A few months ago, the town of Preston approved, by an overwhelming margin, a plan to build a movie studio/theme park complex on the old Norwich Hospital site. It seemed like a slam-dunk for the town and the region. Developers estimated that as many as 22,000 jobs could be generated from and around the project, not to mention the fact that even more tourist dollars that would flow into New London County.
But on July 22nd, the town broke off negotiations with Utopia Studios because the developers hadn't provided them with detailed plans for the project. The town repeated its request for more complete plans several times before breaking off the negotiations. The project, which now was starting to seem too good to be true after all, started to founder.
Enter Speaker of the House Jim Amann (D-Milford), who apparently has nothing to do this summer:
James A. Amann, the speaker of the state House of Representatives, said Monday the proposed Utopia project “may be bigger than Preston” and suggested he would get involved if it appears the town is squandering a chance to get the project built. (Mann)
The possibility that this decision could be taken out of the hands of the people of Preston, who will be left holding the bag should Utopia fall through, by guys like Amann is a bit alarming.
Preston's leadership isn't happy, either.
"I have no appetite to drag the governor or anybody else in to make this a political decision," [Preston First Selecteman Robert] Congdon said. "It should be an objective analysis of credible details that are submitted on the part of the developer. If someone thinks we're being too stringent, I welcome them to review the submissions and tell us our shortcomings."
"At this time, I'm not supporting the legislature getting involved in any way until the town of Preston requests such action," said Rep. Tom Reynolds, D-Ledyard, whose district includes the town of Preston. "The state has defined a process for the transfer of this property, and I trust Preston and its committee and Board of Selectmen to move that process forward in a way that serves the best interest of the town. And I think it'd be inappropriate to intervene at this stage." (Mann)
In other words: butt out.
In this case, there's nothing to suggest that Preston is being too strict with Utopia. No town should allow a developer to run roughshod over it, no matter how attractive the prospects. Amann should back off and let the process work. If anything, he should put some pressure on Utopia to get Preston what it needs, so both sides can be satisfied and the deal can move forward.
Siding with a developer against a town is bad policy. Amann is doing nothing to help himself or Democrats in Hartford by meddling.
Mann, Ted. "Amann: State Involvement Possible For Utopia Project." New London Day 9 August, 2005.