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City should answer taxpayers, repo POKO, and start over

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Last month, the Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhoods  Association (CNNA) hosted a panel discussion  in the renovated Wall Street Theater with Redevelopment Agency Director, Tim Sheehan, local real estate, property developer, Jason Milligan,   Norwalk 2.0 co-founder and past chairwoman of the city’s zoning commission, Jackie Lightfield and commercial real estate broker, appraiser and owner of 64 Wall Street, Michael McGuire. The discussion, titled What’s Up With Wall Street?  brought out about 80 individuals, representing local businesses and residents. 

Throughout the evening, anecdotal stories were touted regarding Wall Street’s challenges, including: outdated zoning regulations, predatory parking policies, lack of communication, blight  enforcement, and the Tyvek Temple, aka POKO Phase I.  Also highlighted, in spite of these challenges, were successes like the Head of the Harbor South (albeit a decade later), the  renovated Wall Street Theater and the regional destination LGBTQ Bar and performance space, Troupe429.  However, it was Lightfield who garnered the biggest applause line of the night, when she declared Wall Street property owners “don’t believe anything is going to change, and that is because there is no transparency or trust with what the city says it is going to do, what the Redevelopment Agency says it’s going to do or what developers say they’re going to do.”

She’s half right.  Developers can only do what is allowed by the City, but it’s the City’s boards and commissions that have create our convoluted, contradictory zoning regulations and LDA agreements that don’t keep pace with changing conditions or the market.

At the center of Wall Street’s decades-long rejuvenation is the POKO Phase I building, which is wrapped in more than just Tyvek.  It’s wrapped in a shroud of secrecy.

What do we know about Phase I?  We know that up until City Hall filed a lawsuit against Milligan, the half-built structure was due to re-start construction any day.  We‘ve since learned, Citibank filed for a default extension and the city denied it.  However, Citibank (or somebody) wants to grow Phase I to other parcels, now owned by Milligan.  It’s interesting that the move to acquire more land for Phase I comes from the same bank that assured council members in 2014 that the project was secure. Wasn’t this the reason the LDA  extension was granted in the first place?  Now, like a bad virus, Citibank wants to spread the original project to neighboring parcels.

I’ve read part of the LDA Phase I requirements. It calls for a parking garage containing no fewer than 256 spaces – where a minimum of 100 spaces are allocated to the public.  There are 102 residential units, and more than 20% of the residential units are supposed to be “deed restricted so as to require such units to comply, in perpetuity, with the requirements of both Section 118-1050 of the Zoning Regulations as the same may be amended from time to time, and Section 8-30g-8 of the Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies, as the same may be amended from time to time, so as to qualify each such unit as a “workforce Housing Unit” and an “affordable unit,” respectively.”  There is to be no less than 20,598 +/- square feet of ground floor retail and cultural performance space. Recreational space will be via an occupant-accessible rooftop garden. Ground-level live/work space is also included for not more than 10,828 +/- square feet.  Interestingly, the LDA acknowledged that present Zoning Regulations didn’t permit live/work space, but that the RDA would support the Redeveloper’s request to amend the zoning regulations.

In the interest of transparency, so craved by taxpayers, can City Hall answer the following:

  • What went wrong with Phase I?
  • What exactly does the City want from Milligan, when it appears their focus should be on Citibank?
  • If mediating with Citibank, why not include Milligan?
  • How will the City resolve the other property lawsuit over reverse condemnation by another owner?
  • Couldn’t all this costly taxpayer funded litigation be avoided if officials sat down and talked with all the relevant stakeholders?

City Hall repeatedly claims it can’t publicly share  any information because of the lawsuit over the Phase II and Phase III properties.  This is infuriating because taxpayers are picking up the litigation costs.   It’s well past time for City Hall to repossess Phase I from Citibank and start again.  They also need to start providing answers to taxpayers picking up the legal bill instead of hiding behind Tyvek wrapping.

 

Lisa Brinton

 

Lisa Brinton is a Norwalk activist and former Mayoral candidate.

11 comments

Jason Milligan October 21, 2018 at 7:02 am

The city should have a singular focus for Wall St.

FIX PHASE 1!

Everything else is a distraction.

Bill Nightingale October 21, 2018 at 7:42 am

Until the Redevelopment Agency is abolished and totally removed from POKO it will continue to go mowhete. The structure simply needs to be auctioned at market clearing price with no conditions attached. LDA has to be torn up. That is the only way. Mark my words.

cc-rider October 21, 2018 at 10:47 am

I have no confidence that if given a blank slate some equally convoluted second plan would not arise. I second the idea to auction it off and get the city out of the commercial real estate biz.

PIBerman October 21, 2018 at 11:31 am

Thoughtful article. The buck stops at the Mayor’s desk. Maybe its time to revisit our long tradition of electing Mayors without any business experience.

Alan October 21, 2018 at 12:31 pm

What has the Redevelopment Agency accomplished? What does it cost the taxpayers? How many people does it employ? Perhaps the RDA and City Hall have been an impediment to sound development. I agree. Shut it down ASAP. Defund it in the next budget.

Patrick Cooper October 21, 2018 at 12:44 pm

Purple pigs will fly in a perfect “V” formation down East Avenue before old man mayor Harry answers the taxpayers. They simply can’t share the truth because once seen in the light, it ends the game – for Harry, and for many of his crony enablers. Truth and facts are managed in Norwalk – and what doesn’t help the party or can’t otherwise be spun to make poop look like a diamond – gets buried and sealed with NDA’s. Yes, Norwalk suffers “mushroom management” at the hands of our amature officials. #vote your wallet!

Hugh Sling October 21, 2018 at 12:47 pm

Corruption and ineptitude matching that which occurs daily in Washington. Here it’s the Dems, in DC it’s the GOP. All a bunch of sleazeballs.

carol October 21, 2018 at 1:58 pm

taxpayers unite–
1-abolish the redevelopment agency and its commissioners who have been there forever
2-sue harry and the city for the debacle that is wall street
3-demand a reduction in taxes until this is resolved using taxpayers $$$$. without our consent
4-demand outside professionals not picked by the mayors office to oversee the wall street challenge
5-unite behind Jason and his murals and his vision for wall street.

Nancy McGuire October 22, 2018 at 8:09 am

Allow the tax credits to expire which will motivate Citibank to sell the building at its current market clearing price. A new developer can build a mixed use building with retail and apartments or condos above with adequate parking in the basement. As part of his permitting approvals, he can build the badly needed Metro North train platform for the Wall Street Station. The Department of Public Works can finish the job with a one way Wall Street between Belden and Main Street with angled parking. Then the Redevelopment Agency can move it’s focus to the riverfront. Cost to the city: paint for parking space stripes, new light posts, and walkway paving.

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