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Townspeople Debate Bonding for Pepper St. Improvements

First Selectman Steve Vavrek speaks during a Town Meeting on Monday night.
First Selectman Steve Vavrek speaks during a Town Meeting on Monday night.
Residents discussed whether to bond $5,050,000 for the Pepper Street reconstruction project during a Town Meeting at Monroe Town Hall Monday night. The federal government would fund 80 percent of the cost, with 10 percent from the state and the remaining 10 percent paid for by the town.

Prior to the meeting, citizens garnered 204 signatures to successfully petition the vote to a referendum to be held on Feb. 4 from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Monroe Senior Center, 235 Cutlers Farm Road. The schools will not be available as polling places.

"People have every right in the world to petition this to referendum," First Selectman Steve Vavrek said. "But when I asked people, 'Did you know it was going to be voted on at a Town Meeting? ... Did you know it dates back two years?' They said, 'No.' I ask you to know what you're signing before you sign it."

The project includes drainage improvements, replacement of a culvert, a "vertical alignment" for a flatter approach to the intersection with Main Street — which would have a new right turn lane, a minor widening of the road and moving a section of the Rail Trail off the roadway, according to Town Land Use Dir. and Engineer Scott Schatzlein.

The reconstruction would cover 4,500 linear feet on the section of Pepper Street from Jockey Hollow Road to Cambridge Drive.

Schatzlein said the town applied to the Connecticut Department of Transportation in 2011, adding he made a public presentation in 2012, which was well-received by those who attended.

He said the project is needed to comply with the town's Plan of Conservation & Development by making the road capable of handling the commercial zoning in the area.

"The town is responsible to provide infrastructure to support that zone change," Schatzlein said. "You just can't change a zone and expect businesses to come in without changing the infrastructure to support it."

Vavrek said local business owners in the area need for the project to get done.

"Our community needs this to be done," he said. "This is good for economic development."

If townspeople approve the bonding, the project should be done over two construction seasons in 2016 and 2017.

The executive director of the Greater Bridgeport Regional Council, Brian T. Bidolli, and the project engineering consultant also made presentations before the floor was opened to the public. 

Schatzlein said only roads determined to have regional resources and value are eligible for the federal funding. If Monroe decides not to take advantage of it, he said other towns that competed for the funds will accept it for their own benefit.

Public Session

Patrick O'Hara, who is chairman of the Planning & Zoning Commission, noted how humps are being taken out of the road to improve sight lines near the Panthers' Den, a recreation center frequented by young people and families.

Another aspect of the project O'Hara spoke in favor of is moving hikers on the Rail Trail off of Pepper Street and safely onto a path off the road.

Town Councilman Tony Unger, who is chairman of the council's public works subcommittee, said the Town Council spent two months looking at the data. Of his bipartisan committee, Unger said both Democrats and Republicans joined in an anonymous vote to move the project forward.

Steve Schapiro, a resident, said he's all for improvement of Pepper Street and for economic development, but he said it's confusing for people to see the town spend around $6.3 million for all roads over the past few years, then propose to spend $5 million for 4,500 linear feet of one road.

Schatzlein agreed that $5 million would cover a lot of paving, however, he said the Pepper Street project goes beyond paving, adding a five to six foot elevation would be removed from a portion of the road — which would require replacement of a water main. And the project would include moving and re-installing utility poles, installation of a new box culvert, widening and drainage improvements.

Debra Dutches, who is a member of the Board of Finance, said though there are estimates for the project to cost $5,051,500, the town would be bonding for $5,050,000. "I don't want there to be an issue with the difference," she said.

John Roberge of ]Jockey Hollow Road expressed his belief that heavier truck traffic will have negative impacts on the environment and widening Pepper Street will encourage speeding in residential neighborhoods. He asked what guarantees residents have of health and safety.

"I feel like I'm at a David Copperfield show with what I've been presented and what's been going on," Roberge said, referring to the famous magician.

Ronald Bunovsky said Monroe could use the money, but not for the Pepper Street project. He said the road is fine for residents to drive on, adding the proposed improvements are meant for commercial trucks. Bunovsky said the town has deteriorated steadily over last 40 years as over-development encroaches upon the Pequonnock River, which is a public watershed.

"Monroe's best value is as a residential, bedroom community and we're allowing it to deteriorate," Bunovsky said. "People don't come here for an industrial park."
 
He said bringing more trucks to Main Street damages the roads and lowers property values. Bunovsky would rather money be spent on improving conditions on Moose Hill Road.

Bidolli said other roads will be gotten to, adding a portion of Moose Hill Road is currently being worked on on the Trumbull side.

Ernie LaFollette, chairman of the Monroe Citizen Audit Committee, wanted more public information to be released ahead of the bonding request and he also questioned the logic of the town bonding for the entire amount, then trusting the federal and state governments to pay it back.

Leon Ambrosey spoke in favor of the project, but said he didn't think townspeople were well aware of the project, the cost and the reimbursement. "Are we guaranteed to get these funds back?" he asked. "What if the state makes cuts?"

Bidolli said the money has already been set aside and cannot be used for something else.

Nick Kapoor, the Democratic Town Committee chairman, noted how he's had "spats" with First Selectman Steve Vavrek in the past, then added, "I am very happy to support him and this project 100 percent. I will be very happy to vote for this project next week and I hope others do too."

A 'Gift Horse'

Local developers and Monroe residents, John Kimball and Bernie Sippin are at odds when it comes to the Pepper Street Improvement Project. Kimball, who owns a business park in the area, is for it and Sippin opposes it so strongly that he wrote a letter to the editor expressing his opinion in the Monroe Courier

Kimball said, "There's a lot of talk of how my company will benefit directly and we should be paying for the improvements." But he said the project is for the safety of the drivers of the 4,000 cars that travel Pepper Street every day.

He also named a few other companies in the area, who pay taxes every year, while having to endure poor road conditions.

"This goes back to 1960, before I was in this town," Kimball said. "I didn't come to this town to take over as a robber baron. The tax revenue from the economic development will make this a drop in the bucket."

Other benefits Kimball touted were the safety improvements for the Rail Trail and drainage improvements that would have to follow up to date environmental rules.

"Let's not make this mountain into a molehill," Kimball said. "Let's not keep kicking the state to the curb. We take them to the dance then back out at the 11th hour."

He said one example was with the proposed widening of Route 111 years ago.

"If we tell the DOT no at this point, we might as well stop asking the DOT for improvements," Kimball said. "This is a gift to the town and we're looking a gift horse in the mouth."

Bidolli agreed that the DOT is reluctant to work with towns that cause issues with funding, because the department wants to be able to spend the money when it's available.

Sippin said, "If Mr. Kimball thinks for one moment I'm against development in this town, he's wrong. I am development in this town. I pay over $1 million in taxes to this town. I've been here 85 years."

When Kimball's projects "run against" his, Sippin said he opposes them, adding that anyone in the same situation would.

"I think that street's in good shape," Sippin said. "I don't think we have to fix it up. I don't think we have to spend $5 million there."

Sippin pointed out that a number of buildings there are empty and asked why they are not filling up.

He also disagreed that the federal and state funds are a gift to the town.

"That federal and Connecticut money is coming out of your pocket," he said. "I think it's a waste of money. I think there are other things in Monroe it could be spent on."
Gerald M. Gaynor January 28, 2014 at 07:09 AM
"Sippin said, "If Mr. Kimball thinks for one moment I'm against development in this town, he's wrong. I am development in this town. I pay over $1 million in taxes to this town. I've been here 85 years." When Kimball's projects "run against" his, Sippin said he opposes them, adding that anyone in the same situation would." Now that's some real honesty...
Jim Mayer January 28, 2014 at 07:39 AM
If it were Sippin's trucks located in this area, I'm sure he wouldn't be against this project. As a matter of fact, it would have been addressed a long time ago. As for the "speeding" slant on improving pepper street, that occurred many years ago when they removed the big curve and straightened the road. Does anyone remember that? How about letting the police take care of speeding in town (perhaps starting with tri-axles on route 25 and school buses)
Bruce January 28, 2014 at 08:41 AM
You can always rely on the town crazies to oppose everything. As their dementia sets in deeper every year they NEVER have any facts, appear confused at town meetings, have strange conspiracy theories, and write letters to the editor that are riddled with false statements.
Tony Scott January 28, 2014 at 10:00 AM
It really baffles me how people continue to recommend we spend $5 million on something else. I am not sure if they can explain it any clearer. The reimbursement from the Federal and State governments is for this, and only this, project. We can't just move the dollars to something else. And people wonder why nothing can get advanced in this town.
Crown Royal January 28, 2014 at 10:01 AM
Regardless of your feelings towards Kimball or Sippin, the potential tax revenue from the commercial properties on North Pepper St, far exceed the $500k we are being asked to approve. It would be extremely shortsighted to vote no on this project. I think more enforcement by the Monroe PD related to commercial traffic south of Jockey Hollow would ease many of the concerns of citizens.
Bob Loblaw January 28, 2014 at 01:44 PM
If anyone is serious about safety for residents and commercial trucks in that area they might want to tell/make the dump truck drivers to stop at the STOP sign coming out of whatever is over the bridge. Especially since they are talking about how limited the sight is over the crest in the hill in front of Panthers Den.
G.W. January 28, 2014 at 04:44 PM
This is Vavrek using his office to buy Kimbal a better road. Kimbal properties will increase in value at tax payer’s expense if voters agree to this nonsense. There are other roads in Monroe that meet the criteria for promised State and Federal funding and the public should be wondering why there has been no discussion about those alternatives. This is more nut job government from the losers that run town hall. Rip up a perfectly good road that tax payers paid to fix just a few years ago because it suits the needs of a local developer and then offer no discussion about other highly trafficked roads in need of repair. Kimbal is already getting his Walmart on one end of town, now he needs a bigger better road for his business on the other end and we wonder why our taxes go up every year, it’s because of this type of stupid planning. Wake up people, vote NO on this favor for a developer and force our First Selectman and Council to open up this discussion to alternate roads here in town.
G.W. January 28, 2014 at 04:58 PM
Why were none of these meetings televised? “Hey, lets have a quiet little meeting, then load the room with all our friends, have a quick vote and stick it to the taxpayers for another five million.” Unfortunately for Vavrek and Kimbal that’s not going to work this time because the good people of Monroe have petitioned for a town wide vote.
Gerald M. Gaynor January 28, 2014 at 05:29 PM
It is amazing how many opinionated posters on this topic seemingly have absolutely no understanding of how projects that involve state and federal funding work; especially that the funds are not moveable to other projects. They seem to be the same folks who just found out about a project that has been public knowledge for some time...
G.W. January 28, 2014 at 05:57 PM
Unable to crowd a room and have their quiet little screw the taxpayer vote, it seems Vavrek and Kimball have crowded this Patch Blog with their cronies. Good luck the people of Monroe know better and they will vote NO at the Senior Center on Tuesday.
Bruce January 28, 2014 at 07:43 PM
G.W. - I will be voting YES because I'm tired of people like you who insist on sabotaging my community. The citizens audit committee has nothing to offer this town except lies and misinformation. Last year they lied about the Honeywell contract, this year it's Pepper Street.
Alex January 28, 2014 at 08:19 PM
Uhg, I really wish this didn't have to go to a referendum. If anything it should have been attached with say the budget vote. Having one vote completely for it only seems so wasteful. I don't like bonding for 500K or redoing work just done but I see the benefits with this project for at least our price tag of it. Were there other options around town that could have used the funds too? Seems like one would think. Can anyone explain what rail trail improvements are going to be made? Are they widening the road or making a separate path through North brook to connect it?
Gerald M. Gaynor January 28, 2014 at 10:08 PM
G.W., we get it. You are an angry partisan; a commodity that this town is overstocked with. Your defamatory rhetoric does not advance civil debate and it serves only to lessen the value of anything of value you might have had to say.
Jim Mayer January 28, 2014 at 10:55 PM
WOW G.W....Sounds like it's time for you to find another town. Obviously you are not at all happy here. I can go on and on about what monies were spent in the past I am NOT happy with but I still hang my hat here. How about all the "transient / relocated" families who came here after 911 and went around town writing "VOTE YES" with markers on vehicles throughout the town. What did these jerks do? Voted yes for everything (right or wrong) and where are they now? In Monroe paying taxes? I think not. One thing for sure that pisses me off is people who bitch about taxes and paying for things but continually screw the thought of any type of business being attracted to Monroe. Easton is a good example of where people like you should move to. Granted, I, like everyone, do not enjoy paying taxes. However my friend, it's called living in society. Enjoy or perhaps there's a place on the moon?
G.W. January 28, 2014 at 11:01 PM
I will vote NO on Kimball’s 5 million dollar road project on Pepper Street. That road has already been repaired…please stop trying to scam the public into borrowing another boat load of money to take care of this developer. How about Fan Hill, the roller coaster ride on Moose Hill (where our former First Selectman’s son lost his life), the intersection of Wheeler and Rt. 110 (where there have been multiple accidents and fatalities) the intersection at Elm and Rt. 111 (again another accident prone area). All qualify for funding, all need reconstruct and repair and all would benefit the community but instead Vavrek and friends want us to spend our money to help Kimbal the developer. I will Vote NO to force Vavrek and other elected officials to open up a discussion on how to use State and Federal funding to improve other high traffic roads
Jim Mayer January 29, 2014 at 12:01 AM
Unfortunately, you are correct regarding Moose Hill and several other roads in town. However, that accident could have been avoided. He was "rushing" to get to class on time at Masuk. I guess being on time really doesn't matter in the long run now does it. EVERY road is dangerous.
Nance January 29, 2014 at 12:08 AM
People need to get informed and stop making stupid comments about what can and can't be done. The info is there. Get smart and vote. It's stupid not to say yes and get this approve to get the money
Steve Kirsch January 29, 2014 at 01:40 AM
Alex, you can see a drawing on the town web site at http://monroect.org/page325671.aspx then look under project plans. The idea for the trail is to put it on what is now mostly town right of way (grass area) on the west side of pepper st from the intersection of Grant Rd up to the trail enterence just north of NorthBrook.
Frank Toth January 29, 2014 at 01:49 AM
Without sewers the Industrial Park will NOT fill up! If by some miracle we get sewers then they'll have to dig up all this work again. Cart before the horse as usual...
Steve Kirsch January 29, 2014 at 01:52 AM
For all those people wanting other roads to be repaired I suggest that you plan on attending the 2014-15 budget presentation and public input session on Monday Feb 10. The same applies to all of you that want less bonding for road repair in general. Tell the leaders of this town that you want to fully fund road repair at the original $2.5M per year, that you want a plan to move money from bonding to the operating budget, and that you want a yearly list detailing exactly which roads are going to be done during the full 2014 construction season and the first half of the 2015 construction season. Also, ask why we have not bonded for the money that was approved in the current 2013-14 budget and ask if the town is ready to start work when the season begins sometime in March. Or just come to regular Town Council meetings and ask your questions there.
Alex January 29, 2014 at 09:09 AM
Thanks Steve appreciate the link and info!

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