Norwalk government roundup: Fillow Street, Granny Pods and the Yankee Doodle Bridge

Beatrice Winter speaks to the Common Council Planning Committee last week in City Hall. Winter is the executive director of the Norwalk Senior Center but said she was speaking more as a taxpayer.

NORWALK, Conn. — Here’s a little government news for you:

  • 127 Fillow St. still in limbo
  • ‘Granny Pods’ not welcomed by Council members
  • Harbor Commission pleased with Yankee Doodle Bridge drainage plan

Council members agree to wait on former Islamic site

Any action on 127 Fillow St., acquired by the city as part of a legal settlement with the Al Madany Islamic Center, has been delayed by the possibility of needing the property for a “land swap” with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), Land Use and Building Management Committee Chairman Thomas Livingston (D-District E) said last week.

Mayor Harry Rilling in June 2016 approached DEEP about shifting open space dedication agreements, or covenants, from 50 Washington St. and the Nathaniel Ely/Springwood Ely Park to 10 acres at 194 Richards Ave. and 1.6 acres at 127 Fillow St., as part of a plan to build a new school at the Ely site. Fillow Street was dropped from that mix this year.

“If there isn’t (a potential land swap) I think we should move forward with the idea of selling it,” Livingston said Wednesday at the Land Use Committee meeting, later backing down after commentary indicating that the situation isn’t quite settled.

DEEP hasn’t yet approved an open space designation switch for the Ely school, and, “there’s some forces out there that don’t want it to happen,” Council member Rich Bonenfant (R-At Large) said.

A neighbor of the Fillow Street property had called him and was “pretty adamant” that if the Zoning were changed for that lot, she’d want it changed for her land, too, he said.

The Zoning would change from triple A to double A in a sale of the property, Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo said. The land across the street is Zoned B.

“People are going, ‘When will you put it on the tax rolls?’” Bonenfant said.

“If we knew for certain that we wouldn’t do a swap, I would,” Livingston said.

“We don’t know anything for sure,” Council member Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said.

The city is spending between $5,000 and $7,000 a year maintaining the property, “It doesn’t look abandoned” and, “Nobody has broken in,” Lo said.



Planning Committee turns down ‘temporary healthcare structures’

“Will these pop up everywhere? I think the answer to that is, ‘Likely no,’” Human Relations & Fair Rent Department Director Adam Bovilsky said last week at the Council Planning Committee meeting, where he was asked about temporary health care structures.

Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin recommended that the city opt out of Public Act 17-155, although Bovilsky advocated more thought and a public speaker said there’s a need.

The legislation “seems to have snuck in, nobody really knew about it, it was adopted. It was one of those, ‘Hey, has anybody seen this?’ and once they started talking about it is pretty unanimous across the spectrum that this is a bad legislation,” Kleppin said.

“The law creates a one-size-fits-all requirement that zoning permits shall be issued ‘by right’ for any qualifying detached structure up to 500 square feet provided that it is limited to occupancy by individuals with defined healthcare needs,” Kleppin wrote in a Sept. 20 memo to the Council. “… The imposition of statewide standards stand in stark contrast to current state land use law which ‘enables’ a community to craft its own zoning regulations after thoughtful consideration. Norwalk has clearly demonstrated this ability by being one of the first communities in the state to adopt Accessory Apartment regulation in 1982.”

Temporary healthcare structures, otherwise known as Granny Pods, aren’t used in urban settings and it would be more viable for Norwalkers to build an addition on their house than to plop a Granny Pod in the back yard, Kleppin said Thursday.

“Once it’s in there, we have no way to regulate of who is that facility,” Kleppin said.

Under the legislation, a resident would have to pay up to a $50,000 in a bond before a Granny Pod would be approved, Bovilsky said, explaining, “That bond is set to hold the people to take the structure down in case the disabled person has left.”

It’s also expensive, he said.

“I understand the concerns around people having mobile homes pop up on my property, but I can speak to you as somebody with two elderly parents… this may not work for everybody but I think it’s something that you have to consider rather than just say no,” Beatrice Winter said.

The Committee voted unanimously to opt out, but the Zoning Commission has to hold a public hearing to do that, Kleppin said, predicting that will happen in November or December.


Harbor Management Commission: ConnDOT listened

It’s a positive thing, Harbor Management Commissioner John Pinto said on Sept. 27 – the Connecticut Department of Transportation has designed a drainage filtering system for the Yankee Doodle Bridge, which carries Interstate 95 traffic over the Norwalk River.

When the Commission met with ConnDOT “some years back” to discuss the bridge’s storm drains and the pollution in the Norwalk River, it was met with indifference, Pinto said.

“They had no proposals or plans other than to put the drains back the way they were,” Coastal Area Planning Consultant Geoff Steadman said, explaining that the harbor keepers fought back and commissioned a technical report on how other states handled drainage on such a bridge and an analysis of typical highway pollutants.

The highest concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) and metals found in the harbor were near the I-95 bridge, Steadman said.

That bridge is, “One of the biggest thorns in our side,” but ConnDOT is now proposing storm water retention ponds on either side of the river and under bridge piping from the drains to the ponds, which will have plants to “help remediate the polycyclic hydrocarbons that come off the bridge,” Pinto said.

“I am going to guarantee there will be a significant decrease in effluent coming off that bridge if they do this,” he said.

The bridge’s storm drains are clogged with grass and storm water goes over the side without any filtering, he said, adding, “I feel we made tremendous (headway) from where they were.”


Donna Smirniotopoulos October 10, 2017 at 8:36 am

Temporary healthcare structures might make sense in residential areas with one acre lots Ike Redding, which recently passed the measure. And while we may need to get creative in order to care for our aging parents, this is not the way to go in Norwalk, given the problem of illegal apartments. Hard to imagine everyone in Norwalk would have to pony up a 50k bond for this either, which would certainly discourage abuse. But until Norwalk gets its enforcement game on, “granny pods” are a bad idea.

The Norwalker October 10, 2017 at 2:12 pm

A Granny Pod per sq foot is much more expensive than “Tiny Houses” or even Full Size Houses. They are designed to be the alternative to Senior Living Facilities for the Parents of those who can afford them.

Stephen October 10, 2017 at 3:29 pm

You take care of your aging parents. You stay with them at home…where you live, just like they did for you.

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