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Norwalk Center redevelopment plan given thumbs up, sent to Council

West Avenue, Norwalk.

Updated, March 9, comment from Marc Allen; 3:12 p.m.: Video added.

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk Common Council members on Thursday moved the Wall Street-West Avenue Redevelopment Plan forward, giving little comment to out-of-order objections from a trio of opponents.

“I think we are in agreement that something needs to be done to revitalize (the Wall-West area),” Planning Committee Chairman John Kydes (D-District C) said. “It’s been overlooked, like I said, economic boom after economic boom, for decades upon decades. I think we have a plan here that will give us the tools and direction we need to try and breathe some life into an area that obviously hasn’t seen any improvements.”

More than 50 people crowded into a City Hall conference room in January for a public hearing on the plan, most of them saying they weren’t in favor. Last month’s Planning Committee meeting featured five of those people again speaking against the plan.

Two spoke Thursday.

“I am all for redevelopment agencies,” Mike McGuire said. “I am all for economic development. I am all for tax incentives and things like that. But only if they are done fairly.”

An entire neighborhood association formed in opposition to the plan and the determination of the area as blighted, Jason Milligan said.

Donna Smirniotopoulos arrived after the public speaking portion of the meeting was over and interrupted the Committee to ask if she could speak.

“Are you sure you don’t want to hear this?” she asked.

“All due respect, you missed the window,” Kydes said.

Last month, Smirniotopoulos refused to stop speaking when the customary three minutes were up. Kydes eventually asked if he’d have to call security.

Three minutes isn’t long enough to address a difficult issue, McGuire said Thursday.

“Without this robust public debate policy makers will get lazy and very sloppy,” he said. “Why? Well, it’s because they don’t have any competition. What is there to sharpen them up?”

The vote to move the plan forward was nearly unanimous, with Council member Doug Hempstead (R-District D) abstaining because, “I haven’t had a lot of time with” the current version.

Hempstead asked for information on how many people who live in Norwalk work in Norwalk; Director of Community Development Planning Tami Strauss said it’s in the demographic trends section.

“It pushes mixed use more than anything but the thrust seems to be for apartments,” Hempstead said, complaining that micro-apartments might work in “major, major cities,” but seem to be in opposition to efforts to increase housing density.

“Micro units are not the fundamental problem,” Norwalk Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan said. “It’s that this census tract has one of the lowest population numbers in the entire city, next to Silvermine, and this is the heart of the urban corridor. In order to have a vibrant urban environment, you need to have a residential base to support the businesses that are seeking to operate in that area on an ongoing basis.”

The plan area doesn’t include the dense apartments across from Norwalk Hospital and “that’s why these plans always boggle my mind a little,” Hempstead said.

Micro-units are “amazing,” but they need a vibrant city-life around them to make them work, as their residents treat the surrounding area as amenities, Council member Barbara Smyth (D-At Large) said.

Milligan spoke from the audience.

“I own five buildings on Wall Street. I want to build the microunits,” Milligan said. “… Can’t you allow me to talk a little bit? It would make a lot of sense, if you are so curious about it, I’ve got the answers.”

“You wonder why no one will talk to you. You have no respect for this elected body,” Kydes replied.

Kydes said, later, “I think we are in agreement we have an area that has missed every economic boom for decades,” going on to begin to say something about the “blight” controversy and be interrupted by McGuire, who said he could explain the issue.

Hempstead told McGuire that he doesn’t understand how government meetings work.

Moving on, Hempstead said, “I am still seeing the same post-flood ’55 Norwalk, having grown up in this town. Remember when there were clothing stores and all that were there, and that all went away. It’s never seemed to recoup. I don’t disagree with you.”

He asked if the plan specified investments in infrastructure.

“No, but it basically lays forward the priorities that you should be investing in terms of your capital budget,” Sheehan said, explaining along with Straus that steps are being taken to implement the Freese Park master plan, a Redevelopment Agency initiative and agreeing that things like sidewalks and pretty trash cans are “important and they create vitality for the whole neighborhood.”

On Friday, Marc Alan said Milligan had mischaracterized the Wall Street Neighborhood Association. “As a board member of the Wall Street Neighborhood Association I must state for the record that this is factually incorrect,” he wrote. “The WSNA was formed for the purpose stated on our website www.WallStreetCT.org – ‘Promoting Arts, Business, and Community Activity in the Wall Street neighborhood.’”

13 comments

Sue Haynie March 8, 2019 at 6:28 am

Glad to see this moving forward.

Amazing to hear that Wall Street, as a census tract, ‘has one of the lowest population numbers in the entire city, next to Silvermine’ per Tim Sheehan.

Wall Street is the center of Norwalk’s urban core, and it’s my side of town’s ‘downtown’. It’s decayed condition affects quality of life and real estate values.

Totally agree with this statement by Sheehan also “in order to have a vibrant urban environment, you need to have a residential base to support the businesses that are seeking to operate in that area on an ongoing basis.” That is just common sense in my book.

Jason Milligan March 8, 2019 at 7:38 am

Harry Rilling has been quoted on the open floor of the Council basically instructing the Council to lie to get federal money. (The minutes from several months surrounding this time in 2015 are not posted online although minutes going back 10 years are posted, seem odd.)

Harry may consider hiring Adam Blank who is willing to mischaracterize to get big money, “If we are talking about significant money I’ll take that and let you call anything you want blight”, Adam Blank

Is our Mayor ok with the people applying his rationale to get other types of money?

Jason Milligan March 8, 2019 at 7:47 am

The Wall Street Redevelopment Plan Area is expired!

A new determination of the area must be made. Norwalk should be focusing city, State and Federal resources towards the legitimate areas that qualify. The Wall Street Area does not qualify, so lot’s of people are willing to lie & cheat to get the plan approved.

CT Statute Chapter 130
“Redevelopment area” means an area within the state that is deteriorated, deteriorating, substandard or detrimental to the safety, health, morals or welfare of the community.

If you could legitimately label the Wall St area as a “Redevelopment Area” than you can find a way to label any area in any town as a “Redevelopment Area”. That is not the intent of the statute and there are plenty of people prepared to prove that.

Jason Milligan March 8, 2019 at 7:53 am

Blight findings must be supported by tangible proof that can be scrutinized in a meaningful way. Blight findings require facts and the most recent report simply does not meet this standard.

Piberman March 8, 2019 at 8:02 am

Development plans are like rain falling from heaven. Nothing much ever gets done without Implementation. And City Hall lacks the professional expertise here. Witness the studied reluctance to hire major league Business Development Professionals going back decades. Witness Council approval hiring an Economic Director from tiny Newtown where there is no development. Witness with approval hiring a staffer with a “transporation background”.

City officials never quite seem readily to visit Stamford to learn how Stamford secured major redevelopment that remade their once commuter City into CT’s premier city. And show no interest in hiring first rate Business Development Professionals. It’s an old story in Norwalk.
Just show me another plan !

We ought demand much better from our elected officials. None have any significant business or development experience. Yet they refuse to appoint same. So we know our future. And its not the one we want. At least not the one most of us want – a successful City where residents can afford to retire after educating their children. And sell their homes for more than they paid for them. Why is that goal so hard to achieve in Norwalk ?

john flynn March 8, 2019 at 10:56 am

I totally get the wall Street need. Manressa is a gold mine that can fix many of the city’s problems. Maybe all of them. A hundred jobs, taxes, new employed tax payers, reduced contamination, a pipeline to long island electricity, on and on perpetual. Crate a board, put Jason on it, put me on it and leave us alone. Thanks.

Michael McGuire March 8, 2019 at 11:03 am

What a sad demonstration of leadership last night. We have provided the CC members with the facts on the unsupportable Blight/Deterioration Claim. All we wanted was for that one key piece of analysis redone by a firm with the credentials to do it correctly, we have been saying that since January. They ignored it.

I was then shocked to hear the committee members constantly refer to the Wall-West Ave area as lagging, and depressed with limited business. If you were to come down here and take a tour you would see the incredible number of new business that have moved in here over the past decade.

Better yet sign up for the Wall Street Neighborhood New Letter at http://www.wallstreetct.org and click on “Read our Latest News letter” its updated weekly and you can subscribe there as well.

Committee member noted lots of vacant retail. I disagree – we have two large buildings whose owners are holding out for unrealistic prices and are unwilling to invest in making there spaces smaller – large floorplate retail here is challenging. Remove those two aberrations and our retail is as strong as any other area of Norwalk.

And all this despite having to deal with the problems of POKO and for the “7 years of Duleep” – hardly things that incentivize new business to move into an area, but still they came!

Committee members note the lack of office business in the area. Again, removing the vacant Riverview Plaza from the grouping due to the issues noted above, you will see that our office market is one of the strongest in Fairfield County, ditto for our industrial spaces. 64 Wall Street is a good example. In 2001 it had 6 squatters. By 2008 it had anywhere from 50-60 employees working in 15 different businesses – that is but is a single example. That’s happening everywhere down here.

Committee members looked at the data on housing (from 2014) and noted that the area is lagging in housing units and income levels. They should look at the more recent data, the 2014 data does not include Waypointe. From 2014-2018 the median income here jumped 37.5% and now equals the National average. imagine were we would be if we have Highpoint, Head of Harbor North and POKO all up and running.

The reason why the Committee members do not understand this area is the lack of “robust public debate”. The Wall Street-West Ave area is full of really smart business people but we are denied the right to have that debate. We get limited to 3 minute statement. Then we have to sit back and be quiet as the Redevelopment Staff has unlimited time and often misinforms the committee members with cherry picked facts. Blight/Deterioration area great example.

Very sad. Robust Public Debate creates Robust Public Policy – in this case we have neither.

Jason Milligan March 8, 2019 at 12:44 pm

Excellent comment Mike.

The same people that have been hurting the area with the POKO fiasco are being invited to take anothe 10 year try…

Can you say insanity?

Or corruption?

Nancy Chapman March 8, 2019 at 3:14 pm

FYI, I have communicated with City Hall regarding the minutes missing from the City website. I am told that it might be a technical glitch. They are looking into it.

Michael McGuire March 8, 2019 at 4:46 pm

Here are some interesting questions CC members and the Mayor may want to ask/explore prior to passing this.

Redevelopment had control of just the Wall Street area from 2004-2014, than had that extended to 2018. In that time frame they only did one thing – POKO. Avalon, Wall Street Theater, Waypoint, Head of the Harbor South were not Redevelopment’s doing.

RDA virtually did nothing but give us POKO during those 14 years. They were also responsible for securing land around the library for a library expansion (a key goal of theirs in the 2004 Wall Street plan). RDA missed that one as well.

Now they want to take on a larger area which encompasses all of West Ave and the Hospital area (how could they ever claim those area is Blighted/Deteriorating as of today is beyond me).

Question – why would we, the Norwalk Taxpayers, allow them to take over the larger area when RDA’s history has clearly showed they did virtually nothing but POKO and are now suing the local building owners who are actively improving the area?

To add insult to injury, RDA are doing so by falsely claiming blight/deterioration, and are and have deliberately mislead the Common Council members.

So the Question is – Does this strike anyone as really, really odd?

CC members, Mr. Mayor – take notice of these glaring irregularities! Table this plan until a proper Blight/Deterioration study can be done. Create a “non-crony Task Force” to oversee that process.

Norwalk is not in a hurry for this, no reason to rush this through given the recent revelations of glaringly misleading information used to dupe the taxpayers.

To not act on this disturbing news is outrageous.

Danna DiElsi/The Silk Touch Business owner March 8, 2019 at 6:39 pm

Its been so disappointing year after year to see our town of Norwalk looking so neglected.As a native Norwalker and business owner it so disheartening year after year..broken promises and lack of concern for our town.Its really an embarrassment to be surrounded by beautiful thriving towns with a vision and our City’s only vision is in SoNo and so it continues.
As a business owner on Main Street its been such a struggle to keep the doors open with little foot traffic. The POKO project promised a new uplifting outlook…it has been over 10 years. a major disappointment and eyesore. Not to mention the buildings on Wall Street that aren’t rented which add to the bleak impoverishment of our town. When taking a look at the beautiful architecture to some of these buildings, there is so much potential to create such a fabulous center of Norwalk, but unfortunately
it is always put on the back burner so to speak. We need our City Hall to make Wall Street a priority. Revitalization and planning ..
And to rent to businesses that will actually attract shoppers from other areas to our town..Planning is needed for Wall Street!!!!Lets not let another ten years go by. We want a town we can be proud of.

Danna DiElsi/The Silk Touch/5 Main Street, Norwalk, CT 06851

Isabelle Hargrove March 8, 2019 at 6:46 pm

Where are all the supporters of this plan? Why is this plan garnering absolutely no support from the Wall Street community?

I have learned a long time ago that plans rammed down the throat of a community by politicians who always seem to know best always fail.

I thought this was the government of the people by the people. Norwalk has morphed into a dictatorship with a few people with absolute power which corrupts absolutely.

I would like Norwalk to be run by elected officials who make it their #1 priority to serve their community and work in partnership with all residents. Only then will Norwalk win. This is clearly a loss.

cc-rider March 9, 2019 at 11:54 am

Everything about the city’s involvement in this plan, the Poko fiasco, and anything redevelopment touches absolutely stinks to the high heavens.

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