The town council appears ready to vote next week on a proposed agreement with the developers for the first two phases of the Storrs Center project after reviewing the latest version Wednesday.
The council will hold a special meeting Jan. 4 at 6:30 p.m. in the Audrey P. Beck Municipal Office Building, when it could vote to authorize Town Manager Matt Hart to sign the document.
The agreement would spell out the responsibilities for the town, Leyland Alliance and Education Realty Trust, or EDR, in phases 1A and 1B of the $220 million mixed-use project.
Leyland Alliance, the sole member of the Storrs Center Alliance, is the project’s master developer and has hired EDR to build the 290 rental units included in the first portion of the project.
The council, which had to reschedule its regular meeting from Monday to Wednesday due to the weather, reviewed the latest draft Wednesday after raising concerns earlier this month.
Town attorney Dennis O’Brien said Wednesday the concerns, including ones about potential tenants in the apartments, were good, but he felt revisions would prevent any issues.
Some councilmen pointed to EDR’s history of building student-oriented housing near other college campuses and said that was not the intent of Storrs Center, a concern also raised by residents.
They asked for additional language in the contract to address those concerns, and O’Brien told the council Wednesday he was “impressed” with EDR’s response, as well as its history of property management.
The agreement now includes language requiring EDR to market the apartments to the general public and not just undergraduate students at the University of Connecticut.
It also would require on- site management during regular business hours and on-call management 24 hours daily for emergency purposes.
Leyland Alliance Executive Vice President Howard Kaufman said the on- call person would either live in the complex or in a nearby home and would have a beeper to allow for immediate contact.
The latest draft also states the EDR would lease the apartments by the unit, and not by the bed or bedroom, for one-year periods, although EDR has the right to issue shorter leases if it has vacancies.
EDR must also follow “best management practices” to maintain a “first-class” complex, and O’Brien said the town could use experts to define those practices should legal action be necessary.
“That’s a commitment to us, it’s a commitment to SCA,” he said of EDR’s agreement to the “strong language.” Kaufman, meanwhile, said both Leyland Alliance and EDR were ready to sign to the latest draft if approved by the town.
O’Brien, who has represented both tenants and landlords in the past, also said he was impressed with EDR’s record of enforcing leases and managing behavior of tenants in other complexes.
O’Brien said the latest drafts also allowed the town to have more control over the town square, where it can hold weekly farmer’s markets and other events.
Councilman Meredith Lindsey did raise a concern that the agreement did not include a land description for a $3 million tax abatement.
Kaufman said he would try to have one ready in time for Tuesday’s meeting, but other councilmen said they did not think the description was necessary because abatement is just on the 290 rental units, and not on any land.
O’Brien, meanwhile, said the town could approve the authorization Tuesday with a condition that the council approve a description in the future before Hart can actually sign the agreement.
Lindsey also questioned the town consultant’s fiscal analysis of the project, noting projections for town expenses were significantly lower than an analysis completed in 2008.
But Kaufman and Hart said the consultant did a more thorough analysis, while current plans for the first phase of construction are smaller than previously expected. The council cannot vote on the agreement before Tuesday because is waiting on a recommendation from the planning and zoning commission, which meets Monday.
State statutes require agreements involving town ownership of land to be referred to the PZC so the commission can determine if they fit with the town’s plan of conservation and development.
O’Brien said Monday’s meeting is the last PZC meeting within its timeframe to make a decision, and state law states a failure to vote would result in an automatic recommendation from the PZC.
But if the PZC votes to not recommend that agreement, the council would need a two-thirds majority to approve authorizing Hart to sign it.
The council hopes to have a vote before current Deputy Mayor Gregory Haddad, elected as state representative in November, resigns once he is sworn into office Jan. 5.
A few residents addressed the council Wednesday, saying the council should take more time to review the agreement before reaching a decision.
They said the agreement as written is not in the town’s best interest, raising specific concerns about the parking garage, which the town would own and operate.
Opponents raised concerns that a parking garage built by Leyland Alliance on UConn-owned land nearby would compete, but Kaufman said the two sides are rewriting the lease to prohibit a second garage.
Some residents also said the agreement left the town with all of the risk, and one even urged the council to hold more public discussions with residents before making a final decision.