To supportive city officials, as a land transaction goes, it’s a 300-yard drive down the middle of the fairway. Sacred Heart University cuts a check for $4 million. In exchange the city provides eight acres of wet-wooded golf course property from the 100-acre Fairchild Wheeler Black Course that cannot be touched except for essential maintenance. SHU desires the property to satisfy Fairfield zoning regulations requiring a larger footprint to build on campus property that abuts the Bridgeport-owned land located in Fairfield. Wednesday night at Geraldine Johnson School residents had their say–most opposed–at a public hearing hosted by the City Council.
The Contracts Committee has already sent the proposal to the full council for a scheduled vote June 6. It requires a two-thirds vote for passage because it involves sale of park land. The eight acres runs along a wooded section of holes 4-6 on the Black Course abutting the SHU campus
Campus proper is located in Fairfield but other SHU buildings such as dormitories and extended facilities are located across the street on city side Park Avenue. Students being students the partying sometimes gets out of hand placing a burden on public safety impacting the North End. It has created a scratchy relationship between the North End and SHU. Some city officials say that university leadership has been a much stronger friend to the city.
Mayor Joe Ganim would like the $4 million for the general budget. The money was not factored into the revenue stream for the budget year starting July 1.
About a dozen city residents spoke against the proposal with two in support.
Associate City Attorney Lisa Trachtenburg who handled negotiations for the land transaction with the university opened the public hearing highlighting the development restrictions for the property deeded to the city in 1935. She explained that the following language is part of the SHU agreement that the land “shall not be enclosed or developed, cleared, fenced or manipulated in any way, except as to such reasonable maintenance as may be required to sustain the ecological health of the forested land situated thereon.” Trachtenburg had announced previously there is legal precedent for sending park sale proceeds to the general fund.
City resident Phil Smith, a student of the Bridgeport City Charter, said the city has an infamous history selling park land for a quick buck, citing a piece of Beardsley Park sold for the Route 25-8 Connector many decades ago. He added any proceeds from the sale of park land per City Charter must be placed in a park improvement fund. He said it’s a bad idea to sell capital assets to pay bills, adding the charter does not permit proceeds for the general fund.
City Councilman James Holloway, addressing his peers, said he said he will submit a resolution that nothing can be built on the property for 99 years, although the deed itself and the proposed development agreement with SHU is already considered in perpetuity.
Stephanie Mastri said it was abhorrent to sell park land to Sacred Heart which she says has overrun her North End neighborhood where she says students wreak havoc.
Shaquana Shaw who resides in the West End said she was in favor of the sale because it will help to provide some financial stability for the city while keeping the same land usage.
Retired city firefighter Nick Novia declared Bridgeport doesn’t have a $4 million problem it has a $40 million problem. He said it’s not a good precedent to sell park land. If the deal is to be done he said negotiate more money.
Nora DeVellis who was raised in the North End said the neighborhood has changed from amazing memories to the worse. She said $4 million is a drop in the bucket. “What money do we get after the $4 million?”
City Councilwoman AmyMarie Vizzo-Paniccia who represents the North End said she is opposed to the deal. She said SHU has a plan to become more involved on the Bridgeport side of Park Avenue. “It’s a small piece if you give a little bit they will be taking more down the line … I plead with you not to let this deal go through.”
North End resident Jeff Kohut said Sacred Heart is an “evil bully that steals services and infrastructure from Bridgeport. I’ve dealt with these obnoxious students … They will expand and further expand Bridgeport services … A terrible disservice is being done.”
Another North End resident Dorothy Goodwin said “I feel as though I am waking up to a nightmare. How greedy can Sacred Heart University be? Please don’t even consider selling the piece.”
City Councilwoman Michelle Lyons who represents the North End said she is not in favor of selling any park land.
Several speakers also questioned Sacred Heart’s motivation to linking the passage of this deal with building six tennis courts on Veterans Memorial Park across that street from the university.
But listening to most of the opposition it sounded like this was more about SHU’s dismissive treatment of the North End than the sale of park land for the same usage.