a 40-acre parcel of state-owned parkland for the foreseeable future.

The lease deal completes a land transaction in which the state shifted the border between Bridgeport and Trumbull, placing a 48-acre site inside Bridgeport and allowing Trumbull to negotiate for a compensatory parcel.

Bridgeport is currently building an interdistrict magnet school on the property it received. The council voted 12-1 with one abstention to approve the lease of land along the Pequonnock River on the opposite side of Quarry Road from the magnet school at its December meeting. The town will pay a total of $1 to the state to lease the land for 25 years, with the town having the option to renew the lease under the same terms twice more, for a potential total of 75 years.

Democrats Jim Meisner, Gregg Basbagill and Fred Palmieri joined all nine Republicans in attendance in approving the measure. Martha Mark opposed and Vickie Tesoro abstained. Council Chairman Carl Massaro, a Republican, did not vote.

Council Democrats cited potential environmental contamination at the site, which the Bridgeport Parks and Recreation Department has used as a vehicle maintenance garage for years.

"Why is it our responsibility to clean up Bridgeport's mess?" Meisner asked Town Attorney Robert Nicola, who represented Trumbull in the lease negotiations. "Are we taking on a costly cleanup project?"

Nicola said the site has no known hazards and that the cleanup required would consist mainly of removing debris, though some pieces were rather large. There was an underground fuel tank but it has been deactivated and filled in.

Mark questioned the wisdom of taking on the lease without first getting an environmental report.

"I'm not comfortable signing off on this without it," she said.

Mark also said she preferred to pursue an outright purchase of the land, an option Nicola called "not even a possibility."

Other Democrats questioned potential liability claims, since First Selectman Timothy Herbst has said he envisioned using the land to complete the town's trail system all the way to the Bridgeport border.

"There is a bridge on the property, and it is posted that there is no swimming, but people swim there," Meisner said. "What if someone drowns?"

Nicola said the potential for a lawsuit already exists and would not change under the lease terms.

"Someone could be jogging on the road and trip and sue the town because people are crazy now," he said.

Also, given the location, some questioned safety aspects and the potential cost of providing police patrols to the area, an issue Herbst said was also a non-factor.

"We monitor the property now because even though it is state-owned, it is already inside Trumbull," Herbst said. "Whether you vote for it or not, the land is in Trumbull."

After the vote, GOP leader Chadwick Ciocci said the deal was a good one for the town.

"I would prefer to take control of the land entirely, but I understand that's not possible," he said. "Also, I would have preferred to have an environmental test, but we're not buying the property, so it's not our responsibility."

Ciocci said he hoped the town would be able to purchase the land outright at some point in the next 75 years.

He also defended the Republicans' silence at the meeting where the GOP contingent did not ask questions or participate in the discussion.

"Here's the issue: It was a take-it-or-leave-it deal," he said. "If we had amended or rejected the lease, the deal would have been killed."