The City Council voted unanimously Monday night to sever its ties to the New London Development Corp., plunging the Fort Trumbull redevelopment project into uncertainty.
The council voted 6-0 to adopt three motions drafted by the city's director of law, Thomas J. Londregan, even as Londregan urged them to postpone any final action for two weeks so he could better gauge the effect that passage of the motions would have on the city's relationship with the state, which has paid for virtually all of the $73 million project.
The council, in effect, would attempt to take ownership of the former Naval Undersea Warfare Center at Fort Trumbull, which was transferred by the U.S. government to the NLDC, not the city.
There also were unresolved questions about the NLDC's outstanding contracts, including its exclusive agreement with the developer for the project, Corcoran Jennison. Earlier Monday night, the council resolved that Corcoran Jennison has defaulted on that contract.
Several councilors noted the proximity of the fall elections in denying any political motivation for their votes.
Londregan said the council's votes might force the NLDC board into replacing its president, Michael Joplin, and chief operating officer, David M. Goebel, as the council had earlier demanded.
But barring that, councilors said, the seven-year odyssey of the quasi-public agency and its battles with the city was likely over.
“I don't think you can continue a partnership where there's only one partner saying, ‘I'm willing to go back and forth,' and the other's saying, ‘I've heard you, but I'm going the other way,' ” Councilor Rob Pero said.
The last straw, he said in a brief interview, came Friday, when the NLDC's own general counsel, Mathew H. Greene, quit the agency after unsuccessfully urging Goebel to step aside for the good of the project.
The council's three motions first revoked the designation of the NLDC as the city's “implementing agency” for the Fort Trumbull development, then revoked the resolution that allowed the NLDC to take ownership of the abandoned Naval facility, and finally demanded that the NLDC transfer title to all its real estate in the project area to the city of New London.
Londregan had drafted the motions at the council's request. He urged the six councilors present not to approve them until they had heard definitively from the state Department of Economic and Community Development on the practical effect they would have, and how they would be perceived by state officials.
The council's seventh member, Beth Sabilia, who gave birth to her second child late last week, was absent. She has been a sharp critic of Joplin and Goebel.
In a conversation earlier that day with Ronald Angelo, the deputy DECD commissioner who has helped oversee the Fort Trumbull project, Londregan told councilors he was told that “taking these motions at this particular time, without consulting with DECD, is going down a dangerous path.”
“The state has a 70 plus million dollar mortgage on the (affected) property,” Londregan wrote in a memo also provided to the council. “We need to hear from them.”
But even councilors who had supported the NLDC in the past said their frustration with that agency had reached its end following a pattern of behavior they said had flouted the city's rights as a development partner and the wishes of the community itself.
The NLDC's refusal to replace Goebel and Joplin resulted in the council's threat in September to dissolve the city's relationship with the agency in one week.
Monday, the councilors appeared to follow through on a threat past due.
“I think we're divorced,” Mayor Jane Glover said, reminded of the metaphor she used a month ago in a conversation with Angelo. “It's over.”