Sidewalks on Main Street move forward on the west side
The Main Street sidewalk debate is finally over -- for the most part. In an 8-2 vote, the Town Council recommended to Public Works that the project move forward with sidewalks on the west side Oct. 19.
The Board of Selectmen is expected to vote on the contract next month, and if approved, work is scheduled to begin March 15. After months of debating which side of Main Street would be best, Town Council urged Public Works to put the project out to bid on both sides so they could see hard costs and make a decision.
"This has been a real learning experience," Council member Beth Jones said.
"I wish I could leave the decision up to Mr. Pastore and Mr. Mann, because I think they understand this better than anyone. I think the west side makes more sense. I'd made the decision prior to this that I would go with the east side if it was substantially less expensive, and that was going to be how I made the decision and it's not, so I say west."
The numbers did come in significantly lower than what Assistant Director of Public Works Tiger Mann originally predicted. Mann said when estimating numbers like that, he always leans towards the high end to be safe. Mann's estimations from the last few months had sidewalks with granite curbing on the east side costing $680,000 compared to $780,000 on the west side. The actual numbers for sidewalks only from the top three bidders ranged from approximately $288,000 to $363,000.
"There is an economy of scale in a project such as this," Mann said. "The last thing I want to be is low. When I bid, I try to be a conservative second to third bidder. That way I am not underestimating, and I'm not biting off more a project than I actually have budgeted and I have to scale back. I'd rather be on the high side and have money left over."
A&J Construction bid $291,618 for the east side and $285,920 for the west side. Deering Construction bid $288,782 for the east and $322,696 for the west. The third bidder, FGB Construction, bid $363,361 for the east and $352,711 for the west. Mann said out of the five bidders, he would likely feel comfortable with one of these companies doing the work. When added to the total project costs -- which includes paving all of Main Street, a 15 percent contingency, working around hydrants, catch basins, trees and many other issues -- he said the costs are approximately $1.12 million for A&J Construction, $1.19 million for FGB Construction and $1.21 million for Deering Construction.
Another reason the bids came in so much lower, Mann said, was because the work is slated to begin in March, when new projects for the season typically begin.
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Council member Steve Karl, who witnessed the bidding process, was pleased with how the numbers came through.
"These contractors really went after this work. They looked at the timing. They looked at the job and they said, `listen, given the economy, given what's going on out there, we can put this job in the bank, get started in March, come out of the shoot,' and a lot of these guys before the bids were opened were very excited to get an opportunity, to get a job in the bank and get it done," Karl said. "These bids, when they were opened, and I was with Tiger as he read them, honestly I was so happy for the town of New Canaan that these bids came in the way they did, given all of the scrutiny and all of the discussions we've had over the years. And to see numbers, final numbers that as a council we asked for, and to have them come back like this, I was very impressed."
As for the public, the majority of the crowd favored sidewalks on the west side. However, there were those who took exception to construction on the west side because of the effect it might have on their property.
"We have met with Tiger Mann and Michael Pastore, who have been very helpful," resident Karen Mackle said. "Unfortunately, we still have concerns about the ramifications of the installation of sidewalks on our personal property, such as current mature landscaping, root systems of our mature trees, the current water piping, irrigation system, effects of the regrading of town property and our property, drainage, privacy and the ultimate devaluation of our property values. We have had an arborist, an expert in sidewalk construction and paving, and a few attorneys all validating our legitimate concerns."
Mackle said sidewalks on the east side would not impact their property at all. Pastore, who had met with them privately before, believes the construction would not affect their property, though he did say consultation with the town attorney would be necessary on the matter. When asked about issues with retaining walls and trees, Pastore said all of those conflicts had been resolved, and reiterated there are not eminent domain issues either. Other residents on the west side of Main Street, like Wes Lovy, would still prefer to have the sidewalks on the west side even with its potential impact on their property.
"The west is where I live, and my property is going to be one that is directly affected by this. I have two very old trees on the front that I may lose as a result. I have an old set of steps that may be impacted and I may need to repair as a result. Those are my problems," Lovy said. "Those are not your problems as a Town Council nor the town's problem. They are not the basis upon which you should make a decision. The location of someone's individual gas tank is not the basis to make a decision, nor is whether or not their property value might be impacted in the future. The basis for this decision must be pedestrian safety."
The arguments that eventually pushed the Town Council to recommend the west side had to do with overall safety and completing the walking loop around town and toward the schools. Resident Marc Magliacano summed up his thoughts on why he believed the west side made the most sense, a sentiment many of the council members shared.
"There are three things," he said. "It's about where is the maximum safety. Where is the most utility from the citizens of New Canaan? Which side are you going to get the most utility out of, and lastly is where is the most logical place for this sidewalk? When you just take a step back and let the smoke clear, and from my perspective, that is the west side."
All council members who voted in favor of sidewalks voted for the west side, while Paul Foley and John Emert voted for no sidewalks on either side due to their financial concerns. If the Board of Selectmen approve the contract for work next month, construction will begin as early as March 15.