NORWALK, Conn. – Here’s what we have for you in political notes this Monday:
- No park at 127 Fillow; open space deed swap elsewhere
- Mocciae: Recs & Parks can’t afford some concerts
- Hempstead’s re-recusal
- Murphy, Blumenthal ‘urge’ NRG to help with Manresa study
- Morris contradicts self
- District B Council reps again vote no on Ely
- Council bites bullet on West Rocks Middle School expense
Open space swap plan has shifted
A June letter from Mayor Harry Rilling to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) asked that the open space dedication agreements, or covenants, for 50 Washington St. and for Nathaniel Ely/Springwood Ely Park be shifted to 10 acres at 194 Richards Ave. and 1.6 acres at 127 Fillow St.
But that plan has changed, with Fillow Street no longer in the mix.
“The current proposal is to swap the restrictions on both the Ely park and Washington St for space at 194 Richards Ave,” Assistant to the Mayor Laoise King said in a May 14 email. “Both Ely and Washington will remain public spaces – but will include improvements to allow public enjoyment of the space which would conflict with the state restrictions (playground and field space at Ely and tables and chairs on Washington St).”
The Board of Education plans to build a new school on the Ely site. Some District B residents object, with Common Council member Faye Bowman (D-District B) characterizing this recently as taking South Norwalk’s open space and sending it to another district.
The BoE counters that Ely’s recreational space will increase.
The city acquired 127 Fillow St. as part of its legal settlement with the Al Madany Islamic Center. At the time, it was said that the city would sell the property.
“127 Fillow is not part of the proposal and there is currently no immediate plan for that property,” King said.
Serasis’ concerts being eliminated
Council member Steve Serasis (D-District A) says he is disappointed. Recreation and Parks Department Director Mike Mocciae suggested that he should look in the mirror.
Serasis, in a May 12 Facebook post, said, “It’s unfortunate after all the hours I put into establishing Thursday summer concerts (for a fraction of the city cost of Wednesday concerts) in Mathews Park the last five years have been dropped by the city’s Recreation and Parks Department…if this upsets you as much as me, please send an e-mail to our Mayor letting him know of your disappointment.”
Lisa Henderson shared the post on May 13, saying, “Those wonderful Wednesday night local talent concerts at Matthew’s Park are in jeopardy of being defunded by the city. We are talking about $10-12,000 in a budget of $3.4 million. It doesn’t make sense that a venue and performances that bring local people and local talent together where you meet new friends and connect with old friends in a safe and healthy environment at a minimal cost would be in jeopardy.”
“The Department has not received funds needed to host the concerts,” Mocciae explained this week in an email. “Yes 10,000 is a lot of money when the Department fights for every dollar.”
Serasis is on the Recreation and Parks Committee, and had sought, after being elected in 2015, to be its chairman.
Mocciae explained further:
“We have had concerts in just about every park over the years. Mathews as a venue is not the best and attracts about 100-200 people. Until the park funding comes about to move the concerts to the great lawn and power installed, it makes sense to put the money in the other venues that we produce music for the city, Calf Pasture, Freeze park, City Hall. Steve forgets he never raised a penny for the concerts or as a council person supported additional funding for the concerts line item in my budget. Have not seen him since he was the chairman of the committee many years ago for support at any budget hearings. When the City is looking to cut from a budget events that generate no funding is hard to justify. We have to search for money to fund the basic concerts including the Fireworks shows as sponsors. We are currently looking at a sponsor for Café Mu at the Beach which uses all local entertainers So the 5 or 6 concerts do make a difference in our operating budget, so until we can garner additional funding from outside sources and funding falls into place for moving the concerts at Mathews to the great lawn we will likely not use Mathews Park for a few years.
“On a positive note Tuesday Open Jam has been retained, and once again David Lindsay & his fabulous house band will host beginning on Tuesday 6/27/2017 from 7pm to 10pm in Freese Park…So all is not lost…the Tiki Lounge Friday shows will still happen as well all summer,” Serasis wrote on May 12.
Hempstead again steps away from The SoNo Collection
First he was out, then he was in, and now he’s out again – Common Council member Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) is now permanently recused from The SoNo Collection discussions, he said.
Hempstead, at the May 9 Council meeting, said he had consulted not one but two lawyers about his participation in votes concerning GGP’s request to modify its agreements with the city to allow it to build its mall without a hotel, a mixed use component that Hempstead fought for.
Hempstead is negotiating with GGP in a separate, private matter. The Stew Leonard’s vice president is working with GGP on Long Island, with different GGP execs than those involved with The SoNo Collection, he said.
The first attorney told him there was no ethical violation but he was angst-ridden and decided to ask another, he said, quoting the answer as, “If you are angsting over it why don’t you remove yourself from that?”
“From this point moving forward I’ll just stay out of the participation on this particular item,” he said.
Bruce Morris says he didn’t, but then….
Wall Street businessman Mike McGuire recently said State Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140) did not support a Wall Street train station because he felt that state money should be spent in SoNo.
NancyOnNorwalk asked Morris about that after a District B meeting.
“He hasn’t talked to me about it. I never told him I don’t support that,” Morris said, explaining that he is in favor of economic development everywhere in Norwalk.
Minutes later, Morris said McGuire told him that there used to be a train station in the Wall Street area, in some conversation they had on the topic.
NRG encouraged to work with Norwalk
NRG, the company that owns Manresa Island and its big blue power plant, ought to be more helpful as Norwalkers study options for the property, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) agree.
Fitzgerald & Halliday Inc. is currently working on an economic analysis of the former power plant and developing a reuse plan, in a public/private partnership between the city and the Manresa Association.
The pair of Senators, in a May 12 letter to NRG, thanked the company for allowing consultants to visit the island but suggested that NRG be more engaged in the process.
A press release said:
“After hearing from Norwalk residents who are concerned that contamination at the former power plant site on Manresa Island could endanger the long-term health of Long Island Sound, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) requested that NRG Energy, Inc. – the company that owns Manresa Island – participate in efforts to study and preserve the island. In a letter to Judith Lagano, Vice President of Asset Management at NRG Energy, Murphy and Blumenthal emphasized the importance of Manresa Island, and requested that NRG senior management meet with Norwalk residents and other concerned parties to discuss the future of Manresa Island.
“‘The current situation on Manresa Island must change. As you know, the Manresa Power Plant closed in 2013 but burned coal and oil during its operational life. After the plant closed, the Manresa Association formed and began working to clean up Manresa Island. However, NRG should be an active partner in this effort,’ said the senators. ‘It is incumbent on NRG as the property owner to work collaboratively with the community in a manner that will mutually benefit all parties. We strongly urge NRG to participate in efforts to study and rehabilitate Manresa Island, provide transparent information about Manresa Island that would be beneficial in those efforts, and participate in an initial meeting on rehabilitation efforts.’”
“NRG has relevant information about the island and their perspective would be beneficial to the analysis. NRG’s continued participation will yield a more complete and useful end product, which is clearly in the interest of all parties,” the letter said.
A Manresa Island study public outreach session is planned for 6 p.m. Monday, May 22, in the City Hall Community Room.
Council vents on window issue
“No one is happy this project is way over budget and over budget for a number of reasons. Be that as it may it is a project that needs to be done,” Land Use and Building Management Committee Chairman Thomas Livingston (D-District E) said at the May 9 Council meeting. “… The windows are literally falling out.”
The Council voted 12-1 to move along the West Rocks Middle School renovation project, authorizing schematic drawings and a grant application, but not without squawking about needing to change how things are done to avoid surprise expenses.
The project, at first described as window replacements, was originally estimated to cost $1.4 million but is now expected to cost $3.2 million. Unforeseen conditions, PCBs and the expense of a security-mandated vestibule are all cited as reasons for the cost hike.
“As we move forward for all city projects we have to demand up front, from whoever is doing the work, that to the extent possible… what the potential remediation costs will be,” Finance Committee Chairman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said.
Council member Rich Bonenfant (R-At Large) voted no.
If you do the math on $3 million and figure that $10,000 of heating oil is going out the windows, it would take 300 years to pay for the project, he said.
He was told that it’s more than just windows; there’s an entry way, and the mandated security glass is expensive, Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo said.
“This is not an energy savings project,” Kimmel said, describing PCBs and health hazards. “There are children in there. There are staff in there.”
Simms and Bowman maintain ‘no’ record on Ely school
Also on the Council’s May 9 agenda was a procedural matter related to the BoE’s application for state funding to build two new schools, one behind Ponus Ridge Middle School and one behind the Nathaniel Ely preschool center in South Norwalk.
Both South Norwalk representatives voted no, as they have previously.
“We need to make this filing in order to meet the state project approval guidelines,” Livingston said, introducing the item.
DEEP hasn’t approved the land transfer yet, Council member Travis Simms (D-District B) said.
“We are approving them to go forward with construction on a neighborhood park, open land, that they have not received approval to do so. I just think we are not doing our job correctly if we allow this to go through tonight,” Simms said.
“Basically these are technical items of things we have already approved,” Kimmel said. “…As has been pointed out several on occasions, the way the rules work, the state guidelines require us to first move forward just as we have been doing before the issue of approvals can even be entertained.”
In other words, DEEP can’t issue the approval until the city asks them for it.
“We are not authorizing actual construction, at this point. We are approving the NFCC (Norwalk Facilities Construction Commission) preparation of schematic drawings and specifications,” Livingston said.
The vote was 11-2.
Council member Mike DePalma (D-District D) and Serasis were absent.