Updated, 7:13 a.m.: Copy edits
NORWALK, Conn. — South Norwalk activists turned out for Tuesday’s Common Council meeting only to learn that the issue that attracted them would not be discussed.
The executive discussion scheduled on the proposal for the City to buy the South Norwalk Community Center’s half of 98 South Main St. was postponed. Council members knew Monday evening they would do that after the Board of Estimate and Taxation did not move the item ahead, Diane Lauricella and others said.
“The public gets discouraged when they are ready and doing their homework to speak to all of you and share all of their objections,” Lauricella said to Council members during the meeting. “Apparently, if there was a process issue, and I understand maybe Board of Estimate didn’t complete their work, I think it would have been good to tell the public through all the means that you have, including the press, that this had been taken off the agenda.”
The BET voted Monday but it was a tie vote, Mayor Harry Rilling said after the meeting.
“They had some questions that they needed answered,” he said.
The City has proposed buying SoNoCC’s half of 98 South Main for $300,000 and spending an additional $200,000 on building repairs. The purchase and repairs would be funded from the $3.5 million paid by GGP to the City this year in exchange for permission to eliminate a hotel from plans for The SoNo Collection. Rilling and Council have spoken numerous times of spending the $3.5 million in ways that would benefit South Norwalk.
The building at 98 South Main was built with $1 million of grants obtained by the city between 1981 and 1987. Ownership of the property was transferred to Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) and SoNoCC in August 1987, with each organization owning half of the building.
The proposed purchase stems from NEON’s bankruptcy, which was settled a year ago, with the City gaining ownership of NEON’s half of the building.
The proposed deal includes a new organizational structure for the South Norwalk Community Center, with the appointment of a new 11-member Board.
South Norwalk representatives Travis Simms and Ernie Dumas on Tuesday afternoon released an opinion saying that the deal should not be approved.
Tuesday’s meeting drew eight or nine South Norwalk residents, including District B Democrats Chairman Bobby Burgess and State Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140).
“This is twice now that this has been put on the agenda and taken off. I hope that would give people pause,” Morris said.
There’s an “issue of transparency and being convenient to the taxpayers,” Morris said, agreeing with Lauricella’s comment that the public should have been informed that the vote would not happen Tuesday.
Morris said he agreed that something needs to be done about the ownership of the building, but noted that other groups are interested besides SoNoCC. He reminded NancyOnNorwalk that there had been a proposal last fall that involved Mount Zion Baptist Church, the YMCA and state bonding.
“They need to go back to the table with all of the people who have interest in it and be very transparent and clear with all of the stakeholders who want to be involved, who are coming to the table with capital to be involved,” Morris said. “One player, The South Norwalk Community Center, doesn’t have capital, that’s fair to understand. “Me personally, I am not opposed to them being compensated for their half share of the building. But then who owns the building? If it’s the city, what is that Board? Who is comprised of that Board?”
The role of the Board is “very vague,” Morris said. “The Community wants to know who’s going to make the decisions about that building and ensuring that it’s properly managed.”
Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola said after the meeting that the South Norwalk Community Center Board of Directors would not control the building.
SoNoCC would have a 700-square foot office in the building, he said.
The BET asked if a new environmental assessment and a new appraisal had been done on the property, Rilling and Coppola said. “We’re going to get them the information,” Coppola said.