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Zoning committee meetings, POKO discussion, postponed

Norwalk Zoning Commission Jan 16 2013 033

Norwalk Zoning Commission Chairman Joe Santo.

NORWALK, Conn. – If you were waiting to see if POKO Partners was given another six months to get its finances in order for the Wall Street Place development, you’re out of luck – Thursday’s Plan Review Committee meeting was moved to Monday.

The problem, according the Zoning Commission Chairman Joe Santo and others, was a mistake in the advertising of the meeting, meaning there would have been a Freedom of Information Act violation if it had taken place. The meeting was scheduled to be held a week earlier than usual because of Christmas, but was advertised on its regular date, he said. Technically speaking, the Dec. 5 meetings of both the Plan Review Committee and the Zoning Committee were canceled, and special meetings will be held Monday in Room 101.

This is a crushing blow for a reporter expecting to have a hot story to share in this rather cool early December week, but it does mean that Wall Street Place is on the agenda of three meetings next week.

The council Planning Committee is planning to review on Wednesday all of the Redevelopment and Urban Renewal plan areas as part of its committee orientation, given that some members are new, according to the agenda posted online. That includes Wall Street Place, Head of the Harbor, Waypointe and 95/7 (apparently now destined to be a mall — maybe). The committee will also review master plans in development and the Community Block Development Grant program.

The serious situation with POKO’s request for a six-month extension will be discussed Monday by the Plan Review Committee and then likely voted on by the entire Zoning Commission Wednesday.

Also on the committee’s agenda for Monday is a request to modify the plan for Waypointe, adding a parcel at 29 Orchard St. to the development. The proposal would add 21 apartments for a total of 362, and reduce retail space by 1,000 square feet to 38,431 square feet.

Zoning Commissioner Mike Mushak was surprised that Thursday’s meeting was canceled. “In five years it never happened before,” he said. “But it was just a bookkeeping error.”

10 comments

Aretha December 6, 2013 at 6:10 am

This cant continue. It’s time the city took out the stick. Enough with the carrots and rain dancing already. This isn’t astrophysics, it’s called profiteering. Enough already. Time to put up or shut up. Penalties should be contractually levied for failing to meet established permit pull deadlines, from here on out, for all projects. It’s high time Norwalk’s leadership stood up to these high roller speculators and held them accoutable. Can we see some leadership from, RDA, the board, the council, the executive? You voted for change, you voted for responsible action. Did you get it? Stay tuned..

Don't Panic December 6, 2013 at 8:12 am

The calling of special meetings will mean that they cannot vote to suspend the rules to add any new items to the agenda.

jlightfield December 6, 2013 at 12:03 pm

@Show A Little Respect: Let’s be clear here, POKO Partners owns the property. They bought it. They can build whatever they want as of right.

Suzanne December 6, 2013 at 2:03 pm

“What I can tell you is that we’re aggressively looking to get the building down, and once the building’s down, that’s when we get shovels (in the ground). We don’t need any more extensions. We’re in construction now.”
Kenneth M. Olson, Managing Partner, POKO, 09/09/11. POKO has always billed themselves as experienced RE-developers and, as such, interested in the welfare and future of urban developments in downtowns in New York, New Jersey and CT. As such, I think the expectation of citizens to see development, or re-development, as proposed, which included “working” housing as well as apartments and retail (check out their WEB site, it is very pretty) and the preferential treatment they have received from our city suggests that they get started, period. Given their experiences at this kind of development, it surprises me that they are having trouble getting funding for the low-income piece and, frankly, it feels like a ruse to develop without the required parameters which, as we know, other developers in this town have done everything to keep away from their developments, apparently appealing to a different demographic and not wanting the low income “element” on site. This feels manipulative, now, especially since they have let the appearance of the building deteriorate under their, owned, watch. Companies only do this when they know they can get away with it: I agree with Aretha, “…penalties should be contractually levied.” They have agreed time and again with the City on an official level, the type and scope of the development and, therefore, should have rescinded their right to build just anything at this location. And, that, I am betting, is something Norwalk could take to court at a great cost that POKO would not want to deal with.

jlightfield December 6, 2013 at 2:51 pm

@Suzanne what preferential treatment do you think POKO has received? So far they have purchased buildings, which they now own, some are rented out and all are currently maintained insofar as they are simply empty.
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The City of Norwalk has chosen to keep giving POKO six month extensions when POKO keeps coming to the planning committee and zoning commission stating he needs a one year extension because the financing package he is pursuing take a long time.
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So who is looking for preferential treatment here? When I was on zoning we routinely granted 1-2 year extensions on all sorts of projects because we understood the timeline of construction and financing takes a long time. And because of that, you can see the results, the award wining Summerview project, approved in 2006, granted reasonable extensions, construction began in 2010.

Suzanne December 6, 2013 at 4:38 pm

jlightfield, POKO has misrepresented themselves to the citizens of Norwalk. The quote from 2011 where Mr. Olson proclaims imminent demolition and shovels in the ground in 2011 has obviously not come to pass. While I realize that financing is not easy, they have a good deal of experience at it and it just feels like Norwalk has been on the back burner: especially when there are articles in the papers about the neglect and trash accumulating at the buildings they own on Wall Street, an area that holds high hopes for the people of Norwalk but has consistently suffered from neglect. While you may see their constant requests as reasonable, it’s hard not to feel that they are treating Norwalk like a second class citizen, the last on their list. If the financing was not properly secured, POKO and Mr. Olson should refrain from such statements in reference to development and timing. It is a misrepresentation of their intentions in an area that deserves better attention than it receives now and is often viewed in various threads and news outlets as the hope for a revitalized Norwalk. POKO certainly has not contributed to that.

M Allen December 6, 2013 at 9:43 pm

@jlightfield – to be honest, I’m trying to go off of recollections of how the Wall Street Place project came together. Even trying to find old articles or information regarding anything but extensions is hard to find. If what you’re saying is that the entire Wall Street Place project was as simple as POKO privately purchased all that property and there were no special side agreements with the city, then I totally agree. It’s their land and they can choose to build or not build or sell or whatever. But I am seeing little quotes out there that make me think there were special provisions that were part of enticing POKO to redevelop that area.
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From a 9/9/11 article in the Hour: “Under milestones set forth in a tri-party agreement with the city and Redevelopment Agency, POKO Partners was supposed to break ground early this year. The company requested a one-year extension. The city and Redevelopment Commission instead gave POKO Partners until Sept. 21.”
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According to Wikipedia, which I know is oftentimes garbage, “On Jun 15, 2005 the city of Norwalk granted the Poko development company rights to a 6.3-acre (25,000 m2) site in Central Norwalk.”
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According to a 6/16/05 story in the Hour it just says POKO was chosen as the city’s preferred developer. I read that as they were selected over some other group. Now what that gave them I can’t tell. Other than they were handed over the Isaac Street parking lot.
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But wasn’t there also something about a loan? If you have any clearer information or understanding of what commitments were made between the city and POKO, that would be helpful in clearing up any misconceptions. Maybe this was all just a private deal and nobody should be concerned. But, if it is something more and the city has some leverage, I think people are saying they ought to begin using that leverage.

jlightfield December 7, 2013 at 3:40 pm

@Suzanne I’m really not following why you are focusing on POKO when the issues facing downtown Norwalk include so many other vacant or falling-apart buildings that contribute to overall issue of why it is difficult to entice investors and property owners to invest in this area.
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@M Allen, if I remember the timeline correctly it was 2003 or 2004 that the City of Norwalk awarded two developers (POKO & Discala) the rights to land disposition agreements in order to build projects that the CIty identified as what they wanted, primarily housing. Both involved the use of City owned land (parking lots) to leverage the financing of each project, the City paid to demolish one building (Smith Pottery) which has been a vacant lot ever since, and one project made it all the way through zoning approval, roughly in 2006. The other has not.
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So when I look at the overall state of affairs, two developers own property, that they purchased in order to build projects that the City wanted in early 2000. Stuff happened, including the final inking of the deals, you referenced above, and law suits which you did not, and the infamous market crash of 2008.
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Yes I think there was a loan made by redevelopment to POKO to pay form something, I think it was affordable housing, and subsequent to everything that has gone on, the loan repayment triggered because no housing has been built.
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Waypointe, also had a similar timeline, but Seligson never signed the LDA, and he too had numerous financing deals fall through, and in the end what is being built is not the redevelopment project, but an as of right project which is exactly what POKO and Discala can do at any time.

Suzanne December 7, 2013 at 5:34 pm

jlightfield, Obviously because that is what the article is about, another extension for POKO and their development. Also, what a difference it would have made had they followed through on all of those great intentions long ago – perhaps the falling down buildings you reference would have been already redeveloped. POKO could have been the catalyst. Instead, a neglected building much like all the others sits with no progress. I did not make the positive predictions about going forward in downtown Norwalkm in 2011, POKO did. Don’t shoot the messenger.

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