Updated, 9:47 a.m.: Copy edits
NORWALK, Conn. – A complaint against a new Norwalk mural has been answered by a petition saying, “Stop Norwalk Zoning’s overreach!”
The petition posted by the Wall Street Neighborhood Association had 124 signatures as of 10 p.m. Friday. Meanwhile, real estate broker Jason Milligan has a third mural going up, and on Thursday peppered the City with emails pointing out that there are other murals that appear to violate the Zoning regulations, murals which have been around for years without Zoning enforcement.
“Oops. A little research and outreach might have been a good idea before launching into a violation campaign at lightning speed,” Milligan wrote in one email.
Neither Norwalk Communications Manager Joshua Morgan nor Assistant to the Mayor Laoise King responded to an email from NancyOnNorwalk asking for a response to Milligan’s emails, which were sent to Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin. Milligan said he got an “out of office” reply from Kleppin.
The Planning and Zoning Department on Oct. 12 cited Milligan’s first mural, at 21 Isaac St., after receiving a complaint that it included business names in its rendering of an alternative vision for Wall Street Place, the stalled development across the street. The inclusion of business names constitutes a violation of the Zoning regulations because they are in effect signs, the complaint from former Zoning Commission Chairwoman Jackie Lightfield said.
Milligan on Thursday wrote to Kleppin:
“I will likely have an attorney make a more formal response to the zoning violation you dated 10/12/18 and that I received on 10/16/18, but for now I want to let you know that we believe the artwork on the wall at 21 Isaac St is just that Art. The artwork is a rendition of a fictitious scene. It includes many area business names that are in the area listed in an artistic way, on random buildings. It is absolutely not an advertisement for anything other than the area in general. In fact, numerous people have gone out of their way to go see the artwork. The positive response has been overwhelming.
The mural Milligan commissioned at 97 Wall St. is complete, and a new one is being painted at 51 Isaac St., the dead-end next to the auto repair garage recently cited as being in violation of the Zoning regulations. The auto repair business is in the building referred to as both 97 Wall St. and 51 Isaac St., which he bought recently as part of the purchase of “POKO” phase II and III properties.
The petition posted Thursday is titled, “Save the Wall Art on Wall Street.”
“Let the Wall St Wall Art remain as created,” the petition states. “It is not hurting anyone. It is beautiful. It has provided a long-missing sense of pride in our neighborhood. It is a neighborhood improvement and much more in keeping with what this area is all about.”
Milligan on Friday evening said the point is it’s not a mural, it’s wall art.
“When does it become a mural? When does it become a sign?” he asked.
Although Lightfield mentioned the “signs” in the mural, the regulation cited by Deputy Zoning Inspector John Hayducky also states that the mural is out of compliance because it is more than 200 square feet or more than 50 percent of the wall surface and containing logos and signage.
The regulation says that a mural can be 200 square feet or 50 percent of the wall surface, whichever is greater. Milligan was given 15 days to correct the violation, after which he would be subject to a $150 a day fine.
Milligan on Thursday produced photos of “wall art” at on the side of Valencia restaurant at 164 Main St., a mural on the Post Road Diner and one at Donovan’s.
The “Tyvek Temple” violates the Zoning regulations because 100 percent of its walls are covered in logos and advertising for Tyvek, he said, referring to Wall Street Place.
“The Tyvek logos are adhered to paper with paint. This appears to be a violation of your zoning regulations. It is amazing that you and others have missed this building. It is the humongous ghostly eyesore that is looming over Wall st and ruining our downtown,” he wrote to Kleppin, copying the press.
“I know you are hard at work trying to amend the zoning regulations. You have admitted in writing on numerous occasions that you do not like the regulations. That they are outdated, contradictory and confusing. In light of your recognition of the failures of the zoning regulations and the fact that you are in the midst of overhauling them why don’t you slow your roll on the enforcement, especially for petty things that appear to be wanton, reckless and with malicious intent?
“You should also keep in mind that State law gives state officials and employees immunity from liability when discharging their duties and acting within the scope of their employment. But they are not immune from liability for wanton, reckless, or malicious acts. Yikes…”
In another email, Milligan wrote:
“Your departments issuance of an alleged zoning violation is has brought some of the more obscure sections that are buried deep in the Norwalk zoning regulations. Who knew that there were rules about murals? I do not believe that there is a definition of what a mural is, how you make a distinction between a mural and a sign, and then what is considered art. It is my belief, the belief of the artist, the belief of the WSNA, and the belief of the general public that the painting on my wall is artwork. I took a class in college that had a whole semester about ‘What is Art?’ The question was not ever settled, so it would be amazing if Norwalk’s Zoning Department could settle it once and for all. If you do then I will have to write to my professor with the great news!
“I believe that the artwork on my building is a covered under my 1st Amendment Rights of Free Speech and freedom of expression.
“Debating ‘What is Art’ is one thing, the more troubling aspect of your recent actions is the rapid speed at which your department came down on this artwork. It is way out of character given the slow or nonexistent response to the gigantic eyesore and massive zoning violation across the street, and your departments lack of response to so many other more pressing violations and complaints, especially violations that have to do with fire, health, safety. How can you as a human being feel good about the position you have taken?”