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.’”