Compassion, construction, and re-election: Marconi looks ahead to 2019

Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi sits behind his desk in Town Hall. — Macklin Reid photo
Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi sits behind his desk in Town Hall. — Macklin Reid photo

A new parking lot for the commercial district, renovations at the Venus Building to accommodate Playhouse expansion plans, progress on the state’s Main Street renovations, handicapped access improvements, extending sidewalks — the town has plans and projects aplenty to pursue.

But First Selectman Rudy Marconi has another goal for 2019, one requiring no bricks or bulldozers: He wants a more compassionate Ridgefield.

“Bringing more awareness to the issue of compassion,” Marconi said in describing his hopes and goals for the upcoming year.

“We will continue to work in town with Project Resilience, the Clergy Association, and the ADL (Anti-Defamation League),” he said.

There are “various programs we’re hoping that people will participate in” being developed for presentation to townspeople in 2019.

“We have something coming up — I think it will be in January, hopefully — once again discussing Project Resilience with Dr. Chris Kukk: How to make Ridgefield a more compassionate town.

“He’s a professor at WestConn, and has written the book, The Compassionate Achiever,” said Marconi, who has been urging people — from fellow selectmen to worried parents — to read the book.

“It’s an easy read. There are basically four takeaways in the process of becoming a more compassionate community. That is to: Listen to what people are saying, and understand what they’re trying to say. Then you connect with them. And then action. ‘LUCA’ — listen, understand, connect and act,” Marconi said.

He hopes to be in a position to continue guiding the town toward that and other goals — as first selectman.

Marconi intends to seek an 11th term as the town’s top elected official in the November 2019 elections.

“Yes, if people want me to,” he said. “And if they don’t, I’ll be told that. There are always some who don’t. Hopefully, there are more people who say yes and than no. But right now, the intention is yes.”

Marconi’s first successful run for the town’s top office — he lost once, in 1997, to Abe Morelli — was in November 1999.

“It’ll be 20 years,” he said.

As for the coming year, Marconi expects to be busy — though he’s not sure of everything that’ll be on the town’s agenda.

“There’s always surprises,” he said.

Main Street, parking

The Main Street improvement project is still headlined by the planned realignment of the intersection at Prospect Street, moving the CVS parking lot driveway to be directly across from Prospect Street — meaning fewer phases to the traffic light cycle, allowing it to be timed with the Catoonah and Governor Street lights. That should mean quicker, more coordinated movement of traffic through town.

Work in 2019 will mostly be assisting the state in fine-tuning the plans.

“We do not expect any construction to commence until either 2021 or ’22,” Marconi said.

Construction is expected on the new parking lot that voters backed last spring in the 2018-19 budget process.

“We are hopefully going to see the completion of the recently approved parking lot expansion on Governor Street,” Marconi said. “That will begin to meander its way through the regulatory process commencing in January.”

The lot will be a northward expansion of the current town parking lot off Governor Street between RVNA and the Boys and Girls Club. It’s expected to cost about $580,000 and provide parking for another 60-to-63 cars.

“It’s up and down depending on the configuration,” Marconi said.

The lot is being reconfigured because the site is at about a 25-foot lower elevation than the current Governor Street lot. Original plans extending it at the same level are being reworked.

“If they kept it at this level, there’d be like a 12-,13-foot wall,” Marconi said.

So the lot will be lower than the current Governor lot, linked by a connector, “in order to avoid a retaining wall, which we didn’t want,” Marconi said.

There are no plans for access at the north end of the lot, from Prospect Street.

“Right now, it’s Governor Street, and will continue to be Governor Street,” Marconi said.

Additional pedestrian access also isn’t determined “unless you cut through the woods into Bailey Avenue, but nothing’s been worked out into any kind of pedestrian easement,” Marconi said.

Access to Bailey would likely require an easement through the Casey Energy property.

“There have been no talks about that,” Marconi said.

“You could make your way,” he added. “I’m sure a path will develop to Bailey Avenue. But that’s something we have to work out with Mr. Casey.”

The lot is envisioned for use by employees more than shoppers.

“The end use of this will be for all-day parking, as required by the Parking Authority,” Marconi said.

Venus Building

Real progress is expected in 2019 on Venus Building renovations.

“We’re hopefully going to complete our project at the Venus Building, which will involve the relocation of the Board of Education, and then the subsequent expansion of the Ridgefield Playhouse,” Marconi said.

With asbestos removal and demolition finished up, and the architect completing plans, the project moves on to construction bids.

“We’ll have a bid process. I think the bids will be due back in February sometime, with a start date around March 1 — this is all an estimate,” Marconi said.

The Venus renovations are a roughly $1.3- to $1.4-million project, Marconi said.

Some longtime tenants had to be moved.

“We have already relocated Ridgefield Adult Education and the Youth Service Bureau — they’re located in the [town hall] annex. And Loosen Up Massage Therapy has taken a private lease with another landlord in town,” Marconi said.

The goal of moving the school offices is to accommodate the Playhouse’s expansion plans. The project also accommodates expansion of the office rental by The Chefs’ Warehouse — the largest Venus Building tenant, growing into the entire second floor of the building’s south end, facing the police station.

“Chefs’ Warehouse has already completed their demolition and asbestos removal on the second floor of the old RVNA,” Marconi said. “They’re a little ahead of us and I’d expect their project to be completed sometime this year, as well.

“There’ll definitely be a benefit in terms of overall revenue being generated for the community, that will help pay the debt service on the $1.3 million borrowed to fix up the rest of the building — that also includes an increase in rent for the Playhouse,” he said.

The enlarged Chefs’ Warehouse lease will bring the town another $100,000 or $120,000, on top of the roughly $400,000 a year they’re paying now, Marconi said. The Playhouse’s expanded lease will bring in another $60,000 or so.

“It would be nice to get those all done — Chefs’ Warehouse, Venus, the Board of Education,” Marconi said. “That’s taken a lot of time.”

Handicapped access

The town continues working compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“That’ll be an ongoing effort through 2019,” Marconi said.

The Institute for Human Centered Design, a consulting firm, has been studying town and school facilities, documenting needs to be addressed.

“We’re waiting for the survey, the report. We’re in the final stages of that,” Marconi said.

And continuing recent years’ practice, “another $75,000 worth of work” is expected to be done in 2019, as the town chips away at a considerable list of ADA-related projects.

“In this building,” Marconi said of town hall, “we fixed water coolers — none of our water coolers were ADA accessible … So we’ve changed all of those.

“We purchased a grinding machine to correct sidewalks — due to frost, sections of concrete will raise and lower and create potential tripping hazards, but more important for ADA, it make it harder for someone in a wheelchair.”

The sidewalk work will be ongoing.

“We’re going to start in the center of town and work our way out. It’s going to take time, we ask for people’s patience.”

The town may also extend the village sidewalks in 2019.

“We’re hoping to be able to get sidewalks down New Street to Pound Street and then over to Main Street,” Marconi said.

There are some obstacles, however, as a result of the longstanding town law requiring residents to clear snow from the sidewalks in front of their homes.

“There are a couple of residents who are against it,” Marconi said, “because they don’t want to have to worry about cleaning the walks.”