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Thomson stands by her shots at Rilling over ‘no vision’ and mythical ‘no infrastructure investments’

The First Taxing District on May 8 replaces pipes on Orchard Street, adjacent to two new Waypointe District apartment buildings, Quincy Lofts and The Waypointe.

NORWALK, Conn. — Perceptions of “no infrastructure investments” to support the new apartments on West Avenue are not accurate, according to two city officials and multiple documents.

“Why, the State of Connecticut has awarded over the years $8 Million to the City of Norwalk for public infrastructure improvements specifically related to the Waypointe District,” Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan said.

But unaffiliated mayoral candidate Lisa Brinton Thomson, who made the unfounded claim of “no infrastructure investments,” said the premises that the money is spent under are faulty. In return, Mayor Harry Rilling said, “Bring issues to the campaign. Not unsubstantiated allegations.”

Thomson is a Rowayton activist who will be on the ballot because she obtained the 133 signatures needed to be a petitioning candidate. She is seeking to keep the Democrat Rilling from being re-elected to a third two-year term.

Also challenging Rilling is former Common Council member Andy Conroy, who was endorsed by the Republican Town Committee, and State Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140), who also obtained signatures to get on the ballot as a petitioning candidate.

Conroy and Morris have been quiet but Thomson was quick out of the box with an Aug. 9 editorial asserting that Norwalk needs a strategic plan.

“A vision has never been put forth by this administration and it’s evident in every aspect of our city, especially our approach to long range planning and zoning and its impact on the budget,” Thomson wrote. “Consider the …. Increased apartment density on West Avenue, with no infrastructure investment.  The impact on the system from traffic to sewers goes without saying. Reopening the Wall Street train station alone would increase tax revenues, not to mention adding value and stabilizing the apartment base.”

The State Bond Commission awarded Norwalk $3 million last year, a grant-in-aid for public infrastructure associated with the Waypointe redevelopment project; streetscape and roadway repairs and electrical, water and telecommunications upgrades in the West Avenue redevelopment corridor were mentioned as targets of the grant in a press release from State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25).

“There has been a concerted effort for some time on behalf of myself, Mayor Rilling and the Norwalk legislative delegation to ensure that state bonding is part of the redevelopment of Norwalk’s downtown,” Duff was quoted as saying.

In 2011, under the Moccia administration, the State Bond Commission approved a $5 million grant for Norwalk to finance public infrastructure improvements associated with the Waypointe development, including increased electrical capacity and reliability, increased water and sewer capacity, and the installation of streetscape improvements such as granite curbing, trees, concrete sidewalks, permeable pavers, street lighting and street furniture.

A 2012 document on the city’s website, an invitation for construction, seeks a company to bury the electrical lines and increase the electrical capacity in the Waypointe District.

In May 2015, the Common Council authorized a $352,443.63 contract with YB Paving for streetscape improvements related to Waypointe.

As for sewers, Sheehan in an Aug. 10 email said, “Each development project goes through a review process conducted by the WPCA {Water Pollution Control Authority} related to need, impact and capacity… Additionally, both the City Zoning Department and DPW consider each development project’s impact on traffic.”

Norwalk Department of Public Works Director Bruce Chimento in an Aug. 10 email explained:

 

  • “First of all: the treatment plant: The Norwalk Water Pollution Control Facility (WPCF) is an 18 million gallon per day (MGD) advanced wastewater treatment facility using a modified nitrogen removal process.  Its most recent upgrade to its headworks (receiving) system was started in 2009 and completed in 2012, which included new main lift pumping, screening, and grit removal. The cost for this was approximately $38 million. The plant handles an average daily flow of 12.7 million gallons per day (MGD) and is designed for a flow of 18 MGD. The plant can handle wet weather flows up 30 MGD before being discharged into the Norwalk River and must meet both Federal and State effluent quality standards.

 

  • “Second; pumping stations and collections system: Our system has 180 miles of sewer mains and 25 pump stations, three of which are storm water stations. The WPCA has replaced the Sammis Street Pumping station ($1.5 million) and has rehabilitated the Beacon Street East Side Interceptor sewer ($1.7 million) and are now in the process of replacing the Marvin Beach Pump Station (approx $750,000). In addition we allocate $1,000,000 a year to collection system upgrades.

 

  • “Now for West Avenue Area: the First District Water Department is up grading all of their water service mains along West Avenue, Chapel Street, Maple Street, Butler Street, Elm Street Etc. … Also Eversource is upgrading the gas service in the area… As to the sewer mains; we have videoed all of our main and found them in good shape and can certainly handle the flow from the apartments being built there. We find that the flow from this area will not have any effect on our collection or treatment system. As to traffic lights along West Avenue: in coordination with GGP Mall project and the State OSTA our traffic engineering section is redesigning the phasing and adjustments to the existing traffic patterns and the addition of new traffic lights from MLK to Belden Avenue.”

 

  • “Wall Street Rail Station: requests by the City for a rail station at the Wall Street area has been submitted to the State DOT and Metro North.”

 

Paxton Kinol of Belpointe Capital, developer of the Waypointe District, was asked about infrastructure at the Aug. 16 Zoning Commission meeting.

Developers pay for some improvements, such as a new traffic light or curb work, he said, explaining that the intersection of Orchard Street and West Avenue had been realigned by his company.

“I don’t know if you remember: about three years ago, all the lights on West Avenue were replaced by the state. Everything was upgraded, they used to be silver now they’re painted black,” he said.

“The lights on West Avenue work a lot smoother, with regard to the changes,” Commission Chairman Nate Sumpter agreed.

Asked about the $8 million in state funding for improvements and the comments from Sheehan and Chimento on Monday, Thomson in an email said:

 

“The state made contributions to pay for attaching the project to the electric, water, and phone grid. While these projects were necessary to allow utilities to attach to the massive number of apartments, they did nothing to bolster those utilities, nor were there any significant changes above ground.

“The Sewer Treatment plant was upgraded, in a necessary and completely unrelated project to allow the beginning of that process to function smoothly. You mention the main lift pumps as an infrastructure improvement.  … Those main lift pumps all failed shortly after installation and have (by now, I believe) all been replaced and are the subject of ongoing litigation.

“The vast number of apartments, as well as the mall, have an impact in the amount of flow that the treatment plant will need to process.  If Mr. Chimento wishes to say that the additional flow will result in a net total flow that is still within the plant’s capacity, that’s fair, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.  I can only point out that the increased flow will add significant unplanned stress on the system, which will result in premature aging and create a need for significant investment that would otherwise not have been needed for years.  Norwalk ratepayers will have to absorb that cost and live in fear that the additional stress might cause a system failure, as in the case of the main lift pumps.

“The $350k in streetscape improvements is likely a reference to street trees and other modest amenities. While they are necessary, street trees don’t handle the additional cars and associated traffic, the additional school children added to the system, the additional seniors, the additional Meals for Wheels recipients, the additional ambulance and fire calls, the additional policing necessary, the additional demand for water placed on the reservoir, etc. The actual amount of stress being placed on the infrastructure of our city (beyond the invisible power drops and sewer connections) has not been addressed or augmented.

“This is all the result of a mayoral administration doing favors for campaign donations (as have previous administrations) and advocating for projects that add little to our city in terms of economic development and tax revenue, but take a great deal in terms of services, and make life incrementally more difficult and expensive for current residents and property owners.

“I think it is important that people understand that many of the spending premises outlined below are faulty. This administration equates spending money with infrastructure improvement. Often it is not.

“Prioritizing ‘improvements’ to facilitate developers results in stranded costs when developers fail to deliver (POKO, 95/7), which in turn pressures the administration into more bad development decisions, as they seek to fill ‘holes in the ground’. The lost opportunity costs of not using that money for small but steady improvements to services that improve the value of property everywhere in Norwalk multiplies the losses over time.

“At this point, bragging about state money is crazy.  That well is likely to be dry for the foreseeable future given the state’s budget crisis.  If there is money, even a little, it will likely make Norwalk vulnerable to state bullying on transportation projects, like the Walk Bridge, as we have seen in their first phase of Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI.)

“As I have stated before, a City Planner would have addressed these overall issues, but moreover a City Manager, rather than a partisan mayor would be an improvement in executing a LONG TERM plan for Norwalk instead of allowing agencies and authorities to manage their individual fiefdoms.”

 

 

“She is absolutely incorrect,” Rilling said in an email. “You really should ask her where she gets her information.  It is totally inappropriate to toss out allegations without substance.”

30 comments

Josh Ornstein August 30, 2017 at 7:06 am

Seems to me that she proves her points pretty clearly and Rilling is the one making allegations without substance, aided and abetted by a hatchet job by you, Nancy. Maybe you can help me understand, the city employees comments tie out with what she said. Can you tell us what part is “unfounded”? This really seems like youre campaigning.

Seaworthy August 30, 2017 at 7:46 am

Josh, Nancy researched the issue to find the truth. That’s not campaigning, that’s responsible journalism. On the other hand, Lisa seems to recklessly toss out false statements in hopes people will believe them. Apparently , she is not up to speed on the issues so she has to make them up.

M. Murray August 30, 2017 at 8:28 am

Josh, did you really not read anything that was written? The money that was spent and the improvement on infrastructure? Have you forgotten that part of West Av just a few short years ago? Shut down at night, run down buildings, vacant businesses, and frequent shootings? Remember the bar across from the old run down YMCA that required police response every weekend? Now their is nightlife, development, and new clean streets and buildings.

Rem August 30, 2017 at 8:54 am

It’s generally assumed in an urban area that the city can meet the demands of connecting to a city sewer line. Therefore the city and their engineers bear the responsibility more than the developer. This role is reversed for residences in more rural areas that do not have means to connect to city sewer and thus must treat all effluent on site most commonly via septic systems according to the Health code. Perhaps study documents for sewage treatment in those particular areas need to be shown by both accuser and accused to put the issue at rest…

Donna August 30, 2017 at 9:43 am

It is common for big developers to “own” infrastructure improvements. And the degree to which developers “pay” for these improvements is often determined by the city brokers, in this case the mayor and the RDA and Sheehan, who do most of their negotiating in the dark, and then do a big reveal to applause and fanfare, with cameras rolling and klieg lights to blind the public to the grim reality of how things got paid for and just how sweeping the infrastructure improvements are. What I see on West Avenue is not a runaway success story but an idea carried out to mediocre fruition. Also the construction quality on the Waypointe development is sub-standard. I know people who worked on the project. I have known others who have lived there. So Rilling and Sheehan can call this a successful redevelopment of a blighted area, but the reality does not quite live up to the claims. And the sequencing of the lights is still wildly out of whack. I learned from the folks at GGP that all these lights are programmable. Why the city has failed to program them is anyone’s guess.

I agree with @Josh Ornstein above regarding your choice of the word “unfounded” in the context of Lisa’s claim. That’s not objective journalism. That’s a reflection of bias.

This used to be Nancy on Norwalk, but this article sounds more like Shilling for Rilling.

Donna August 30, 2017 at 9:47 am

Also @Nancy, why did you choose the word “mythical” to modify “no infrastructure investments”? We all expect this blog to look like news, especially City Beat articles. This one has the patina of a Press Release from the Mayor and Tim Sheehan.

McKeen Shanogg August 30, 2017 at 9:56 am

It is easy to criticize when one is not in office, facing the complexities inherent in a 350-year-old city with 85,000 residents.
As always, campaigning is easier than governing.

MarjorieM August 30, 2017 at 10:02 am

This blog is full of Thomson cheerleaders. The truth is Nancy on Norwalk is correct. Thomson needs to be involved at a lower level of politics to understand how things work before criticizing with unfounded claims.

Donna August 30, 2017 at 10:53 am

Which is why, @McKeen Shanogg, Rilling sticks to campaigning and stays away from governing,

If Rilling actually governed, Firetree, Ltd. would NEVER have purchased 17 Quintard. Now thanks to Rilling’s failure to pay attention to a certified letter, the City of Norwalk is facing two costly lawsuits and that neighborhood will remain in jeopardy until the matter is resolved. How’s that for effective leadership?

Instead of working to get the Ed budget under control by controlling the influx of students who enter the system via illegal apartments–an avenue open to Mayor Rilling via the enforcement arm of the City government (fire inspectors, etc), Rilling prefers to drive to New Haven to sign murals on behalf of non-citizens.

And instead of taking his seat at the WestCOG table to help direct needed transporation dollars back into Norwalk, Rilling would rather be photographed taking fitness walks and taking down chains. One need look no further than the money trail into the Rilling campaign war chest to see that development happens in Norwalk donation at a time.

Patrick Cooper August 30, 2017 at 11:08 am

And so it begins. The argument is quite literally what this campaign season is all about, but this story narrative focuses on a patch of sand, not the entire beach. Current Mayor Rilling is surely quick to defend those who fill his re-election war chest, and while he’s at it try to discredit a very worthy opponent. Nancy – I forgive a sentence – but time to let Harry defend himself. “Shots, mythical, unfounded”?

Fine – Waypoint. Tim is going to defend it? Shocked. We put in some sewer lines, some street lights, and some curbs? Terrific. Irrelevant to the point. Oh – I’ll say it again: close the RDA.

Mayor Rilling – what really is your development vision for the TOTAL city of Norwalk, from Rowayton to Cranbury Park? Let the insiders explain, but from an objective viewpoint, it appears this city is at the mercy of a handful of predatory developers who exploit our code, out play our buddy system appointee’s, and scam our taxpayers to build essentially whatever they want. Explain all of it in the context of a plan. Explain the 10,000 apartments. I don’t believe you can.

Case in point: Wall Street Train Station. So now that frequent commentator Michael MaGuire (Austin-MaGuire Commercial Real Estate – hardly unbiased) goes on record and asks for candidates’ positions, your reply comment on NoN is, to paraphrase –

“I’ve supported this idea before my campaign, as I’m doing now. As far as timing – the time is now. We’re doing other stuff, so we’re not doing as much as I’d like to be doing on Wall Street. We need to first determine where it might be (Mechanic Street?). At this point, there are too many variables to put a specific time frame on getting absolutely anything done. I’m highly confident that in the next 18-24 months (huh, oh a mayor’s term), we’ll be able to identify and gain the support of potential partners”.

No lie – that was essentially your reply.

So, if this Train Station and commensurate development, the infrastructure required, all part of your vision, then why the Mott street Library lot fiasco? The Duleep building forever fiasco? (NoN Dec 20, 2016 – “Norwalk building chief: Work on 45 Wall St. should speed up in January”). How about POKO? Wall Street Place? The DiScala parking lot for a dollar “under consideration” plan? How does any of it make any sense?

Lisa Brinton Thomson is asking the right questions, and has a very solid strategy for solutions. These kinds of articles are distractions and distortions – sorry. To be fair, it is our job as Norwalk taxpayers and voters to see through these “look-over-there” moments, and keep our eyes on the bigger picture.

Rick August 30, 2017 at 11:36 am

run down buildings, vacant businesses, and frequent shootings?

Wow shows no one reads the daily police logs, the city has fallen and cant get up.

The same hole the city has fallen into shares company with GGP stock.

Maybe reading and doing a little bit of research will show the city has very little going for itself.

Blame starts at city hall and the voters who constantly vote in losers.

EastNorwalkChick August 30, 2017 at 1:27 pm

I’m surprised that Lisa even knows where West Ave. is, usually Rowaytonites usually don’t venture very far into Norwalk from their beloved enclave.

Donald August 30, 2017 at 1:30 pm

Josh is 100 percent correct. Also I would add that Rilling is the same mess as Mayor as he was as acting police chief. Lisa is going to make a GREAT Mayor. Norwalk needs real change .

Donna August 30, 2017 at 1:56 pm

@EaatNorwalkChick, I wonder how often other Norwalkers go into Rowayton to see whose property taxes are covering the budget. I live in South Norwalk. My taxes are too high. And they’d be double in Rowayton.

Patrick Cooper August 30, 2017 at 2:57 pm

@EastNorwalkChick – why pick on Lisa for that? You do know Andy Conroy is ALSO from Rowayton – and you don’t recognize that from your hiding spot. Exactly what postal code is baby-bears-bed just right for being Mayor?

@MarjorieM – please, I beg of you – keep it up. Your record of being on the wrong side of facts is so consistently solid that your criticism of Lisa is the strongest possible endorsement.

Lisa Brinton Thomson will be an excellent Mayor, for all of Norwalk.

Donna August 30, 2017 at 4:41 pm

Mayor Rilling takes some pains to refute Lisa Brinton Thompson’s allegations, without offering much in the way of comforting truths. Most startling is the Mayor’s complete skirting of the question of campaign donations. Developers are funding Harry’s bid for reelection. Mystery donors from Long Island chimed in with thousands of dollars, possibly to help advance the store-that-is-not-BJs through the land use approval process. GGP has given generously. And VOILA! They got the text change they wanted for the land use agreement.

Too bad Harry didn’t bother with the CNNA meeting Monday, though he did send his lap dog to bark at the neighbors. Good luck getting those votes back.

Isabelle Hargrove August 30, 2017 at 5:28 pm

It puzzles me how anyone can defend this administration. People are correct that entire areas of our city are unrecognizable. But with all these developments, our grand list has remained close to stagnant in the last 4 years and our budget keeps growing to cover the demands placed on our infrastructure (schools, roads, assistant of the Mayor to help with an increasingly complex job, etc…). How can this be called sustainable and smart development?

The best way to equate it is if you put in a 2,000 sq/ft extension on your house on the advice of your realtor but your house is still worth the same. On top of it, you realize that he has destroyed the soul & character of your home and you keep on getting sued because the zoning code he is using is antiquated (mosque, Firetree). On top of it, the State has come in to build the biggest monstrosity in your backyard (Walk Bridge) and he tells you there is nothing that could have been done.

What would you do? Fire the incompetent fool, smack yourself for hiring him in the first place and go get someone else with a better plan. I say we do that on November 7th!

M. Murray August 30, 2017 at 7:42 pm

Seems to me that property values have gone up, rental prices have gone up, and older run down buildings are being torn down and being replaced with newer, nicer ones. This will attract wealthier residents, who will raise the economy.

Donald August 30, 2017 at 7:59 pm

M. Murray
You do realize this is about Norwalk Ct.? I know several people trying to sell a house in Norwalk and the market is horrible. People do not want Norwalk because of the poorly run city hall, the out of control crime, a failed police department, poor schools and out of control taxes. When it comes to rentals the only thing, renting is section 8. Hey but nice try with spin to cover for your brother in blue good old Harry.

Donna August 30, 2017 at 9:16 pm

@Isabelle, great analogy re: bad development. The developers have received sweet tax deals too. No wonder the grand list is stagnant. @M. Murray, I’m not sure where you live, but I live close to Quintard. My property values have NOT gone up, but my taxes have skyrocketed. We have wealthier residents now. We are taxing the daylights out of them, which is a surefire way to drive them elsewhere. You can’t sustain a city budget by simply going back to the same well–homeowners–over and over, doubling their taxes over the course of a decade. You have to attract businesses. Yet all Norwalk is doing is adding retail (low paying jobs) and apartments (more kids to educate). Every time a developer wants to renegotiate, with the help of the Mayor, their wishes are granted. The City you describe is in the Twilight Zone. It’s not Norwalk.

Donald August 31, 2017 at 12:01 am

Donna
You ask where M Murray lives. If I remember correctly he is a retired Norwalk cop that doesn’t live in Norwalk. In other words he has no horse in the race. M Murray correct me if I am wrong.

Sue Haynie August 31, 2017 at 6:25 am

Agree with other posters @Nancy on Norwalk, this was not objective journalism. It verged on campaigning.

Hopefully NON will be as diligent in following up on Rilling’s answer regarding the train station:

“Wall Street Rail Station: requests by the City for a rail station at the Wall Street area has been submitted to the State DOT and Metro North.” When? Let’s see it. What’s happening? What else has been done? What else can be done?

For the record, I’m glad that Norwalk has apartments, a mall and retail developments being built. All have been in the works for years, no one person can claim credit. Most of Connecticut is flailing, Norwalk’s location is it salvation.

Andrew August 31, 2017 at 7:25 am

This is a good conversation for the City to have, and I look forward to hearing what the other candidates have to say on the subject.

Bob Welsh August 31, 2017 at 12:01 pm

I see an article in which a mayoral candidate’s assertion is scrutinized, facts are presented, and the candidate is afforded ample opportunity to respond.

I also see multiple comments by supporters of Lisa Thomson alleging the author’s bias. But nobody rebutted any of the facts presented in the article. And nobody mentioned the same “biased” author’s story about large donations to the Mayor’s campaign by the developers who won approval for a big-box store on Main Ave.

How about this campaign season Norwalk eschews the national trend of attacking the media when we don’t like the facts the media reports?

Peter Franz August 31, 2017 at 1:49 pm

Thank you Bob Welsh, I was thinking the same thing.

This does smack of our sad national political environment when facts become victim of shouters who abandon evidence and rational, and instead simply repeat things hoping their voice “wins” over documented research.

Thank you Nancy, as always, for your excellent reporting.

Rick August 31, 2017 at 2:35 pm

read your police log West ave is a city in itself,guess facts cant mingle with whats going on daily on west ave.

How anyone can compare to what was there and what there now has no knowledge what happens in the city .

Our city has come under fire from Hartford , Norwalk is in the long line of fiscal attack and without cutting the fat before anything else is done its called political posturing .

Where is the constant supervision of whats going on now in the city?

The Oyster fest costs the city money yes its for a good cause yet pockets get lined but in the end who is paying to clean up Vets Park?

Who is paying for the our sanctuary ,it won’t be DC and it won’t be the residents it will be the taxpayers

Donna August 31, 2017 at 5:52 pm

I see three glaring examples of bias in the piece. Others have brought them to everyone’s attention also. Not sure why @Bob Welsh”, you cannot see an editorial slant here when one obviously exists. No reason to use the words “shots”, “mythical” and “unfounded”. But maybe you and @Nancy can give some justification for the use of that language in this piece.

Donna August 31, 2017 at 7:29 pm

The fact that @Nancy reported on BJs money going to Rilling’s camping does not mean there was no language bias here. Nancy has edited the comments and contributions of others, myself included, and her instincts are usually excellent. Perhaps Nancy needs an editor for her own content. No one ever said it was easy to be a one woman Show and crank out content without any editorial assistance. .

Adolph Neaderland September 1, 2017 at 11:20 am

So the campaign is underway!

Charges and counter charges – all at arms length.

Seems to me that a debate forum is called for, with unlimited questioning, both from the candidates and from the audience (unfiltered).

who blinks.

Not sure how such a debate can be organized ?

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NancyOnNorwwalk.com was conceived as the place to go for Norwalk residents to get the real, unvarnished story about what is going on in and around their city. NancyOnNorwalk does not intend to be a print newspaper online; rather, it exists to pull the curtain back and shine a spotlight on how Norwalk is run and what is happening regarding issues that have an impact on taxpayers’ pocketbooks and safety. As an independent site, NancyOnNorwalk’s first and only allegiance is to the reader.

About Nancy

Nancy came to Norwalk in September 2010 and, after reporting on Norwalk for two years for another company, resigned to begin Nancy On Norwalk so she engage in journalism the way it was meant to be done. She is married to career journalist Mark Chapman, has a son, Eric (the artist and web designer who built this website), and two cats – a middle-aged lady and a young hottie who are learning how to peacefully co-exist.