Selectman Kit Devereaux on Tuesday called for New Canaan’s highest elected official to make a review of proposals to purchase a prominent town-owned building downtown “more transparent” than so far considered.
Telling First Selectman Kevin Moynihan that Vine Cottage is “important to a lot of people,” Devereaux asked that responses to the town’s request for proposals for the building be made available for public review.
“The people own the building and I think they deserve to know how the selection is made,” Devereaux said during the Board of Selectmen’s regular meeting, held in Town Hall.
The Board voted 2-1 in June to approve an ‘RFP’ for Vine Cottage, with Devereaux opposing the move and Selectman Nick Williams and Moynihan in favor. Last month, Devereaux pressed Moynihan to allow herself and Williams to see the proposals.
Noting that Moynihan during a media briefing last week disclosed that four parties have shown interest in the ca.-1859 building located opposite the fire house on Main Street, Devereaux said that in making a decision among “that essentially is making the choice for the town, so I think it should be as transparent as possible.”
Moynihan said his plan has been to sit down with the Department of Public Works director and buildings superintendent, as well as the chairman of the Town Council and Board of Finance, to make a recommendation to the selectmen about what to do next.
“I think the Board of Finance chairman and the Town Council chairman are representing the interests of the public,” he said.
Moynihan also said that the information that would come back from those proposing to acquire Vine Cottage would be “proprietary” and should not be made public.
“This is not a normal bidding process, because we are asking for proposals which are probably going to be complicated, because there are a number of considerations as to what can be done with public property,, so there is going to be a lot of weighing,” he said.
Moynihan noted that a public hearing would have to be held prior to the town selling Vine Cottage.
Devereaux suggested that if the matter cannot be vetted during a public meeting, the full Board of Selectmen should discuss it during executive session, where the public is not allowed to attend.
Williams said he was “not opposed to using executive session for this Board to evaluate the bids.”
“At the end of the day we decide to go forward or or not with any contract,” Williams said. Noting that he himself would be able to get the information by caucusing with Moyinan, a fellow Republican, Williams told Devereaux, “You should, too, so executive session is not a bad idea with respect to something that I know important to you, is important to the folks in New Canaan to evaluate this.”
Williams added that he favors selling Vine Cottage s far as it’s “at the right price and the right deal.”
Moynihan said that as first selectman he is the only public official who can negotiate such a deal.
Proposals for Vine Cottage are due in at month’s end.
The fate of Vine Cottage, which has been owned by the town since 1997, has been debated by New Canaan residents and town officials for years. In early 2017, a proposal to renovate the building for a cost of $550,000 was rejected by the Town Council. It has subsequently been suggested by members of the community that the true cost of maintaining the building might be as low as $220,000. Last summer, Moynihan indicated that the building would likely be sold. Devereaux has pushed back on the move since November.