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.”