Updated, 8:47 a.m.: Copy edits, revised headline
NORWALK, Conn. – In a second day in a row of frustration for opponents of the Wall Street-West Avenue Plan, the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency on Wednesday unanimously greenlighted the plan.
That’s the final approval needed to give the Agency authority over development in an area along Wall Street, West Avenue, and including Norwalk hospital.
Wall Street property owners Mike McGuire and Jason Milligan, who have been vocal opponents of the plan, argued that the blight determination on which the plan is based is unjustified.
The Redevelopment Agency’s Director of Community Development Planning Tami Strauss told Commissioners that both the Corporation Counsel’s office and Redevelopment Agency Attorney Marc Grenier feel that the “environmental deficiencies” that have been cited are enough to satisfy state statutes requiring a determination of “deteriorated or deteriorating” conditions, or “blight,” needed to legally justify having a redevelopment plan,
“Robust public debate creates robust public policy,” McGuire called from the audience. “This information is misleading. That’s my argument all along.”
McGuire, a commercial real estate expert, handed the Commissioners the same detailed real estate analysis he gave Common Council members on Tuesday. The blight determination is like a shoddy foundation for a bright shiny new house, he said.
McGuire said he called Steve Cecil of Harriman, one of two consultants cited in the plan as affirming the deterioration determination, and asked where the citations were to support the evaluation.
“He wouldn’t tell me, he just said, ‘ask the Redevelopment Agency,’” McGuire said. “He wouldn’t stand behind his work at all.”
Milligan said he’d called Melissa Kaplan-Macey, Connecticut Director of the non-profit Regional Plan Association (RPA), the other company that said there’s enough blight to justify the plan.
Kaplan-Macey wasn’t comfortable with recertifying the blight because that’s not what her company does, Milligan said. He questioned how Cecil was hired to help with the blight issue, after a vote to extend RPA’s contract for that purpose.
Milligan also asked that the plan be tabled and sent back to the Council so a proper blight evaluation could be done.
“Let’s go where the data takes the plan instead of …taking the data where we want the plan to go,” Milligan said.
Milligan said Cecil hadn’t looked at the properties. Strauss countered that staff went out and photographed everything, and Norwalk Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan said the photos allowed staff to take a deeper look and get a sense of “what the properties actually look like.”
Three Commissioners were present; Chairman Felix Serrano, David Westmoreland and David Speirs voted to approve the plan.
Westmoreland asked a series of questions, including about the wastewater treatment plant’s capacity to deal with additional development.
The plan’s rolling average is 13.6 million gallons a day, leaving a capacity of 2 million additional gallons, Strauss said.
Use of eminent domain under the plan would be “very limited”, Sheehan said. There’s not a long list of properties slated to be taken, and “the case would have to be overwhelming.”
Westmoreland asked if Redevelopment would be tracking the projects inside the plan area.
“We haven’t done a very effective job of assessing the overall success of the plan on an incremental level,” Sheehan said. “Obviously, redevelopment activity takes some time to advance but I would say there should be a review done by the Agency itself.”