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New London’s RCDA seeking new attorney

August 3, 2018

New London — The city’s development arm, the Renaissance City Development Association, is seeking new legal representation.

The nonprofit group’s executive committee last week voted to solicit bids from prospective law firms.

The move coincides with the change in law firms of longtime RCDA member Karl-Erik Sternlof, who started working as a volunteer with the RCDA’s predecessor, the New London Redevelopment Agency, in the late 1990s.

Sternlof began representing the organization in a legal capacity about five years ago, after he resigned as first vice president of the RCDA during a leadership shakeup and name change for the group under the direction of former New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio.

The NLDC was the focus of the nationally prominent eminent domain lawsuit, a fight by a handful of landowners against the city’s taking of properties on the Fort Trumbull peninsula. The primary mission of the RCDA was marketing and developing the Fort Trumbull area, though it has taken on other duties for the city over the past several years.

Sternlof was representing the RCDA with members of his former firm, New London-based Waller, Smith & Palmer. The firm represented the RCDA in development agreements and legal defense but it was Sternlof who handled the bulk of the day-to-day operations, a fair amount of it being pro bono.

Sternlof recently accepted a position as a partner in the New London offices of the Hartford-based Halloran Sage law firm. He said he expects Halloran Sage to submit a proposal to the RCDA and would like to stay involved.

Sternlof, who serves as the president of the board of trustees of the Lyman Allyn Art Museum, said he tries to stay active in the community and the RCDA is one place he can bring experience and institutional knowledge. If not legal representation, he said he would “find other ways to contribute.”

RCDA Executive Director Peter Davis agreed that Sternlof’s institutional knowledge and his law firm’s willingness to work with the agency above and beyond what was being billed for was extremely helpful for an organization with limited funds.

Sternlof has agreed to help in the transition to a new firm and Davis said the RCDA will retain Waller, Smith & Palmer on the litigation side, specifically to battle a pending lawsuit that could hamper progress in finding a developer.

Westport-based River Bank Construction LLC, run by the father and son team of Irwin and Robert Stillman, is suing the RCDA and attempting to recoup more than 24 million, 104-unit residential development at Fort Trumbull that stalled in 2013.

“A bulk of our legal budget has been and unfortunately will continue to be the lawsuit with the Stillmans,” Davis said.

Financially, Davis said the RCDA has budgeted about 20,000 in state funds to use toward litigation.

Davis said he has not lost hope that the RCDA would collect a development fee when a residential complex known as Shipway 221 is built on Howard Street.

That development has been delayed while its developers, the Tagliatela family, seek equity partners. But Davis said the Tagliatelas made good on a nearly $20,000 payment last month, equivalent to the amount of property taxes on the parcel. The payment was written into the agreement with the RCDA.

Davis said the payment was a good sign the project is alive but it still could go into default if there is no movement by the end of October.

Davis said he expects to solicit professional legal services from a host of law firms and to narrow the search down to a half-dozen for the purposes of interviews based on qualifications.

g.smith@theday.com