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Norwalk officials: Citibank poised to move ‘POKO’ forward

Wall Street Place phase I, commonly referred to as “POKO,” on Nov. 29.

NORWALK, Conn. — The Norwalk Redevelopment Agency is expected on Tuesday to consider a proposal to move Wall Street Place phase I – known to many simply as “POKO” – forward.

Citibank, owner of the stalled development, as part of mediation discussions has submitted a written proposal to restart construction, Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola said Wednesday in court, explaining that if the Redevelopment Agency and the Common Council agree to the terms, after discussing them outside of the public eye, then the terms will be released to the public and the official approval process will begin.

Coppola declined to release further details.

Coppola and Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan testified Wednesday in Stamford Superior Court as part of the ongoing hearing in the lawsuit filed by the Redevelopment Agency and the City against ILSR Owners and Wall Street Opportunity Fund, attempting to undo the sale of “POKO” phase II and III properties to WSOF, a Jason Milligan owned LLC.

Milligan is fighting the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary injunction to prevent him from renting, selling or altering the properties, resulting in a lengthy hearing in the complicated ins and outs of Wall Street Place, its Land Disposition Agreement and Zoning approvals, not to mention the machinations of his various LLCs.

Construction on Wall Street Place, which dates to a 2004 redevelopment plan, stopped in mid-2016. The City has recently sued Citibank, which took the properties back from POKO Partners through a deed-in-lieu transfer, to force Citibank, under the LLC Municipal Holdings, to pay the blight citation fines and Zoning violation fines that have accrued. Citibank has also been declared in default of the LDA.

In testimony Tuesday, Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin revealed that the building permit and the zoning approval for Phase I has expired. Attorney David Rubin, representing Milligan, said that the project would in essence be starting from scratch if an attempt were made to have construction resume. Kleppin said a new site plan would likely need to go to a pubic hearing.

Rubin has attempted to show that the project is not viable. The LDA requires 255 parking spaces on the site, but the Zoning approval has been reduced from 215 to 155, putting the two governing documents at odds, he said, also alleging that the project is out of Zoning compliance on its floor-to-area ratio (FAR).

Attorney Andrea Gomes, representing the Redevelopment Agency in a redirect of Kleppin, pointed out that the proposed Wall Street West Avenue Neighborhood Plan changes the parking and FAR requirements in the area, in a manner that would affect Wall Street Place.

The Council Planning Committee is expected to on Thursday consider moving that plan to the full Council for approval.

A class action lawsuit may be pending to challenge the Wall Street West Avenue Neighborhood Plan, Rubin said Wednesday.

Sheehan’s testimony has stretched over several days, resuming this week after being paused in December. On Wednesday, Attorney Joseph Williams, representing the Redevelopment Agency, began redirect on Sheehan and asked him about the ongoing mediation with Citibank.

“A plan has emerged that is slated to come before the public parties in executive session in the next few days,” Sheehan replied, adding, “I remain hopeful” that Wall Street Place will be restarted.

Sheehan’s testimony was again put on pause, so that Rubin could question Coppola, who has other obligations in the coming days. Judge Charles Lee told Coppola that Sheehan had revealed that a plan is on the table.

The Redevelopment Agency is slated for an executive session Tuesday to discuss the plan and the Council may have an executive session on the 26th, Coppola said.

JHM is the proposed developer, he said, referring to a company owned by John and Todd McClutchy, who have been conferring with Citibank for more than a year. This originally involved trying to get state funding while Gov. Dannel Malloy was in office, as the McClutchys have close ties with Malloy.

Rubin asked Coppola if the LDA would need to be modified for the proposal to move forward.

“I don’t know if we have concluded yet that there would have to be an amendment to the LDA but based on what’s been proposed, or whether it would just be modification of the Conceptual Master Site Plan. We have to do that analysis once we confirm what the proposal is, that is acceptable to the public parties,” Coppola said, explaining that it’s been discussed “internally.”

Rubin said, “The position was being taken that no public parking would be made by Citibank and JHM in connection with the proposal.”

The City turned over a municipal parking lot to POKO to make Wall Street Place a viable project, under the condition that 100 public parking spaces be provided in return.

The last Zoning approval was for 155 spaces, “which may barely have been enough to satisfy the parking for the private development,” Rubin said.

Williams objected, ending Rubin’s attempt to get clarification on that issue.

Rubin pressed for details on when the public will find out what the proposal is.

“After we discuss with our clients in executive session the proposal and they ask us to go forward with making it public and starting the official approval process, which won’t take long,” Coppola replied.

Coppola said he didn’t know how much Norwalk taxpayer dollars would be provided in connection to the project.

“Not without reviewing all the relevant documents pertaining to the project,” he said.

“Why does the public not have a right to know what the proposal is at this time, relative to phase one?” Rubin asked.

Williams objected on the grounds that this was argumentative and irrelevant, but Lee told Coppola to answer.

“As you know, it’s a complicated project,” Coppola said. “It’s been further complicated by the change of ownership, phase II and III, so there is a lot of back and forth discussion between Citibank, the City and the Agency to confirm what would potentially be terms that would be acceptable to the city and the agency, as well as to Citibank. So, there’s a lot of back and forth, a lot of complicated issues that require confirmation through various state agencies, etc., without disclosing any further what the discussions are.”

Discussions are continuing with Citibank but without a formal mediation process, he said.

Norwalk Communications Manager Joshua Morgan said in an afternoon email declined to provide further details, explaining, “Nothing is finalized yet and with ongoing negotiations, we cannot comment further.”

12 comments

Jason Milligan March 7, 2019 at 7:08 am

Secretive, slimy, sellouts.

Its too complicated for the dumb public to understand?

The arrogance of the people in power in Norwalk is staggering.

The project will be discussed twice in secret this month. 1st Redevelopment will discuss on the 12th then the full council on the 26th.

Who thinks that this time they solve POKO?

Jason Milligan March 7, 2019 at 7:13 am

Let’s refresh our memories on the public money for POKO.

-$8.64 million in 9% Low Income Housing Tax Credits (net proceeds)
-A $3.5 million Department of Housing loan
-A $5 million Connecticut Department of Community and Economic Development DECD grant
-$4.4 Million Norwalk Infrastructure improvements
Total $21.54 Million in tax payer money

All based upon a potentially fraudulent determination of blight. Citibank & JHM are happy to take our public money but not our public input.

Jason Milligan March 7, 2019 at 7:32 am

Last comment for now.

We also learned from Tim that the city is operating on an expired Redevelopment Plan. The Wall Street Redevelopment Plan was created in 2004, and it was good for 10 years. In order for there to be a redevelopment plan there needs to be a finding of blight.

There is not an honest person that can spend any time in the Wall Street area and determine that the area is blighted, slum, deteriorating!!

15 years later.
Expired plan
mulitple lawsuits and more coming
Over $20 Million in public handouts
Never owned or controlled all parcels needed to complete any of the phases.

We are so far a field from what the LDA requires for phase I that it is literally impossible to build phase I as required by the LDA. The LDA requires the construction of New Street #1 or AKA Jasro Place. New Street #1 would go directly through the People’s Chicken and the El Dorado Club.

The People’s Chicken building is owned by Jerry Vitale. His latest price is $1 Million.
The El Dorado Club is owned by John Dias. His price is $2.5 million. Dias is suing the City and RDA for Inverse Condemnation. He is claiming the city has to take his property through eminent domain. The City & RDA are actively fighting that case. Refusing to take the property.

They are refusing to acquire a property that is required by the LDA to complete Phase I. What?

So how can Phase I be completed without amending the god awful LDA???

Lisa Brinton March 7, 2019 at 7:44 am

Secrecy and executive sessions are what residents get if there is possible evidence of mismanagement, wasted tax payer dollars or what is beginning to sound a bit like fraud. Again, thanks for sticking with this story Nancy. Hopefully, truth will prevail and the public will understand some common themes over what is seriously wrong with Norwalk’s approach to land use, and the convoluted practices of P&Z, Redevelopment and City Hall.

Claude March 7, 2019 at 9:09 am

Stopped reading after this line…..”if the Redevelopment Agency and the Common Council agree to the terms, after discussing them outside of the public eye” bc it’s obvious we don’t matter to these people.

Al Bore March 7, 2019 at 12:25 pm

I hope they move forward by knocking it down.
Claude you are correct “we do not matter to these people” but our misused homeowner paid tax dollars do matter. We support the tax giveaways outlined by Mr. Milligan

-$8.64 million in 9% Low Income Housing Tax Credits (net proceeds)
-A $3.5 million Department of Housing loan
-A $5 million Connecticut Department of Community and Economic Development DECD grant
-$4.4 Million Norwalk Infrastructure improvements
Total $21.54 Million in tax payer money

Piberman March 7, 2019 at 2:13 pm

That’s the best Mayor Rilling and his “Chiefs” can do ? Together with the Mayor’s endorsement of the Boondoggle Brdige Norwalk is certainly “moving”. But not even the Mayor’s Partisans see any “forward movement” here.

Every well governed City employs highly experienced Busienss Development Professioansl to secure new industry and good jobs. But Norwalk relies on its “Chiefs” lacking major business experience. So we know our future. So embarrassing. For everyone.

Adolph Neaderland March 7, 2019 at 4:05 pm

Jason et al are dead right, on this and many other Redevelopment and P&Z issues, our City governance is something of an embarrassment.

As it relates to the Wall Street POKO skeleton, swallow hard, pay the price for incompetence, have it torn down and start over with stakeholder participation!

Stop wasting more money on lawyers as a step minimizing the need to dip into the rainy day fund to stem a taxpayers revolt.

Consider the following:
1: We have a POCD Plan nearing completion with specific suggestions that Norwalk retain it’s unique ambiance as a colonial maritime city.
2: We have the consensus (as reported in Stantec’s 1st report) of the 180+ stakeholders who attended, that there should NOT be any multi story mixed use residential in downtown Norwalk.
3: It is likely that the POKO structure, enclosed over a year during hot and cold wet weather is most likely to be contaminated with unhealthy (dangerous) mold, not easily remedied.
Our health department should insist on a registered (non local) professional decontaminator inspect and provide public documentation of their findings.
4: Any structure proposed for the Wall Street area should fit ad blend with the existing architecture (exempting Head of the Harbor)

5: What a mess.

EnoPride March 7, 2019 at 5:37 pm

Can’t help but think about how much money has been lost on that POKO I creating that void at that locale. And can’t help but think that surrounding businesses have seriously been held back to thrive even more by its hulking, blighted, unfinished presence. It truly is unacceptable. If that spot had been developed more appropriately to the locale all those years ago, with stakeholders’ input and not behind closed doors, like is depicted in Mr. Milligan’s mural, just think how established and all the more bustling that area would be today. A great deal of opportunity and revenue has been lost at the hands of RDA’s botch job. Shouldn’t RDA and City Hall be held accountable? Especially now that this structure is an environmental/health hazard?

All businesses surrounding probably could band together at this point and sue the city for damages and lost revenue. They are staring at a massive, moldy, rotten, rat-infested structure all day for how many years now while trying to attract more people to their businesses. Just unbelievable. But not once have you heard Mayor Rilling or Mr. Sheehan exhibit empathy for these business owners or voice to them that these conditions are unacceptable and that it is their utmost priority to see to it that these people don’t have to stare at this rotten carcass of a building any longer. These words we shall never hear from our leaders. They cannot speak these words because that would mean that they would be admitting their mistake. Enough already. Time for real leadership instead of real egos.

Jason Milligan March 7, 2019 at 11:10 pm

The plan of this Mayor and his inner circle is to triple down on bad ideas.

They will negotiate another bad deal “outside the public eye”. Then they will thrust it upon us as something we should like.

McClutchy has the Garden Cinema under contract. Tearing down that icon in the area to feed to the POKO beast will not go over well with anyone.

LET POKO GO!

Listen to the people.

Paul Lanning March 8, 2019 at 7:21 pm

Our tax increase exceeds the national inflation rate, but our Grand List stagnates. That’s a sign of government ineptitude, and demonstrates a need for new leadership.

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