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Milligan decries ‘Zoning Artwork Police,’ fights Norwalk City Hall

A banner hangs Monday on the second floor of Wall Street property owned by Jason Milligan.

Updated, 12:04 p.m.: Copy edits

NORWALK, Conn. – Jason Milligan’s relentless onslaught upon what he calls the “anti-business, anti-success, anti-dentite, anti-artwork, and now anti-smoothie Zoning office of Norwalk” continued this week, with the real estate broker following up his speech at a Monday meeting with a barrage of emails Tuesday-Friday.

Bad news came Friday: Milligan was informed that the artwork he had painted at 97 Wall St. was being cited as a violation of the Zoning regulations.

“What exactly is zoning for? They are out of control!” Milligan wrote in an email to the press, with the subject line “Zoning Artwork Police”.

Milligan in another email chain pushed Zoning to consider an application by “Mr. Mango” to open at 97 Wall St., although he’s been told it can’t be done while he is under citation for having a non-conforming tenant on the property.

Milligan’s quest to fill spaces at 97 Wall St. has inspired several emails, in which he sparred with Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin about September’s recommendation that he submit a request for a text amendment to allow a dentist on the first floor; a massage parlor could take the space instead, Milligan said.

Milligan’s mural at 21 Isaac St. was recently cited as being against the Zoning regulations; in receipt of a citation for his mural at 97 Wall, Milligan fired back with complaints on other murals around town.

Milligan email barrage 18-1102

 

‘I became an activist’

Milligan and Richard Olson of POKO Partners are being sued by Norwalk and the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency, because Olson sold Milligan’s Wall Street Opportunity Fund properties that were governed by a Land Disposition Agreement as they were slated to be used as part of Wall Street Place phases two and three, the development commonly referred to as “POKO.” The lawsuit alleges that the sale was in violation of the LDA, because the Redevelopment Agency had not approved the transfer.

Norwalk Chief of Staff Laoise King, left, and real estate broker Jason Milligan look up from a conversation Monday in City Hall. Milligan said he hadn’t spoken to her in four months, recently calling her “chief of stealth;” he declined to say what they discussed.

Milligan was previously sued for a land use decision; in 2016 the Norwalk Public Library Foundation appealed the Zoning Commission’s approval of Milligan’s plan to build 69 apartments at 11 Belden Ave. The lawsuit was settled when the City agreed to pay Milligan $460,000 for a six-year purchase option for his property.

“When they kicked my ass, sued me and made me look like villain, I became an activist,” Milligan said Wednesday to NancyOnNorwalk, pointing out that he’s been a real estate investor in Norwalk for 17 years, “kicking and screaming” privately about regulations but saying nothing in public.

“Zoning can make your life miserable,” he said.

 

A dentist, a massage parlor, or…?

Planning Commissioners in September told Milligan that he should submit a text amendment proposal to allow the dentist to open in a first floor space on Wall Street, in the CBD-A zone. This was after Kleppin explained that the change is proposed in the West Avenue/Wall Street Neighborhood Plan that is now ready for review, and said he would not feel comfortable suggesting an individual change when he is responsible for the overall picture.

Milligan on Tuesday emailed the Planning Commission, writing, “I believe that we all care about Norwalk and that we want to make it a better place. Where we might disagree is how to get there… I have been trying to share my perspective and trying to make changes to zoning that will help small business and help our city. I have operated successfully in Norwalk for nearly 20 years. I could go on operating with the current rules, so please don’t think my suggestions are purely self-serving. Surely I will benefit from better rules but the larger intent is to help everyone.”

To Commissioner David Davidson he wrote, “I 100% understand your position on the dentist. You feel like it is me asking you, zoning, the city for a favor or an accommodation. You also feel that Steve Kleppin tried to make it as easy as possible for me to just submit a simple one-page application….. the question is why is it my responsibility to request the one-sentence text change slightly ahead of the major overhaul schedule.”

“You and the others are arguing for your dysfunctional system,” Milligan wrote. “… I understand that you are 82 and I may not change your mind. I still appreciate you taking the time to talk to me tonight, and you do genuinely seem to care.”

“Mr. Mango” serves a smoothie Monday on Wall Street.

“I have a massage parlor that desperately wants the space at 97 Wall st. For many reasons I would prefer the dentist however the process that you insisted I follow was not acceptable or financially viable,” Milligan wrote to Kleppin on Wednesday. “… Are you willing to sponsor and accelerate the one sentence to allow medical on the 1st floor in the CBDA zone?”

Kleppin replied, “Had you submitted the text amendment as instructed, the item could have placed on the October 4th Zoning Commission meeting for consideration and had they agreed there was merit in pursuing it, the public hearing on the change might have been on as early as tomorrow night’s agenda…. I did see your email below.  I didn’t know you couldn’t change your mind at 82.  Very enlightening.”

Milligan replied, “I didn’t say if you are 82 you cannot change your mind. Dave is the one that has told me each time that I have seen him that he is 82. I merely recognized that fact and stated that you may not change your mind. You are half Dave’s age and clearly you are not wiling {cq} to change your mind!”

 

 

‘Mr. Mango’

An Aug. 30 notice of Zoning violations states that a motor vehicle repair facility is being operated out of 97 Wall St. in violation of City code. Assistant Planning and Zoning Director Mike Wrinn now states that the application for Mr. Mango cannot be processed until that violation is cured, according to Milligan.

Milligan in a Thursday email claimed that he had spoken to Assistant Corporation Counsel Brian McCann, who supports his contention that Mr. Mango could move through the process so that the paperwork could be ready to sign when the auto repair business leaves the property.

McCann, in an email forwarded by Milligan to NancyOnNorwalk, does not express an opinion but states that it’s up to Zoning to ask for assistance from the Law Department, which it has not done.

“I am hopeful that you and the Zoning Department can cooperate and get this zoning violation worked out smoothie, I mean smoothly,” McCann wrote.

“I am doing everything in my power to remove Fredy’s auto repair business,” Milligan wrote to McCann and Wrinn. “If he successfully defends the eviction and is able to squat in the space based upon some legal or technical issue you’re telling me that you can’t lift a finger to even consider Mr. Mango.”

Milligan quotes Wrinn as writing, “Attached is Section 118-1420E of the Building Zone Regulations. Clearly this precludes me from approving a zoning permit with a zoning violation on the property. I was trying to work through the matter with the auto use. I have even spoken to the attorneys of the owner of a Church Street property, and they are taking action on moving an application forward for a replacement auto use.  You have complicated a possible solution to the auto use on this site by creating another violation on this property. I would love to have Mr. Mangoes go in the proposed space but you have tied my hands. I actually have his permits written up and ready to issue.”

 

 

Murals everywhere

Milligan on Thursday said that the recently painted mural at 97 Wall St., which depicts a historical view of Mill Hill, had been cited as being in violation of the Zoning regulations. He has been threatened with a $150 a day fine.

The finished mural at 97 Wall St. (Jason Milligan)

Milligan wrote to Zoning Inspector John Hayducky:

“I have heard so many times that Norwalk enforces its zoning regulations equally and evenly. I have repeated and strong evidence to the contrary. The most recent example is the lightning speed that your office and you issued a zoning violation against some wall art at a property I own at 21 Isaacs St.

“On October 11th 2018 a formal zoning complaint was made. On October 12th a violation was issued. 12-hour turnaround is amazing.

“…You should keep in mind that State law gives government 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.

“I responded to your violation letter immediately. I have called and emailed you incessantly and you have ignored every attempt to contact you.

“I have covered the wall art and therefore satisfied the violation.”

 

 

NancyOnNorwalk has a copy of the email Lightfield sent to file a complaint about the mural. It is dated Oct. 5.

Lightfield wrote:

“Attached is a new mural that Jason Milligan sponsored on one of his properties. You will note that it has business names within the artwork. I believe the zoning regulation is quite specific in regards to art becoming classified as signage when business names are depicted.

“In the macro I fully support art as wayfinding, and were it up to me, I would change the zoning regulation. However, unless I’m mistaken, it remains as I’ve described.

“Thus this is presents an awkward moment in the history of community development as I’m formally making a complaint.”

 

The Tyvek covered artwork at 21 Isaac St. on Tuesday. The artwork is across the street from “POKO,” the Tyvek-covered stalled construction of Wall Street Place phase I.

Milligan covered the artwork at 21 Isaac St. with Tyvek, a poke at the Tyvek covering “POKO” across the street. Wrinn said Monday that he was thinking about whether that would cure the violation.

Milligan in a Thursday phone call with NancyOnNorwalk called the latest citation “asinine.” The mural does not cover more than 50 percent of the wall because the wall stretches back to the end of the building, he said, explaining that although there’s a gap between different parts of the building, it’s still the same building, as evidenced in the complaint against the auto repair business.

“Making a distinction between artwork and signage is pretty straight forward,” Milligan wrote to City officials. “Zoning should be regulating signage and zoning should not be regulating artwork. 432 people agree and they have signed the petition requesting the recent murals remain as created by the artist, and recommending that Zoning stop regulating art. You are stepping into pretty settled 1st amendment case law when you start limiting freedom of speech and freedom of expression.”

Norwalk Communications Manager Joshua Morgan and Chief of Staff Laoise King did not reply to an email from NancyOnNorwalk asking if a complaint had been filed against the mural at 97 Wall, and if a citation would be issued on Milligan’s mural on the Isaac Street dead end.

 

‘Super Mario’

Milligan on Friday addressed an email to “Super Mario,” Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola, attacking what Milligan believes is the foundation of the City’s lawsuit, the idea that the properties he bought from Olson are needed to complete the second and third phases of Wall Street Place.

“The three phases of POKO were never a realistic or viable project even when the Redevelopment Agency had the power of eminent domain. There are so many properties that are owned and controlled by private parties that have long-standing successful businesses in them. There is no reasonable way to acquire all of the properties needed to complete all three phases of POKO,” Milligan wrote.

Phase One is non-compliant with the Zoning regulations because it doesn’t have enough parking. The Zoning Commission allowed POKO to reduce the parking on Phase One, with the expectation that the necessary spaces would be provided on Phase Two, an expectation that was invalidated when Milligan bought the properties.

“Recently two parcels, #11 & #13 Leonard St were sold on the open market in an arms length transaction to the owner of #9 Leonard st. #11 and #13 are part of the POKO development plan,” Milligan wrote. “Now the owner of these three contiguous properties has filed application to build a 28 apartment building above retail. If there was any doubt about the viability of the Phase II or Phase III this project surely puts the nail in the coffin.”

Milligan then wrote to Attorney Joseph Williams, who is representing the Redevelopment Agency in its lawsuit against Olson and Milligan, and copied the press.

“It has been reported that you represent the Redevelopment Agency but people have wondered if your greater allegiance is to Mario Coppola who has no role at the Agency,” Milligan wrote. “… I continue to gather evidence and build a 1983 civil rights lawsuit against Mario and others.”

Coppola recently called Milligan’s accusations “completely false and libelous.”

“Unfortunately, Mr. Milligan continues to personally attack me, as well as other City officials, in the media in what appears to be an attempt to take the focus away from his actions which are the subject of the pending litigation,” Coppola wrote to NancyOnNorwalk in September.

Williams’ response to Milligan’s Friday email was an email to Milligan’s attorney, David Rubin, stating:

“Still more unhelpful missives from your client.  I am sure your client knows that I cannot respond directly to him, and he must understand that copying the media on his emails does not engender good faith communication.  My client, the Redevelopment Agency, has made clear its preference that any discussions proceed through counsel.  The invitation stands.”

 

“I don’t know what it means to engender good faith communication, but I am pretty sure filing frivolous lawsuits doesn’t engender good faith communication,” Milligan wrote to NancyOnNorwalk. “Hiring Joe Williams did not engender a good use of taxpayer money…

“For the record I am happy to have a discussion or meeting with the Redevelopment Agency and their counsel ‘Crony Joe’ Williams. Mario’s crony Joe is unwilling to meet or talk without Super Mario present. Mario being present is a non-starter. Makes you wonder who Joe works for, and whose interests are being served.”

17 comments

Milly November 3, 2018 at 8:31 am

Is it fair for an independent business to have to pay $3,000 a month because a person bought the parking lot their customers need to use?

bryan November 3, 2018 at 8:50 am

The commercial value of a parking space if $15,000 and the owner has to maintain it, pay property taxes, etc…. Nothing in life is free.

Jason Milligan November 3, 2018 at 9:02 am

Milly,

Can you explain that comment a little better?

Who is paying $3000 for what?

Which is better: Not having a place to park because a parking lot is covered in rotten construction materials, broken glass and blight or having 137 clean, fresh and bright parking spaces to park in, but you have to pay a fee like every other place in the world.

There are fees to park at the maritime garage, Yankee Doodle garage, 20 Main st lot, Mechanic St lot, library lot…

There is no doubt that the City leadership mishandled the POKO situation. It could be a lot worse though.

The Leonard St lot is still a parking lot and the public is allowed to use it. There is a land restriction that requires 88 public parking spaces be provided on the lot in perpetuity. Granted, there is a fee to use the parking, but the city saves the expense of snow removal, electricity for lights, dirt and debris removal, landscaping, tree pruning, signage, etc. The city receives property tax revenue for the lot. The city could always decide to subsidize or pay for the public to park in the lot. They could eliminate the property taxes charged, or pay some of the upkeep costs.

At one time there was free parking on this lot and the Isaacs st lot. Well now there is no Isaacs st lot and people have to pay to park at the Leonard st lot.

A better question to ask: Is it fair that we have a Tyvek Temple standing over the spot that 100 public parking spaces should be? Is it fair that the current owner is not providing the 100 public parking spaces during construction like they are supposed to?

Jason Milligan November 3, 2018 at 10:00 am

$15,574.87.

As of yesterday, that is how much I have paid my attorney fighting the frivolous & nonsensical lawsuit.

That money could have paid for 5-6 more muarls…

My attorney has not stepped foot in a courtroom yet. The money was all spent on procedural B.S., filings, phone calls, emails etc.

If my bill is that high then imagine how much “Crony Joe” Williams has billed the City? Someone should FOIA his bills, and we should all keep an eye on the balance as it grows.

Super Mario’s strategy is to bully me. Use the City’s resources to wear me down and waste my money hoping I become desperate.

Same strategy he used on the library. I guess he likes losing.

Why is he still here and why is anybody listening to him?

Rick November 3, 2018 at 11:37 am

The diner on Ct ave is a classic example why city hall has taken this way too far. The artist there on Ct ave passed away many years ago the mural was touched up 2 years ago. When did the city decide art was disposable? They must now take down all the murals including the Ct ave diner one.

Its time to look at who is not running the city and what needs to be done to fix it.

The art on the traffic signal boxes should be the next target an article this week shows the city need’s eye candy to boost its image, city hall has destroyed any chance of unity over this fight.

Anyone consider what this is costing the city?

Typical move by the city Zoning Inspector John Hayducky: should of pursued the dust from the PCB hazardous waste site when Ryan park was attempting to clean up along with the dust from the construction day st.

A call Friday showed no test results or data from Norwalk to the EPA has been sent its been two months now the EPA is still waiting. We at a meeting in South Norwalk were told the data was on the way about two months ago.

Now those who have been hospitalized from Washington village with respiratory related sickness may have a case against the city.

City hall has priorities health and welfare of this city is not over murals zoning and compliance of out dated laws and old school egos.

Our law department must show a surge in spending, contributions to Rilling shows what law offices have been used.

Piberman November 3, 2018 at 12:20 pm

Nice reporting Nancy. Norwalk’s leaders have never quite figured out that a vibrant successful City needs encourage new business opportunities. Bringing good jobs for City residents and many opportunities to congregate day and night in a pleasant, safe Downtown.

But relative to its size Norwalk has the smallest business sector of any CT City. Sadly thtat’s not going to change. Nor our 10% poverty rate. Imagine what could happen if City Hall was as enthusiastic about securing new business as it is for Developers bringing renters. Imagine if our large numbers of lower income residents had opportunities other than working in low pay Big Box. Or if we had office buildings Downtown. We could be a “real proud City”.

Jason Milligan November 3, 2018 at 12:59 pm

432 people have signed the petition to Save the Wall Art.

Sign here: https://tinyurl.com/yc2mnzfv

How sad would it be to alter or remove all of the nice murals at O’Neils, Post Rd Diner, Valencia just because the regulations don’t make sense?

Milly November 3, 2018 at 1:58 pm

The story I read in the hour about Audiotronics having to pay you $2250 a month for 25 parking spots. But I am all for tearing down that barely built unnecessary apartment building that never should have been started in the first place.

Jason Milligan November 3, 2018 at 2:18 pm

I have a very good relationship with the owners of Audiotronics. That article in the Hour was click bait. {…}

I can tell you that Audiotronics is very happy. Instead of homeless people drinking and sleeping under the overgrown trees and scaring away business now there is Waypointe and other residents cutting through.

The area is much better off. We just need the city to drop the lawsuit and engage in a worthwhile discussion.

The lawsuit literally will get them nothing. The rights they are suing to protect I readily agree to. They can go after the former owner for damages but they would have to prove damages and collecting damages against a bankrupt company is impossible.

Reality will eventually kick in. Poor decisions were made. 3 phases of POKO was never going to fly.

We should just take stock of where we are and make the best decisions going forward. Eventually, the city will have to work with me.

I make a wonderful teammate. Ask anyone who has been on my team.

Edited to remove ascribing of motives without proof, a violation of the comment policy.

Mitch Adis November 4, 2018 at 8:35 am

I bet City Hall. I mean Jackie… didn’t expect reporting the Wall Street murals would impact all the others around the City. Oops. BTW. Where is Jackie ?

Tysen Canevari November 4, 2018 at 5:31 pm

Wall Street used to be so nice. I have fond memories of riding the magic carpet from the first floor of Howlands up to the second floor which was occupied by Sears. Walk down the street and you could get just about anything at Woolworths. Oh, and the lovely old lady that worked the kitchenette there would make you a hot dog in no time. Next, it was off to Kiddytown to buy some AFX cars or some trains and ride the little carnival ride that still sits in My Three Sons today. Head over to the opposite side of the street to see Mr Newman at merchants bank and then over to Greenbergs to use my Greenberg dollars! If you needed groceries you could walk over to Pathmark and grab a slice at LaVilla pizza. Royal Sporting goods was always available to sell you the nicest sneakers for school. FYI parking in the garage was free as well! Wwhat the heck happened to the gem of a neighborhood we called Wall Street? If Jason Milligan wants to invest his money to improve it then let him. Instead we fight over artwork on the wall. Should we just Tyvek Wall street and call it acceptable? Miss the good old days!

Debora Goldstein November 5, 2018 at 11:35 am

Attacking Mr. Davidson for his age is uncalled for. Dave Davidson is one of the most thoughtful people I have ever worked with. He comes to every Planning Commission meeting armed with data to support his positions.

Mr. Milligan would do well to follow Mr. Davidson’s lead. His recommendation was reasonable and doable. (I was at the PC meeting discussed in this article.)

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