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King to Milligan: Change must come slowly

Spinnaker Real Estate Partners was given permission for first floor office space in SoNo on the condition that the blinds stay up on the windows and the lights stay on to midnight, Planning Commissioner Mike Mushak said Tuesday.

Updated, 6:08 a.m.: Copy edits

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Planning Commissioners on Tuesday supported Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin’s deliberate approach to zoning changes, and told real estate broker Jason Milligan that there’s a process and he can’t get a Zoning amendment pushed through without due process.

“Just because you want the dentist does not mean it’s in the best interest of the city of Norwalk,” Commissioner Nora King said to Milligan.  “Don’t beat up on our Zoning director,” she later said in a raised voice.

Milligan has been emailing Kleppin about Rosabel Tobar’s desire to open a dental practice at 97 Wall St., which an entity controlled by Milligan recently purchased.  Tobar was two months into the process of renting the space from Milligan, to start her first dental practice, when Milligan realized that it might not be compliant with Zoning, he said.

Kleppin confirmed that a dental office is not permitted.

“{T}he zoning regulations do not currently allow medical office on the ground floor in the CBD-A zone,” Kleppin wrote to Tobar and Milligan on Sept. 7. “I completely agree the zoning is completely outdated and needs {to} be changed.  That is being addressed now.  However, we cannot approve something that is not allowed on the current zoning, regardless of whether we think it is a good idea or not.”

Milligan copied reporters on the email exchanges as part of his “Wall Street area is broken” campaign alleging “way too much government involvement,” words he used on Sept. 7.

“You should be able to open your business there so long as it is done safely, meaning up to building and fire codes,” he wrote to Tobar that day. “City hall employees who have read books about business should not be dictating how entrepreneurs should operate!!”

He continued: “It is time to change zoning. Perhaps you can help champion it. Unfortunately it is expensive and time consuming which is hard when you have a big enough struggle just to start the business and open your doors.”

“It’s very frustrating that they have these rules and I agree with you that it’s impeding redevelopment of the area,” Tobar replied.

Milligan mentioned the dentist and the zoning restriction Monday during the Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations (CNNA) forum in the Wall Street Theater, and many in attendance were sympathetic.  Milligan also said he had three hairdressers willing to open in the same space, and has noted in the past that there area already many hairdressers in the area.

 

Tuesday email battle

On Tuesday, Milligan peppered Kleppin with emails, copying Planning Commissioners. He wrote to ask Kleppin to “make a text change tonight to allow dentists in the CDBA,” and said several Commissioners would support it.

“I realize that there are procedures to follow and that this is unusual,” he wrote. “The RDA will be recommending medical to be allowed on the first floor when they wrap up. I am asking for a small down payment on the grand plan. This is (low)-hanging fruit. We have a dentist ready to open, NOW.”

Kleppin wrote back to explain that the meeting was that evening and the Planning Commission doesn’t have the authority to change the Zoning regulations, part of a process that is “in every CT community, good bad or otherwise.”

“I would be surprised if I am telling you something you don’t already know,” Kleppin wrote. “If we just decided to ignore that process because we thought the existing rule was stupid we would be doing exactly what many in the public complain about in the land use process.”

He continued:

“Had you simply proposed this a couple of weeks ago you could have had this on an upcoming Agenda.  As I have previously indicated, I am working with Redevelopment staff on a revised draft for the entire West Ave/Wall St corridor.  Hopefully a draft will circulate next month.  This issue will be addressed as part of that.  This particular provision has been on the books for many years and at the time I imagine that medical office was not seen as a street-activating use.  Obviously 2008 changed things and the nature of retail has changed things even more so we need to be more flexible in how we view things.

“I will be in full support of the amendment once submitted.”

 

There’s another dentist in the area, who opened without getting a permit, Milligan has said.  He pushed that point in his response and again asking that the change be proposed within hours.

“The added bonus is you will immediately make two other dental practices legal that are already operating in the area somehow,” he wrote. “Our crazy convoluted rules encourage rule breaking. Combined with lackluster and selective enforcement you have had a dentist office operating in the CBDA for many years…I will make more money if I just accept one of the three hair salons that have made offers for the same space, same price. The dentist is a better business for the area since we already have so many hair salons.”

“Jason, I don’t want to repeat what I already typed.  The Agenda is set.  The text amendment starts and stops with the Zoning Commission,” Kleppin wrote.  “You are defending the rules and process for regulations sake,” Milligan replied.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, a meeting agenda must be posted 24 hours before a meeting.

“Please note I have removed the Planning commissioners from the email chain since they should not be participating in electronic communications outside of a scheduled meeting,” Kleppin replied, a reference to FOIA laws that mandate public meetings, not meetings held via email.

“The fastest way to address this would have been for you to submit the text amendment a couple of weeks ago.  While this issue may be front and center for you, it is only a small piece of a much larger and more complex puzzle,” Kleppin wrote.  He provided a copy of the CBD-A Zone regulations and explained: “As I’ve stated numerous times, I agree that rule needs to be changed.  The landlord needs the change to happen ASAP to accommodate a tenant.  The Planner is looking at this comprehensively from zoning boundaries, to bulk and height regulations, to all the uses within the zone and would prefer to present a single package of changes.  The regulations allow you to propose an amendment as well as the Commission, so there is not just one body determining the rules the city operates under.”

Milligan copied his reply to every member of the Commission.

“You can only think what might happen in a vacuum, and what would be ideal in a perfect Disney world,” Milligan wrote. “Right now we have an actual living breathing human that is going to risk their life savings to give a business idea a shot.”

The Commission was copied “because they are citizens of Norwalk first and this proposal is good for Norwalk and our government should start working for its people,” he said. “I don’t understand why they cannot receive an email from me especially since I am not allowed to speak at your meeting?”

“It’s very disappointing and disrespectful that you would copy the Commissioner’s again on this email.  There are FOIA issues of commissioners communicating electronically,” Kleppin replied. “… Similar to what I said in another email, this back and forth wastes all of our time.  In the time it took to send your last two emails you could have drafted the cover letter and the text amendment.  Hand that in tomorrow and I can place it on the October 4th Zoning Commission Agenda for discussion and they can take action shortly thereafter.”

King wrote back to ask that Milligan’s request be discussed.

 

Commission meeting

Pre-2008, pre-“crash of all retail as we know it today,” medical office use was not seen as something that would help a downtown storefront area, Kleppin said to the Commission on Tuesday evening.

“You can’t say I want to get rid of that provision and allow it, you have to go through the same channels that you do with any text amendment,” he explained, adding that the area “is part of the West Avenue/Wall Street plan that’s being finalized now” and he’s been working on Zoning regulation changes for five or six weeks.

“I don’t want to piecemeal this off because it’s great for this particular project,” Kleppin said. “If Jason or anybody else wants to propose that text amendment they’re more than welcome to it and I’ll support it.”

Kleppin’s desire to look at the area as a whole and not present a single passage for discussion is in the best interests for Norwalk, King commented.  Commissioner Mike Mushak volunteered that he’d “absolutely support” Milligan’s request.

The Zoning Commission would receive the request then send it to the Planning Commission for review.

Empty retail stores are a nationwide program, Mushak said, referring to a New York Times story two weeks ago, an “entire section devoted to the empty retail stores in Manhattan.”

Spinnaker was allowed to open office space in Ironworks on the condition that the windows be open, with gallery space and changing exhibits, lit to midnight because at peak times – like 8 p.m. ­– you don’t want windows with the shades drawn because part of the urban street experience is activity.

Democratic Town Committee Chairman Ed Camacho doesn’t adhere to that precept because he has the blinds drawn on his SoNo office all day, King said.

Commissioner Tammy Langalis also indicated support for Milligan’s request. Kleppin said he wasn’t against it, he just didn’t want to be the person who submitted the text amendment.

Planning Commission Chairwoman Frances DiMeglio addressed Milligan, sitting in the audience, and suggested he bring in the text amendment Wednesday.

“It’s one sentence. Any of you can propose it,” Milligan replied.

Commissioner Steve Ferguson said he couldn’t propose it and Mushak asked for specifics.

“I don’t think we can propose it like that,” King said. “I think this is the mistake the City of Norwalk is, we rush through things. I think we need to outline, think about what it’s going to be. I am sorry he already has somebody for it, but we are already in the process of doing all of this and I think we need to just detail it, put some meat around it and be smart about it because throwing something out there and proposing it, could open up tons of mistakes.”

The Wall Street/West Avenue plan should be out for discussion in October, Kleppin said.

“So you’re telling me a year and a half,” Milligan said.

“By the time we go through it and all that, it might be this year, it might not,” Kleppin said.

DiMeglio informed Milligan that she was going to break the rules and allow him to speak to the Commission, in the interest of being fair and appropriate with everyone.

“You guys tell me how to” submit an amendment, Milligan said. “I asked Steve for weeks and weeks.”

“That is just the silliest statement,” Kleppin said.

King said she’s known Milligan a long time, and he could get someone on his team to submit an amendment change.

A text change could go wrong, with a big dental conglomerate coming in to take over eight storefronts without regard for traffic or parking, Mushak said.

The dentist could “slam up fliers” or do other things with the windows that wouldn’t be appropriate, King said.

DiMeglio asked for opinions.

“I would have liked to see a document from Jason outlining what he wanted,” Commissioner David Davidson said. “I think this verbal going back and forth is not the appropriate way to do it. I think he knows that’s not the appropriate way to do it.”

To Milligan, he said, “I understand your objective, and I think your objective is valid but you are trying to ignore the existing system. Until the system is modified, and it’s a logical system, you submit a document that identifies what you want to do.”

It’s appropriate for Commissioners to want to control the design because it affects the street, he said.

“Forgive me for hoping that ‘we the people’ could put something in there so easy,” Milligan said. “… I don’t like the process, I don’t like the rules. I am trying to help change the rules and I am not doing it the right way. Any one of us, could have asked for the dentist to be allowed there. It should be me? Does it have to be me?”

“It should be you,” Davidson replied.

“It shouldn’t be Steve,” King said, raising her voice. “Steve is doing the right thing. He is logically coming in here and redistricting the whole area.”

Tobar doesn’t speak English and first-floor medical offices will be up for approval in a few months, as part of the developing plan, Milligan said.

“What you’re proposing is putting somebody in there without any rules or regulations… with an owner who can’t even come in and present for herself,” King said.

“The process is what it is, it’s been what it is for a long time,” Milligan said.

“There’s a lot of people stepping up and trying to change it and you certainly haven’t been an advocate for the City of Norwalk,” King said.

“Really?” Milligan replied.

“That’s a different discussion,” DiMeglio said. “We hope that you put in a text amendment.”

“What I am questioning is why we just can’t do it,” Milligan said, asking again who had to put the request in.

“You’re creating too many rules,” he said, as part of a back and forth.  King replied that the vision of Norwalk that was used 30 years ago was “just slapping things up.”

“We don’t want to do it that way anymore,” she said.

 

‘Retail is not dead’

“Before we all jump on the bandwagon that retail is dead – we need to think things through before we allow pure service businesses on the main level.  A very thoughtful process needs to go into this decision,” King said in a midnight email to the Commision, copied to reporters.

She included a copy of a Boston Globe opinion piece, titled, “The future of retail is fleeting. Boston should embrace it

She wrote:

“I am not saying I am opposed to it but once we open this door we must consider:

  1. “What should the store front look like?
  2. “What type of services businesses?
  3. “How do we manage banners and signs?  Many service businesses put very tacky banners out front – do we want that?
  4. “How do you manage parking?
  5. “Do we want Dentist and Medical to be first floor?
  6. “What do we consider service establishments?

 

“For example, an attorney we all know had an office on the first level retail and they kept their blinds down all day.   This didn’t look good and it wasn’t good for the neighborhood.

“Also -South Norwalk is now allowing steel cages to cover their store front.  Should these be allowed?

“I am always the first person to push for progress, but we need to do this smartly.  This is a big change and the decision we make can’t be changed for some businesses if we just throw it out there without planning.

“I have attached an interesting article of thoughts in Boston (I do realize we aren’t Boston) but all cities are thinking about this topic right now.  Everyone always need to remember that everything is cyclical.

“Mike Mushak mentioned an article he just read in the New York times but I couldn’t find it.  Perhaps he can locate it and send it as well.

“The more we talk, discuss and read the better of the City of Norwalk will be about this issue and I really hope it is not done in a vacuum.

“I have been feeling more so than ever that Planning, Zoning, the Planning Committee of the Common Council and Redevlopment are all working in silos and there is a lack of communication.

“We have some tough decisions to make a city in the next few years and we should be doing this collectively.”

This article was written from a recording obtained from Planning and Zoning.

27 comments

Jason M. September 28, 2018 at 7:38 am

[l] Offices, including medical offices. [Amended effective 9-25-2009]

That is all we need. 1 sentence listed under the allowable uses!! That is what will likely be added as soon as RDA & zoning are ready to unveil the updated regulations.

Steve Kleppin or any commission could have proposed that one sentence is added to the regulations then the zoning commission could approve it. Instead, we need to give lectures about the process.

A dentist wants to open an 800 SF office. Norwalk officials want to keep that impossible or make it as hard as possible to happen unless we wait until they are good and ready to unveil their amazing, robust and flowery new regulations.

Get out of the way!!! We should not need the blessing of bureaucrats to open a small business that the people want. There is absolutely no controversy here other than career regulators protecting and defending their cumbersome and lengthy process.

All the rules that Norwalk has invite or demand that only large and well established and well funded businesses open. Typically with fancy, expensive lawyers to navigate through city hall. it is no wonder we have mostly massive apartment fortresses and big box stores. Small businesses and projects cannot absorb the regulation expenses.

A startup has so many hurdles and unnecessary expenses. Breaking the rules is encouraged because there is lackluster enforcement, and there is no way to adequately police the mountain of regulations that exist.

We have too many regulations. We can’t enforce 5% of them even if we wanted to without hiring an army of new enforcement officers. There are 2 dentist operating under their damn noses in the same zone right now. It is pitiful.

Less rules. Better rules. Actual enforcement of the limited good rules makes sense.

Still waiting for bold smart leaders to emerge. It is typically one or the other. Its hard to last in this political city if you are bold and smart.

Jason M. September 28, 2018 at 8:12 am

Steve has the 1 sentence change ready to go. For me to apply would be $560 and I have to submit a full formal application-then present to several anti-business committees. See below where the 1 sentnece would slide into the existing regulations. This was prepared by the zoning office. They are the experts, and they have it in the cue, but becuase we wanted this 1 sentence slightly early to accomodate a dentist that is ready to go this instant we have to jump through tremendous hoops, all while 2 other dentists operate a few doors down. This is NUTS…

§ 118-504. Central Business Design District. [Added effective 10-1-1987, amended effective 4- 28-2006, 5-25-2007; 10-26-2007; 8-29-2008; 9-24-2010; 9-30-2011; 3-30-2012; 9-26-2014; 6-26-2015;1-29-2016; 2-26-2016; 10-28-2016]
C. Use regulations.
(1) Subareas A and B.
(a) Principal uses and structures. Any structure or use within these subareas having a gross floor area of eight thousand (8,000) square feet or more or requiring twenty-five (25) parking spaces or more shall be permitted subject to site plan review in accordance with § 118-1451 of these regulations.
[1] Premises in Subareas A and B shall be used, and buildings shall be erected which are used, designed or intended to be used, for one (1) or more of the following uses and no other subject to the conditions noted in Subsection C(1)(a)[2]:
[a] Retail establishments.
[b] Restaurants and taverns (excluding drive-in facilities).
[c] Banks and financial institutions, with drive-in facilities for existing banks of 5,000 sq. ft. or more or for up to two (2) banks located in a design district development park. [Amended effective 4-28-2006; 10-26-2007]
[d] Theaters and auditoriums, including cultural arts and entertainment facilities. [Amended effective 10-26-2007].
[e] Personal and business service establishments.
[f] Government agencies and charitable offices. [Amended effective 5-28-1993]
[g] Museums, libraries and meeting halls.
[h] Churches, church buildings and places of worship.
[i] Parks, open space and public recreational facilities.
[j] Day-care centers.
[k] Design District Development Park, including two (2) or more of the following uses: retail stores, offices, restaurants, hotels and multifamily residences, subject to 118-504(D)(1)(g). [Amended effective 10-26-2007].

*********(The below sentence is the tiny little addition)****
[l] Offices, including medical offices. [Amended effective 9-25-2009]

[2] The following uses shall be permitted only above the first floor in Subarea A and permitted on any floor in Subarea B but, when any portion of the lot abuts West or Belden Avenues, shall be restricted to fifty percent (50%) or less of the gross square footage of the first floor of any building within three hundred (300) feet of those streets; except in design district development parks where such restriction shall be reduced to two hundred and fifty (250) feet. [Amended effective 10-26-2007].

Bob Welsh September 28, 2018 at 8:23 am

Jason Milligan provided the below e-mail exchange this morning.

From: Jason Milligan
Sent: Thursday, September 27, 2018 3:53 PM
To: Kleppin, Steven
Subject: RE: Text Change Application Wall St Theater

Steve,

Thank you for getting back to me, but you have got to be shitting me-You want me to pay $560!!!

You phrased the change perfectly. It is 1 sentence. Since it is so simple and since it will be in your recommendations for the zoning changes overall, I was asking you to make an exception for this young dentist, and for you to present it. An exception that is the right thing for the city, the dentist and the Wall st area.

I understand that in your closed regulation ecosystem that making exceptions is frowned upon. It is so so SAD! This dentist warrants earlier consideration.

I guess I question why you are forcing me to do something I find excruciating (unnecessary paperwork and then presenting a simple idea to several anti-business committees), that will require a $560 application fee, and will require me to hire someone to do it. You are the biggest expert, and if you wanted to you could have moved this along Tuesday night or 3 weeks ago when I first asked you.

I am not willing to explain the operations to any committees. This dentist has no idea how everything will shake out. It will be quite a bit of trial and error and trial by fire. You and the other regulators have established rules that favor and or require knowledge and experience. New businesses often have neither. It would serve our City well if you would find ways that make it easier for them to try? If they fail you are not hurt. If they succeed we all benefit.

Consider this my formal request to make it possible for dentists and or other medical offices can open on the 1st floor in the CBDA.

Please add this to the CBDA zoning regulations: [l] Offices, including medical offices. [Amended effective 9-25-2009]

In the place that you suggest.

That is my final request. If you are unwilling to do it than I will simply continue to use this Dentist as an illustration of how out of touch City Hall is. I will undoubtedly find some other tenant, like a hair salon. The process sucks! Instead of teaching me all about your procedures, just do what you know is right!

I should not be in charge of fixing you horrible system! You are the boss.

I hope you will just get this done-forcing outdated, unnecessary steps and protocol and expense to get something you are about to do just seems completely asinine!

Please let me know if you are willing to move this along without anything further from me?

Jason Milligan

203-981-2300

From: Kleppin, Steven [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Thursday, September 27, 2018 3:17 PM
To: Jason Milligan
Subject: FW: Text Change Application Wall St Theater

Jason,

Here are 2 examples of text changes submittals. For the Wall Street Theater 1, we ended up making the amendment significantly simpler than proposed. As you can see in the second attachment a simple letter, outlining and justifying the request is all that is required as a narrative. The application needs to be submitted as well. There is no need to worry about site plans, or drainage, traffic, since that is not relevant to your proposal. I have also included a way to craft the regulation.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Steve

From: Wilson, Dori
Sent: Wednesday, September 26, 2018 3:48 PM
To: Kleppin, Steven
Subject: RE: Text Change Application Wall St Theater

I looked through the last 3 years of amendments and all were accompanied by a map change, special permit or site plan. This is the simplest amendment application I could find.

From: Kleppin, Steven
Sent: Wednesday, September 26, 2018 8:54 AM
To: Wilson, Dori
Subject: Text Change Application

Dori,

Can you email me a copy of a simple text change with an equally simple cover letter outlining the request?

Steve

nora k king September 28, 2018 at 8:27 am

For clarity- my point is we need to do this thoughtfully. What was happening the other night was not done thoughtfully or with enough clarity around what was being proposed.

Lisa Brinton Thomson September 28, 2018 at 8:47 am

Nora, Wall Street businesses or prospective businesses are struggling with all the ‘thoughfulness’ between Norwalk’s city boards, committees, commissions and agencies, unless of course one is a ‘friend’ of City Hall or perhaps ‘favored’ by the Planning or Zoning Commissions. #professionalizenorwalk #realcharterrevision

marija bryant September 28, 2018 at 9:17 am

We have landed in crazytown where the people pointing fingers at the city for doing favors for developers (that they don’t like) are asking the city to do a favor for a developer (that they do like). Process? What process? We don’t need no stinkin’ process.

Jason M. September 28, 2018 at 9:47 am

Someone, please explain the 2 dentists currently operating in the zone?

We are processed to death. Allowing dentists is so simple. Everybody wants it. The only argument is that it has to go through a process-it must take time-WHY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This is our city. The bureaucrats work for us. They want this change too. The issue is when.

Should it be after months and months of laborious discussion of minutiae or should we advance this one sentence that has zero opposition slightly early so that a dentist that is raeady this instant to open her business on beleaguered Wall st?

The fact that there are 2 dentists that currently operate only doors away in the same zone while this dentist is refused is just a ridiculous and glaring example of how f’d up this city is…

Someone for City Hall please try to explain. You are amazing good at blocking everything that I am trying to do and amazing horrible at success or at enforcing the many many rules you have in place. How are the other dentist open??

Jason M. September 28, 2018 at 9:58 am

How do you get change?

By 1st questioning stupid rules and processes. Next by coming up with new ideas. Then implement them.

We can start with very small easy changes that have broad consensus like allowing dentists to operate in a zone that it is currently illegal to operate.

Added bonus would be legalizing the 2 that are alread operating successfully, somehow.

Jason Milligan September 28, 2018 at 10:40 am

Marija,

Do you think I am asking for a favor?

I am not. I expect no “favors”.

I am asking for the city to work efficiently and effectively. Then myself and people like me will knock your socks off with our capabilities.

Just need to pull the wet blanket off the fire. The fire being the economic spirit of the people of our city…

Marija Bryant September 28, 2018 at 11:33 am

Jason, passionate disrupters are great at shaking things up; practical planners are great at assessing the impacts. SInce everybody is on the same page about the “what”, let’s be sure we get the “how” right. It takes both. Even the Indians understood that the fire without the “wet blanket” was not the way to get the message across.

Jason Milligan September 28, 2018 at 11:39 am

Fair point.

It takes leadership to get the correct ratio of fire and wet blanket.

Perhaps it is leaderhip that is lacking because we have an abundance of wet blanket and we also have fire!!

Sid Welker September 28, 2018 at 3:25 pm

Marija, well said. First of all who texts public officials and asks them to do anything? Asking Mr. Klepin to put in in the agenda so it can be approved is a favor. You can shine a turd anyway you’d like but it’s still a turd. So Marija hit the nail on the head Jason. The troop who circles the wagon claiming other developers are getting favors is doing the same thing. Tisk Tisk. And Lisa Briton? Your not upset with this? Miss “favors are for frauds”. What’s you’re take? Or is it okay because Jason has a bone to pick with the mayor also so he gets a pass.

Jason Milligan September 28, 2018 at 4:52 pm

Steve Kleppin is overhauling the zoning for the area. I have been provided some input on the committees that are doing the research and will ultimately provide the recommended changes.

Allowing medical on the 1st floor for this zone is going to be a recommendation. All current officials support that use in that zone.

I own a building that has an 800 SF store that was formerly a Chinese Food take out. It was filthy and I am not sure how anyone who ate there survived. That space has attracted many interested tenants. One of which is a dentist. The dentist is offering the same rent that 3 hair salons have offered. I personally think the dentist is a great business for the space and the area. I believe in the young lady that wants to open the dentist business. We had tentatively agreed to have her open when I realized it was not a permitted use.

There are 2 other dentist operating in the immediate area that did not open that long ago-3-4 years perhaps. Those existing dentists caused myself and the potential new dentist to assume it was okay.

A text change application is a lengthy, cumbersome and somewhat expensive process. It is not an expense or a process that can be justified for the 800 sf space for the price that it will rent for to this dentist.

Please explain how it is a favor to me to ask the chief zoning person to get dentists as an allowable use in the zone? A use that is going to be an added use very soon. It is a one sentence addition.

To say it is a favor to me is off base. The dentist should be allowed. It is disservice to the dentist and to Norwalk citizens to not find the quickest, easiest and least expensive way to let it happen. The fact that 2 other dentists that are operating despite being prohibited and have been for years is just a slap across the face of this young dentist that is trying to open by following all of the rules.

Give me a break Sid. And here I thought you were starting to come around…

Please explain why it is a favor when I will undoubtedly find a different tenant to probably open quicker for the same money and for a lot less capital investment into the space. I want the dentist for reasons other than my bottom line and so should the city!

Lisa Brinton Thomson September 28, 2018 at 4:58 pm

Sid, I don’t think Mr. Milligan should get any special favors. However, he does get points for throwing himself on the proverbial grenade to highlight the gross inconsistencies in Norwalk’s zoning code. How does the city explain two first floor dental practices in the area, but denies Milligan’s tenant?

For the record, when I ran for office last year – other developers shared similar complaints about the redundancy and slowness of board and commission meetings, as well as the generally absurd difficulty of doing business with the city- they just haven’t done so – so publicly.

The city is about to enter another budget crisis. Despite all the development, the grand list is still stagnating. One doesn’t really have to ask why when we look at POKO and some of the other challenges around Wall Street.

“The change must come slowly,” comment from Ms. King may have been taken out of context, but in all honesty – how many DECADES should Wall Street have to wait before life is breathed back into the community?

Finally, we missed you Monday night and I would very much like to have met you. You would have heard first hand the cries of business owners looking for some responsiveness, pragmatism and transparency from City Hall.

Have a nice weekend.

Sid Welker September 28, 2018 at 7:43 pm

@Lisa and @Jason, I understand all developers have issues with the stagnant like movement of planning and zoning or any city type run department. But rules are rules. If a dentist office isn’t allowed in that specific zone on that level, as absurd as a rule everyone agrees we still have to wait it out. Cutting the line by nagging Kleppin and personally texting him isn’t condusive to Jason’s cause. Reminds me when my first born would throw a tantrum if he didn’t get his hotwheel. Lisa I couldn’t make the meeting but I watched through the link the following day.

Debora Goldstein September 28, 2018 at 8:13 pm

I was the only other member of the public who attended this Planning Commission meeting for the entire duration of the meeting, having been there to try to glean some information about the POCD progress and the East Avenue TOD Study.

It is astounding how many people are weighing in on this without understanding the process. It is appalling to watch an individual with an ax to grind trying to bully a public servant and the body of a commission who DOES NOT PRESIDE OVER DECISION TO AMEND THE ZONING CODE, into bypassing the process that every other citizen and applicant has to follow.

Zoning Text Amendments get introduced by:
1) The Zoning Commission
2) The Planning Commission (after a POCD plan)
3) By an applicant, in conjunction with a zoning application
4) Very rarely, by an applicant, before putting in a zoning application
5) By recommendation of the P&Z Director
6) By anybody else who cares enough to propose one

These are decided by the ZONING COMMISSION, after they are referred to the PLANNING COMMISSION to receive a recommendation as to whether it is consistent with the POCD, and after a PUBLIC HEARING, so that the public can weigh in on whether they have concerns about the amendment.

The P&Z Director can’t just amend the code by himself. The rest of the City has a right to weigh in, and their appointed representatives have statutory responsibilities to consider certain things (and NOT consider others) when making zoning decisions. This process protects applicants from arbitrariness, as much, or more than, it protects residents from poor land use decisions.

At no point would a P&Z Director recommend a zoning text amendment that he could not support to the ZC with respect to all of the things the ZC is required to consider by statute.

Nor would the Planning Commission consider suggesting a zoning text amendment without considering how it fits into the overall City plan (POCD), or with respect to how all areas of the city that are zoned similarly might be affected.

If one wants to propose a zoning text change, the City web site clearly lays out the process. The application is here: http://www.norwalkct.org/DocumentCenter/View/8013/ZONINGAMENDMENT?bidId=

The fee schedule is here: http://www.norwalkct.org/DocumentCenter/View/11483/New-PZ-FEE-SCHEDULE-revised-4-28-2017?bidId=

And the DEADLINES for getting on the Zoning Commission agendas are here:
http://www.norwalkct.org/DocumentCenter/View/12430/2018-ZC-submission-deadlines?bidId=

Had the reporter vetted the email after listening to the tape of the meeting (she was not there), she would have realized that the most recent email submitted by Mr. Milligan (and posted here by the editor in the comments) was the end of a long series of exchanges between Mr. Milligan and Mr. Kleppin, in which Mr. Milligan was attempting to influence Mr. Kleppin into introducing the desired text amendment for him (thereby by-passing the fees and the application).

Mr. Kleppin declined to do so, and explained his reasoning. Neither of them disputed the nature of those earlier communications at the meeting the other night.

So on September 25th, instead of preparing an application in time to get on the ZONING COMMISSION’s next agenda by the September 26th deadline, he lobbied the PLANNING COMMISSION to make the recommendation for him.

He came with no specific recommended language, when this item was NOT on the agenda, and tried to get them to write the amendment for him, even as the P&Z Director explained that he did not find it beneficial to consider this change outside of the total package of changes. He also made it clear he would have supported it, if Mr. Milligan had SIMPLY PROPOSED THE TEXT CHANGE HIMSELF.

Both the Commission and Mr. Kleppin explained that having the PC start the process would actually make the process take longer, because the ZC would STILL HAVE TO REFER THE CHANGE BACK TO THE PC.

It was only after the Commissioners and Mr. Kleppin stood firm, that Mr. Milligan initiated the Zone Change on his own initiative, and then objected to the process and the fee. THIS IS THE PROCESS EVERYONE ELSE HAS TO FOLLOW.

How would anyone feel if someone came along and acted as Mr. Milligan has, but the objective was, say, to put a strip club there? Wouldn’t you want the process to be followed?

I applaud the Planning Commissioners for taking the position that nobody should be sneaking in individual text changes ahead of the plan for the area. I only wish they had applied the same standard to the hat factory application at the East Norwalk train station, which was designated a TOD property by a zoning text amendment, just as the City was awarded $125k for a TOD Planning Study.

Jason Milligan September 28, 2018 at 9:23 pm

Please don’t be enablers.

Stop defending and arguing for Norwalk’s weaknesses. Instead embrace possitive change.

Can’t have progress without change!

Jason M. September 28, 2018 at 10:51 pm

Deb,

As usual, you have demonstrated your intelligence. I agree with everything you have summarized, except that it was a good decision to stand firm.

Forcing this 1 sentence change to allow a dentist approved through the same process as required to get a strip club approved, a TOD plan approved, Porta Potty storage on an industrial scale in a residential neighborhood approved is just plain dumb!!

Especially since Steve had the one sentence already prepared because the zone changes have been worked on for months if not a year. The real kicker is the 2 dentists brazenly operating in the same zone right now. Where is the explanation or defense for this?

I made a suggestion that since there is a dentist that wants to open on Wall st right now could Steve please push forward one sentence of the several hundred sentences that he will be changing soon.

People, businesses, tax payers be damned, there is a sacred process in Norwalk that must be adhered to at all cost.

Dentists will be imminently allowed in the zone, why couldn’t Steve just make the application? It is within his authority. Perhaps he loves process more than people.

If Steve did make an extra effort to get the dentist to open I would have applauded government working for the people. It still would have went through the public hearing process. The public and the commission would have been able to consider, object, or amend before approving. Something tells me that there would have been broad support and no objections. More likely people including commissioners would have been surprised that dentists are not allowed since there are two dentist opened right there already!!

Jason M. September 28, 2018 at 11:32 pm

This recent exchange might suggest otherwise, but I know Steve Kleppin is a smart guy and he is having a positive impact on Norwalk zoning. He and I agree more than we disagree.

This dentist issue is not about 1 small issue it is about how discouraging it is to business in this town. The process wears good people out, for no good reason and for no measurable benefit to Norwalk. The canned explanations are that is the way it is done, it has always been done that way, or other areas do it that way.

Steve is trying to simplify the rules. He is much more patient, tactful and elegant at navigating the process than I am. My frustration is that Steve does not assume more authority. If he acted more boldly and courageously everyone would follow him–until someone got jealous–then they would push him out…

Debora Goldstein September 28, 2018 at 11:43 pm

Jason,

You are not a stupid man. Yet you pretend you are.

Stop blaming Steve Kleppin. Pony up the $500+ dollars and submit your one sentence proposal, just like the porta-pottie guy did, just like 230 East Ave LLC did, just like AMEC did.

If you are so sure that everyone is on board, then why won’t you put in the application?

I was at the meeting. Mr. Kleppin “prepared” that sentence in response to a specific request from the Commission. You were to receive one example of a good text change and one example of a bad text change SO YOU COULD CRAFT YOUR OWN.

It’s fascinating that you are insisting the City enforce it’s rules fairly and equitably when it comes to Citibank, POKO and the LDA, but you want them to ignore the rules so you can secure a single tenant in a singular location out of all of those nifty properties you own.

Jason Milligan September 29, 2018 at 12:32 am

Deb,

In addition to the $560 there is a lengthy application. The example Steve sent me yesterday was 11 pages that was written an submitted by attorney Liz Suchy who is an excellent attorney and who bills at 400 to 500 per hour.

The application has to be sent certified mail to all abutters as defined by statute.

11 copies need to be submitted to the commission. Someone needs to present the damn application and then be subject to all manner of ridiculous questions and rantings by the commissioners.

You and I listened to 45 minutes of nonsense about porta potties the other night.

The application is a nightmare. The change is 1 sentence. For Steve to do it would be a breeze.

For me it would be a $10,000 exercise, and I would rather have my toenails pulled out.

I don’t want or need the dentist that badly.

Common sense can and should prevail sometimes.

Debora Goldstein September 29, 2018 at 11:39 am

Jason,

In the immortal words of Ronald Reagan, “There you go again.”

I posted the link to the FOUR PAGE application. The abutter notifications are only required if you are also submitting a site plan application, which you are not. That’s also true of the drainage and traffic portions, WHICH STEVE TOLD YOU WAS THE CASE in the email you provided to NON and was posted by Mr. Welsh.

As to the eleven copies, even a member of the public submitting written testimony at a Zoning Commission public hearing is required to bring eleven copies if they hand it out at the meeting.

Most of what you have to provide is available with a few hours of research or a couple of FOI requests, something I have done myself for issues that do not benefit me financially, as this change would benefit you.

As far as I can see the big ticket item is the requirement to pay for the newspaper notices. And I think everyone would recognize that it would be silly for the City to take on that expense twice, just so a one-sentence change (as you characterize it) could be expedited. They will have to pay for it again when the package of changes is under consideration.

BTW, everyone is so focused on the “medical office” part of your proposed change, that it may escape notice that it includes ALLoffices of any kind, which negates the need for

[e] Personal and business service establishments.
[f] Government agencies and charitable offices.

Furthermore, not all medical offices have the same impacts to the community as a dentist. Are we talking only medical licenses, or facilities that practice quasi-medical services? Would a medical testing facility that does x-rays and body scans need the same amount of parking as a dentist? a chiropractor? an optometrist?

Should we limit how close together two medical offices offering the same service can operate as we do gas stations? These are the contextual questions that our Commissions need to consider, even when a “simple, one sentence change” is proposed.

I’ll say it again. You opted to purchase properties in an area of the City that has very particular regulations. If you want a place with no zoning regulations, Texas is awaiting your entrepreneurial genius.

Rick September 29, 2018 at 2:00 pm

Spinnaker was allowed to open office space in Ironworks on the condition that the windows be open, with gallery space and changing exhibits, lit to midnight because at peak times – like 8 p.m. ­– you don’t want windows with the shades drawn because part of the urban street experience is activity.

This enhances smash and grabs , whats next a tarot reader for the next rule?

Sid Welker September 29, 2018 at 5:39 pm

Jason. Why would the downtown area want a dentist or another hair salon? Those businesses draw nothing to the neighborhood. They do not feed other businesses. As a landlord it fills a need but if I were a business owner downtown I would oppose those kind of businesses due to lack of draw. It actually kills the revival your trying to start.

Sue Haynie September 29, 2018 at 8:09 pm

If a ground floor dentist office in Wall Street requires a zone change, and getting a zone change will take more $$ and time than the landlord wants to spend, why not just find a tenant that fits within the zoning guidelines?

Lisa Brinton Thomson September 30, 2018 at 6:21 am

I’d like to know, what happens to the orher two dentist/orthodontist offices that are operating ‘illegally’ ?

Adolph Neaderland October 3, 2018 at 11:54 am

Folks, this is hardly the way to run a city!

A graphic example of a city without a “PLAN”!

Change by shouting?

We are within a relative short time of reviewing the 2018 POCD draft for a 10 year city-wide 10 year Plan a PLAN that reflects the best interest of all the stakeholders, not only those of developers.

Calm down.

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