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‘POKO’ restart proposal will be made public ‘soon,’ Rilling says

Wall Street Place, otherwise known as “POKO,” as seen from Isaac Street on April 12.

Updated, 10:40 a.m.: Information added

NORWALK, Conn. – A deal to restart the stalled Wall Street Place development, commonly called “POKO,” will be made public “soon,” Mayor Harry Rilling and Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola said Tuesday.

Common Council members met in executive session for about an hour and a half on Tuesday evening, discussing a proposal first disclosed during March 6 court testimony by Norwalk Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan.

A legal team representing JHM Group, the expected new developer, was in the Council chambers Tuesday for part of the executive session.  Members of the team left looking grim-faced; one carried a thick stack of poster boards of the type used to present project renderings. They declined to comment, as did Council members. Rilling and Coppola’s remark that the proposal will be public soon was the only tidbit divulged.

Wall Street Place, under its current approval, includes 101 apartments, 20 percent of which are affordable, plus 12,832 square feet of retail and a 2,875 square foot-restaurant.  Construction halted in mid-2016 due to a budget gap identified as $9,853,181 in a bank document, and the partially-built structure at the corner of Wall and Isaacs Streets has sat wrapped in Tyvek for more than two years.  Lender Citibank took control from the original developer, and negotiations to restart construction have been ongoing between city officials, the bank, and its preferred developer JHM, owned by John and Tod McClutchy.

City officials have been tight-lipped in response to numerous requests for information, citing the sensitivity of ongoing negotiations.  In November Rilling said an explanatory statement would soon be forthcoming, but none has emerged.

Coppola in court on March 6 said the negotiations involve “a lot of back and forth, a lot of complicated issues that require confirmation through various state agencies, etc.”

It was the second executive session for the Council on the topic; the Redevelopment Agency has met once. The agenda for Tuesday’s Council meeting mentioned the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) and the Connecticut Department of Housing (DOH).

Some would prefer the project not be restarted, including real estate broker Jason Milligan, who in the past year has acquired much of the property surrounding Wall Street Place, which he dubbed “The Tyvek Temple.”

“Unfortunately any Citi-McClutchy deal will be DOA once it sees the light of day,” Milligan wrote to NancyOnNorwalk, as the Common Council discussed the proposal.

The project won’t be approved for “various reasons,” he said, alleging that it relies on new Zoning regulations which he says are tied to the “illegal” Wall Street-West Avenue Neighborhood Plan, against which he has filed a lawsuit.

Milligan also said that as the owner of the Fairfield County Bank building which abuts the development, he holds “a pesky and valid easement that is being interfered with,” by the project.  He bought that building in December, and says there’s an easement for what was once the bank’s drive-through, on the “POKO” parcel.

“I have the right to unlimited, uninterrupted access to pass and repass, to load and unload forever and always. I also have a 17 foot by 17 foot loading area,” Milligan said. “Citibank has the discretion to relocate my point of access from time to time. They also have the ability to extinguish the easement in case of default beyond a requisite notice, demand letter and cure period.”

Milligan said numerous other abutting property owners could also challenge the restart effort, and vowed “swift and unrelenting resistance” to any project which “disregards the historic character of the neighborhood.”

City officials again declined to comment.

Milligan has previously called for the partially-built project to be cancelled, and auctioned off to the highest bidder.  As an owner of abutting properties, he could have an advantage in such a sale, relative to other potential buyers.

The public is expected to have multiple options to comment on any plan to resume development.  Sheehan testified in court that the new proposal will go through a public approval process. The project’s building permit and Zoning approval have expired, and Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin testified that a new site plan would require a public hearing. Coppola in court last month said the proposal might require an amendment to the Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) for the property, which would require Council and Redevelopment Agency approval, or a modification of the Conceptual Master Site Plan, an easier hurdle.

8 comments

Jason Milligan April 24, 2019 at 6:23 am

Let’s not forget that the LDA is expired! And even if it were not expired the city has a right to cancel it.

There is absolutely no reason to be talking about these plans in secret unless they plan to stick it to the tax payers.

Team McClutchy has demanded secrecy from the jump. Very Telling.

Council you don’t owe Citibank or McClutchy anything if you except the expiration of the LDA &/or you cancel the city obligations, which you have the right to do.

That includes $4.4 million of infrastructure!! Only $111,000 has been spent. Jessica could use the rest for Wall st & Main st new sidewalks, lampposts, trees, spigots to water the trees, benches etc.

We will never forget that Team McClutchy owes the city of Norwalk 100 parking spaces!

Bill Nightingale April 24, 2019 at 8:18 am

If Planning and Zoning requires a public hearing for new site plan, why is the Redevelopment Agency even needed? Why not just get rid of LDA (and all LDAs) and let this stand or fall under the purview of Zoning – like every normal city?

Can anyone explain why we even have or need at Redevelopment Agency?

Jason Milligan April 24, 2019 at 8:22 am

Can someone please explain what the hell Team McClutchy was doing making a presentation in secret session to the City Council? Talk about cart before the horse.

Team McClutchy leads this city around by its nose. It started when he convinced the entire leadership of the city including the Mayor to sign a non-disclosure agreement. It is embarrassing.

Hey Council leaders-lift your head up. Step out of the secret echo chamber where all you hear is biased, agenda driven information given by people with serious conflicts of interest.

Why do you accept the secret sessions? It just makes you look sneaky. Everybody is watching and paying attention.

Keep in mind NO DEAL or doing nothing for POKO is a choice and a very good choice that should be discussed.

Did anyone tell you in the secret sessions that NO DEAL is a possibility?

Have any of you reached out to former council people about POKO the sequel? -A few different players. A slightly different scenario but the same tired script: Snake Oil Salesman coaxes the eager government wannabe developers into a deal under one imaginary scenario and then regularly and routinely renegotiates once the deep pockets government is on the hook.

Brace for a new round of snookering.

This feels like Deja Vu…

Paul April 24, 2019 at 8:30 am

Why in the world is JHM the “preferred developer”? We need an explanation. Why didn’t JHM try to revive this failed project several years ago? It seems the renewed interest in completing this project started when Milligan “entered the picture”. I believe the project died several years ago and was not revived because it was not viable. Hence no one provided additional funding. The scary part is the additional concessions that will be provided by the city to make this “monolith” financially viable.

Does this project benefit the Wall Street community in 2019? Do we need 80 more high rent apartments or 101 affordable apartments? Does this project benefit local businesses? I am sure local businesses will not be happy with adding 12,832 square feet of retail and a 2,875 square foot-restaurant. How does this project revitalize the Wall Street area?

Jason Milligan April 24, 2019 at 9:30 am

I sent an email to the council yesterday prior to their meeting and I would like to share it here:

Dear Council Leaders,

Thank you for your time, effort and service to the city of Norwalk. Your volunteer commitment is significant and very much appreciated. Unfortunately, I am unable to attend the public meeting tonight, so I ask that this letter be read into the record.

There are concerns over some sources of information and the secretive methods in which information is shared with the Council. The public is permitted to speak for 3 minutes at public meetings; whereas staff is allowed unlimited time to speak in public, in private, on committees, in executive session etc. Some staff members and at least one City attorney have serious conflicts of interest. I ask that you consider tipping the balance a little more in the direction of the people in order to “level the playing field”.

Some of these people who are given unlimited time to influence your decisions would have you believe that there are limited options available to solve POKO. This is false. POKO is an embarrassing mess. Some of the people who helped create the mess and who failed to minimize the damage when they had the chance are the same people who are now in control of your information. Demand to know more.

Please be more curious. Seek additional sources of information. Do not accept the limited choices that others present to you. And maybe question if your sources of information might have an agenda other than the best interests of the City and its people.

I happen to know quite a bit about POKO, and I am happy to share my knowledge and perspective with you. Sharing my vast background would at least provide you with different input and maybe better, more complete information. The POKO Saga is dense and complicated to explain. It’s impossible to get into any real substance in the three minutes I’m allotted to speak during public comment. Please engage with stakeholders like me who have a comprehensive understanding of the complexities of POKO. You owe it to the people of Norwalk to bring yourselves up to speed on a difficult subject and to engage in honest dialogue with a variety of experienced people, so you can make wise decisions.

There are multiple options available, not just the one you have before you. Some options are better for Norwalk than others. Don’t allow yourselves to be rushed into making a hasty decision, or one that suits someone else’s agenda. Try not to yield to the influence of the same insider sources. POKO is defined by a history of bad decisions, some of them made by previous councils. Try not to become a part of this sad history with your own poorly reasoned and poorly informed decision.

Finally, consider that doing nothing may be better for POKO—better for the people, better for the City—than doing something, especially if that something is the wrong something. Enough damage has been done, including two parking lots given away under the false promise of revitalization. Do not feel compelled to throw more of the people’s money away, to give away incentives without hope of reward, or to show favor in only one direction without considering the Common Good.

Respectfully,

Jason Milligan, Publicity Hound

Jason Milligan April 24, 2019 at 9:33 am

I have also just made the following FOIA request:

Dear Mr. Kleppin and other Zoning staff members,

This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act to review information, documentation, correspondence for what is known as “POKO”, Wall Street Place, Tyvek Temple located at the corner of Wall St. & Isaacs St.

Please included all information from January 1, 2019 through the current date.

Please include any and all correspondence, emails, letters, memorandums, renderings, plans, conceptual master site plans, drawings, etc.

Please include any and all documents that mention or pertain to the properties located at 61 Wall St, 63 Wall St, 65 Wall St.,the Garden Cinema property on Isaacs St. and or the John Dias El Dorado Club property also on Isaacs st. 20, 22, 24, 26 Isaacs st or other known addresses.

All correspondence with JHM, John McClutchy, Todd McClutchy, The McClutchy Group and or affiliates, representatives or legal counsel.

All correspondence with Citibank, Municipal Holdings, and or affiliates or representatives.

ENOUGH WITH THE SECRETS!!!

Michael McGuire April 24, 2019 at 10:29 am

Paul,

Regarding fixing the POKO project I believe limited attempts have been made to do just that. However, those attempts keep running into market reality – the project as structured (financially) does not work. I say limited because it appears that there is some heavy duty CYA going on at RDA, if not why would they deliberately mislead nearly every Common Council member and Commissioner with the largest land grab in Norwalk history via the Wall Street-West Avenue Neighborhood Plan.

I have a detailed Op. Ed. regarding the “misleading” topic sent to NoN several days ago which has not been published. I remain hopeful it will be published soon. Norwalk taxpayers need to understand how the RDA manipulates and misleads our City leaders.

There are multiple solutions to the POKO problem, many of them would result in excellent results for the Wall Street area and all of Norwalk. Unfortunately, the Norwalk taxpayer will most likely be delivered a solution that is not the best for us, but will be for those operating “behind closed doors”.

Final thought, I do agree with Bruce Kimmel in that we now have much better access to information coming from City Hall and NoN is a big reason why. That is why so many people are pushing back – we can now see clearly what is not working. I hope the mayor understands this and stops “circling the wagons” but instead invites taxpayers in to help make Norwalk a better place. We all have a lot to offer.

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