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.