Litchfield News

GLPT's courthouse conditions are casting doubt (10-30-18)

A decision by the Board of Selectmen on whether a $7.6 million plan to repurpose the former Litchfield County courthouse as a town hall or a $9.2 million plan to build a new town hall should be brought to a referendum could be made on Thursday night.
The decision is possible after the third and final public informational meeting on the two plans. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at the Northfield firehouse and follows meetings held the past two weeks in Litchfield and Bantam.
A referendum is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 4. The referendum will include a question on whether the town should give the former Bantam School to the Litchfield Housing Trust for use as affordable housing.
The second half of Thursday’s meeting will be devoted to the proposal involving the housing trust.
Before selectmen can decide between the two town hall proposals, however, a resolution needs to be reached with the owner of the old courthouse, the Greater Litchfield Preservation Trust.
The GPLT has attached conditions to its offer of the building to the town, and selectmen aren’t happy about it. The board expressed its concerns again on Monday during a special meeting and wants the conditions removed by Thursday.
First Selectman Leo Paul Jr. and and Town Attorney Michael Rybak have been negotiating with GLPT President Perley H. Grimes Jr. without luck, as the GLPT is giving no indication it is willing to budge on the conditions.
The condition most problematic for the selectmen is one calling for the old courthouse to revert to the GLPT if the town were to cease using it as a town hall. Other conditions restrict changes to the façade and side walls of the building.
Selectmen aren’t pleased with the GLPT springing the conditions earlier this month, nearly a year after it offered the old courthouse to the town as a gift. The conditions were announced after the town hall review committee chaired by Selectman Jeffrey Zullo spent 10 months looking at the plan for the building and the plan for a new town hall.
“These conditions should have been presented before the town hall review committee started its work,” Paul said.
In addition to the conditions being an issue, Selectman Anne C. Dranginis said the building is inappropriate for a town hall due to space limitations.
“This gets worse and worse all the time,” Dranginis said of the conditions and the plan for the building. “The building is not big enough.”
There would also be no way to expand the building if more space was needed, Dranginis said.
“It would obsolete when we turn the key to open it, Dranginis said. “That’s my problem with it.”
According to Zullo, however, the old courthouse has plenty of space to accommodate town offices.
Another sticky issue for selectmen is the title to the property the GLPT purchased from three descendants of two of the six Litchfield men who in 1803 leased the land the building occupies to the state for use as a courthouse. Selectmen are worried about other descendants possibly coming forward with claims on the property. Getting title insurance for the deed to the property is a worry too for the board.
“There is not a clear title to this building,” Dranginis said.