Norwalk to tackle new master planning process

Norwalk Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin speaks to the Common Council Planning Committee on Monday in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. – The effort to create a new Norwalk master plan is about to become very public, after months of under-the-radar preparations.

The Common Council Planning Committee on Monday advanced a $195,000 contract with Stantec to assist in the development of a new Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) to the full Council for a vote.

The decision came with some defense of the lack of transparency.

There have been regular meetings of a POCD oversight committee; then-Acting Planning and Zoning Director Mike Wrinn said in July that a committee had been formed, and the effort would “probably take off in the fall.”

Council member Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) asked a number of questions Monday about the Committee, prompting Council member Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) to explain.

“It was in the midst of a lot of controversy about our master plans and whether we needed to do it the way we had been doing it or look at it a little differently and prioritize more,” Kimmel said. “… I think with all the flaws in the way it was done, we actually got started earlier.”

Outreach is a major component of the POCD plan laid out by Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin. A kickoff meeting will probably be held this fall, as you don’t want to get started in July and August, he said.

Kleppin said that he, as New Canaan Planning and Zoning Director, had implemented a new POCD when he was first hired and later guided a new one into existence.

“One of the first steps in the plan is developing the theme and developing the vision, in a paragraph or two form. Then the plan builds from there,” Kleppin said.

The state mandates that municipalities come up with a new master plan every 10 years. Norwalk’s last POCD was effective in July 2008; Kleppin said Norwalk probably won’t make the July 2018 deadline but there won’t be any penalties.

“The state is aware. I have already talked to them. They said as long as they understand you are in the process it won’t be a problem,” Kleppin said.

A better process than the one that led to the 2008 plan – which was years late – was touched upon.

The previous plan, effective in 1991, was approved by the Planning Commission and then sent to the Council Planning Committee, Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan said. Then it was with the Council for three or four months before going back to the Commission.

“There has got to be a better way to integrate comments from the Planning Committee and have that process be smoother than the last time around,” Sheehan said.

The lateness gap is getting much smaller, Sheehan said.

The $200,000 POCD budget includes $50,000 in funding that was allocated last year, and $150,000 allocated this year. Stantec would be paid $195,000 and there would be $5,000 for incident costs.

Diane Cece, speaking at the beginning of the meeting, said she thought $200,000 was “woefully inadequate” when compared to the money spent on parking studies, taking into consideration that the POCD considers all the needs of the city.

The Common Council on March 20 approved spending $200,000 on a parking study.

“Is $200,000 enough?” Council member Tom Livingston (D-District E) asked Kleppin on Monday.

“We probably could spend more if you gave me more,” Kleppin said, mentioning the scope of work Stantec has put together.

He went on to talk about the multiple planning processes underway, and the concern among city staff.

“After a while people get burned out on meetings,” Kleppin said. “… We have talked about coordination between all the studies, in terms of outreach. I think it will save money for the city, it will lead to a better product, i think better planning cohesive for everybody.”

Kleppin’s memo to the Committee details the concurrent planning efforts:

  • West Avenue, Wall Street and Washington/South Main  redevelopment plans
  • Manresa  Island study
  • East Avenue roadway improvements
  • City-wide parking  utilization study

In addition, the Connecticut Department of Transportation is planning Merritt Parkway projects and is expected to be rebuilding the Walk Bridge, the antiquated railroad bridge over the Norwalk River, he said.

“I feel one of my principal responsibilities is to ensure that none of these studies are done in a vacuum and that any study conducted should be consistent with the POCD,” Kleppin said in his memo. “Already, there has been good cooperation and sharing of ideas on the staff and consultant level between Stantec and RPA, who is the consultant on the redevelopment plans. This will be important to prevent duplication of effort and “study fatigue” by residents which could lead to a lack of interest or participation in the process.”

Council members and Kleppin agreed Monday that the new POCD needs to produced differently than past plans.

“My sense of the existing plan is thematically it has some good elements but structurally it is flawed. It is not an easy document to follow. So I think the new plan won’t look anything like the old plan,” Kleppin said.

Planning Committee Chairman John Kydes (D-District C) referred to plans sitting on shelves, being ignored, and said he hoped that real capital dollars were linked to projects in the POCD.

“The Planning Commission wants to refer back, make sure things connect,” Kydes said.

“Can somebody explain to me who this mysterious oversight committee is?” Hempstead asked.

The Planning Commission merged with the oversight committee for a “broad representation,” and about 25 people are involved, Kleppin said.

The Council also votes on the POCD, Hempstead said, asking if Council members were in the group.

Kydes said he’s involved, and so is Michelle Maggio (R-District C). Council President John Igneri (D-District E) indicated he’s in the group and Kimmel said he had attended when he was Council president.

“It’s quite a large group. Everyone but the kitchen sink,” Kydes said.

Kleppin promised to send Hempstead a list.

“We wanted to get started earlier so there would be enough time to discuss whether we would do it the same old way,” Kimmel said. “…We (developed) a clear picture of what we wanted to do, where we wanted to go, how we wanted to change the plan, before we got into this period, right now.  I think that’s a plus for the city. Next time around, we’ll probably make it a little better, make it a little bit more inclusive.”


Donna June 13, 2017 at 9:30 am

@Steven Kleppin, will this POCD be binding on the CC and the Zoning Commission? The 2008 POCD appears to have been habitually ignored by the Zoning Commission.

Mission and Vision are essential. How will public input be solicited? Focus groups, surveys, public meetings, all of the above? I vote all of the above.

McKeen Shanogg June 13, 2017 at 9:53 am

Wait — there was a committee formed 11 months ago, and now there’s a new committee? Or are they the same?
July 2016, according to Wrinn: “the committee has members from the Chamber of Commerce, the Redevelopment Agency as well as Council President Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) and Planning Committee Chairman John Kydes (D-District C).”
June 2017, according to Kleppin: “The Planning Commission merged with the oversight committee for a “broad representation,” and about 25 people are involved.”
And Council members (such as Hempstead) aren’t even allowed to know who these 25 people are? Why the secrecy? Beyond that, don’t all meetings have to be noticed on the city calendar and open to the public unless they’re executive session?

Rick June 13, 2017 at 2:31 pm

Stantec+redevelopment authority = questionable work on Ryans park and other sites

Now the city has embraced a questionable company to do what?

When Stantec checks out make sure they have left the towels and tv

No one did a background check on Stantec?

Firetree was just a taste of what the city is in store for

Rick June 13, 2017 at 2:41 pm

Executive Director Tim Sheehan and his involvement with Stantec should be spelled out from his first day talking to them until now .

If you trust Sheehan then you deserve what comes next.

I can understand why Doug and others were locked out.

Debora Goldstein June 13, 2017 at 8:55 pm

Redevelopment is largely in charge of planning in one party of the city. Other areas are clamoring for the resources to help the city do planning for the rest of us.

The new POCD is the way to get that process in line with the goals of the citizenry. The information collected should not only be used for drafting the new POCD, but to help the city transotion to outcome-based budgeting and planning. There is a huge opportunity lost in not taking advantage of this once a decade outreach process to have the costs do double-duty.

Also, the headline takeaway here is that once again everyone in the room failed to hear Mr. Kleppin explain that the THIRD PHASE of the POCD process is for the city to go back and REVISE THE ZONING REGS to conform with the desired outcomes in the POCD.

If that actually gets done this time, the conflicts between zoning regs and POCD will not exist and the ruling that the POCD is “advisory” with respect to zoning ceases to be an issue.

We ignore this issue at our own peril.

Debora Goldstein June 13, 2017 at 9:12 pm

@ Bill Nightengale Jr.

Great article. One sentence caught my eye.

“The process was strongly focused on reaching as many people as we could, which is why we took the advice of a member of the public and mailed an informational note and notice of workshop to every property owner in the R-6 zone at one key juncture,” DeLuca said.

I think every time a member of the public has suggested this in Norwalk, the PTB had heart attacks.

James Cahn June 13, 2017 at 9:50 pm

@McKeen Shanogg What is comes down to is that Norwalk’s political class is at least notionally aware that they have a “planning problem.” They’ve certainly heard it enough from the usual suspects. However, as usual, they’re both way over their heads and scared to death to abdicate any of their perceived position in the interest of outside, qualified counsel. Addressing it in the way they’ve chosen ticks all the boxes for them: they get to keep control of it, they don’t have to involve the usual suspects (who they don’t want to be bothered listening to just so they can ignore them, anyway) and they get to congratulate themselves after for having done it at all.

John Igneri, Michelle Maggio, John Kydes and Bruce Kimmel have no qualifications or ability whatsoever to do any type of city planning. To read this will be a blow to their egos, for certain. But their path to professional redemption would be simple: Advocate for the professional, accredited city planning and management that Norwalk needs. Doing so would undoubtedly shrink their roles and influence but would be the truly right thing for Norwalk and its stakeholders.

Yet, time and again, when faced with the choice between sacrificing a small amount of their mostly inconsequential (yet grossly ineffective) political influence and doing what’s really the right thing for Norwalk’s benefit, their preference is easily determined.

If we could get guys like John Kydes as interested in Norwalk as the deal he’s making with Artie Kassimis to guarantee that they both “win in-district” in the next election, we might really see some meaningful changes in Norwalk.

Until then, expect the status quo to remain such. The folks who like it that way have too much time invested, too much at stake and too few other prospects for it to be otherwise.

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