Updated, 7:50 a.m.: Copy edits
NORWALK, Conn. — Six Norwalk Common Council members were evenly divided Tuesday regarding a plan which supporters say would revitalize Central Norwalk.
The plan would offer financial incentives to encourage certain developments in hopes of revitalizing the Wall Street/West Avenue area and diversifying its economy with partnerships that proponents believe would fuel job growth.
Incentives would be awarded by the Common Council on a case-by-case basis. Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan has said that the Innovation District idea was developed because Council members objected to automatically granting incentives via an Enterprise Zone.
The Planning Committee moved the proposal to the Ordinance Committee in May, after discussing it for more than a year.
Doug Stern (D-At Large) and Beth Siegelbaum (D-District C) objected Tuesday to including incentives which they said would lead to construction of more apartments. Tom Livingston (D-District E) supported the proposal, arguing that the ordinance would just be creating a tool in the toolbox for future Councils to use, including the flexibility to award incentives for apartments under certain conditions.
“The idea was to get flexibility,” Livingston said. “You might have a business that will come in but they need to have a residential component of it to make it work, or as Tim said last time, to provide apartments for the workers.”
Livingston, Stern and Michael Corsello (D-At Large), all attorneys, discussed details of wording, including the definition of “related entity”. “I want to avoid any appearance of shady dealing…. anyone who is tainted shouldn’t be able to work through another entity and get the benefit of this,” Livingston said.
The definition for “mixed use” was drafted as “pedestrian-friendly development that blends two or more residential, commercial, cultural, institutional, and/or industrial uses.”
“If the purpose of this whole proposal is to create a certain set of rules within a certain geography to afford the Common Council flexibility when it comes to encouraging certain sorts of industries, and the purpose of that is to encourage certain new industries and job creation, I can accept that,” Stern said. “I just don’t see how mixed-use development as commonly understood accomplishes that goal.”
“I have a fear that the moment we do something like this, they’re be a flood of developers claiming poverty as to reasons why they can’t approach certain parts of town for certain types of development,” Stern said. “I don’t think that is a necessary tool in our toolbox. I think that if market factors change to the extent that we need to include it, we can take it up at that time.”
Committee Chairwoman Eloisa Melendez (D-District A) asked him if he meant residential developments and Stern said yes, mentioning the five-six story Waypointe size mixed-use buildings. Some opponents have speculated that the incentives are being designed for the Waypointe South Block project.
“I think jobs and the types of things we are trying to bring are directly connected to mixed use and the residential piece,” Melendez said. “I know in some ways it’s worked in the Merritt 7 section of town…. If we are going to do this ordinance we have to include possibilities for everything.”
“I don’t see why Norwalk needs more apartments right now. It’s just all these new apartments and from what I have been hearing about town, nobody is happy about it,” Seiglebaum said.
Livingston suggested that the allowable percentage of residential housing could be tweaked and emphasized the “tool in the toolbox” idea, then agreed that “there’s not a complete confidence in the ability of the Council to make the decision.”
“I think approving this is a very slippery slope. I would hope that any Common Council is going to take it very, very seriously and scrutinize any applicant that comes before it,” Corsello said.
Corsello, Livingston and Melendez voted in favor of moving the proposal to a public hearing. Chris Yerinides (D-District A), Stern, and Siegelbaum were opposed.
“I just have a lot of issues with it, big picture,” Yerinides said after the meeting.
After the 3-3 tie, Melendez professed uncertainty regarding her options.
The chairperson of other Committees can move a matter to the full Council for a vote without the Committee’s approval, she said, asking Assistant Corporation Counsel Brian Candela if she could do the same for a public hearing. Candela suggested a recess so he could look it up but Melendez declined. He agreed to research it later.
If the vote had been four to two, she wouldn’t be considering it, she said.
“This issue has been on the agenda for couple of meetings and not that many people have spoken, but … I read a lot of chatter so I don’t know if actually saying ‘there is a public hearing on this issue’ will bring more people out,” Melendez said. “Because people definitely have opinion on them … that’s kind of why I want to bring it to public hearing.
Afterwards, Melendez said that she thought that if there can’t be a public hearing, that would be the end of the proposal.
Livingston said he was guessing it’s the end of the proposal “in that form,” given that the tie vote meant it was voted down.