Zeoli says state spent millions on Orange train station plan before killing the project
The state’s budget crisis has derailed longtime plans for a train station near Yale’s West campus off Marsh Hill Road that town officials hoped would provide convenience and an economic boost to the area.
“It has fallen to death by the financial” problems of Connecticut, a disappointed Orange First Selectman Jim Zeoli said. “It’s one more whack by the state of Connecticut.”
The project, expected to have cost $50 million to $60 million, and around which the state already has spent at least $8 million, Zeoli said, was to be a public/private partnership with Orange Land Development LLC, led by Edward M. Crowley of Branford, former president of nearby Dichello Distributors and founder of Stony Creek Brewery in Branford.
Crowley, who could not be reached, was notified of the state’s position via a letter that he shared with Zeoli.
The short letter to Crowley from an engineering administrator at DOT says, in part, “The department is not in a financial position to proceed with negotiations for or participate in the contemplated Orange Transit Oriented Development.”
The letter continues, “Therefore, as a result, the department will not be advancing the design and construction of the associated Orange rail station (aka The Orange Platform).”
Zeoli said the state already has poured $8 million into other projects and items in preparation for the train station, which he said makes it as if the state “drove down the road at 60 mph throwing hundred-dollar bills out the window.”
Zeoli said he’s disappointed, as the train station would have “made the community better,” because of the convenience factor to commuters and residents overall when they are traveling to New York or Boston.
Republican state lawmakers representing Orange — Minority Leader Themis Klarides R-Derby and state Reps. Charles Ferraro, R-West Haven, and Pam Staneski, R-Milford — jointly expressed disappointment in a news release.
“It is disappointing to see the (Gov. Dannel P.) Malloy administration reverse their decision to fund the Orange Train Station design,” the release says. “The mismanagement of transportation funds by Governor Malloy is now showing. ... Governor Malloy should be prioritizing transportation funding.”
But Malloy spokeswoman Kelly Donnelly said, “This can only be taken as a joke. Anyone who says with a straight face that this governor hasn’t prioritized transportation has been living under a rock for the last several years.”
“By their own admission, this project was moving forward because of the governor’s support. But what they conveniently neglect to mention is that their own “Republican bipartisan budget” fails to sufficiently fund the transportation fund, thereby ultimately jeopardizing this project,” she said in an emailed statement. “Hopefully, these statements they released today mean that we can all count on the Republicans to put forward a plan to ensure that the fund is shored up-and done so this session.”
Zeoli said of the station, “It would have been a help to us,” including in the area of economic development.
Approval already has been granted near the proposed train station — contingent on the project coming to fruition — for 200 apartment units, a 900-car parking garage and a hotel, but they will now vanish, Zeoli said. The Town Plan and Zoning Commission has spent many hours talking about zoning rules for that area under a new transit-oriented district zone, but for now it will remain light industrial.
But as much as he’s disappointed about the station, Zeoli said he’s not surprised given the state’s finances. He predicts other state projects will be halted.
Zeoli said the talk of the train station plan began before he took office 13 years ago.
Crowley, when president of Dichello Distributors, originally brought the idea for a partnership to the state.
The early proposal called for a new train station and four-story parking garage to be constructed on 9 acres on the rear section of the Dichello property.
Crowley said from the start he fully expected most of the money for the project would be provided by his company. It could not be determined Wednesday what that breakdown might have been.
Earlier this year, the state authorized funding to start design work for the train station. That and other infrastructure improvements were included in a budget in September passed by state lawmakers, but the budget was vetoed by Malloy, the lawmakers’ release states.