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Forums will talk Wall Street issues, Oak Hills bar; candidates to make pitches

Norwalk Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan (left) plans to be part of a four-person panel Monday in the Wall Street Theater; Republican Congressional candidate Harry Arora and U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (center) are scheduled in a League of Women Voters’ forum, as are other candidates; and Mayor Harry Rilling and the Common Council are seeking your opinion about possible changes at Oak Hills Park, including a sit down bar.

The election is Nov. 6.

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.

“Please visit the CNNA website – norwalkneighborhoods.com or email [email protected]– for more information or to RSVP for the September 24th discussion about the Wall Street area.”

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.

E-mail from Smirniotopoulos to Sheehan

 

 

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.

20 comments

Piberman September 19, 2018 at 10:52 am

Oak Hills Restaurant is ongoing major lost opportunity for City residents and another example of how City Hall and the Authority “does business”. Long past time for Mayor Rilling to call in a knowledgeable restaurant consulting firm and seek recommendations. Oak Hills Restaurant has one of the finest views in the County and prior tenants held scores and scores of successful “events”. Former Mayor Alex Knopp who spearheaded Oak Hills didn’t envisage a sit down bar serving burgers for golfers. But a fine restaurant for City residents. More than a decade later that still remains an unmet goal for City Hall. Seveal visits over the past summer found the restaurant virtually empty. Do City officials care about unmet lease payments to City taxpayers ?

Piberman September 19, 2018 at 10:58 am

We’ve lost count of “public forums” on our shabby Downtown over the decade. A City embarrassment and major reason why firms avoid business in high tax Norwalk. Cites facing shabby Downtown conventionally hire senior level business development staffs and major consulting firms. Maybe City Hall should emulate.
Stamford once had a shabby Downtown. They could office some useful “advise’ on how they transformed into CT’s only real City.

Diane Lauricella September 19, 2018 at 11:07 am

Re: CNNA Panel

Having forums to discuss City-wide issues of interest to all neighborhoods like we used to is something I always supported and support now. Looking forward to more of these.

HOWEVER some questions and a comment about this Wall Street Forum as CNNA needs to ensure that there is balance and objectivity:

More surprised about who is NOT on the panel. Anyone that understands City process would know that the City Council has much much influence about what it funds and supports.

Why was neither the Council President or the Council Planning Committee Chair (this year the same person) nor the District A Council folks representing this area included? For example, it is FACT and my understanding that Council Planning Committee Chair John Kydes heavily influences the activities of what the staff of his Committee handles. Not having his presence on this panel seems like a major oversight. Having only the RDA Director represent the “City side” of the equation just does not add up to a balanced panel or discussion. He is often in the “room where it happened…”

How about the District A Council Representatives?

Why wasn’t the Chair of the real Wall Street Neighborhood Association invited to the panel? For clarification, Ms. Lightfield was officially the Chair of the Norwalk Center Task Force. Its viability, like many of the previous “Task Forces”, is in need of a review.

Were any of the other major landowners in the area, such as M.F. DiScala and Hal Fischel invited?

Lastly, CNNA’s selection of Donna Smirniotopoulos as its just announced moderator speaks volumes about CNNA’s continued governance dysfunction. Besides her own stated bias about the subject, Donna’s past public comments smearing Planning Commissioners and everything in her path will not serve to upgrade CNNA’s status. If no one else in the current leadership were willing or able to moderate this forum, there are many capable neutral parties in Norwalk who could keep this interesting event from from becoming the “hit squad” it is leaning toward.

Jason Milligan September 19, 2018 at 1:51 pm

I would love for John Kydes to attend. I am sure everyone would like to hear his perspective.

Hopefully this will the first of many opportunities to discuss our wonderful downtown. It is the opposite of executive sessions and non disclosure agreements!

Diane-What do you consider the “real Wall st neighborhood association”?

Who do you believe to be the chair?

Jason Milligan September 19, 2018 at 2:06 pm

I am not sure what the issue with Donna as the moderator is. She is a smart capable person.

This is a neighborhood forum. Not a political event.

I am under the impression that Donna or whomever moderates will keep the clock, and keep everyone on point.

Jason Milligan September 19, 2018 at 2:10 pm

The wonderful concept of this event is that it is open and transparent and it is not controlled by the Mayor or City Hall. This is America where ideas can be shared freely.

Anyone who has questions should attend!

Diane Lauricella September 19, 2018 at 2:11 pm

@jasonmilligan

Yes, this downtown has so much potential!

It is my understanding that there is a separate entity called the “Wall Street Neighborhood Association” that meets at the Factory Underground…The Chair may be Nancy McGuire, a dynamo!

Patrick Cooper September 19, 2018 at 2:32 pm

I’m not sure why the distinction about a “Wall Street” neighborhood – although presumably they have an intimate and daily interest in the development strategy & plans, and the disposition of those who decide. By my math – this is one of our three downtowns – and it could be easily argued it is the only legitimate city center. Every Norwalk resident and certainly every taxpayer has a stake in this forum.

As for @Diane Lauricella, that’s quite the act – making a point while grinding an axe. Long time NoN readers know Donna can’t respond on this site – and I’m not her defender – but still, that’s a cheap shot. I thought you were better than that, bigger than that. You just got smaller to me. Also – these DS quotations – come on NoN editors – they are quite neatly snipped – to create a little bit of an illusion. Sorry – but I have a good memory, and you have a search engine.

I for one am glad that the RDA will be represented – because they surely have some s’plaining to do. But the major – elected representative folks, who truly tilt the lever’s – are missing. District “A” as no-show is par for the course. More information and transparency is great, but absent these decision makers, any conclusions drawn will be incomplete at best. See you there.

Jason Milligan September 19, 2018 at 2:39 pm

Ok. Agree. Yes Nancy is the president of the WSNA. Mike McGuire is her husband and business partner whom is on the panel.

I am a member of the WSNA, although I will not be speaking at the CNNA in that capacity

Heather Dunn September 19, 2018 at 2:51 pm

It should be very interesting to hear a firsthand account of what some of the primary stakeholders envision for the Wall Street area, and having the opportunity to listen to them share their big picture ideas is something I am really looking forward to! Thank you to everyone involved in making this happen!

Sid Welker September 19, 2018 at 3:05 pm

Did I read that right? DONNA S as the Moderator just changed my plans for next Monday night. This meeting just lost all creditably. If this meeting gets political and off base then the CNNA will become a joke. I agree with Diane that Nancy McGuire would be more suitable and saner moderator than Donna. Helen Keller would be a better choice than Donna S. My God people.

Bob Welsh September 19, 2018 at 4:09 pm

@Patrick Cooper

Original e-mail:
“I want to make clear 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.

Story:
Smirniotopoulos assured Sheehan in an e-mail obtained by NancyOnNorwalk that “we are not organizing a hit squad on Redevelopment.”
“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 in an email.

Original e-mail:
“For better or worse, my peers have asked me to moderate. If there is something you’d like me to say in advance to avoid questions about pending litigation (which I was going to say anyway), please let me know and include any specific language that you would like me to include. 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 (sic).”

Story:
“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, included the well researched plans of the redevelopment agency.”

The quote in which Smirniotopolous says she would vote to dismantle Redevelopment is reproduced verbatim from the comments under this story:

https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2018/04/norwalk-political-notes-fatherly-love-crosswalks-and-head-of-the-harbor/

Readers may judge for themselves whether the above represents a reasonable basis for accusing Nancy of “neatly snipping” quotes to create a “little bit of an illusion.” A PDF of the original e-mail is also added to this story.

Patrick Cooper September 19, 2018 at 5:30 pm

@Bob Welsh – fair rebuttal. My issue was not with the emails – it was with this statement:

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.”

I feel this slants the picture because you paint Donna “the moderator” as a singular critic of city officials, specifically the RDA. The article you selected to lift the quote from – my point – was innocuous compared to these below – in fact, there are plenty of NoN-articles on this ongoing saga – which I encourage anyone thinking of attending to bone-up on beforehand. You’ll note – Donna is far from alone on taking the RDA, Council, and mayor to task on this proposed ordinance – including many of those that will be on the panel (Jason, Jackie, Mike, etc.).

https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2018/04/wall-street-group-seeks-input-on-poko/

https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2018/04/norwalk-moving-ahead-innovation-district-proposal-to-cnnas-dismay/

This was where the comments section began to get heated –

https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2018/04/central-norwalk-roundup-move-to-stop-discala-plan-a-wall-street-train-stop/

https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2018/05/central-norwalk-innovation-district-proposal-sent-to-ordinance/

There is a subtle but important distinction missing here. The issue is – this is an ordinance, and the authority falls to the council – which happens to be 14-1 democrats. Harry makes all the appointments. Tim Sheehan advanced this proposal. And council member Hempstead – the sole republican member – made the effort to remove mixed use, which the Kydes lead planning committee declined. As I stated in my earlier post – this council votes 100% in unison with the mayor – and this gives them the power to pick winners & losers. That is concerning to not only Donna, but all Norwalk taxpayers.

Readers should judge for themselves – your right.

Back to the witness protection program.

Bob Welsh September 19, 2018 at 8:18 pm

Patrick,
Thanks for the feedback. Yes, NoN’s readers know from our reports that many have criticized the RDA. Only one of those critics is now moderating a panel discussion about the RDA’s plans and Wall Street. Readers can decide for themselves whether that’s significant. Stay safe out there, friend.

Debora Goldstein September 19, 2018 at 9:13 pm

re: CNNA Panel Commentary

Talk about the pot calling the kettle “political”. We have a disgruntled former CNNA member continuing to criticize the organization, and advocating for participation by a passle of Democratic elected officials.

CNNA usually conducts forums with STAFF, not council-members, and for better or worse, Redevelopment Agency staffer Tim Sheehan IS STAFF to Mr. Kydes’ Planning Committee on the Common Council. And it should not escape the Irony Police that the last time a bunch of elected officials attended a CNNA meeting, they were accused of politicizing the CNNA meeting by turning it into a campaign forum.

Once again, an article about CNNA is focusing on a person and not what CNNA 2.0 is trying to accomplish. It happens to be a person who is unable to defend herself because she has been banned from commenting, and is not offered the opportunity to comment when she is the subject of a story.

Anybody who has ever seen Donna preside over a meeting will understand that she is wholly qualified to moderate this forum. It does her a disservice to promote the idea that this is a “hit job”, or to suggest that she can’t separate her personal feelings from her duty.

It is equally unfair to Mssrs Sheehan, McGuire, Milligan and Ms Lightfield to suggest that they cannot enlighten the public on the Wall St issues at hand. While I don’t always agree with the proposals made by Redevelopment, they do an unbelievably complicated job in meeting the needs of the City to secure HUD funds and administer CDBG funds. Mr. McGuire has admirably stuck it out to run his business in an area that continues to be plagued with missteps. Mr. Milligan knows full well that I agree with the City on the lawsuit regarding the permissions needed under the POKO LDA, but that does not mean that he cannot, as a major property owner in the area, speak to his vision there. Ms. Lightfield and I disagree as often as we agree, but she has a wide and broad view of this issue and a resume to go with it, including being a former Zoning Commission Chair.

Every person involved in this forum is committed to trying to improve Norwalk, even if they do not all agree on the best means to go about it. One thing I know is that nobody is going to learn anything from anyone else if they tear this thing down before it starts.

Nancy McGuire September 20, 2018 at 5:13 pm

If you would like to know more about what is going on around Wall Street on a weekly basis, the Wall Street Neighborhood Association will be there on Monday with sign-up cards. You can sign up to get weekly emails listing the week’s top entertainment activities, street/blg improvements, and community-led initiatives, or you can sign up for a periodic email when huge things are planned. If you own a business locally, be sure to be a part of this group. We can let people know you are here and open for business!

Piberman September 24, 2018 at 6:02 pm

Does any reader know of any City like Norwalk that was sucessfully redeveloped its long shabby Downtown into an admirable Downtown attracting new businesses and residents simply by holding community forums ? Is that how Stamford was turned around ?

Or is the key ingredient here hiring first class business development staff with real bona fides and with records of encouraging major business redevelopment ? Has Norwalk ever hired such talent ?. Was the Mayor’s “Economic Director” from tiny Newtown an example of Top Development Talent for Norwalk ?

Has Norwalk ever hired a major league development professional ?

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