I participated in all three meetings leading to approval of the Redevelopment Agency’s Wall Street Plan: the Ordinance Committee, the Planning Committee and the recent Council meetings.
I conclude the current system of approval is flawed, lacks creative thinking, and needs serious revamping. There are multiple key issues.
At no point in the plan approval process is there recognition of local area voices. Three to five minutes of one-way presentations at a “hearing” can hardly be called an exchange of views.
Missing is dialogue, a chance to exchange and debate views.
Who “owns “ the area, taxpaying stakeholders who live in the city, or a small group of political “appointees” and/or semi-autonomous Redevelopment folks and/or salivating developers?
This issue was raised at the last POCD Oversight meeting by a member who asked “Should City planning be top down or bottom up?” (Ignored by the Chair, without discussion.)
My choice is “bottom up,” accounting for and recognizing local sentiment.
Consider that in October 2017, at the first POCD citywide session, and at the multiple meetings that followed, the vast majority of attendees reiterated: “no more multi-story mixed use residential construction in downtown Norwalk.” That sentiment is totally ignored in the current plan.
Also missing is any reference to the Hodge Economic report, which points to “light industrial” as a route to increasing Grand List return, all of which received only a casual mention.
Currently, virtually all industrial-zoned buildings have been or are being up-zoned to residential!
Financial support for the plan from grants is based on fixing area “blight.” (The blight designation is simply to qualify for funds, having little to do with reality.)
After it was pointed out that “blight” didn’t apply, and the locals didn’t agree, Redevelopment chose alternative wording to offset inadequate vetting.
At all three approval sessions local opposition said there was inadequate justification to disrupt their neighborhoods, but was ignored.
Plan opponents also noted the absence of a Return on Investment (ROI) to economically justify a major development’s positive impact on our Grand List.
Very important since all of Redevelopment’s construction contribution since 2013 has been offset by increased city expenses, resulting in Grand List stagnation, a minimal gain of three percent per year from 2013-2017, with unintended consequences, and increased taxes. This required the Mayor to tap the Rainy Day Fund to avoid a taxpayer revolt!
Other concerns include:
- Inadequate specs for buildings. Why not use the Leeds Gold standard? Norwalk deserves better than the minimum.
- Building orientation and sidewalks. (Need to provide for building setbacks for sidewalk dining that does not encroach on a 7’ minimum sidewalk width, pedestrian walkability being a major goal.)
- Lack of bus stop enclosures with adequate illumination along bus routes (to be paid for by the developer)
- Variance-proof wording for strict adherence to design compatibility with pre-plan local architecture, which would prevent a repeat of POKO
- Lack of any reference to rooftop solar panels, creative source for city electric vehicles, street lighting.
- A change from “cookie cutter” developer building designs.
Consider that this would all be overseen by the same administrative culture that approved:
1) An oversized Mosque in a residential neighborhood variance
2) Quintard variance
3) Library parking blockage variance
4) Main St “big store” variance
5) POKO variance
The process needs rethinking and rework before this plan wreaks havoc on Norwalk.
However, all is not yet lost.
Assuming the approval process was subject to Roberts Rules, “Reconsideration” can be applied for a re-vote for cause by any voting Council member who voted “Yes”, allowing for creative, forward looking 2040 changes in an updated plan.