Updated, 5:58 p.m.: Added sentence to Smirniotopoulous quote. 4:05 p.m.: Added Smirniotopoulos e-mail, corrected typo; 12:09 p.m.: Added comment from Josh Morgan regarding OHPA payment status; 10:52 a.m.: Copy edit; 6:10 a.m.: Copy edits, information added.
NORWALK, Conn. — Multiple forums will address hot topics in Norwalk or offer chances to hear candidates. Here are some opportunities for civic engagement:
- CNNA panel discusses: “What’s Up with Norwalk’s Wall Street?”
- Common Council seeks input on the Oak Hills Park Authority request for changes, including a sit-down bar in the park’s restaurant
- League of Women Voters offers legislative candidate forums
CNNA panel on Wall Street set for Monday
The Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations (CNNA) has invited “key” Wall Street stakeholders “to present their views and answer your questions about the factors supporting growth” for Norwalk Center “as well as the challenges ahead,” at 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 24, in the Wall Street Theater, according to a press release.
Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan will share the stage with real estate broker Jason Milligan, whose purchase of “POKO properties” is being challenged in court by the Redevelopment Agency. Former Norwalk Zoning Commission Chairwoman Jackie Lightfield, founder of Norwalk 2.0 and head of the long-quiet Wall Street Task Force, will also participate, along with Wall Street businessman Michael McGuire, who is well known for promoting a Wall Street train station. Lightfield and McGuire have been critical of the proposed Innovation District for the Wall Street area. Sheehan supports the proposal.
Donna Smirniotopoulos, a vocal critic of City officials, is slated to moderate the panel. Smirniotopoulos assured Sheehan in an e-mail obtained by NancyOnNorwalk that “we are not organizing a hit squad on Redevelopment. We want to know more about the NRA’s plans–including the Innovation District.”
“Though I’m not a fan, my concern lies mainly with what the council has done or will do and not with NRA’s mission and vision for downtown,” she wrote to Sheehan.
Smirniotopoulos, in an April comment on NancyOnNorwalk, wrote, “How did the Redevelopment Agency come to have so much sway over our city and our Common Council? How do ordinary taxpayers protect their interests when RDA promotes tax incentives under the radar and who ultimately pays? Also how exactly does someone get appointed to the RDA Commission? More evidence that Norwalk needs charter revision and professional city management. I’d vote to dismantle Redevelopment too.”
The Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations has recently reorganized, creating new bylaws, a new executive committee and new leaders, and going dark for the summer to create a series of programs.
Before the summer silence, former unaffiliated Mayoral candidate Lisa Brinton had taken a leadership role at meetings. “We are in the process of redefining what CNNA is … what our focus is and how we are governing ourselves,” Brinton said at an April meeting, which she led. At the same meeting, Brinton said she sees CNNA becoming “smarter” and more active on city-wide issues. “We have got to move strategically, we’ve got to move up the value chain and get smarter,” she said. Longtime CNNA Member Diane Lauricella resigned in April, charging that the once non-partisan CNNA was being transformed into a political party for people who have been disenfranchised by Democrats and Republicans. She said the CNNA had been “hijacked by several frustrated, partisan members who took advantage of its structural dysfunction in order to push their agenda and a ‘scorched earth’ approach to dealing with CNNA governance, the City and Norwalk governance.”
This is the first public meeting of the reorganized group.
“For better or worse, my peers have asked me to moderate,” Smirniotopoulos wrote to Sheehan on Aug. 28. “… The last thing anyone wants is for this meeting to be confrontational or adversarial. We are creating an event, and we hope that this event will spark interest in Wall Street in all its facets, including the well researched plans of the redevelopment agency.”
Based on those assurances, “I do plan on attending with staff to discuss specifically the Wall/West Redevelopment Plan,” Sheehan wrote to NancyOnNorwalk on Tuesday. “I will not be providing any comment on any aspect of the Parcel 2A LDA dated November 2007 or any related litigation or claims.”
That means Sheehan won’t address the lawsuit filed by the City of Norwalk and the Redevelopment Agency against Milligan and former POKO owner Richard Olson. The lawsuit accuses the pair of violating the Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) for the properties.
“Norwalk’s urban core—the Main and Wall Street area— has been a hot topic lately with various plans, options and opportunities being currently discussed,” CNNA’s press release states. “Separating the facts from the rumor can be a challenge. Staying up to date on the issues may be difficult. That’s why the Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations (CNNA) is hosting ‘What’s Up with Norwalk’s Wall Street?’ on Monday, September 24th at the Wall Street Theater, 71 Wall Street.”
CNNA members will hold their monthly business meeting at 7 p.m. and expect the panel discussion to begin at 8, the release said. Parking is available in the Yankee Doodle Garage or at the Mechanic Street lot (behind the Norwalk Savings Society building) for a flat fee of $1 after 6 p.m., or for free at 23 Isaac St., which is owned by an entity controlled by Milligan.
The release states:
“CNNA expects a robust and open discussion to gain insight into what should – and shouldn’t – happen to revitalize the Wall and Main Street area. CNNA’s mission is to advocate on behalf of Norwalk’s neighborhood associations and groups to promote informed and active participation of citizens in Norwalk’s governing bodies to preserve and enhance the integrity and character of Norwalk’s neighborhoods. To accomplish this, CNNA solicits fair and equal participation of each constituent association and neighborhood group to address issues of interest that have an impact on quality of life in Norwalk as well as inform members of important upcoming issues, plans and decision, and meetings. CNNA hopes to sponsor more of these open dialogues throughout the coming year.
The Wall Street Task Force, chaired by Lightfield and also known as the Norwalk Center Task Force, has been working behind the scenes to mitigate the effects of the Connecticut Department of Transportation’s Walk Bridge project on the upper harbor, Lightfield said Tuesday.
City requests input on proposal to modify Oak Hills Park lease
Mayor Harry Rilling and the Common Council invite you to a community discussion regarding Oak Hills Park, at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 27, in City Hall room A300.
“The Oak Hills Park Authority has requested modifications to their lease with the City of Norwalk, including the addition of a sit-down bar. They are inviting feedback from neighbors and members of the public,” according to a press release from Norwalk Communications Manager Joshua Morgan.
Talk of a sit-down bar goes back more than a year, with OHPA member (now Chairman) Bill Waters saying in December that potential restaurant operators didn’t want the business without a bar.
The former bar area has been converted into a pro shop.
Community opposition to a bar stems from “the old Oaks” bar, which was “sort of seedy” and unsafe, as people almost fell through the floor, Waters said in December, explaining that the hours for a bar would be limited by the lease, and, “We want to make the restaurant be able to be competitive with any other restaurant in the City of Norwalk.”
Council members in June said they were willing to discuss any ideas that might stem OHPA’s cycle of “begging.”
The Authority has fallen behind in its loan payments to the City: one year ago, the Authority paid $52,000 of its $131,000 payment due; the loan payment is due in September.
It’s often said that the 2005 loan was for the construction of the restaurant; the debt has been restructured three times, dropping from $290,000 in 2015 to $160,000, then dropping again.
Asked for an update on the loan status Tuesday, Waters wrote, “I really do not/cannot comment at this point, as we are still in negotiations with Mayor and the Common Council to be able to put Oak Hills in the financial position it should have been in 20 years ago, when bad decisions were made by the OHPA, the Common Council and the Mayor’s office at the time. We are all working well together to ‘right the wrongs of our fathers’. I am confident we can all resolve the financial situation very soon.”
Norwalk Communications Manager Joshua Morgan said Wednesday that the City still awaits payments from the OHPA. “We continue to work closely with the Oak Hills Park Authority regarding their ongoing payment obligations,” Morgan wrote in an e-mail to NancyOnNorwalk.
Waters said Tuesday that Joe Montalto, of Garnet Management Group, received the liquor permit he was seeking for the Clubhouse Grill, the park’s current restaurant, in June.
Grill operators “have been having success in servicing the needs of park users all summer,” he wrote. “They have had some successful events, such as a 4th of July BBQ and a Clambake with very good attendance. They are planning more events (i.e. Oktoberfest) as the year goes on.”
Waters in June told the Council Finance Committee that OHPA had paid $50,000 to obtain the restaurant’s kitchen equipment and spent $50,000 on improvements, “painting, degreasing, cleaning and all the upgrades it needed, air conditioning, everything.” That $100,000 came out of OHPA’s line of credit, he said.
“I am just one of those that (believe) the city should just say ‘we’re done,’ either take back the restaurant or take the debt service and say it doesn’t exist,” Minority Leader Doug Hempstead (R-District D) said in June. “…They have to come begging every couple years, let’s just end the circle that we always seem to be in.”
“As mentioned, there’s ongoing discussion about assistance to Oak Hills,” Council Finance Committee Chairman Greg Burnett (D-At Large) replied to Hempstead. “A present resolution is not on the table but different scenarios are being discussed…. We have a treasure in the city of Norwalk with Oak Hills and we want to maintain it but we also have a financial responsibly. That’s what we’re going to maintain.”
League schedules candidate forums
The League of Women Voters has scheduled its slate of 2018 candidate forums. In chronological order:
- Oct. 16: State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) and her Democratic challenger, Stephanie Thomas, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Wilton Library, located at 137 Old Ridgefield Road in Wilton
- Oct 21: U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-Greenwich) and his Republican challenger, Harry Arora, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Wilton High School, located at 385 Danbury Road in Wilton
- Oct. 22: State Rep. Fred Wilms (R-142) and his Democratic challenger, Lucy Dathan, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the New Canaan Town Hall Meeting Room, located at 77 Main St. in New Canaan
- Oct. 25: State Rep. Chris Perone (D-137) and his Republican challenger, Frank Page, from 7 to 7:45 p.m. in the Norwalk City Hall community room, located at 125 East Ave.
- Oct. 25: State Sen. Bob Duff (D-25) and his Republican challenger, Marc D’Amelio, from 8 to 9 p.m. in the Norwalk City Hall community room, located at 125 East Ave.
“There may end up being a 140th even though not listed,” Mary Oster wrote on Sept. 12. “We are having some difficulty determining a date.” The 140th district has three candidates: Travis Simms, winner of the Aug. 14 Democratic Primary against Colin Hosten, Republican John Flynn, and Hosten running on the Working Families Party line.