Updated 1:37 p.m., additional information; 1:24 p.m.: Copy edit.
NORWALK, Conn. — Parking that was intended for POKO Phase I is now unavailable as it’s just been purchased by developer Jason Milligan.
That’s a scenario laid out Saturday by former Mayor Bill Collins, echoing sentiments delivered Friday by Milligan.
“Through some mistake, I don’t know, by the developer, by the city, by the concrete contractor, the POKO property itself does not have enough parking,” Collins said Saturday.
Milligan on Friday wrote:
“On the way down the tubes the zoning commission approved like 40 parking spaces to be moved from phase I to phase II. Phase I is horribly short on parking!
“It is supposed to provide 100 public parking spaces. How do they plan on doing that? Let’s remember that the city basically gave the large public parking lot to the developer for next to nothing!”
Milligan purchased 23 Isaac St., described in city documents as the Leonard Street municipal lot, from a legal entity connected to POKO Partners for $3.2 million, he said Friday. He also bought 21 and 31 Isaac St. for $500,000 each, in effect scooping up all the properties slated for POKO Phase II.
Mayor Harry Rilling and Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan in a press release threatened litigation, saying this violated the Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) for the properties. The LDA required “that the ownership of the POKO property could not be transferred unless and until the proposed transfer was first approved by the Redevelopment Agency to ensure any future owner has the capability to complete the project per the requirements of the Land Disposition Agreement,” the press release said.
The Leonard Street municipal lot was sold to POKO for $50,000, but payment was not due until the Phase I parking garage was opened to the public, according to the LDA. POKO was expected to pay $5,000 a year for 10 years, for the lot.
The Phase I parking garage, like the rest of Phase I, is not open. Construction halted in 2016, after POKO Partners principal Ken Olson became fatally ill; Sheehan at the time said Citibank, which issued POKO a construction loan, had discovered a “budget gap.”
City officials have been working with Citibank to restart construction. The nondisclosure agreement that applied to those negotiations has expired, Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola said Monday.
POKO had the same $50,000 deal for the Isaac Street municipal lot, which is now covered by POKO’s partially built Wall Street Place Phase I, with payment due in $5,000 installments when the Phase I parking garage opened to the public.
Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin on Monday confirmed that Phase I has less parking than originally planned but did not confirm that the parking had been transferred to Phase II. Kleppin wrote:
“The last modification the Zoning Commission made to the approval, which I believe was February 2016, indicates that 214 spaces were required and that the approval was modified as follows:
“the automated parking structure was being reduced from 215 to 155 spaces,
“surface spaces from 23 to 16, and
“43 parking spaces at the Leonard Street Lot.”
NancyOnNorwalk has on file a recording of the Feb. 11, 2016 Zoning Commission Plan Review meeting.
Norwalk Senior Planner Dori Wilson touched briefly on the automated underground parking garage that had been planned, explaining that a driver pulls into a bay and the machinery takes the car and parks it.
Three bays had originally been planned, but were being reduced to two, she said, describing that in a positive way as “now you can circulate around the garage.”
The automated garage was being reduced to 155 spaces, she said.
“You know, the cost of putting this project actually into motion, it’s just worked out the design better to have fewer spaces below,” she said. “They will also have the surface parking lot below where you come in and circulate below the building. The remainder will be in the surface lot at Leonard Street. This is Phase II of their plan…”
Common Council member Doug Hempstead (R-District D) in February said the $5 million grant awarded to POKO by the Department of Community and Economic Development (DECD) was “strictly for the automated underground parking garage.”
“I always said this guy was playing with other people’s money and the parking garage underneath was totally insane,” Hempstead said.
That garage has not been installed although the project’s foundation was developed to accommodate it, Sheehan wrote in January.
POKO spent $3,321,811 of the grant for “construction-related expenses,” with $1,678,189 available for a new developer, DECD spokesman James Watson said in October.
NancyOnNorwalk asked Collins on Saturday if perhaps the loss of the parking lot had inspired the threats of legal action.
“That could be,” Collins said, calling it a “fly in the ointment.”
“If Milligan has bought Phase II property and there is no place to put the parking, then we have a real problem,” Collins said. “I can see where the city would be understandably concerned about that. I am not on the inside, so I don’t know exactly how that lays out either. But I would think that the city has some cards to play here.”
Rilling did not reply to an email asking about the parking.
“Maybe (Milligan) has in mind taking over the POKO property at some point,” Collins said. “Somebody is going to take it over sooner or later. If the bank can’t get what they want for it, I think it reverts to the city.”
Milligan said Monday that he is not looking to buy Phase I, and declined further comment.
Of Milligan, Collins said, “You’ve got to admire the guy. He is shrewd. I certainly have not read the Land Disposition Agreement myself, so I don’t know whether it’s possible for POKO to sell their portion of property without city approval or not. Tim Sheehan is a reasonably careful guy and if says they can’t do it I would lean in his direction.”