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June 11, 2024

It took 3 votes, but Hartford City Council OKs CCMC pedestrian bridge

Contributed An architect's drawing shows the proposed pedestrian bridge at Connecticut Children's Medical Center in Hartford.

After defeating an amendment and a motion to postpone the vote, the Hartford City Council passed a resolution Monday night granting air rights for a pedestrian bridge over Washington Street.

The resolution, which was approved along party lines, allows Connecticut Children’s Medical Center (CCMC) to construct a bridge connecting the $280 million, eight-story wing of the hospital currently under construction with a parking garage to be constructed across the street by LAZ Parking. 

Both projects were previously approved by the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission, but because the bridge would cross over Washington Street the city needed to grant air rights for it, as well as grant a sidewalk easement for a bus turn-in lane that will require relocating the existing public sidewalk onto property controlled by Hartford Hospital and CCMC.

In April, the commission rejected a resolution to grant the air rights and easement on a 3-2 vote with one abstention. The rejection meant the commission did not recommend granting the air rights and sidewalk easement to the city council.

Because of that vote, the council could approve the resolution only by a supermajority, meaning that at least six of the nine members needed to vote in favor of it.

After a motion to approve the resolution was made and seconded Monday night, Councilman John Q. Gale, of The Hartford Party, made a motion to amend it.

His amendment would have required that, if construction did not start on a building on the northwest corner of Lincoln and Washington Streets within one year of the completion of the new CCMC wing and parking garage, “then the title to said land shall be transferred to the city of Hartford.”

After the motion was seconded, Gale explained that CCMC had met with representatives of the Frog Hollow Neighborhood Revitalization Zone (NRZ) before construction on the new hospital wing and garage began. He said CCMC promised to build “a multi-use, multi-story building” on the lot at the northwest corner of Lincoln and Washington Streets, which it owns, once the hospital and garage projects were completed.

“They made that promise to the Frog Hollow NRZ in writing; you've all seen the writing,” Gale said. “It was signed by the president of CCMC, along with (former) Mayor Luke Bonin, who assisted in that negotiation at the time.”

Because of that promise, he added, the Frog Hollow NRZ sent a letter supporting the pedestrian bridge to the Planning & Zoning Commission.
Gale then cited three occasions in which other developers had made promises to the council but have yet to deliver on them, including one involving LAZ Parking. 

“So I come to this council to say we need to support our neighborhood groups,” he said. “We need to tell developers — and in this case I'm calling CCMC a developer — that we want some security for their promises.”

Councilman Joshua Michtom of the Working Families Party said he didn’t know whether the amendment was “the best way to ensure that CCMC and their partners follow through with what they’ve promised,” but said he would support it because the city “should not operate on promises.”

“I just think it is irresponsible of this body, as representatives of the city's fiscal interests and representatives of the people's desires for the neighborhood, not to get something that is enforceable,” Mitchom said. “That is just not how governments or big companies operate, and it leaves us at the risk again and again and again of getting rooked.”

Councilman Alexander Thomas, also a member of the Working Families Party, said he also supported the amendment even though he is “very much pro bridge.” 

Council President Shirley Surgeon, a Democrat, said she could not support the amendment because while it involved the same developer it would link two different pieces of property and involved two different contracts. She then asked Corporation Counsel Jonathan Harding whether doing so would be legal.

Harding said he did not have “all of the contracts in front of me,” but said the deals had already been negotiated and that he wasn’t sure any resolution passed by the council “could forcibly reopen contracts that are in full force.” He added that the “other components of this construction project are not a component of this resolution in front of us.”

Ultimately, the amendment failed, with all six council Democrats voting against it.

Gale then proposed a motion to postpone voting on the resolution to the next council meeting in two weeks, which would allow the city to meet with CCMC officials. 

“It will send a message to CCMC to come to the table and let's talk,” he said. “I think it would potentially produce a result that would satisfy everybody.” 

That motion also failed, with only Gale and Mitchom voting in favor. 

Gale made one last attempt to sway the Democrats on the council, explaining that if just one of them voted against the proposal it would fail, but that it could be raised again for reconsideration at the next council meeting by anyone who had cast a no vote.

“So if one (Democratic) council member votes no on this, it isn't dead, it can come back,” he said.

Mitchom supported Gale, saying a no vote would send a message.

“We will send a broader message to other organizations, to other developers, that the era of us rolling over in the hopes of some development without any concrete guarantees is over,” he said, adding, “that will serve the city well in the long term.”

Their efforts fell short, however, with all six Democrats voting in favor of the resolution.

CCMC did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

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