NORWALK, Conn. – The “optimal size for a city like Norwalk” is one of many questions residents have regarding a plan which could guide the city’s development for the next decade.
Walkability, the “rusted hulk of an abandoned outlet” that is the Manresa Island former powerplant and the desire for a bookstore were also mentioned by citizens last week at the last Planning Commission public hearing on the drafted 10-year city-wide master plan, otherwise known as the Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD).
Norwalk has been working on a new master plan for more than a year, with the effort now reaching the point where Norwalk’s volunteer leaders – appointed and elected officials – can scrutinize, tweak or revise the work that’s been turned in by the City’s consultant, Stantec, in response to public input at a series of meetings.
There’s still time for you to weigh in, as the public comment period goes through Thursday. Visit http://stantec.civicomment.org/norwalk-citywide-plan to view the plan and/or leave comments.
“I expect the Planning Commission will review all comments in the next month or so and see where we are,” Planning Commission Chairwoman Fran DiMeglio wrote in a Wednesday email to NancyOnNorwalk.
Meanwhile, here are some thoughts from your fellow citizens:
Neaderland thinks it over
“I didn’t find anything in the report that approached goals,” said Adolph Neaderland. “What you have is a lot of words, adjectives, for goals. Especially, ‘vibrant.’ I can’t tell you how many times ‘vibrant’ is used in the plan. I don’t know what ‘vibrant’ means. It may mean different things to different groups. There was no definition of that.”
Neaderland helped guide the POCD effort as a representative of the Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations (CNNA) on the POCD Oversight Committee. At Tuesday’s public hearing, he said he had read the entire “483 pages” and had concerns about the process.
“We as a group, you folks, myself as a member of NASH (Norwalk Association of Silvermine Homeowners) and CNNA, have done a lousy job of outreach,” he said, lamenting that there wasn’t even 1 percent of the population at the meeting.
While the plan talks a lot about development, “there is nothing in the report that indicated any background information that the consultant might have for all the work that they do to indicate what might be the optimum size for a city like Norwalk,” Neaderland said. He asked what the best ratio of apartment dwellers to homeowners might be. “…(Stantec) did a lot of work, no question, and I feel partially responsible because I went to all the meetings, but this didn’t occur to me until I read these 480 pages. Most of that was data from Census… I didn’t think there was much substance in the report.”
“The biggest potential for major improvement is Manresa,” former Conservation Commissioner Bill Nightingale said Tuesday, noting that it’s not in the plan.
It is, Planning Commissioners said.
“The Manresa site of a decommissioned coal-fired power plant attracts the most attention (of major sites of potential future open space interest),” the plan states on page 121. “The future use of the land has been under study.”
“Turn that thing into a park that the public can use, to give public access, a sports field, but that is something that should be done and supervised,” he said. “… Having that rusted hulk of an abandoned outlet there is just such an atrocity that we would tolerate that. It’s unbelievable…. It’s just astonishing that we are sitting here and doing nothing about it.”
Planning Commissioner Nora King said something is being done.
“We had a really great meeting,” regarding the site, King said, with talk of a marine university or a combination of a marina and solar farms.
The power plant was built in 1955; NRG Energy Inc. bought it from Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P) in 1999, and Norwalk in 2016 invested $75,000 to help the Manresa Association pay for a study of options for the 124-acre property, of which about 45 acres contain coal ash.
“The final report/recommendations from the Economic Impact Analysis (EIA) will be published in the next few days. As you’ll recall, the EIA was funded and overseen by a public/private partnership of the City of Norwalk and the Manresa Association,” Manresa Association President Charlie Taney wrote to NancyOnNorwalk on Friday, regarding the meeting King mentioned.
“NRG participated in the series of public workshops held to inform the public on the plan’s progress and to seek public input,” he added.
A bookstore? One you can walk to?
Norwalk needs a bookstore, several people said.
Bradley Craighead, leader of the Norwalk Green Association, remarked that he had posted that sentiment on Facebook two weeks ago and “people were all over” the idea of a Wall Street bookstore.
“We all love bookstores. However, we can’t force companies to come and do bookstores,” King replied.
The plan emphasizes the possibility of bringing a higher education element to Central Norwalk, she said.
“I think when you have that type of focus you encourage businesses like that to want to come and to be involved, to do that and embrace that,” King said. “… There’s a thought that (a bookstore is) not what the City wants. I do think the city does want that. I think the Mayor wants that, I think the people want it, the Commission wants it, I think Republicans want it, the Democrats want it. It it’s just bringing that about. I think you have do some of this other work.”
“I only use it as example because it’s symbolic of … the kind of community center that would really, I would like to see the City build or invest or prioritize around building,” Craighead replied. “We need to do the things around Norwalk to make them more sustainable not only to the people who live there but also to places that people want to drive to, park their cars and walk around. My plea is around doing what we can to change the perception that Norwalk is an unwalkable non-pedestrian-friendly city.”
“I think this plan reflects that,” King replied.
Neighborhood group seeks more input
“A plan for the next generation should be more than aspirational. Such a plan should help and guide the decisions,” CNNA Provisional Executive Committee Chairwoman Donna Smirniotopoulos said, reading a statement she said was approved by eight neighborhood associations.
Neighborhood associations send representatives to CNNA, and CNNA voted to approve the statement, NASH President Heather Dunn said.
The statement reiterated many comments made by Neaderland and other CNNA members, and also touched on an action item listed on page 206:
“Incorporate green infrastructure into public projects and establish a stormwater utility to fund drainage and green infrastructure projects.”
“We strongly object to the formation of a new and independent utility and to any additional tax burden on property owners based on contribution to stormwater,” the CNNA statement reads.
Norwalk Communications Manager Joshua Morgan in a Wednesday email said:
“The POCD provides a host of information and suggestions, all of which should be carefully considered. I’m sure you’ve seen in the POCD the mention of New London’s stormwater utility. Here is a link to their page: http://ci.new-london.ct.us/content/7429/7431/7459/18132.aspx.
“The draft POCD says the creation of a stormwater utility should be studied and created. What works in one municipality might not be applicable in Norwalk. Not everything proposed is feasible. A 10-year plan has to be broad, and incorporate many possibilities, including green alternatives and new technologies.”
“It is the consensus of our membership that the fine tuning currently planned is insufficient,” the CNNA statement reads. “As such, we would appreciate a special one-on-one meeting with the Council, Stantec and the Planning Commission to exchange views and to cover the following issues in open dialogue.” The full statement from CNNA is here.
“CNNA has had two members on the Oversight Committee,” DiMeglio wrote to NoN on Wednesday. “There have been two public hearings on this second draft of the POCD with the comment period remaining open until close of business on January 31. The Planning Commission will be reviewing all submitted comments and testimony.”
“Thank you for including Norwalk Public Schools in the POCD, which is a first,” Board of Education Chairman Mike Barbis said. Barbis promised that Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski would submit comments.
“A city does need a strategic plan and I guess the POCD is now meant to fill that role,” Barbis said. “It never has before, in the past I think it has ended up on a bookshelf.”
The BoE’s strategic plan “changed the way we operate and the way we fund programs and prioritize,” he said, and has been “incredibly valuable.”
“Please, let’s make this POCD fulfill that role for the city because the city as far as I am concerned, as a private individual as well as chairman of the Board of Ed, does not have a plan,” Barbis said.
CNNA member Debora Goldstein identified many copy edits needed in the plan, such as misidentified agencies. She promised to continue flagging mistakes, but expressed doubt that significant changes are possible. “You’re out of money. I don’t see how you are going to be able to do big substantial changes to this plan.”
Sandy Schmitt said she and her family moved to Norwalk from Long Island after looking around and deciding on “beautiful funky” South Norwalk.
“Norwalk is becoming a little Manhattan, we don’t like that,” she said.
“I don’t agree to theory that you have to continually add to the population in order to sustain your economy. There’s got to be a tipping point someplace,” former Council member Rich Bonenfant said. “…The taxpayers are kind of getting fed up with watching thousands of units going up.”
“What is our goal? Where do we want to be?” Bill Nightingale asked, asking when Norwalk would have to build a new sewage treatment system with all the development that is underway and envisioned.
Norwalk’s wastewater treatment plant can handle 18 million gallons a day and typically process 13 million gallons, the master plan says. Nightingale asked how that compares to other towns.
The Rev. John Cardamone said the 2008 plan suggested that the waterfront shouldn’t be walled off but the view he used to enjoy while driving down Sunset Hill is gone.
“I would have eminent domain and take over all the coastline. I don’t believe in building on the coast line,” he said. Goldstein applauded.
Mike McGuire said the plan does a good job in recommending a Wall Street train station, but slammed the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency.
“They need job security for the next three decades,” he said. “If you put a train station in, their job is done. The job of redevelopment is putting themselves out of business. They are not putting themselves out of business, they are looking for the next place to glom onto and that’s us. I have seen them stagnate things left and right. That’s one thing, you can stop them from doing that. Get behind this train station.”