STAMFORD -- A project to install an array of colorful outdoor lights at the Stamford train station is back on track after the city's finance and planning boards voted to accept a state grant.
On Thursday, the city's planning board voted 3-2 and the city's finance board 5-1 to authorize a $150,000 interim appropriation to match a $155,000 grant from the state for the project.
The grant is part of the state's Department of Economic and Community Development's City Canvases program, which were awarded to cities and towns looking to enhance public spaces with large-scale pieces of art.
The city plans to use the money to install an environmentally friendly electric light display at the Stamford train station.
The grant still requires the approval of the city's Board of Representatives, which delayed a vote on accepting it in May after members discovered the city was not required to provide a dollar to dollar match to qualify for the grant.
City Director of Economic Development Laure Aubuchon told members of the planning board last week that she had mistakenly believed that Stamford would be required to put up the $150,000 to receive the state funding.
"The subsequent confusion was very unintended," Aubuchon said. "We did apply under the assumption that we would be matching the grant one to one."
Last Thursday night, Cynthia Reeder, a Bull's Head neighborhood resident, urged members of the planning board to reject the appropriation and questioned why a project to light the station was being prioritized ahead of building and road repair projects.
Reeder also said borrowing for the project if any should be made over a shorter period of time, instead of the 20-year time frame that was planned by Mayor Michael Pavia's administration.
"Is it really the type of project we should be spending precious capital dollars on and merits borrowing over 20 years?" Reeder said.
As a result of concerns over the long-term bonding to pay for the $305,000 in work, the city will borrow for the work as a short-term capital project, Peter Privitera, of the city's Office of Policy & Management said.
David Martin, a Democratic member of the Board of Finance who co-chairs the body's fiscal committee said he decided to support the spending despite reservations whether the work was warranted given other capital needs in the city.
"I was torn because we have a lot of work which I consider meritorious that got cut out of the budget," Martin said. "We basically have to stop putting out 20-year bonds out for this type of thing because it is a short-term capital project."
Kathleen Murphy, an independent member of the finance board, cast the sole vote against the appropriation questioning efforts to push the project ahead of other capital needs impacting school buildings and roads which should be a higher priority.
"I don't believe it is a good use of our funds and I've been fairly consistent over several years that just because there is grant money out there doesn't mean that we want it," Murphy said. "We jumped through hoops with special meetings and votes to approve this even though we have $190 million in code violations to fix in our schools."
Aubuchon said that the lighting project will make a significant, if unquantified, positive impression of Stamford on motorists passing the station on Interstate 95.
In addition to installing the lights, the agreement with Supertech will cover maintenance of the lights for three years, she said.
"I think when you look at this, you should think about it as an advertisement for the city," Aubuchon said. "I understand the question is it a necessity or a quality of life thing? It's a way to tell people that Stamford is a city on the move."
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