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Wall-West Redevelopment Plan receives final approval

Jason Milligan attempts to draw people to Tuesday’s Common Council meeting, in protest to the Wall Street-West Avenue plan.

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.”

13 comments

Jason Milligan March 14, 2019 at 7:40 am

It should be noted that only 3 members were present for the vote. Unanimous makes it seem like all 5.

Nevertheless it is still frustrating.

Paul March 14, 2019 at 8:08 am

Yep Mr. Milligan that information makes a difference. All the members should have been present for this important decision. It looks like apathy or cowardice!

Michael McGuire March 14, 2019 at 11:42 am

I found Redevelopment’s comments that both the Corporation Counsel’s office and Redevelopment Agency Attorney feel that the “environmental deficiencies” that have been cited are enough to satisfy state statutes requiring a determination of “deteriorated or deteriorating” to be misleading once again.

Why? Because neither councilors are qualified to make that determination. The rendering of the blight determination via the Harriman report is the purview of qualified professionals – for which there are none on Harriman’s staff, nor RPA’s. Qualified professions would be assessors and State of Connecticut licensed appraisers, or trained professions in the building department.

To top it off we provided a citation from the International Association of Assessment Officers (“IOAA”) conducted on this very topic – a virtual how to do this correctly dissertation. Link blow

https://www.iaao.org/media/Topics/FE_Aug13_Gilreath.pdf

Harriman did not come close to following that protocol. And the threshold Harriman used to determine deterioration (30%) is half of what the IOAA considers the threshold (60%) based on their research. Nor did Harriman utilize the primary means of analysis suggest by IAAO – the value change for all properties in the area from one period to another period. That data was readily available for the Plan Area – up 44% based on our assessor’s data. Yet still they ignored it.

Was Redevelopment claiming they were using the RPA report which is not part of the Plan?

Either way, the misleading information provided by Redevelopment, and approved by the City has now set the stage and bound the Norwalk Taxpayers to fund yet another potential long, expense, drawn-out law suite brought about by Redevelopment’s misleading actions.

Why won’t Redevelopment do things correctly?

Jake March 14, 2019 at 12:32 pm

I never met an appraiser or assessor that was trained in environmental deficiencies…..

As a matter of fact, most of the appraisers I have come across are so focused on tweaking numbers to make things work the way they “need to” that the whole profession has become the “kid that yells fire all the time”. Nobody wants to listen. The fact of the matter is, and it happens every single day all over our country, that two opposing parties in a dispute hire appraisers who churn out appraisals for the same property that are miraculously and outrageously different. Like 25% to 50% different. What a science. It’s hard to value the profession when almost nothing trades for what it is appraised at and the various appraisal approaches never line up with one another.

And you clearly are stuck on the word blight. The determining factor for a redevelopment area does not hinge on your definition of blight, as outlined in the article you provide a link to. That article focuses on only a very narrow definition of blight relative to its analytical focus. Our state does not even use the word blight in it’s statutory definition of a Redevelopment Area nor in it’s definition of Deteriorated:

“(2) “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. An area may consist partly or wholly of vacant or unimproved land or of land with structures and improvements thereon, and may include structures not in themselves substandard or insanitary which are found to be essential to complete an adequate unit of development, if the redevelopment area is deteriorated, deteriorating, substandard or detrimental to the safety, health, morals or welfare of the community. An area may include properties not contiguous to each other. An area may include all or part of the territorial limits of any fire district, sewer district, fire and sewer district, lighting district, village, beach or improvement association or any other district or association, wholly within a town and having the power to make appropriations or to levy taxes, whether or not such entity is chartered by the General Assembly;”

“(7) “Deteriorated” or “deteriorating” with respect to a redevelopment area means an area within which at least twenty per cent of the buildings contain one or more building deficiencies or environmental deficiencies, including, but not limited to: (A) Defects that warrant clearance; (B) conditions from a defect that are not correctable by normal maintenance; (C) extensive minor defects that collectively have a negative effect on the surrounding area; (D) inadequate original construction or subsequent alterations; (E) inadequate or unsafe plumbing, heating or electrical facilities; (F) overcrowding or improper location of structures on land; (G) excessive density of dwelling units; (H) conversion of incompatible types of uses, such as conversion of a structure located near family dwelling units to rooming houses; (I) obsolete building types, such as large residences or other buildings which because of lack of use or maintenance have a blighting influence; (J) detrimental land uses or conditions, such as incompatible uses, structures in mixed use, or adverse influences from noise, smoke or fumes; (K) unsafe, congested, poorly designed, or otherwise deficient streets; (L) inadequate public utilities or community facilities that contribute to unsatisfactory living conditions or economic decline; or (M) other equally significant building deficiencies or environmental deficiencies.”

So I am not exactly sure why you are so caught up with “blight” when it is not a determining factor?? You just sound angry for some reason.

Michael McGuire March 14, 2019 at 12:47 pm

Jake – the standard to meet as your correctly cited

An area that is “deteriorated, deteriorating, substandard or detrimental to the safety, health, morals or welfare of the community”.

Can you really say this are is detrimental to the safety, health, morals and welfare of the community?

If you can prove that than I’ll be quiet.

Show me blight/deterioration etc. that meets the definitions noted above. Who should assess it? How? and to show deterioration don’t you need to data points?

Jake March 14, 2019 at 1:52 pm

Mike-

I do not have a fight with you, just with the facts.

First of all, you play with words. Only one single criteria from the definition of redevelopment area needs to be met for a designation of a redevelopment area (see Gohld Realty below, #3). I am not saying I agree that this should be the case, but that is what our fine state has deemed to be so. So when you ask me if the area is “detrimental to the safety, health, morals and welfare of the community” it is pejorative and an attempt to be misleading. It is spin to make your own statement attempt to seem factual when it is not.

The fact is you do not want the Redevelopment Agency to be involved in the area and I am fine with that opinion. And maybe you are right that the Redevelopment Agency plan won’t help the area. I do not have the answer to that. But you are fighting the wrong fight, in my opinion. If you look at the definition of Deteriorated, line M (which is below, #1), you will see that the State has granted enormous leeway in defining what can be used to determine deteriorated and deteriorating and further went on to say they did it so the definition would be liberally construed (also below,#2). You clearly do not like the State statute, but that is not the Redevelopment Agency’s fault. Your fight lies with the statute as it grants Redevelopment Agency’s in our state the power to pretty much create Redevelopment Areas as they see fit. I am not saying that I agree with the statute either, but that is the statute in place and it has been challenged many times unsuccessfully. What you really want is the dramatically liberal nature of the statute to go away and that is not going to happen with your current fight or attempt to spin actuality.

I do have a different opinion than you regarding the area and it is not based on state statute definitions. Just on simple and plain observational reality. The area is repressed economically and physically. Business for the most part does not thrive. The area is not a draw (yet) that will allow it to return to a city center. I could on. Has it gotten better?? A little. Yes, the theater helps, there are several restaurants that do well. But it is nowhere near enough. Can it get much, much better?? Absolutely. I do not see the Redevelopment Agency hindering anything that can and should happen in the area. So why fight something that at worst creates neutral causation and at best helps get the area where everyone wants it to be?? Move forward.

#1- (M) other equally significant building deficiencies or environmental deficiencies.

#2- History: 1959 act added word “deteriorating”.

Inclusion within area of certain properties which are not substandard does not constitute unreasonable or arbitrary action because it is condition obtaining as to entire area and not as to individual properties which is determinative; addition of word “deteriorating” indicates legislative intent that section is to be liberally construed.

#3- We have held the Redevelopment Act constitutional. Gohld Realty Co. v. Hartford, 141 Conn. 135, 147, 104 A.2d 365; see Bahr Corporation v. O’Brion, 146 Conn. 237, 247, 149 A.2d 691; note, 44 A.L.R.2d 1414, 1420, & A.L.R.2d Sup. Serv. The question is whether the agency, purporting to act under the declaration of policy and definition stated in the act, abused or exceeded its powers. The determination of what constitutes a redevelopment area and what property is to be taken is primarily a matter for the redevelopment agency, and its decision is open to judicial review only to discover whether it has acted unreasonably or in bad faith or has exceeded its powers. Gohld Realty Co. v. Hartford, supra, 146; State v. Fahey, 147 Conn. 13, 17, 156 A.2d 463; Velishka v. Nashua, 99 N.H. 161, 165, 106 A.2d 571, 44 A.L.R.2d 1406 & note, 1414, 1437. The inclusion within the area of certain properties which are not substandard does not constitute unreasonable or arbitrary action, because it is the condition obtaining as to the entire area and not as to individual properties which is determinative. The statute specifically so states, and the area concept is borne out by *329 the cases. Cum. Sup. 1955, § 484d (b) (as amended, § 8-125 [b]); Gohld Realty Co. v. Hartford, supra, 147; Berman v. Parker,348 U.S. 26, 34, 75 S. Ct. 98, 99 L. Ed. 27; Babcock v. Community Redevelopment Agency, 148 Cal. App. 2d 38, 48, 306 P.2d 513; Wilson v. Long Branch, 27 N.J. 360, 379, 142 A.2d 837; note, 44 A.L.R.2d 1414, 1439. The conditions in the definition of a redevelopment area are stated disjunctively. The agency could establish a redevelopment area if one or more of the conditions existed. Oliver v. Clairton, 374 Pa. 333, 340, 98 A.2d 47.

Michael McGuire March 14, 2019 at 4:21 pm

Jake, I truly appreciate your comments. You are giving more of a debate than I’ve experienced throughout this entire process. Sadly robust debate is no permitted in Norwalk.

Your comments regarding appraisers aside, I’m not stating any values. I just picked up on the hypocrisy of the whole thing and the infringement upon our rights as property owners baked into this plan.

I’m using the assessor’s data as did Harriman. The RPA report is not technically part of this since it is not in the plan as approved. Yet they seem to continue be relying on that as well. Another piece of misinformation?

Regarding #3 above. I believe that reflected a taking within an already established Redevelopment Area. Not the establishment of a new one, which in this case it is a new Plan Area.

Likewise I see your point regarding “individual properties” but I fail to see where that is supportable since only 3 property is the plan area experienced value declines as noted by the assessor 2013 to 2018 value data points.

All the valuation experts (the assessor, Tyler etc.) associated with this all stated the values increased, no deterioration. Damn, even Harriman states they (Typler) are highly qualified to determine values in this area. And The Plan itself has nothing but praise for all the development and rehab work that has been(note the past tense) done within this area.

Then to call it deteriorating to the point of being “detrimental to the safety, health, morals or welfare of the community” when values, rents, vacancy rates, investment, jobs, population are all on the upswing fails the test but clearly checks the boxes for arbitrary and unreasonable.

There simply is no supportable evidence to back Redevelopment’s claim on this area based upon anything they have provided to date. And that puts all Norwalk taxpayers at risk for the flagrant nature of this takeover.

What do you think an impartial jury would say?

Jason Milligan March 14, 2019 at 4:44 pm

Jake,

You are manipulating the statute to support your position. The statute has an introduction and then defined terms and then provides 13 criteria that any one or all could be used to support the finding of Blight, Slum, Deteriorated conditions.

The liberally construe part of the statute is not part of the document but is rather found in a foot note describing the history of the statute.

It relates to the inclusion within the plan area of certain properties which are not substandard. It mostly relates to the use of eminent domain. This footnote is not to suggest that any and all aspects of the statute are to be liberally construed, and it certainly does not give Agency’s the latitude to arbitrarily label any area the desire as slum.

The statute states in another history footnote that: “Strict compliance with procedure set out by statue is necessary in order to validly adopt a redevelopment plan.”

Jake-You claim that this statute “has been challenged many times unsuccessfully”. That may be true but it has also been challenged many times successfully hence all of the history footnotes. The statute has been challenged and then significantly changed. The most significant change following the New London Kelo case.

This most recently adopted plan was not done validly for numerous reasons and I feel very confident that there will be a legal challenge to its adoption.

The Norwalk Redevelopment Agency failed to strictly comply with the public participation sections of the statute. They involved the public to a large extent, but that is not good enough. They failed to follow the statute strictly and they dropped the ball when it mattered most-toward the end when the final plan was up for approval.

The NRA also failed at the most important task of proving the Blight, Slum, Deteriorated, or Deteriorating conditions.

Chapter 130 Sec. 8-125. (3) (F) a description of how the redevelopment area is deteriorated, deteriorating, substandard or detrimental to the safety, health, morals or welfare of the community…
(7) Then lists the 13 different criteria that can be used to demonstrate blight. Any one or more of the criteria can be used, but at least one of the conditions must be demonstratively present.

*It is this section where the NRA and their consultants fail! The findings by both consultants are highly flawed and easily debunked. They were prepared by unqualified individuals that were not expecting to be challenged.

Facts to matter and facts will ultimately be the deciding factor as to whether this new plan is validly adopted.

It is worth pointing out that the biggest source of slum and blight is the Tyvek Temple which was created under the leadership of the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency!!

Mike Mushak March 14, 2019 at 10:24 pm

Jake, thank you for your informed and reasonable comments. What a pleasant experience! I hope the members of the Common Council, Planning and Zoning Commissions and staff, and the Redevelopment Agency will read your words carefully.

What a contrast to the ad nauseum daily attacks on the West/Wall Plan for weeks, much of it deliberately misleading, and sadly descending into toxic personal attacks on anyone who supported the plan by the usual suspects.

Whoever you are, I suggest you send your resume in to mayors office for a position on one of our three land use commissions that always have openings as terms expire. Or perhaps you have already served.

In any case, thanks again for taking the time to offer your reasonable and informed point of view.

I only wish you had commented a few weeks earlier before the opposition including Lisa Brinton took on such a toxic and personal tone, attacking everyone supporting this plan as somehow corrupt.

Luckily most reasonable people have already figured out what this strategy is all about, and reject it.

Jake March 15, 2019 at 1:00 am

Mike/Jason-

You guys have more time in your days than me! I will respond tomorrow when I can allocate some time.

But I disagree vehemently with the assertion that footnotes excerpts and subterfuge were part of my honest dialogue and that deception is not what I am about. All my posts revolve around the principle that real facts make good counterpoints in a debate based on meritocracy.

Jason Milligan March 15, 2019 at 1:31 am

Jake,

What is your last name and profession?

Why are you so gung hi for the Agency?

We each have 24 hours per day. It is how we chose to use those hours.

Like Mike I do not mind your comments. Clearly you are at least reading the statute.

Are people curious why two of the most engaged Wall st stakeholders are so against this plan?

We are closest to the action.
We will be forced to live under this plan.

The area has been under the Redevelopment Agency control for decades. Is it because this proper larger plan has not been in place?

The Agency gave us POKO!

They have no clue how to finish or fix it, so they ignore it and pretend it isn’t there.

If they fix POKO 1st then they would potentially have less resistence.

Until then, having the Agency controlling the area is like feeding the area poison instead of medicine.

Jason Milligan March 15, 2019 at 1:51 am

The irony is that the Agency is attempting to skirt the rules as they draft a 191 page plan of rules for the area.

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