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Rowayton trees mourned as residents vent on Facebook

NORWALK, Conn. – The area around the Rowayton train station looks like a strip mall now, according to Carolyn Chiodo, an opponent of the Rowayton Avenue lowering project.

About 25 to 30 mature trees have been cut down, including oaks, cedars, sugar maples and a rare elm tree, according to an April 15 Facebook post from Sixth Taxing District Commissioner Mike Barbis.

“The area looks terrible without the trees,” Sheila Higgins wrote in response.
“Despicable on so many levels,” wrote Jamie Wildstein Behr.

“Tax $$$$$ at work! Looks like a strip mall now.\:(,” Chiodo wrote.

The tree destruction has always been part of the plan, Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord said Thursday. Some of the residents have thanked DPW, he said.

The contract for the reconstruction of Rowayton Avenue under and north of the Metro-North bridge was approved by the Common Council in late January, despite an effort to stop it. That included a meeting with Connecticut Department of Transportation officials, in which Mayor Harry Rilling learned it would cost the city $750,000 not to go ahead, he said.
The project will lower the hill north of the railroad station by three feet to improve the sight lines for drivers. The road north of the bridge will be narrowed from 32 feet to 28 feet. The road south of the bridge will be widened from 26 feet just south of Caroline Court to 28 feet, to make the stretch uniform.

The Facebook posts are on the Rowayton (Sixth Taxing District) page, which had 232 members as of Saturday night. It drew responses from 19 people and became an angry political back and forth between Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E) and Zoning Commissioners Nora King, and Mike Mushak and sIXTH Taxing District Commissioner Mike Barbis, in which McCarthy accuses Barbis and Mushak of lying and denies name-calling, but rather says the accusations of lying are factual.

Mushak calls into question whether the federal government has the funds to live up to its end of the deal to reimburse Norwalk for 80 percent of the expected $2.3 million cost, saying the Federal Highway Trust Fund will run out of money by September. Norwalk will only have enough money left to replace the majestic mature trees with four spindly trees, Mushak said.
“Every Rowaytonite must ask why (McCarthy) was so desperate for this expensive, unnecessary boondoggle that no one wanted to go through based on so much deliberate misinformation and manipulation of the process, including lying about accident data and true costs to the city,” Mushak wrote.

“Of course, you fail to mention that all the trees will be replaced at the end of the project once the sidewalks are in and the roadway improved. You make everything a personal attack and resort to rumor mongering,” McCarthy wrote in reply.

McCarthy also responds to comments and questions from the public.

“So is there a plan (drawings, budget, etc) for sidewalks and replacement trees or are those things ideas only with no plan for action and execution? It seems that this project was conceived and approved in the 1990’s and now we have more information and different goals as a community,” Kathryn Kukula wrote.

“There are extensive plans that have been reviewed, commented on and all suggested modifications that I know of, including the type of curb, extension of sidewalks as well as the addition of bike lanes has been made,” McCarthy replied. “As recently as last month, meetings were held with commuters, local residents and Tammy (Langalis) representing the commissioners and no additional changes were suggested to my knowledge. The concept and core of the project was requested in the ’90’s and the details were baked throughout the entire process.”

“Is there any way to stop this project before it goes any further? Sounds like it still needs more discussion on who said what and who is supporting it and who is not. The community seems pretty unhappy about this. I haven’t heard anyone in support of this ‘fix,’” Peter Morrison wrote.

“Dave I hope you are not up for reelection this year,” Chiodo wrote. “I think you are going to have a tough time selling that to Rowayton. We do need sidewalks/bike lanes … this isn’t a project that delivers either. Hunt Lane/Rowayton Ave Bridge to the Hunt/ Highland Ave. ….”
“Actually from the number of supportive side emails I’m getting, I’d disagree, Carolyn,” McCarthy wrote. “You can have your opinion on this and that, too. Just not everyone shares it.”

Rowayton Avenue railroad bridge widening 042314 005

This front yard stump is one of many near the Rowayton Avenue railroad bridge.

9 comments

Betsy Wrenn April 28, 2014 at 8:35 am

Men with power detest anything taller and stronger than they are. What other explanation can there be?

Suzanne April 28, 2014 at 8:54 am

I wonder if, on the plans, these very large trees where shown, to scale, with an “x” over them. That is the general process for showing just what would take place in a construction site. Knowing the value of trees to not only a community but to the environment, I wonder if this removal was pointed out to the public in the numerous discussions about the project. There is very little consideration in this area for mature trees during construction. Standards for removal are generally that large trees inhibiting construction equipment even are “chain saw bait.” If the community was fully informed of the removal of these trees and did not have the opportunity to discuss ways to save them using alternative plans or means, then the community process was deficient. In general, contractors and builders have never met a tree they did not want to remove to make their life and plans easier while, in general, community members or residents have a great interest in retaining them. That this tree removal was a surprise to many shows that Rowayton residents were not well-informed of these plans. I think contractors look around and think, “Trees? Who cares about trees? They’re everywhere!” without considering the ramifications of removal of a living thing that has taken decades, sometimes over a hundred years, to be realized. These cannot be replaced. If I was a Rowaytonite, I would start a fundraiser right now to make the tree “replacements” something more than planned in cooperation with the agency(ies) who are to install them. Raise the funds, make the trees a memorial or somehow especially designated to the community, make them more substantial. This should not have to be done but it does not sound like this project can see “the forest for the trees” and tax money will not cover substantial landscaping.

JMB April 28, 2014 at 9:50 am

Wouldn’t it be great if McCarthy, rather than try and prove, once again that he’s right (“People are thanking me….”) said, “I can see why people are upset. The place looks bare right now but give it time. I’m confident in the end the area around the station will be even better.”

Unfortunately, I don’t think empathy is part of McCarthy’s political persona.

Dave McCarthy April 28, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Someone called my attention to this article, which is about comments made several weeks ago.

JMB…good point, and when people have contacted me, I have expressed those sentiments. It is unfortunately that the trees need to be removed, but they do, and it was clearly indicated in the plans since day one and they will be replaced.

The larger point to be made is that when there is a reasonable discussion among citizens looking at the project, there are few, if any, objections.

This has been the case in the last several meetings, and now, when we had residents of Rowayton Av in with Commissioner Langalis et al, there wasn’t even the slightest request for a change, other than to ensure the working hours were kept appropriate, etc.

The issue is that the one or two people who really have been trying to leverage this project for their own gain have been derailing any realistic discussion and making the inflammatory (and untrue) comments about the road being widened and the area becoming a speedway for 18 wheelers.

In these circumstances, I have spent all of my time pointing out the lies rather than displaying any sympathy for those who are going through this construction, which I agree, can be quite bothersome, but which is rather short in duration in comparison to the previous projects.

the donut hole April 28, 2014 at 1:22 pm

I suppose the tree huggers would rather see that tree in the first picture grow through the stone wall holding it back completely and collapse over the roadway or train tracks?

Mike Mushak April 28, 2014 at 6:19 pm

Dave McCarthy, yet again you change your story to attack opponents to this unnecessary boondoggle! No one ever said 18 wheelers were coming. That is YOUR statement to make project opponents sound more shrill. What we asked repeatedly was why the clearance needed an increase when even downtown Darien on the busy Post Rd survives just fine with 11 feet, the current ht of the Rowayton Ave Bridge now. Not to mention numerous other bridges at 11 feet or lower in Greenwich, Old Greenwich, Westport, Stamford, etc. Now we are being told East Ave needs 14 feet clearance which WILL pave the way for 18 wheelers, but that’s another tragic Norwalk DPW vs the Public saga that is just starting .
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You said that there were numerous unreported truck strikes on Rowayton Ave, but how would you know if they were unreported? The police have ONE report in 17 years, of a 13 foot truck hitting the the current 11 foot bridge in 2010, which caused the scratches you still see since they showed up in a press photo taken by Nancy Chapman for the Daily Norwalk in May of 2011. So much for your theory of “dozens of unreported strikes” that caused the scratches. You just made that up! The irony is this same 13 ft truck would have still hit the bridge even after taxpayers spend nearly $3 million to increase the clearance from 11 to 12 feet.
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Your repeated insistence that there was no opposition earlier to this project is not supported by the record, when a majority of speakers at previous public hearings over the years , including a former 6th Taxing District leader that you said later went off the prepared statement you wanted him to read, were opposed to this boondoggle. The fact that they were all just ignored by Hal Alvord and Dick Moccia over many years does not change the record or the historical facts that you are trying to rewrite for God knows what reason, by saying there was little opposition to this project over the years.
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I also love your claim right here on the pages of NON they the total cost to Norwalk taxpayers will be $6,000. That is for the total of un-reimbursed costs, which includes a full time city engineer for almost a year, and all the landscaping. As a landscape architect I know the true cost of landscaping a project this big is generally 10%, or $250,000 on a $2.5 million project. Your number is $3,000, if we take half of the $6,000 you alotted for both the engineer and the landscaping. That works out to the engineer making about .25 cents an hour, and 4 spindly trees at the going city rate of $750 per 3 inch caliper tree, planted. How can you say there will be abundant landscaping unless the cost to taxpayers will beach greater than you said, which we know more likely, but why did you lie to the public about it?
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And why did you say one public hearing for the waste water treatment plant cost taxpayers $50,000, while you attacked over 30 local folks who signed the petition for the legally sanctioned hearing? You said here on NON that there was “no distinction” between your new estimate of $50,000 and your original estimate of “hundreds of thousands” you said that hearing would cost taxpayers.
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We have never seen the evidence of the $50,000 claim you made despite an FOI request, probably because it was a bogus number pulled out of a hat, no different than the $6,000 total Norwalk taxpayer outlay for the Rowayton boondoggle that earlier reports had at around $400,000 which soundstage more realistic. But then that would have been an inconvenient fact for you to reveal. At least you could have said $200,000 maybe, if you needed to lie about it, but $6,000? Really? Do you think we are all that stupid?
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Enough said, for now (I’ll leave the made-up accident reports you claimed justified this project for another post.)

Diane C2 April 28, 2014 at 7:46 pm

Tree City USA? Ha! What a joke – first the deafening silence of the Tree Warden (Hal Alvord) as Oak Hills Park Authority planned to clear cut acres of trees, and now this.
Another Hal Alvord boondoggle – how much more damage can we allow this man to inflict upon Norwalk? Crumbling, disgusting infrastructure, untimed lights, slalom course road lanes, lack of sidewalks, dangerous bike lanes (file under “be careful what we wish for”), stop signs and no parking restrictions that no one wants that create dangerous intersections & pollution and hinder businesses, clogged storm water drains that cause flooding and the list goes on and on.
Surely there is some reason why 3 administrations have allowed him to keep his job – what is it?

Peter Parker April 30, 2014 at 1:30 pm

What does Hal Alvord care about Norwalk? Nothing! He is not a resident and does not live in Norwalk. If I’m not mistaken Mr. Alvord’s position serves at the will of the Mayor. Mayor Rilling what’s wrong with you? Discharge this man from his post for incompetence! Hal Alvord and his tactics will cost you the next election and his continued tactics will cause our city great harm. Mayor Rilling do the job you were elected to do!

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