Norwalk political notes/briefs: Of Ryan Park, East Norwalk Revolutionary War monument, Zoning…

Zoning GGP 16-0504 Norwalk mall (135)

Norwalk Zoning Commissioners Jill Jacobson, left, and Linda Kruk.

A monument at Fitch's Point. (Photo by Rich Bonenfant.)

A monument at Fitch’s Point. (Photo by Rich Bonenfant.)

NORWALK, Conn. – Here’s what we have for you in political notes this Saturday:

  • Court: Norwalk can have its way with Ryan Park
  • Dry egress remains a contentious topic anyway
  • Reader: Council goofed, Revolutionary War monument is on public property
  • Kruk leaves Zoning ‘with a bang’
  • Zoning had deadline with AMEC
  • AMEC’s tab
  • Feel free to grow medical marijuana – if you’re fast
  • Santo again accuses Mushak in Great Flowerpot Scandal
  • Himes seeks stronger firearm safety laws


Stamford court dismisses that “other” FoRP legal complaint

The Friends of Ryan Park (FoRP) have been rebuffed in its other legal action related to the Washington Village project.

Stamford Superior Court Judge Edward Karazin on June 7 dismissed FoRP’s request for an injunction to “protect” Ryan Park from the nasty developers FoRP – or at least the two people claiming to be FoRP – is certain are going to put a path of dry egress through the park.

“The plaintiff has not asked the court to settle a present controversy, but rather to avoid a future one. Until the plaintiff s alleged injury shifts from hypothetical to reasonably likely, the court lacks jurisdiction to hear the plaintiff s claims,” Karazin wrote in his decision.

FoRP – seemingly just President Ganga Duleep and Treasurer Christopher Potts – has been contending that the city has a plan for “dry egress” that would bisect Ryan Park.

The city argued that the dry egress “plan” that was presented in the application to the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEEP) is not a “plan” that has been presented to or approved by the Common Council, the Council Recreation and Parks Committee or the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Ryan Park.

FoRP argued that “no other route of dry egress avoiding Ryan Park has been proposed” and that there is a “substantial likelihood” that the dry egress would go through the park and result in trees being cut down in violation of the Connecticut Environmental Protection Act (CEPA).

“The defendants created a conceptual path of dry egress in order to demonstrate that such a path was logistically feasible to DEEP,” Karazin wrote. “… This court cannot conclude that the alleged harm is reasonably likely to occur.”

That’s even with “viewing the pleadings in the light most favorable” to FoRP, a legal necessity, Karazin wrote.


About that committee

Duleep and Potts attended – and walked out of – the recent meeting of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Ryan Park, where two designs for the park were unveiled after about a year’s work by an independent consultant, according to the meeting’s minutes.

Duleep, Norwalk Recreation and Parks Department Director Mike Mocciae and Committee Chairman David Westmoreland were the only three committee members present, according to the minutes. A year ago, members included South Norwalk activists Ernie Dumas and Darlene Young, Washington Village Tenants Association President Raymond Dunlap and District B Common Council members Travis Simms and Faye Bowman.

Also present at the June 1 meeting was Anna Duleep, as well as Gary Sorge of Stantec, the firm chosen to design a new park.

Both designs seek to retain the park’s basketball court, although one has the court’s position rotated 90 degrees, and to have a gathering space or play space in the area of the amphitheater.

Here’s an important passage from the minutes:

“Mr. Sorge said they maintained the pedestrian access through the site from Day and Raymond Street to the Community Center and raised it up to 12.5 elevation and made it 10’ wide so it could accommodate maintenance vehicles or for somebody who might want to set up a tent or bring in equipment for an event.”

Westmoreland then said he didn’t want to see a path wider than six feet. The conversation wound through other topics with no comment from Duleep, and then Redevelopment Agency Senior Project Manager Susan Sweitzer asked if anyone in the audience wanted to speak. The minutes say:

“Mr. Potts asked who decided to put the 12½-foot dry egress right through the middle of the park and why it was designed that way. It could go around the park on Raymond Street. Mr. Sorge explained this was a flood zone, and the 12.5 elevation connects an elevation that is on the roadway to an elevation over by the Community Center and takes you up to South Main Street at a higher elevation. It is certainly not a condition that they created, and there is no other feasible way to do it without dramatically impacting the buildings on Raymond Street and other properties that the City has no control over.”

At that point, Potts and both Duleeps left, the minutes state.


Is ‘Fitch’s Point’ public property?

A map has turned up that appears to show that an East Norwalk Revolutionary War monument that is now inaccessible to the public is on public property, which is not what Common Council members have been saying.

A map of Seaside Place appears to show that a Revolutionary War monument there is on public property.

A map of Seaside Place appears to show that a Revolutionary War monument there is on public property.

The monument, erected by the Daughters of the Revolutionary War (DAR) in 1899, proclaims that the British had landed there to begin the burning of Norwalk during the Revolutionary War. This is on Seaside Place, a private waterfront road, which the monument declares is Fitch’s Point.
On April 14, 2015, the Council voted unanimously to un-name that Seaside Place, and give the name to a private driveway that is on the other side of the waterfront houses. Although pedestrians have been allowed on the private waterfront road as far back as anyone can remember, it’s now fenced off as a result.

This came to the Council’s attention through Council member Rich Bonenfant (R-At Large), who said he had reservations a year ago but voted with his caucus.

A reader provided the map shown here. The reader said:

“According to the map from the appraisal the Revolutionary War Monument is not on ‘Private Property’ nor do the lots along Seaside Place on this map extend to the water. The property lines border up to the road except for 9A and 10A according to the map. The property lines are marked very clear with the measurements of each of the lots. According to this map the statement that Bonenfant said he heard from other council members, ‘It’s private property they can do what they want’, are false. The properties do not extend over the road to the sea wall therefore it’s not private to them and there should be access to the monument.

“It seems like the council men and women that we vote into office didn’t do their homework before they voted.”


Kruk speaks her mind

“I never imagined doing this, I was asked to do it,” Zoning Commissioner Linda Kruk said at the June 9 Zoning Committee meeting, making a farewell speech that paid homage to the Commission but also chided some of the actions that have been taken.

The terms of Kruk, Emily Wilson and Jill Jacobson expire on July 1. Mayor Harry Rilling has declined to comment on who he might appoint, but it was clear on June 9 that Kruk was certain it wouldn’t be her.

Three years ago, Kruk sought the Republican Party’s nomination for a Board of Education candidacy, but fell short. Then-Mayor Richard Moccia then appointed her to Zoning.

It’s been an honor and an eye-opening experience, she said to her fellow Commissioners, but she objected to certain things, like the vote last month to require Odd Properties to put a sidewalk in front of its Day Street property as part of its renovation of a building there to create a contractor’s yard.

Kruk and Jacobson voted against requiring the sidewalk work.

“Sorry, but I have to equate it to extortion, a bit, because to hold somebody accountable for putting in something that the city didn’t take the time to do itself, then to say, ‘Well, we’ll give you that special permit but we’re going to make sure that you are going to take care of all of our problems in that spot.’ I think that’s wrong, period, I just don’t like it,” Kruk said in her last committee meeting, on June 9.

“To a guy who just bought a building and he is just trying to make ends meet and get by, and margins for landscapers are not huge, I think we need to be a little more mindful of when we demand that someone to do that,” Kruk said, suggesting that maybe developers who make such improvements be given a break on their property taxes in their first year as a gesture of good will.

“Regulations are not applied equally to certain people; they are sticking it to some people and not to others. Just because he happens to buy a building that doesn’t have sidewalks shouldn’t be his problem. It bothered me, and I felt like I needed to say it. It’s just wrong,” Kruk said.

She laughed a little and said, “I had to go out with a bang. I care about people who have a vested interest in making Norwalk work, and grow.”

After serving for a while, “It started to occur to me that our mission should be to help everyone who comes before this Commission to be successful,” Kruk said. “We are not a government minister while everybody out there are our servants or slaves. We serve them, not the other way around. So when we willy-nilly make changes or we politely decide that, ‘Well, we just think this is wrong just on general principal,’ we can’t do that. We have to be thoughtful about how do we go the extra mile to let someone get done what they need to get done with their home or their business. We don’t want to do harm to those people and it worries me sometimes that we overreach and we do things that shouldn’t be done, just because we can.”

Kruk said she enjoyed serving on Zoning very much.

“I take it very seriously,” she said. “I don’t relate it to my politics because I vote on one side or the other. It depends on the merits of what we are … I just care very much about people being successful and helping them to do that.”

Republican Town Committee Chairman Andy Conroy said Thursday that Kruk has not inquired about serving the city in any capacity.


The reasons Zoning went nearly to midnight

Often, the Zoning Commission will continue a public hearing for another month, if it’s gone long. Not so Wednesday.

The hearing on AMEC Carting’s proposal went 4½ hours.

Commission Chairman Adam Blank acknowledged there were quorum issues.

In addition to the likely departures of Kruk and Jacobson, Commissioners Michael Witherspoon and Nate Sumpter had recused themselves from the AMEC decision. That left the five Commissioners present, plus Rod Johnson and an alternate who has not attended any Commission meetings.

Johnson could have listened to the meeting via Zoning’s recording to vote next month, Blank said.

“Theoretically it’s possible we would have quorum issues, but then because you need to have four to act in one direction, you have to have four solid votes,” Blank said. “I don’t know how people are going to vote. If you need five to approve then it would be very complicated to make this work if we didn’t finish it. It was a little rushed but it had to happen.”

Therefore, they all stayed – and the owner of Knipschildt Chocolatiers stayed, too.

The public hearing on Knipschildt Chocolatiers’ proposed new Wall Street location began at about 11:30 p.m. and lasted just over a minute. Then the Commission voted to approve it.

That’s how it works in Zoning – all the public hearings are held and then the Commission votes on everything at once.

Fritz Knipschildt said he didn’t mind. The AMEC hearing was interesting, he said.


AMEC halves its debt to Norwalk

You may be aware that the city pays Norwalk Police for their extra duty details even if the contractors they are working for do not pay the city. If not, read this story.

AMEC Carting is on the list of companies that owe the city for police work, and on May 16 Norwalk Comptroller Frederic Gilden said the company had been cut off from further work until the bill was paid.

At that time AMEC owed Norwalk $45,132.10.

As of Tuesday, AMEC owed $20,399.49.


‘What are you smoking?’

Flying under the radar screen has been a Zoning Commission discussion about medical marijuana.

Not that they have said much.

At the May 12 Zoning Committee meeting, Acting Planning and Zoning Director Mike Wrinn said he was trying to get a possible moratorium on the growing of medical marijuana in Norwalk to a public hearing.

“We have taken a position that they are not allowed (to grow medical marijuana) under our regulations,” Wrinn said. “Corporation Counsel is concerned with that. They feel they probably could come in and have a good case, go to court and try to make their case that they could go in town anywhere. So we would like to send this to a public hearing, then go to moratorium, then have the Commission have some time to sit down and talk in the open.”

Blank said a moratorium could not be indefinite, and Wrinn said he was looking for nine months. That could be renewed if the Commission was making progress on discussing issues such as how close marijuana could be grown to a church or a school and what kind of security would be needed.

Wrinn got his hearing Wednesday, but the Commission tabled it at, again, at about 11:30 p.m. Blank commented that it wasn’t a good time for an hour-long discussion.

At the May 12 Committee meeting, Wilson stumbled when she attempted to introduce the item, skipping it and saying she had been reading an old agenda.

“What are you smoking?” Blank asked.


Santo takes exception

NancyOnNorwalk called former Zoning Commission Chairman Joe Santo to get his response to comments made by former Zoning Commissioner Mike Mushak, about the history of Zoning.

“If Mike wants to complain about stuff, tell him to check his own violation in front of his house,” Santo said, as part of the conversation. “He is supposed to plant grass there. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

This is a reference to an incident some call the Mike Mushak Flower Pot Incident.

A Zoning complaint was filed against Mushak two years ago, but Deputy Zoning Inspector Vladimir Mariano said at the time that the problem was that a flower pot had been removed from the front setback. The pot is necessary to signify that a stone area is not for the parking of vehicles, and that brings the property into compliance, he said.


Himes has things on his mind

It’s been a tough week nationally and U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-Greenwich) would like to express some opinions.

Himes has called a reporter’s roundtable for Monday. The press release:

“This week in Washington, the Connecticut delegation lead the call in Congress for an end to silence and the creation stronger firearm safety laws after the tragic terror attack in Orlando that targeted the LGBT community. Please join Congressman Himes at his Stamford office on Monday to discuss the path forward from here and any other issues you are interested in.”


EveT June 18, 2016 at 1:27 pm

The zoning commission’s “mission should be to help everyone who comes before this Commission to be successful” — well, that includes homeowners, right?
It seems they tend to help developers quite a lot, but homeowners not so much.

The Other Shoe June 18, 2016 at 3:11 pm

Well, at least property developers aren’t the only ones Norwalk gives land away to. There are a few on Seaside Place whose home values have been improved by the know-nothing Council’s decision to grant their request to privatize public property.

David McCarthy June 19, 2016 at 5:57 pm

The map does not “prove” any such thing, nor did the council change ownership of anything. We swapped the name of a street to an unnamed street and made that previously named street unnamed. Both of those streets had been private before. A homeowner may or may not own to the center of the street on any street in Norwalk, depending on how deeds were being done at the time. Private streets are common property of the association, likely, and not individual home owners.

Walden June 20, 2016 at 11:43 am

Does anyone have a deed showing that Seaside Avenue a/k/a Seaside Place is owned by some legal entity other than the heirs of J. Clarence Hawkins? If so, I’d love to see this. I have searched the deeds along this avenue, both present and past, and I see only that the avenue is not part of deeded land, that it is used in all cases to define a property boundary, and that private property owners on Seaside have a right of way over it. They also have right of way over the sea wall beyond the avenue, also known as riparian rights, but they don’t own that property either.

The first time I looked at map 84 in the Town Clerk’s office I got a surprise: Seaside Avenue is fifty feet wide, and there is scant if any land on the harbor side of it. Residents think of Seaside as being the vehicle tracks in front of their houses, but it’s much wider than that. These folks are planting gardens, building fences and placing their outdoor fireplaces and Adirondack chairs out there in the avenue. I think most of them don’t realize that. (Some of them may also not realize that their deed binds them to maintaining Seaside Avenue free of obstruction.)

I haven’t taken a measuring tape, but it looks to me as if the Revolutionary monument is on Avenue land. By the way, I feel somewhat privileged in that I have been personally invited to walk the avenue at will by several of the owners that live there, and I do so regularly. Others in the neighborhood used to do the same, but do not since the gates were erected, which seems a shame. The gates are intimidating, and I wish those who placed them could be convinced to reconsider.

For those who may be interested, the name “Seaside Place” was originally coined as the name of a residential community, whereas now and for some time people have been using the name to refer to what is properly called “Seaside Avenue”. That’s confusing. The community was designed by J. C. Hawkins in 1890, shortly after he acquired what used to be the Fitch Farm. Map 84 is the principal artifact of this re-designation. Seaside Place consists of the entire area south of what is now Fifth Street.

I think Seaside Avenue (Seaside Place if you insist, but I’m talking about the road) is a puzzle. It’s not public in the sense that the City means public. That makes it private (and Hawkins in the deeds he wrote also called it private), but without a legal owner, what kind of private does that compute to? I think no one has the right to tell anyone not to use it. I’m not a lawyer, but that’s what I think.

Walden Mathews
56 Cove Avenue

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