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Norwalk petition urges preservation of ‘wall art’

A mural being painted at 51 Isaac St., commissioned by property owner Jason Milligan. Asked if the mural is political, Milligan replied, “It’s art. People can make of it what they wish.” (Jason Milligan)

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.

The mural on the side of O’Neill’s pub in SoNo. (Jason Milligan)

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.

The mural at Valencia, located at 164 Main St.

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-wrapped Wall Street Place, visible from the “Leonard Street municipal lot,” now owned by Jason Milligan.

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.

He wrote:

“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!

Valencia, as seen from Main Street. (Jason Milligan)

“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?”

The finished mural at 97 Wall St. It represents Mill Hill from 300 years ago, Jason Milligan said. (Jason Milligan)

36 comments

Jason Milligan October 20, 2018 at 1:08 am

Where is Norwalk’s new “Chief of Stealth?

I believe that she is the one city employee that could bring diplomacy. Diplomacy is definitely needed.

Can someone tell her its staff not stealth?

She has been M.I.A. since getting promoted.

Adam Blank October 20, 2018 at 7:31 am

The zoning regulation limiting mural size should be deleted; but allowing murals to contain ads and logos for businesses is a very bad idea. That would allow Norwalk’s buildings to become billboards and it is not possible to simply allow those that some people like and disallow others on an ad hoc basis.

carol October 20, 2018 at 11:10 am

the murals are the best thing that has happened to wall street.
let them be,freedom of speech is being violated here and the powers that be can not stand when something good happens to wall street and they are not getting a part of it.
WAKE UP PEOPLE SUPPORT THESE MURALS.

Piberman October 20, 2018 at 11:27 am

Surrounded by well governed, admired and attractive Gold Coast towns Norwalk residents ought be delighted to have “wall art” brighten up their shabby Downtown – a long standing eyesore. Bring on t he Wall Artists. Along with higher property taxes, more renters and City Hall’s beloved Developers.
Maybe Norwalk could recast its image as “CT’s Wall Art City”. As it slides to Bridgeport. Wall Art is the most exciting activity to have occurred here in deades.

Dorothy Mobilia October 20, 2018 at 11:55 am

I agree with Adam. Murals, as public art, are part of the cityscape all around the country. That does not mean they should be billboards. Let them be art, not advertisements.

Rick October 20, 2018 at 11:58 am

Adam go to Ct ave and make the diner takes down the mural , while your at at it have your book burning event at the same time.

The mural at the diner was done by a person who has passed on, recently the diner had it touched up maybe we can make it possible to kick the diner out of Norwalk those kind of people need to be banned from the city , Im sure this will be an election tool for those wanting to destroy whats left of Norwhack.

Im sure Trump would help to have his face on something once he finds out Norwalks democrats are all on cheese doodles.

Why hasn’t this come up? The city needs to ban Joe Grits also , I doubt if most out here knows who he is , he made Norwalk popular and when you think about it after he was shot in Norwalk his music became even more popular.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6iQgY0YjkG4

Fighting city hall is not something new, its hows its been done in the past makes it so awesome.

Hasn’t it been the parking authority over the years who fought tagging?

Maybe its time to use everything we have to fight city hall.

Ban candy and give out spray paint and watch Mike melt.

Lisa Brinton Thomson October 20, 2018 at 1:27 pm

Folks shouldn’t lose sight of the bigger narrative associated with these murals: the utter failure of this administration to address the Tyvek Temple and it’s preoccupation with neighboring properties purchased by Mr. Milligan – not to mention the vindictive and unequal application and enforcement of city ordinances.

Jason Milligan October 20, 2018 at 3:23 pm

I agree that billboards should be regulated as signs and should have reasonable limitations. Striking the right balance between what is a billboard or sign or art is probably not an easy job when the lines are blurred ie a very artistic sign. Making the distinction for most of the pieces of wall art is very easy.

Coming down so quickly and so forcefully upon the wall art on 21 Isaacs st is clearly vindictive and malicious. The business names in the sign are secondary and not meant as signs or ads.

Just as the new electrical box located at the intersection of Main and Cross St/North Ave that has an old wagon with the words Post Office should not be considered an ad.

Lindsay Grega October 21, 2018 at 1:39 am

The craziness of this. Is this not the “arts district”? It’s not the most attractive part of Norwalk and these paintings add color and beauty and interest to the neighborhood. It’s not graffiti and it’s not offensive. Lighten up on the zoning regulations, we have bigger problems in this city than this.

Michael Foley October 21, 2018 at 11:59 am

This is a area of Norwalk that has been forgotten about for many years, the City tried finally to make changes to it and has failed. Some on their part and some on the developers part due a the death of one of the partners. There are many questions that are not answered and the future of the Poko developed is cloudy as the very best ! I do not believe that painting the sides of building in the area is the right thing to do and these murals are not done out of the goodness of anyones heart. Why cant everyone thats involved sitting down and talk to each other and try to find some common ground here.

Jason Milligan October 21, 2018 at 12:22 pm

Michael Foley,

“The murals are not done out of the goodness of anyones heart”?

Please explain why I am having the walls of the buildings painted?

The “Tyvek Temple” was erected out of the goodness of everyone’s heart. So many heartfelt promises and good intentions. It is all so lovely.

How does the saying go? The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

The artwork is terrific, period. For all to enjoy, even you.

Michael foley October 21, 2018 at 6:25 pm

You explain why your having them painted ? I don’t need to explain anything to you ! I’m entitled to a opinion just like you ! If you think the neighborhood should look that then that your opinion but comply with zoning regulations! If your neighbor painted their house with murals would that be ok for them to express there creative side ! Stop it !

Jason Milligan October 21, 2018 at 6:56 pm

Michael,

Your opinion was stated as fact. Since painting the murals was 100% my decision I am the only one who knows why I did it.

You also seem to be quite the zoning expert.

Do you own a home?

I’ll bet you $1000 that if you let me inspect your house for 30 minutes that I could find zoning, fire, and building violations.

Norwalk is suffocated by all the rules.

Time to refresh them and get rid of half of them.

Btw, I dont believe there is anything preventing you or anyone else from painting a mural on your house.

I can can give you the name of 2 wonderful artist.

Feel free to call me if you would like to discuss further.

I can fully explain why I had the murals painted.

Jason Milligan October 21, 2018 at 7:37 pm

Just spoke to Michael. Nice guy.

We agree more than we disagree.

Happy to speak to anyone who has an opinion about anything I am doing. So long as you have a serious interest in seeing Wall st succeed.

Do you hear that city hall?

Sid Welker October 22, 2018 at 8:55 am

Mr Milligan. I don’t mind the murals for the record. From what I see they look nice. But the one with the epee’s and the mayor is just distasteful. This is were you need to learn to rise above and not act like a scorned brat. All you doing is poking the bee’s hive. You had public support with scenic backgrounds on the other murals but that one is not art. You went too far. Don’t act innocent. No rebuttal of “well they started it” is needed. Sometimes you need to take the high road.

Jason Milligan October 22, 2018 at 9:00 am

Sid,

Thankfully the one you like least is hard to find at the end of a sketchy alley. The only reason to go back there is if you want to get your car repaired for a low price or you are a zoning inspector looking for violations…

The most beautiful and least controversial wall art is on Wall st.

Sid Welker October 22, 2018 at 9:22 am

One day maybe but until then I enjoy the retired life of online reading and scrolling. I like to be involved without doing anything. Ala Peter Berman, Jackie and other Norwalk mouths.

Marija Bryant October 22, 2018 at 11:34 am

Art is the “vision” of the person creating the work. Advertising/promotion is the “vision” of the person paying the $$$. The murals are, quite clearly, advertising/promotion for Milligan and, as such, are regulated by the rules for outdoor advertising for the area. That they are well-done is nice (kudos to the designers) but irrelevant.

“To live outside the law you must be honest” Bob Dylan said that. “Change the regs; don’t break them.” I said that.

Jason Milligan October 22, 2018 at 1:14 pm

Norwalk wants Innovation in the Wall Street area. We are working on an Innovation district. Well this is what innovation looks like…

in·no·va·tive

adjective

(of a product, idea, etc.) featuring new methods; advanced and original.

introducing new ideas; original and creative in thinking.

“an innovative thinker”

Innovators are required to get innovation. Can’t innovate by following the same old rules and processes.

I am willing to be engaged in the process for change, but I need a seat at the table.

Lisa Brinton Thomson October 22, 2018 at 1:41 pm

Kudos to Mr. Milligan! Those who challenge the idiocy of Norwalk’s broken system are frozen out or bullied by whomever the city establishment is at the time. It’s embedded in Norwalk’s culture and sadly explains our ‘”hole in the middle” status as a city. The inconsistent and unprofessional application of our zoning and ordinance regulations are well known. Just ask any cop, fireman, surveyor or developer about the violations in our city and you’ll get either an earful or shrug. The sad thing is, it’s kind of hard to shrug off increasing property taxes and decreasing property values. And, the past five years of earful has only resulted in 1) another layer of $1M management at city hall, 2) a salary increase for the Asst. Mayor (from 11% tax increase New Haven) and 3) a press agent/oped writer for the mayor to make us all feel better 🙂

Norwalk has no real downtown – but we’ll soon have a mall for our leafy neighbors, who look on us with disdain and more sales revenue to ship up to Hartford. #wecandobetter

Sid Welker October 22, 2018 at 1:49 pm

Mr. Milligan,

There will be no room at the table for someone who depicts murals of “the people” vs “the town”. Your causing further separation, not unity. That’s no way of getting invited.

con·tro·ver·sy
/ˈkäntrəˌvərsē/
noun
noun: controversy; plural noun: controversies

disagreement, typically when prolonged, public, and heated.
“he sometimes caused controversy because of his forceful views”

Jason Milligan October 22, 2018 at 2:14 pm

Marija,

Agree.

The example in your article was in Brazil and the art was done on public property.

My artwork is painted on private property. There is no criminal or vandalism element.

The argument is whether the paintings are wall art or signage.

Before anyone judges the artwork I strongly suggest that you go see all 3 murals in person. They were done with thoughtfulness both in location and substance. The scale is appropriate which may not come across in these news stories.

I feel confident that most people will be proud of this area soon, and this artwork will be widely celebrated. People are already going out of their way to go see them.

Jason Milligan October 22, 2018 at 2:31 pm

Sid,

Would you really prefer to live in a city devoid of controversy?

That typically only happens in dictatorships.

In a more open and thoughtful government it would not take such extremes to get attention or for “the people” to have a voice. “The people” of Wall st have tried to be involved, and we have largely been ignored.

It is understandable that some people are content with the way things are. That is a minority of the people of Norwalk, and it is not the position of this administration. This administration wants innovation and progress to somehow magically occur while demanding complete conformity, and by steadfastly following existing rules & procedures.

That is not how it works. You cannot have innovation or progress without change. Change by its very nature is often controversial…

Sid Welker October 22, 2018 at 2:38 pm

Jason,
We could all use change. Change is a good thing in most cases if things are stagnate. That being said its the way you go about it that dictates the results you aspire for. I think your tactics are bold and screaming for the opposite of what your trying to accomplish. The old saying of you get more with honey than vinegar goes a long way here. Extend the olive branch. Just a thought. But that one mural in question is filled with vinegar.

V October 22, 2018 at 5:04 pm

@Sid – it may just be that we are all getting inner look at how Milligan operates. For better or worse. Get used to it?

Jason Milligan October 22, 2018 at 5:23 pm

Two Way Street!

The city has ignored my attempts at diplomacy and instead filed 2 frivolous lawsuits against me. One they smartly dropped after a bit of pressure from my attorney.

Forgive me for not sending them flowers and giving them honey.

Drop the frivolous lawsuit and I will deliver a basket of honey and I will consider altering one mural they like the least??

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