Candidates battle over business
"In the past six years, Ridgefield has had no plan for corporate development," Di Mattia said, charging Marconi cannot take credit for any of the development that has occurred in the six years he has been in office. "There was no economic development commission. That was brought into existence for purposes of the eminent domain taking (of the Bennett's Pond property). In the past, only Republicans were interested in business development."
Marconi disagreed, saying he negotiated for Boehringer-Ingelheim's multi-million dollar campus expansion now under construction, the development of a medical facility in town, and the recently approved 72-unit, age-restricted housing development. He said the town would earn about $7 million in new annual tax money from those three projects alone.
The two men also argued about the Bennett's Pond settlement the board of selectmen recently reached with property owner Eureka V.
Di Mattia accused Marconi of promoting the eminent domain taking of the northern parcel and attempting to take the southern parcel, which led to a lawsuit by Eureka V. The property instead could have been developed by Eureka V with a conference center and corporate offices, Di Mattia said.
Now, under an agreement between the town and Eureka V, 345 age-restricted housing units and 100,000-square-feet of corporate development will be built.
"What happens if the developer's plans don't receive approval from planning and zoning is that the developer, at his discretion can move the case back to the courthouse," Di Mattia said. "The agreement was reached in haste and with very little public input. It also asks that the first selectman be the guarantor of the settlement. It was the worst option available but it is better than increased litigation and incurred legal costs."
Marconi defended the settlement and said the northern 460 acres are now open space and the possible development of the southern parcel by Eureka brings the open space and revenue increase that voters had asked for in referendum before the eminent domain takings were initiated five years ago.
"We're looking at $3.5 million to $3.75 million in net gain (in taxes)," Marconi said. "There were no politics involved in the agreement. All five selectmen agreed to it."
Di Mattia insisted Marconi had a "lack of business understanding" citing Marconi's request to Schlumberger, a research company in the process of moving out of Ridgefield, to "donate" its property to the town for the building of a police and fire department complex. "Nothing was done by Mr. Marconi to entice Schlumberger to stay in town."
Marconi countered he asked Schlumberger for "the right of first refusal" on five acres of the property for a fire-police department complex, leaving the bulk of the 50 acre parcel for continued corporate use. Schlumberger, Marconi said, changed its corporate strategy to locate near large universities where research is ongoing.
Di Mattia's harshest attacks concerned the fight between Ridgefield and Danbury over Danbury Municipal Airport . Ridgebury residents have long complained of noise from the airport and planes being routed over their homes.
"These issues are not solved by vilifying the neighboring town nor by suggesting lawsuits," Di Mattia said. "I know Mark (Boughton, Danbury's mayor) and when I am first selectman I will go right to him and solve the problem."
Marconi insisted he would settle the issue with Boughton.
"As a representative for Ridgefield, I will represent the concerns of all Ridgefield residents," Marconi said. "Ridgefield doesn't expect the airport to shut down or go away. But when complaints are made, they need a response and often we are not getting them."