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Norwalk political notes: Rec & Parks, thinking in Florida, and a witness

Wall Street Place phase I, referred to by many as “POKO,” as seen from City Market on West Avenue last week.

The election is Nov. 5.

NORWALK, Conn. – Some Norwalk political news:

  • Georgia man hired for Norwalk Recs and Parks role
  • Maddafari for Mayor?
  • An expert for the POKO lawsuit

From Georgia to Connecticut

Nick Roberts is set to be appointed as Norwalk Director of Recreation and Parks at Tuesday’s Common Council meeting.

Roberts has been assistant director for the City of Savannah (Georgia) Parks and Recreation Department since August.  For nearly three years prior was Superintendent of Community Parks & Aquatics Division in Miami, Florida, according to his resume. He has additional experience in Naples, Florida, and was recreational facility manager in Charlotte, N.C., from June 2008 to September 2014. Before that, he was assistant to the Bronx Borough Commissioner in the New York City Parks and Recreation Department.

Mayor Harry Rilling on Sunday said Roberts’s hiring is the result of a nationwide search.

The Council Personnel Committee recently expressed some disappointment that it did not have the opportunity to weigh in on new hires, including in December when then-Massachusetts resident Jessica Casey was selected as Norwalk Chief of Economic and Community Development, following another nationwide search. Personnel Committee Chairwoman Barbara Smyth (D-At Large) on Sunday wrote:

“Nick Roberts went through the usual process for Chief positions … first through the Personnel Department with a hiring committee composed of those with expertise in personnel and the specific field.  Top candidates are then recommended to the Mayor’s office for additional rounds of interviews. After Mayor Rilling makes his decision and the hiring is finalized, the candidate meets with Council Leadership, Personnel Chair, and the chair of the associated committee.  In addition, we have been able to arrange for the candidate to meet all of the council members prior to the vote, as we did with Anthony Carr.

“In Nick’s case, the Personnel Committee was able to examine his resume in Executive Session during our March meeting. Due to sensitive matters of confidentiality and timing, this is not always possible, so I was pleased we were able to have this opportunity.”

 

Maddafari for Mayor?  Still thinking about it

Brien McMahon High School Athletic Director Joe Maddafari was also up for the Rec and Parks Director job.

Maddafari, who is retiring in June and is being considered by Norwalk Republicans as a Mayoral candidate, said in March he was waiting to hear back on his application and a potential mayoral candidacy was “out in the clouds right now.”

Maddafari on Monday said he totally understands that the decision to hire someone else for Rec and Parks. As for running for Mayor, he said he’s going to Florida for a few days.  “I’m going to think about it. Leave it at that.”

 

 

Milligan lines up Stamford expert

A real estate broker who is being sued by Norwalk and its Redevelopment Agency has lined up an expert witness to testify on his behalf.

The lawsuit seeks to invalidate Jason Milligan’s purchase of “POKO” phase II and III properties, which the plaintiffs claim were obligated for use in the construction of Wall Street Place, a mixed-use development spurred by a 2004 redevelopment plan.

The Norwalk Redevelopment Agency and the City say in their lawsuit that Milligan’s purchase of properties violated a tri-party Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) between the City, the agency, and the original developer. Attorney Rachel Goldberg, former Stamford Redevelopment Agency counsel, is expected to testify on behalf of Milligan and other defendants that the LDA governing the “POKO” properties does not comply to the requirements of the 2004 Wall Street Plan.

The case resumes on April 30.

Milligan is seeking to have the case dismissed on the argument that the LDA is invalid because the 2004 Redevelopment Plan expired in June. Attorney Joseph Williams, representing the City and Redevelopment Agency, says that the unfair trade practices of which Milligan is accused of occurred in May, before the plan expired, and asserts that issues with the redevelopment plan do not affect the LDA.

Goldberg will testify about the implementation of Connecticut urban redevelopment plans in general and “the expiration of redevelopment plans and the impact thereof on underlying and/or extant redevelopment agreements and projects,” Rubin wrote.

“Ms. Goldberg is expected to testify that there is no longer an operative redevelopment plan to which the LDA refers,” Rubin wrote.

“Bringing up an expert witness, and also having someone intelligent to talk, with no ax to grind, to be honest, it’s refreshing,” Milligan said on March 26, expressing confidence that the case against him will be dismissed.

15 comments

Jason Milligan April 9, 2019 at 9:08 am

Harry can we expect the POKO “Explanatory Statement” soon??

The Tyvek Temple that sits rotting in place does not even slightly resemble what was promised to the city. A parking lot was given. That site was supposed to have 101 apartment units and a minimum of 256 parking spaces, 100 of which were to be for the public forever and always.

The last approved plan had 16 surface parking spaces. Currently there exists a basement that is 18 feet deep where maybe one day a automated vending machine parking garage will be. That automated garage claims to fit 155 cars at full capacity, stacking several rows deep & 3 rows high.

A $5 million grant was given for the automated garage (Dumb!). $3.4 million was spent. $1.6 million still sits at the DECD potentially ready to be used.

For $3.4 million POKO got a big basement and two holes where 3 elevators were supposed to go. The $3.4 million did NOT buy elevators, the rack for the cars, the skids that hold the cars, the track/conveyor belt, the software, the entire parking system!

If everything functions absolutely perfectly with zero human error than you can get your car back in 2.5 minutes. If 10 other people also want their car at the same time as you than it would take 25 minutes to get your car.

The most important thing that the City leaders gave away was a parking lot. The public parking is the #1 thing that Norwalk should demand back at all cost! Even if it means ripping down the Tyvek Temple and putting back a surface parking lot.

All of the other lawsuits and noise are a distraction.

Btw, look closely at Nancy’s picture. There are gaping holes in the Tyvek which allows all the rain and elements to enter. You might have to zoom in.

The Tyvek Temple is quickly becoming a rotten pile of mold.

Rusty Guardrail April 9, 2019 at 11:50 am

Oh how wonderful. The High School Athletic Director positioned to siphon votes away from Lisa.

John ONeill April 9, 2019 at 12:06 pm

Regarding the Parks and Rec position — Calf Pasture Beach has really been transformed over the past 5 years. If the new regime screws it up there will be hell to pay! Joe Maddafari has proven time and time again how to get things done on a shoe string budget at McMahon. Not sure why he wasn’t a lock for the Board of Rec job — I guess it would be naïve to think it wasn’t political.

jo bennett April 9, 2019 at 1:16 pm

John Oneil – totally agree on the transformation of Calf Pasture. It was an absolute dump when I first moved to Norwalk in the mid-late ’90s. Was really impressed a few years ago when I decided to give it another chance.

Jason Milligan, I had never even heard of an automated parking garage before reading your comments. Here’s a wiki on it, for the other similarly uninformed: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automated_parking_system

Jason Milligan April 9, 2019 at 1:33 pm

Jo,

The City gave a beautiful, open, flat, safe surface parking lot. In return, we have had the Tyvek eyesore for years and one day we MIGHT get a semi-functional vending machine to park some cars in.

I say might because there is not enough parking to fulfill the requirements for the Phase I project; 101 apartments, approx. 15,000 SF retail, live/work space etc.

Right now there is a rotted & rotting structure & not enough parking. Removing the structure is likely the best scenario for the city of Norwalk, or at the very least cutting it back.

Why are we not talking about it?

Tysen Canevari April 9, 2019 at 2:01 pm

What did Madafari get done? The city pays for all of the projects at Mcmahon The baseball field is like wwatching a game at Alcatraz. The sports teams havent won anything in how long? He got paid $170,000 a year to schedule buses. Mayor? Please

Adolph Neaderland April 9, 2019 at 2:13 pm

Solution to Tyvek can be resolved rather simply, remove the top 2 levels, thus reducing the need for additional parking.
As a bonus, the building would better conform to the local architecture rather than stand out as an “out of place” with the balance of Wall street.
The exterior cold be redesigned to be somewhat “colonial” vs the West Ave nightmare.

EnoPride April 9, 2019 at 2:17 pm

The reader comments section in response to the 2015 article I sent earlier is worth reading. In light of all the controversy surrounding POKO and the expired LDA, and Mr. Sheehan and his attorney stalling and scrambling about it in this lawsuit against Mr. Milligan, I was struck by this 2015 comment made about the LDA between the city and POKO by Mr. Kimmel:

“Regarding the extension: The Land Disposition between the city and POKO was so poorly written that the city would have probably lost in court should it had declared POKO in default last August. We should also remember that the developer was not able to do much of anything until 2010 because of a lawsuit and our rather slow zoning procedures.”

Very telling for anyone who, like myself, is trying to piece together the history of this POKO botch while City Hall continues it’s closed session meetings on how to justify the botch, blur lines and blend POKO into the Wall Street/West Avenue Plan to cover RDA’s and their hides. This above comment reveals a great deal. The incompetence, the hypocrisy, and Oh, the irony! City Hall sues Mr. Milligan for violating the LDA and Mr. Sheehan goes on to testify that Mr. Milligan is in violation of an LDA that was, through the proceedings, found to be expired? Unbelievable. The above 2015 comment suggests that in 2014/15, the LDA was so poorly written that it would not have held up in court in a default scenario with POKO. Why such an unprofessional, poorly written LDA which could not protect Norwalk? Who’s name is on that poorly written LDA? This poorly conceived LDA blunder, a questionable developer in the midst of a lawsuit lined up, and slow zoning procedures is a comedy of errors. This whole POKO deal was grossly mismanaged by RDA and covered up by City Hall from the get go, and the cover up continues today several years later. Taxpayers are tired of it. Accountability should fall on RDA’s and City Hall’s shoulders. It is as plain as the nose on Mr. Sheehan’s face.

There is a link to another article of interest within the article if you want to dig further on POKO’s history. An interesting comment in there somewhere by Mr. Kydes regarding POKO.

Jason Milligan April 9, 2019 at 2:29 pm

The head of the law department back then is none other than Mario Coppola!

The same guy that is in charge if all the secret sessions now.

Talk about a conflict of interests. It is unbelievable.

One might consider making an ethics complaint, but guess who is in charge of the ethics commission…

Wait for it…

Mario Coppola!!!

You can’t make this stuff up.

Piberman April 9, 2019 at 2:41 pm

Athletic Director as Mayor. Hmm. So our GOP “breathes” stil. But first a teacher as Supt.
Aren’t any renters interested in “leading our City forward” ? To ever higher taxes. Sigh.

EnoPride April 9, 2019 at 5:05 pm

Just trying to get this straight. So Mario Coppola, the individual who was head of the law department back then who produced the shoddy, poorly written LDA that prevented the city from getting out of the POKO deal gone bad, and who should be let go from his position as a result of his contribution to the serious, rotten POKO repercussions and unethical taxpayer money spent on them, not only still holds his city job, but currently lords over the ethics commission and conducts the closed session meetings with the mayor, RDA and Common Council on how to cover up the POKO botch which he actually had a huge hand in? Suing Mr. Milligan was one of the stratagems. How unethical of Mr. Coppola. The truth is stranger than fiction, but the truth does have a way of rising to the surface.

Conflict of interest indeed! No wonder the clandestine, closed session meetings and no explanation to taxpayers. City Hall is boxed in. I am not sure what is most disturbing – that Mario Coppola still holds a city job or that a mayor and an entire Common Council is publicly perceived as complicit in sitting in closed session with him, spinning ways to get off the hook for POKO. Can at least one council member please have conviction, speak up and say, “This is just unethical on so many levels.”?

Nancy Chapman April 10, 2019 at 4:19 pm

EnoPride, Mario Coppola was not in charge of the law department when the LDA was written. He was in charge when amendments were written. The LDA was signed in 2007 and Coppola came to Norwalk in 2013. Amendments were made in 2014; I think they concerned deadlines, as POKO was given additional time to complete the project.

EnoPride April 10, 2019 at 6:10 pm

Thanks for clarification, Nancy. Trying to understand the POKO chain of events and the reason for so much secrecy surrounding them.

Jason Milligan April 10, 2019 at 6:36 pm

Nancy,

I would expect Josh Morgan to characterize the amendments as “concerning deadlines”.

They also completely overhauled the projects. Tried to cover the original budget gap. Reorganized the capital stack including adding the $5 million grant.

It was also the time period that the parking lots were fully gifted away. Prior to “Team Mario’s edits” & amendments the city had the right to claw back both parking lots.

Under Mario’s rule the Isaac lot was forever gone the moment POKO “commenced construction”.

The Leonard St lot was given away but under Mario’s rule they negotiated a buyback price of approximately $3 million. Why did they do that? Because Olson needed cash and he pledged the newly acquired city parking lot as collateral to a hard money lender. The hard money lender required that $3 million reentry price.

Poko was failing badly. There was tremendous pressure to pull the plug.

Mario argued strenuously to keep it alive.

Desperately they gave the store away!

Note all this transpired years before I got involved. All I did was start to expose it all.

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