NORWALK, Conn. – An East Norwalk man would like to make his annual trip to see his family in Italy but he has to stay home – he needs to negotiate with the government agency that is taking his home.
Michele (Michael) Napoleone, who has lived two doors down from the railroad tracks since 1967, has been offered an “insulting” amount of money for his home by the Connecticut Department of Transportation, longtime friend Diane Cece of the Eastern Norwalk Neighborhood Association said. The state will use the property as a staging area for revamping the railroad bridge, eventually making it the location of a new stairway up to the tracks, Department of Public Works engineer Brian Sweeney said.
This is all part of the proposed East Avenue widening project, DPW Director Hal Alvord said. East Avenue will be widened to four lanes, the road will be lowered to allow truck traffic under the bridge and the platforms at the train station will be lengthened, he said.
Napoleone, 83, is unhappy now, but Sweeney said it might all work out in the end.
“Rarely do people end up not being happy after a condemnation because they get treated really well,” he said. “They get paid for their relocation and everything else. The condemnation, it’s just the process that they have to go through. The state is coming in and they’re buying the piece of property, is what it amounts to.”
Last Friday, Napoleone was not sure which battle to pick as he discussed the situation with his son, John, and Cece. It was a fight to keep his house or a fight to get a reasonable price for it, Cece told him.
He had thought the state only wanted his house, at 220 East Ave., and the one closest to the tracks, at 222 East Ave., he said, but said the state also wants the bakery property on the corner of Fort Point Street, 218 East Ave. He said he would fight if it was just the two houses, but with three properties involved, he does not want to be the sliver in the middle.
The other two property owners are likely to accept the state’s deal, he said, opting to fight for a fair price.
The appraisal obtained by the state compared his house to one on Sable Street in South Norwalk, Cece said. The amount of money offered by the state would not allow him to buy a comparably sized house nearby, she said.
Napoleone speaks broken English but managed to say, “I don’t want to go to South Norwalk because they take my house on the East Avenue, not in the South Norwalk.”
Napoleone goes to the beach every day, Cece said. His front and back yards are full of tomato plants – he got 200 jars of tomatoes this summer, he said. He has 10 peach trees as well as fig trees. Neighbors wait until his car is gone and come and get some produce, Napoleone said.
His wife died in the house, Cece said. He goes to Italy every fall to visit his late daughter’s grown children, he said, but CDOT officials told his son that he needs to stay here to negotiate. Otherwise, he might come home and find his house belongs to the state, Cece said.
“Eminent domain really is as frightening as it sounds,” Cece said. “They really are going to come and take your house.”
The family shared two letters with NancyOnNorwalk, but not the appraisal. Cece said she didn’t want the dollar figure out there because she thought that would make negotiations with the state more difficult.
Cece said she felt that council members would also find the amount of money offered to be unfair.
“I like my house,” Napoleone said. “Lots of work. Lots of work.”
Alvord said that, in previous situations, the state has been sensitive.
“Everybody understands he’s lived there most of his life and he’s got his gardens,” he said. “But they’ll actually move that stuff. They’ll even move soil to his gardens. They’re sensitive to that kind of stuff.”
The state has been “pretty generous” with its relocation program, he said.
“It’s been our experience that they’re not out to stick it to somebody,” he said. “They try very hard to work with people. They understand that this kind of change at that point in his life is going to be a significant event. They try to work with them.”
The project has been discussed for years. The full council voted to pass a resolution in favor of the East Avenue widening in 2009, according to The Hour. The project was last discussed publicly in 2011 by the Public Works Committee, after the plans had evolved to include two property takings. The agenda item of “motion to authorize the mayor to execute the agreement between Norwalk and Connecticut for right of way activities in conjunction with urban systems improvements related to the reconstruction of East Avenue” failed, 4-2, with one person abstaining.
CDOT officials Derrick Ireland and Kevin Nursick did not reply to an email requesting information. Neither did state Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk). (To see the state’s eminent domain law, click here.)
Alvord said he did not have a timetable for the work.
“I didn’t know they had made an offer,” he said. “We knew they had re-energized the project.”
The state spent less money than it had expected to on other projects, freeing up funds for the East Avenue bridge work, he said.
The bridge was built in 1895 and the thing that’s been done since then was some work in the 1920s, Alvord said.
“Whatever they do, if they come in and do a two-lane bridge, we’re going to live with that bottleneck for another 100 years,” he said. “This is our only opportunity to make that whole thing safer, improve traffic flow, eliminate some of the problems that are there today.”
Correction, 1:13 p.m. – daughter did not die in the house.