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Norwalk roundup: Redevelopment on the move; concern over Briggs students; assessment appeals due

The First Taxing District building on Belden Avenue. (Google)

Updated, 11:03 a.m.: Copy edits

NORWALK, Conn. — Some Norwalk news items for you:

  • Potential Redevelopment move to Belden Avenue said to be part of library’s ‘perfect storm’
  • Penn-Williams repeats: Briggs kids are falling through the cracks
  • Deadline approaching on appeals to property assessments

 

Realizing Zullo’s dream

The Norwalk Redevelopment Agency is negotiating with the First Taxing District to lease space at the District’s building at 3 Belden Ave., next to the Norwalk Public Library. If negotiations bear fruit, the Redevelopment Agency would reportedly move out of City Hall and into the Wall Street area space.

News of the talks comes close on the heels of the announcement that Connecticut Public, the parent company of Connecticut Public Television (CP-TV) and Connecticut Public Radio (WNPR), is partnering with the City to create a joint Library and Media Center at NPL’s Belden Avenue facility, possibly incorporating the First Taxing District building or the space it occupies.

“The decision by the city and the Redevelopment Agency to seek to become tenants at the First Taxing District building is an essential next step for the library partnership with CP-TV, because it replaces five-year commercial leases held by the former tenant insurance companies that included a right of first refusal to purchase the First District building if it were offered to anyone else,” Norwalk Public Library Board of Trustees Chairman Alex Knopp said Tuesday.

The Redevelopment Agency went into executive session at its December and January meetings to discuss First Taxing District property. Discussion and a possible vote on a potential lease with the District were scheduled for  Tuesday’s meeting, but that was snowed out.

“While Redevelopment Agency’s intent to lease the property is known the Commission needs to take affirmative action on the lease terms, before I can offer public comment,” Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan said Wednesday in an email.

Norwalk Communications Manager Joshua Morgan said the City would have no comment while negotiations are ongoing.

Knopp, former Norwalk Mayor, said he is not involved in the negotiations.

The insurance companies moved out in December, which removed a major roadblock for the library to move forward, and created “the ‘perfect storm’ of good conditions that happened” in late summer and early fall, he said.

“Prior to the City’s decision to move forward, the library was faced with a five-year black out on being able to either utilize the space or have the city purchase the space because of the pre-existing commercial lease conditions,” Knopp said.

Under the lease, if the City had made an offer, the insurance companies would have had the right of first refusal and would have been able to buy the building from the First Taxing District.

“The library feels very grateful to the city for moving so promptly,” Knopp said. “It’s unlikely that I could have offered a partnership to CPTV without knowing that eventually the City would be able to negotiate a much brighter future for the First District site that would recognize the vision of former Mayor (Frank) Zullo, to have the site be utilized for the benefit of the library.”

Zullo died in May. He was First Taxing District Chairman.

Knopp said that he met with the First Taxing District and the Mayor’s Office “several times over the past years” to negotiate long-term proposals, but until the City purchased a six-year option to buy Milligan’s property at 11 Belden Ave., nothing could be done, Knopp said.  Zullo “was as always clear, that ultimately he wanted the library to be beneficiary of the First District property. Unfortunately he died before we could conclude those discussions but it was always a very central part of the discussion. So, the library is very pleased that the City will make it possible to have the library occupy that space as it appears, based on whatever the current negotiations are, which I am not involved in.”

 

 

Mini-riot or brief altercation?

There was a mini-riot last week in the Brien McMahon High School cafeteria, leading to expulsion hearings on 12 minority students, most of them former Briggs High School students, Norwalk Branch NAACP President Brenda Penn-Williams said Thursday to NancyOnNorwalk.

“Most of those kids in that fight were from Briggs. They don’t get the services that they need,” she said.

Another community member also reported hearing of a “mini-riot” involving former Briggs students.

“There was a brief altercation last week that was handled by administrators in accordance with the Code of Conduct.  Characterizing it as anything else is divisive, and does a disservice our diverse student body and to the good work going on at the school,” Norwalk Public Schools Communications Director Brenda Wilcox Williams wrote Monday.

The Norwalk Pathway Academy at Briggs, formerly known as Briggs High School, was closed last year by the Board of Education.

“We know this program has to end at some point because it can’t stay in that building, which can’t be remodeled or renovated because it doesn’t meet standards,” Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said in March. “I think this is the time we have to do that. We will have a blended learning classroom at each high school by the end of this year so those students can continue their program, we can keep them on a flexible schedule like they are now. But the great advantage of having them in the high school is that so many of these students could benefit in taking subjects in other areas, which they cannot do at Briggs. So we are not doing justice at Briggs from an educational standpoint.”

The Board’s Curriculum Committee in January discussed the Briggs transition. NancyOnNorwalk did not attend the meeting; draft minutes say:

“Dr. {Norwalk Public Schools Chief Academic Officer Brenda} Myers stated that when the decision was made that Briggs would close, students were under credited when they moved to the high schools. She stated that they’ve added description and naming opportunities and requirements. Mr. Singleton stated that there were eight active students, that some were lost because they’d stopped coming to school. He stated that the most exciting development is that one of the students would be taking two honors classes.”

 

NancyOnNorwalk emailed Board of Education Curriculum Committee Chairman Bruce Kimmel and asked what the rest of the story might be, and how many students were “lost.”

“We plan to discuss this issue at a future board meeting. That’s when the official data will be reviewed,” Kimmel replied.

Wilcox Williams did not reply directly to the question about “lost” Briggs students.

“For the record, former students from Norwalk Pathways Academy are now part of the Brien McMahon and Norwalk High School communities, with access to credit recovery programs and to additional supports to help them be successful.  While not everyone may reach the finish line at the same time or in the same way, NPS’s recent graduation rate speaks for itself,” she wrote.

The Code of Conduct requires that students who are involved in a fight be subject to expulsion hearings, a knowledgeable source said.

Wilcox Williams wrote:

“For privacy reasons, we’re not going to talk about specific discipline details.

“But appropriate action included any student involved and was not limited to minority students.

“It’s not true that this incident involved ‘mostly Briggs kids.’ That kind of mis-characterization is not fair to our former NPA students.”

 

Penn-Williams has repeatedly accused the Board of Education of “miseducating” Briggs students.

 

Appeals deadline is Feb. 20

“The City of Norwalk reminds taxpayers they have until the close of business on Wednesday, February 20, 2019 to appeal their most-recent tax assessment,” a press release said, continuing:

“Owners of taxable real estate who experienced changes in property value, and all owners of business personal property should expect Assessment Change Notices from the Tax Assessor’s office. Change notices will inform property owners of their new assessments and provide instructions on how to appeal their assessments to the Board of Assessment Appeals (BAA).

“Visit norwalkct.org/assessor to obtain BAA appeals applications and to schedule hearings with the BAA. Taxpayers will need a Login and Access Code, which are located on the bottom of the notification letter, to schedule an appeal online. For more information or questions on the appeal process, please call the Norwalk Tax Assessor’s office at (203) 854-7888.”

One comment

John ONeill February 14, 2019 at 11:46 am

The assessment revaluation has been inconsistent at best, and deeply flawed. I sampled approx. 80 properties in the West Norwalk and Rowayton districts. MORE than 15% of those properties were over valued by the city by 10% or greater. MORE than 15% were undervalued by 10% or greater. How is that possible with the technology we have at our disposal? In a nutshell, the revaluation process is a deeply flawed and should be tossed out. For those homeowners who have a discounted tax bill, congratulations. For the homeowners who have overinflated property values, you need to FIGHT as your city is screwing you.

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