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East Norwalk man’s home to be taken by state for East Avenue widening project

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John Napoleone, left, and Michele (Michael) Napoleone discuss a painful situation last week in the elder man’s home at 220 East Ave. in East Norwalk.

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.”

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A photo on the wall of Michele (Michael) Napoleone’s home.

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.

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Michele (Michael) Napoleone has kept this bedroom as an homage to a late loved one.

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.

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Michele (Michael) Napoleone, 83, and his family moved into the upstairs apartment at 220 East Ave. in East Norwalk in 1967. Ten years later he bought the house.

 

33 comments

Herb Eaversmels October 1, 2013 at 6:59 am

The timing is great! Compare the price the CDOT is offering to the appraisal this City just finished… I would love to see how they compare.

Mike Mushak October 1, 2013 at 7:05 am

I agree with both candidates that improvements to East Avenue MUST be made for safety and improving traffic flow. However, just as I stated in a public hearing in 2009, this project MUST follow new state guidelines under the 2009 CT “Complete Streets” Law, (which GOP Governor Jodi Rell signed into law over the odd objection of most Republicans), which mandates that all state-funded road improvements be designed for ALL users in mind, including bicycles and pedestrians, not just cars and trucks.
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There is no doubt the train bridge on East Avenue needs widening, but why lowering? Trucks get around it now, and lowering it will only encourage East Avenue to become a truck route as a shortcut to South Norwalk, instead of West Avenue/MLK which is already designed as a major truck route between 95 and teh industry and warehouses of South Norwalk, where I live.
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What we should all be concerned about is that the East Avenue widening not turn that busy street into a speeding truck route and major “highway”, which would kill nearby commercial and residential property values and any chance of East Norwalk becoming a more walkable and livable community. We should be installing infrastructure that encourages walking and bicycling to the train station, and to encourage small business and enhance property values along that crucial corridor. Although the bridge must be widened, it is proven that 3-lane road diets move a higher volume of cars at slower speeds, and work well on roads up to 20,000 cars per day. The light timing is much faster on a 3-lane road, so the long lights that hold up traffic are streamlined, and all of the left turns into the numerous curb cuts and side streets occur in the shared middle turn lane, eliminating the dangerous “weave” of traffic between lanes. This option MUST be explored here. If it won’t work, fine, at least we can say we explored it and tested it.
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I encourage our city and state engineers and city leaders to open their minds and explore ALL options including a modern “Complete Streets” solution (http://www.smartgrowthamerica.org/documents/cs/cs-brochure-features.pdf)
as state law requires for East Avenue, that will have positive impacts for generations to come on, instead of a typical engineer-designed obsolete widening project that will be for cars and trucks only and help destroy what little street life and “small town feel” that stretch now has.

Mike Mushak October 1, 2013 at 7:58 am

Coincidentally, I am on my way this morning with my partner David Westmoreland, who is also a licensed professional landscape architect, to a one day seminar called “Designing Complete Streets, Benefits, Barriers, and Best Practices”, at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, sponsored by the CT Chapter of the ASLA which we belong to.
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We attend these professional planning seminars frequently, and run into Planning and Zoning officials from most cities in CT who are interested in keeping up with new planning concepts. We rarely run into anyone from Norwalk’s P and Z Department, which is odd.

Suzanne October 1, 2013 at 7:59 am

Wow. At 83, all that “stuff” as Mr. Alvord puts it,is going to be moved and everyone will be happy, happy. The State will get to build their freeway and Mr. Napoleone’s home will be swept away for the taking. This is eminent domain and I wonder how many of these talking heads actually imagine what it would be like for them to be so displaced for what? The “good” of better traffic flow? Too bad – a higher good is being served by basically “insulting” Mr. Napoleone into submission while the place where he has gardened for years (who cares? A garden? What does it matter when that “bottle neck” continues to exist and make cars go slower. Poor cars) and where is wife and daughter died is destroyed. Absolutely no compassion expressed for this man and his family, not really, while the State and local governments believes such values can be bought off. We should all be ashamed and there could surely be another solution than this one for this “essential” service of road widening.

TKL October 1, 2013 at 9:16 am

Mr. Mushak,
No mention of the man who’s life is being uprooted? Yet more of the same: bicycle lanes. I can certainly appreciate your dig at the P and Z folks but the self promoting tends to skew your point. I hope that Mr Napoleone can find some happiness from this…..

Diane C2 October 1, 2013 at 9:24 am

and worse news even – I’ll confirm today, but it seems State has sent him a “condemnation” letter and 90-day eviction notice.

To answer Mssrs. Alvord and Sweeney – most of the bottleneck on East Ave can probably be attributed to the timing of lights, the slalom course created by Alvord, and unnecessary commercial traffic cutting through to and from SONO. For the 2-3 times a year the road is congested with out-of-towners (July 4th, Oyster Festival and Boat Show) we should not take a road to make it a speedway the rest of the year, and to encourage even MORE tractor trailers to cut thru. Mr. Alvord conveniently forgets that the average speed on the northern portion of East Ave must be 45 mph! And also that a nationally-recognized means of traffic calming and controlling traffic flow is NARROWER roads, not wider.
Here’s another point for today – local DPW claimed years ago that property taking is due to sidewalk widening and the subsequent lack of a full driveway for Mr. Napoleone – but recently a state official told his son that the properties are being taken to build a parking lot!
Mr. Alvord, give us an example of the state being fair or concerned during eminent domain, and when they ever moved gardens and soil and fruit trees –

Sara October 1, 2013 at 9:26 am

Mr. Mushak:
Where is your compassion for the 83-year old man? Do you have to take every opportunity to write about “your” bicycle lanes?

NorwalkVoter October 1, 2013 at 9:46 am

I’m glad someone else sees the slalom course called East Avenue, as a hazard. Only a crazy person or a civil engineer from the State could have designed that traffic pattern. Heaven forbid you are new to town and heading south on East Avenue. Yikes!

M Allen October 1, 2013 at 9:53 am

Eminent domain happens and when looked upon at the individual level, we will always be able to highlight sad stories. Are you putting a face on this particular individual out of caring for the gentleman or because he is a tool to keep the project from moving ahead? I do hope Mr. Napoleon and the others are able to negotiate reasonable compensation for both their property value and relocations. But in the grand scheme of things, eminent domain has a place when used properly. We always wish these folks could get more. But even if it was more, someone would want more than more. Because more is what its all really about.

dlauricella October 1, 2013 at 10:03 am

Good points, all. Especially traffic calming design to accommodate bike/pedestrian.
Why can’t the road widening shift east and instead take more of the entrance to the East Norwalk Train Station and the gas station corner? What were the alternatives proposed, if any?
Good luck Mr. Napoleone.

Oldtimer October 1, 2013 at 10:37 am

Forcing an old man out of his home is not an attractive idea. Buying his house at a decent market price and helping him relocate nearby should not be rocket science. There are plenty of comparable properties listed for sale near his house. He might even end up with money in his pocket. If they approached him with a proposal that included a nice place nearby, relocation expenses, and a few dollars for the inconvenience, this would not be a newsworthy conflict story.

Suzanne October 1, 2013 at 12:48 pm

I wonder when people started thinking that “home” to a person had a monetary value over and above the moral value of sanctuary and tending to one’s place. The man’s wife and daughter died there – put yourself in his shoes. Honestly. Now someone is taking YOUR home – child born there? Too bad. Birthdays, Anniversaries, Deaths? Too bad. Traffic has to move faster. SO important. It is particularly galling to read some of these cavalier comments with no basis in the reality of losing one’s home for the “common good.” Common good? Prove it.

M Allen October 1, 2013 at 1:03 pm

@Suzanne – Eminent domain is nothing new and has been used for generations. There are always individual stories that surround these situations, and at the personal level they can be quite meaningful. But let’s not act like this is some new form of government overreach. And for the record, I don’t think this is a “common good” situation. I believe it would fall under the common use variation since it is for a public work. Could be wrong though

concerned citizen October 1, 2013 at 2:23 pm

This is government overreach and the emininent domain law should change to allow owners at the very least to afford a comparable property in a decent neihborhood. From what I’ve heard and read, the tendency is for the state to offer the owner less than market value.
And more is not what its all about, its about consideration and getting fair value.

jill st. john October 1, 2013 at 2:48 pm

This man needs a good lawyer and an even better Appraiser, they will steal this property from this poor old man and never think twice. He CAN fight this, but it will cost him money, and time and that is exactly what the state depends on. What a way to go, spending your last years worrying about your home, and being kicked out of it.

Skruuball October 1, 2013 at 3:08 pm

American…. land of the ‘used to be” free and home of the brave. Where are the BJ’s people now?

Oldtimer October 1, 2013 at 4:08 pm

After the Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005)case, most places try very hard to avoid eminent domain. Some states passed laws requiring property owner get paid 125% of market value.
Somebody at DOT needs to negotiate a reasonable arrangement with this homeowner, and it shouldn’t be that difficult. Once he hires a lawyer, it is going to get complicated. Putting this homeowner out on the street, with no place to go, would be way beyond stupid.

Suzanne October 1, 2013 at 4:19 pm

Has anyone seen a plan showing why destroying this man’s home is necessary? A plan showing options to the ridiculous arrangement that is there now without taking this man’s home from him? I have known about eminent domain since I was a child (major highways placed through farm land including homes) and believe it is one of the more heinous ways to achieve a goal “variation” or “common good.” Either way, adapting the existing situation would seem a more plausible way to achieve the ends the State seems to be searching for unless there are valid studies that prove this is necessary. Apparently, trucks clear the train bridge just fine right now and that particular part of the project, raising the bridge, is unnecessary (that is, unless a freeway is planned). How much more of this plan is unnecessary? Why can’t what is there be re-engineered? Glad to see the overwhelming sympathy extended to this man’s plight. It could be you.

Diane C2 October 1, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Suzanne, the last time Norwalkers mobilized to try to stop this insanity we rallied support with the same sentiment – if the city and state can do this to Michael, they can do this to any one of us.
The original plan to widen and take part of his yard and driveway (hence the eminent domain out of nowhere a few years ago) was ridiculous enough, but now to hear that the state official has actually said the words “parking lot”? Are they serious?
We can put men on the moon, but we can’t get them to design a safer underpass sidewalk without taking 3 private properties? That is truly sad.
With one exception, the silence of our state legislators on this issue is deafening. We at least someone in a position of authority to tell the state to back off, let Michael go to Italy to see his grand/great grandkids and take this back up in a month or two – what the heck is the rush? Tell me, please

Kelo Con Job October 1, 2013 at 5:10 pm

Suzanne, you might want to take a ride down Norden Place or into Sono. The existing infrastructure needs to expand to allow traffic and more commuters for the 1000s of apartments coming on line. The existing configuration is probably 100 years old and due for modernization. Still this man should get FMV for his property, which he may not like. But that is the risk when you buy property next to a local right of way like a railroad.
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This is a practical use of eminent domain, unlike the debacle in New London which was done for a promise from Pfizer that never materialized. There we bulldozed dozens of homes because Pfizer wanted to build a swank new facility. You recall it went to the Supreme court because our state (read Hartford) sided with Pfizer in the name of the ‘public good’. Fast forward to today. The homes are gone and so is Pfizer who not only reneged on the deal, but they even moved out of New London entirely. In my opinion this is a landmark legal case and a turning point in the history of property rights. No one is safe from eminent domain any more, but this case looks fairly legit.

Mike Mushak October 1, 2013 at 6:03 pm

I hope the owner finds agreement with the state. It looked like I ignored his concerns in my post earlier, in my passion to discuss the much larger implications of this project to the city. There is no question the dangerous narrow 19th century bridge needs updating and widening, and unfortunately the gentleman’s home is in the way. Somehow a resolution to that will be found.
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The much bigger questions for the East Norwalk community, Norwalk at large, and Mayor Moccia are: What is the final vision for East Avenue after the bridge is widened? Will it be heightened to allow big trucks? Will East Avenue become an inhospitable speedway of cars and trucks, or a vision of smart multi-modal bike and pedestrian friendly design that enhances property values and the small town feel East Norwalk deserves?
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For the record, I just spent the day at a seminar in Hartford listening to DOT officials and top transportation engineers and landscape architects discuss these very issues, showing failures and successes of design. The plan currently put forward by Moccia and DPW is clearly an obsolete failure of design, that will ruin the quality of life of East Norwalk for generations. We need a reboot in City Hall badly. No one wants to live in a city full of textbook examples of how NOT to improve our roads.

Diane C2 October 1, 2013 at 7:14 pm

@Mike Mushak – for the record, Mike Napoleon’s home is not in the way of the widening/lowering. When you look at the original plans, only a portion of the property was being taken to widen the sidewalk. The reason there was ever a mention of “property taking” (nicer term than condemnation and eminent domain) is that the city/state would not allow a residential structure there without a long enough driveway! For pete’s sake, the guy can keep his house and park on a side street, or the station can let him park there. Eminent domain laws, to my knowledge, only allow the state to take what is the needed for the project, and no more. Now they want his house with the explanation (to his son) that they want the whole corner block there to put up a parking lot! What the hell does a parking lot have to do with widening the road and sidewalk???????

Mike Mushak October 1, 2013 at 7:36 pm

Diane, kudos to you for highlighting this. It so reminds me of the movie “UP” about the old guy who just put all the balloons on his house to get away from a highway project. Except this is real life, and a serious situation.
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It is so hard to comment on the details as I don’t know any of them, but a “parking lot” sounds like it may mean “staging area” for the bridge project, but that is only a guess. If we lived in a city with more transparency in City Hall, we might know more of the details and the state’s needs in this situation, and as others as well as you have pointed out, whether all options and alternatives have been explored. Why isn’t Mayor Moccia or one of his many minions on this site explaining everything he knows to quell this anger? As always, little leadership and concern for the residents of Norwalk.
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Imagine a city where we didn’t have to guess what officials were doing behind closed doors on projects that affect all of us in huge ways, not to mention this lone gentleman who may lose his house while everyone is left “guessing” why it is happening and if all options have been explored.
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We need a detailed explanation of the bridge improvements and East Avenue widening plans and a construction timeline from Mayor Moccia, as soon as possible, if it hasn’t been released already. According to the comments on this site, thje Mayor is saying one thing while the DOT is saying another. Who should we trust? Where is Dave McCarthy, DPW Chair? Surely he must know the details.

RU4REEL October 1, 2013 at 11:40 pm

They compared his home to a home on Sable Street, what!! Sable Street floods, does that portion of East Avenue flood?
How is it possible that the flooding doesn’t affect the home appraisal, is it on stilts?

John E. Tobin October 2, 2013 at 12:53 am

Below is a link to the minutes of the DPW Committee meeting of July 5th, 2011 where the vote was taken regarding the “Right of Way Activities” for the reconstruction of East Ave. Page 7, paragraph 3 details the insane reasons the State needed to take the two properties in question. The reason for taking the Napoleon property is because the state can’t allow him to back his car out of his driveway as he does now. The reason stated for taking the property next to the railroad is because they don’t currently have a driveway, and the state can’t give them a driveway.

So the bottom line as told to the committee is that the state has to take people’s homes because, number one….they don’t want anyone backing out onto East Ave and number two….because if you don’t have a driveway you can’t have your home.

I remember those were the reasons given to the committee and I’m glad to see that is how they were recorded in the minutes.

http://norwalkct.org/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/4029

architect 101 Comapasssion/Humanity 101a October 2, 2013 at 1:42 am

Guys, the gentleman is 83. (83).
If he wants to remain, let it be.
If he chooses to relocate, lets help him.
After all Mr. Napoleone is a genuine Norwalker.
We, state included, need to respect his wishes,
whatever he chooses.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKRThOEPl7Y

Meantime, lets focus on getting the plan right.
That includes signal sequencing, dedicated space protected pedestrian and bike traffic as well as correcting the frequent floodig issue which will be excaberated with any lowering of the roadway. uniform lighting to connect the south side. Trees? Where? How many? What type of trees? How will the traffic flow be affected by this new parking lot? Electric Vehicles charging station? All these issues need to be thought through clearly and included in planning. What we need to look at closley is how NOT to do it, as has been recently done on rte 1 in Darien. Congestion, flooding have not been alievated at all there and it will be another century before it is corrected. Planing is everything.

Herb Eaversmels October 2, 2013 at 9:03 am

How about all of the people who gave up their homes for I-95? My family lost their home so we could have a major highway. You benefit from that everyday, but no talk about what we gave up.

Suzanne October 2, 2013 at 9:56 am

Based on sites posted on this thread referring to past discussions of this project, it appears there are options to what is being planned by the CT DOT in cooperation with Norwalk Public Works. A re-visiting of this “plan” is due along with potential solutions. An existing parking lot could have a parking structure not unlike, albeit smaller, Stamford’s multi-level lot across from their station. Traffic engineering could definitely be improved with reorientation of lanes: not just the numbers but how they are configured (Moccia sarcastically referred to the citizen’s needs for dedicated turn lanes vs. what? Other people’s houses?) The earlier plan, as referenced by Diane C2, showed some land being commandeered from the front of these homes but not the entire houses. Then the driveway snafu convinced DOT, apparently, that these houses would not be safe to live in with road widening. Then there is the comment, again from Moccia, that the DOT budget was just cut so there isn’t funding for the project anyway. All of these agencies need to slow down, take a breath and get on the same page with reason and common sense. John Tobin and Architect 101 on this thread alone had more feasible ideas than what are apparently being presented by the participating agencies as a solution and neither of them involved taking a home away from an 83 year old man. Where this is heading: destroyed houses, empty lots and, oops!, another hole in the ground as the State tries to solve their funding problems and get whatever job they have cobbled together done. Business as usual but at the sacrifice of a good citizen who, by everyone’s account, has never done anything but make a life and honest living in Norwalk, CT. What a reward for living a virtuous life.

marijab October 2, 2013 at 10:08 am

East Avenue north of 95 is a case study of why widening the road to four lanes is a bad idea…faster cars, less walkability , few places for pedestrian crossings and (still) congested at rush hours. Totally a bad urban street plan and not a good reason to take this guy’s house or any other properties.

Oldtimer October 2, 2013 at 11:25 am

One of the arguments raised about taking the entire property referenced backing out onto East Ave. If you drive by, or look on the satellite view of the property, it is pretty clear there is no driveway to East Ave. It looks like there is a driveway behind the house that goes to Fort Point St.
DOT needs to slow down, send a real live person to Norwalk to talk to Mr Napoleane, look at the property and similar properties listed for sale nearby and then work out a deal. It sounds like DOT is not funded to begin work anytime soon anyhow. What is the hurry ?

M Allen October 2, 2013 at 3:01 pm

It seems like there are a number of confusing issues related to this. There are references to CTDOT and then Metro-North. Is the property being taken due to work on widening/lowering the road or is it due to something with the railroad? And by the railroad, I don’t just mean the bridge itself. I recall something being mentioned about lengthening the train platform and a stairway being installed. I’ve heard a plan for using this property as a construction staging area, but could they also be seeking to put in additional parking for the train station on that side of the bridge? It just seems like a lot of what is happening here, and the timing, is unclear. It would be best to have clearer information because the arguments seem centered on the roadway when perhaps the increase in amount of property being taken is related to something else.

Diane C2 October 2, 2013 at 3:45 pm

M. Allen, sad thing is that probably entire council and mayor cannot articulate the project clearly.
The state refers to the project as East Avenue Project. Hal Alvord tied the MetroNorth project to the East Ave widen/lower project. State funding for East Ave “improvements” was then contingent on the widen/lower at bridge….We BEGGED Hal and the city to keep the project separate….

Oldtimer October 2, 2013 at 6:02 pm

CORRECTION my mistake. There is a driveway between 220 and 218 East Ave. Hard to imagine anybody using it, but it is there.

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