NAUGATUCK — The longtime chairman of the Naugatuck Economic Development Corp. resigned Monday night due to what he says are fundamental differences with borough leaders over the fate of a major downtown development project.
Jay Carlson, a well-known local business owner and founding member of the quasi-public NEDC, said he is frustrated with how plans are shaping up for a medical office complex and commercial building on Parcel C at the corner of Maple and Water streets.
“If I’m not being heard and can’t make a difference, then why would I continue to serve?” Carlson told a reporter following Monday’s meeting at Town Hall after he left the meeting early in anger and told the board he will resign after 17 years.
His major issue has been at the center of an ongoing local debate over the past couple of months. Carlson and others say they want to see the exterior of the buildings made out of brick so that it looks like several historic buildings downtown.
Carlson said the renderings that have been filed with the land use office are contrary to what the developers — Rob Oris and John Lombard — initially showed the NEDC board. He said the board was initially told the exterior would be made of brick and that the written plans call for a stucco material.
He said he has differences with NEDC President and CEO Ron Pugliese and Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess. They are supporting the project as proposed to land use.
The NEDC board did not vote to accept Carlson’s resignation Monday night. As of Tuesday morning, Pugliese said he had not received a resignation letter.
Vice Chairwoman Rebecca Zandvliet said Carlson has been a dedicated volunteer on the appointed board for several years and hopes he will reconsider.
Hess and Pugliese say there seems to be a misunderstanding.
The Zoning Commission recently approved, 3-2, a project that included brick veneer. Following the meeting Monday, Hess and Pugliese said Lombard has promised to use full-sized brick on the exterior of the building.
On Tuesday, Lombard said the thin veneer brick that some borough officials opposed would cost him $30 per square foot to put on the 30,000-square-foot building, as opposed to $11 per square foot to put up real brick.
Lombard says this is proof that he and Oris were not trying to do anything on the cheap with the roughly $6 million building that is planned. But, he says, the real brick is what officials want so it is what they will get.
Zoning Commission member Rick Cool and commission Chairman William Stopper voted against the plan for the building largely because the plan on file did not include real brick.
Cool said Lombard told him in the hallway following the meeting that he would use real brick.
“I trust Mr. Lombard and take him at his word,” Cool said. “He has done great work in Prospect and several other places.”
Some officials say they trust Lombard but also want the promise to use real brick in writing as a precaution to protect the borough’s interests.
Lombard was not happy about that Tuesday but ultimately said he would put it in writing if officials demanded it.
“If they don’t trust our word, I will put it in writing for them,” he said. “If they want us to go to that extreme, we will do that if we have to. But I think that we’re local people; my partner was an ex-Naugatuck resident and loves the town, I love Naugatuck. If we were from Hartford or another state, I can see them having the trust factor. But I guess our word isn’t good enough.”
Hess said he hopes Carlson will reconsider and remain as chairman of NEDC.
“Everyone on the borough board and NEDC want the same thing — a great building on Parcel C,” Hess said. “There are differences of opinions between the borough board (of mayor and burgesses) and the NEDC relating to the architectural features of the building. But both boards have the best interests of the borough at heart. Going forward, both boards will have input into the new overlay zone that will control architectural reviews of all future projects.”
Pugliese said he is firmly behind the project and believes that Lombard and his partner, Rob Oris, are very good developers.
“I trust when they tell me that it’s real brick, as I was told after the Zoning Commission meeting, and that’s what I told Jay Carlson,” he said. “So I stand by what I told him and what I heard from Mr. Lombard.”