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Rilling zeroes in on development at Dallas mayor’s conference

Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling.

Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling.

DALLAS, Texas. – Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling said Monday evening that the U.S. Conference of Mayors Annual Meeting he is attending in Dallas is “remarkable,” with a strong focus on redevelopment – an issue on Norwalk’s front burner.

“One thing I’ve learned here is cities all over the country have the same problem, he said. “It’s just that the bigger cities have bigger staffs to deal with them.

“There’s one project that was struggling, and the city of Dallas put in $10 million dollars,” but the project stalled anyway, he said. “The bank foreclosed on it. It makes you realize you have to come up with creative ways to make things happen.”

He said that applies to some of the languishing properties in Norwalk.

“We’re trying to work with Ken Olsen (POKO partners-Wall Street Place), work with GGP (mall proposal), work with DiScala and Company on Head of the Harbor,” he said. “We need to find ways to facilitate moving forward with those projects.”

The mayor got an up-close look at a mixed-use project under way in the nation’s ninth-largest city.

“They took us on economic development tour,” Rilling said. “Whole Foods is building a store – four stories with the store on the first floor and offices and residences above it. They are rethinking how things are done. They are creating their own consumer base.”

Mixed use was in the Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) approved for the 95/7 property. The project originally approved for Spinnaker Realty was described on the company’s website:

District 95/7 is arguably the best development site in Fairfield County, CT. As one of the last major parcels to be developed on Interstate 95 (Connecticut Turnpike), it occupies a large 12.6-acre site at the intersection of I-95 and Route 7 in the heart of Norwalk, CT. This mixed-use project will serve as the new gateway entrance to Norwalk and will include approximately 600,000 square feet of Class A office space, 125,000 square feet of retail space, 300 residential units, and a 150-room hotel.

General Growth Properties (GGP) wants to go in a different direction, though, and it is a topic on Rilling’s mind even as he takes part in the Texas conference.

“GGP is bound by the LDA. If they want to change (the type of development), they have to submit a new LDA. Right now, we’ve authorized only the previous LDA.”

Rilling admitted he doesn’t have much control over the situation. “We’re having discussions, the pros and cons, working with Redevelopment, the Planning Commission, and the Common Council,” he said. Those are the bodies that will ultimately decide on the LDA. “I will use the ability of the mayor’s office – use whatever political capital I have to come up with something we deem appropriate. We’re going to have to have an open and honest dialog and come to terms with what is most appropriate” for the erstwhile 97/7 property.

GGP is still making the rounds, speaking to city groups and officials, and the jury is still out on public opinion. Public opposition may have played a part in BJ’s Wholesale Club pulling back from its proposed store on Main Avenue, Rilling said.

“It’s hard to say. I think public opinion played a part in the BJ’s situation,” he said. “You know, I’m not even convinced that BJ’s is gone. I’m not convinced of that. Just because they haven’t come back with any further proposals and any further applications, doesn’t mean they are gone. … I know that they did come back to me (informally) and tell me that they have downsized their original plan and I still told them I could not support it.”

The GGP situation is different, Rilling said.

“It’s a $35 million investment,” he said. “GGP does build malls. It was sold to GGP. Now, they have to get changes to the LDA. That’s going to be an uphill battle.”

8 comments

Oldtimer June 24, 2014 at 8:53 am

Maybe next time there will be restrictions in any agreement on selling a property for a different use. The City should have a voice at the table when a developer decides to sell rather than follow through on a development.

Bloomingdales June 24, 2014 at 9:39 am

On November 13th, 2013 the Redevelopment Commission voted to transfer the LDA agreement, with the full support of our Chamber of Commerce, to General Growth Partners, knowing full well that they were going to develop a mall. See the meeting minutes at http://www.norwalkct.org/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/7318

The biggest leverage we had over the site was the three public streets (Crescent, Liberty and Putnam) that we GAVE to Spinnaker, with no strings attached, thanks to our Redevelopment Agency and their crack legal team from Depanfilis and Valerie LLC. Had we retained the streets or had a clawback provision if the development did not happen, the mall could not be developed and the City could have forced a different kind of development to happen there. Basically, we are now stuck with a “take it or leave it empty” proposition.

Redevelopment, Planning and Zoning are all still controlled by Moccia appointees, and there is a republican majority on the Council. This mall is going to be built – get over it!

Oldtimer June 24, 2014 at 9:49 am

The City still needs to focus on mixed use at that site. Mixed use of housing, office space, and retail is not only not mutually exclusive, but probably better use of the space. Wasn’t a hotel part of the original concept ? The developer has specialized in malls, but will favor anything that promises a profitable income stream. The City needs to be flexible in dealing with the developer in terms of what it will allow, even it that calls for zoning changes, especially in height of buildings allowed.

LWitherspoon June 24, 2014 at 3:54 pm

@Mark and Nancy
.
What levers does the Mayor have to exert influence over whether the Mall is built? What influence does the Mayor have over whether GGP gets the desired changes to the LDA?
.
The message from the Mayor regarding the mall is very confusing. During the campaign, he was squarely against the Mall. He now claims to oppose the Mall, but he says that if we don’t provide GGP with the desired changes to the LDA, then the site will lie empty for another 10-15 years. This last statement sounds like the Mayor making an argument in favor of the Mall. And he says that when he saw the plans for the Mall, he was pleased. He also said that GGP has been very responsive to his requests for changes.
.
It’s hard to believe any claim that the Mayor has little influence over whether a Mall gets built at 95/7. Particularly when the developer is in direct dialogue with the Mayor about it, and the Mayor has been quoted saying that he’s pleased with how GGP have responded to his concerns and requests!

piberman June 24, 2014 at 4:21 pm

Still missing is a detailed financial, economic impact and financial write up of the proposal from the developer so informed public discussion can proceed. Perhaps the developers have doubts about Norwalk resident’s reading abilities. After all the Oak Hills group has no problem asking for 4.5 million without supplying particulars to the public. Maybe its just a “ask the Mayor” process a la Big Box.

Dennis DiManis June 24, 2014 at 10:46 pm

What a bunch of bull. He goes to Dallas, then starts talking this jive. Couldn’t address it without the trip?

Poko is a joke of Guinness Book proportions, and the joke’s on us.

How about comparing notes with mayors of the numerous municipalities that have protected their neighborhoods by successfully defending against baseless Muslim discrimination lawsuits?

How about comparing notes about picking up the garbage that’s ALWAYS on the sidewalk at Wall & Commerce St.

Taxpayer Fatigue June 24, 2014 at 11:11 pm

It’s just so easy to blame the mayor – amazing that people don’t take two minutes to figure out how our city government is set up to work (or not work as in the case of Norwalk). The redevelopment commission, the zoning commission and the common council are the decision-makers with regard to the mall. Of course the mayor has his opinions, as we all do, regarding the mall development; however, in the end, it isn’t the mayor’s decision. Just as the teacher’s contracts are the decision of the BOE, it’s just easier to blame the mayor (and more fun because he isn’t one of us anymore (aka, republican). If you don’t want the mall, then you need to let the redevelopment commission, the zoning commission and the common council know – shouldn’t be a problem – they are all controlled by your republican friends…see you at the mall!

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