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Wall-West Neighborhood Plan relies on misleading claims

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The recent article on NoN about the Norwalk Ethics Committee has been very instructive.  I learned that a person making an ethics complaint is then prohibited from discussing said claim in public.   I was about to make an ethics complaint against the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency (RDA) for deliberately misleading the Common Council, RDA Commissioners, Ordinance Committee, Planning Committee and the Planning Commission.  I was also going to make a similar complaint to the American Planning Association (APA).

Instead I think it wiser to take this public and highlight the abuses of power recently witnessed in the passing of the Wall Street West Avenue Neighborhood Plan.  

The Harriman report was used as the primary foundation for RDA’s claim to the “power broker” position in the Wall-West Plan area.  Proof of blight or deterioration for over 20 percent of all properties in the Plan area is needed to meet state statutes.  Harriman claimed that over 50 percent of the properties in the Plan area meet the definition of deteriorated.  However, the Harriman report like its predecessor, the RPA report, is inaccurate, unprofessional, and misleading.

 

Inaccurate

The Harriman report failed to consider the Norwalk Assessor’s recent revaluation data.  The Assessor’s 2013 values vs. their 2018 values for the Plan area showed a marked increase in value for virtually every property in the Plan area.   A property that is deteriorated would have experienced deterioration (lower value) from its prior state, clearly not the case here.   In addition, Harriman did not consider the Norwalk Blight Officer’s findings that the Plan area has only three blighted properties – two were POKO.

Harriman claimed that all buildings with a 30 percent depreciation are “undesirable” and therefore deteriorated sufficiently to meet the State statute for Blight and Deterioration.  However, Harriman could not cite any professional resource supporting the 30 percent threshold.  Nor did they consider the impact of being a historic district.

From FOIA we now know that Harriman had been provided the IAAO white paper aptly titled “A Model for Quantitatively Defining Urban Blight by Using Assessment Data” that showed the threshold for blight and deterioration using assessor’s depreciation is 60 percent for the “average” building in a blighted area.    Norwalk Assessor’s data has less than one (1) percent of the buildings in the Plan area meeting the 60 percent threshold.   Other professional resources support this 60 percent threshold as well.

 

Unprofessional

The Harriman report was conducted by unqualified people, a clear violation of the standards set forth in APA’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct.

The APA Ethics department stated that valuation related opinions or claims should be supported/conducted by valuation professionals such as Assessors and/or Real Estate Appraisers.  This was not done.  True Harriman did use the Assessor’s data, but they did not engage the Assessor to make the determination of blight or deterioration as confirmed by my conversations with the Assessor.  Instead the data was cherry picked and analyzed by unqualified people.

A professional analysis would have, at minimum, included a review of the historic rental rates and occupancy rates in the Plan area vs. a larger control area.  Harriman did not do this, we did.  Using a control area of all of Norwalk we found the Plan area performed on par or was superior to the larger Norwalk market.

 

Misleading

I attended most of the meetings for the commissions noted above and listened as the decision makers asked RDA Staff direct questions yet be provided with misleading information.  Key examples include:

Population – RDA claims sparse population with stagnant growth.  But the data was from 2014, pre-Waypointe.  I’m sure the addition of those 700-odd units would change the findings today.

Income – Same as population, RDA used old data, pre-Waypointe claiming stagnant income growth.  2017 data shows that in census tract 437, the plan area, median household incomes have risen 45 percent in the past twelve years.  Most of this growth from 2015 onward.

Harriman Report is supportable – RDA stated both RDA legal and City Corporation Council deemed Harriman’s report as acceptable.  Yet neither are qualified to make that determination, since neither are valuation experts.  It’s like turning to your neighbor and asking if the Harriman report was acceptable.

 

Conclusion

City leaders need to take another hard look at this Plan as they have ceded control to RDA  for the Plan area based on inaccurate, unprofessional and misleading information.  More important, leadership should look at the process which allowed RDA to take such advantage of the taxpayers.

 

 

Michael McGuire MAI, CCIM

 

6 comments

Michael McGuire April 27, 2019 at 7:03 am

Edit correction “Harriman report is supportable -“ This was a statement made by RDA.

Andrew April 27, 2019 at 7:15 am

@McGuire. Up until now I could never understand why your calls for a train station never gained traction. But, now It is clear. Had a plan for a station moved forward the market would have noticed and began planning for the eventual opening. This in turn would have made the area desirable for all the reasons you have stated many times before. This in turn would have made this whole exercise invalid and defeated for the purpose of turning control of the area over to the RDA.

Jason Milligan April 27, 2019 at 7:36 am

The truth shall be revealed.

Subpoenas, discovery requests, depositions, cross examinations by competent attorneys have a way of getting to the truth.

People that did bad things should be very worried!!

Rusty Guardrail April 27, 2019 at 12:10 pm

Would anyone in the RDA or in the Mayor’s office care to publicly rebut Mr. McGuire’s assertions?

Is there any response from the CC? Will ANY of them come forth with facts that would refute Mr. McGuire’s analysis?

Most Norwalk residents don’t know what’s going on, nor do they care. A mere 20% of the electorate voted in the last election! My guess is that most of that 20% gave the current CC a free ride by basing their choice on Washington politics,

Steve April 27, 2019 at 1:38 pm

My understanding is that by deeming the area “blighted” certain funding becomes available from State/Federal government. The claims above are not particularly strong, especially re: appraisers. The question is whether the claim is that they just did a bad job or whether they were acting in bad faith because of some ulterior motive. Without bad intent predicated on some purposeful wrongdoing my sense is that this riles the based but otherwise fails. My guess is that Corporate Counsel will respond in Court, at least that would be my expectation as a taxpayer and resident of Norwalk. The pages of NancyOnNorwalk as good as it is, is not a Court of law but largely of who speaks most and loudest

Michael McGuire April 29, 2019 at 10:39 am

@ Andrew

Ironic is it not that RDA is tasked with Norwalk’s “economic development”. Everyone I speak with, except RDA, thinks the train station at Wall Street is a great idea. The market data supports that as well.

Yet year after year for RDA’s 15 year tenure here we get nothing on this front. I think you clearly addressed why that is.

RDA prefers looking at “attractive” circulator buses and moving the Pulse Point to the SoNo Train Station. Yet we already have 3 or 4 buses that go from Wall Street area to the SoNo Train Station every hour and ridership is pretty paltry. It seems buses aren’t working well, but that obvious bit of market data is conveniently overlooked in RDA’s utopian vision.

How can you relocated a bus station to SoNo without taking property (eminent domain) and spending millions on creating a bus station (it would be millions because it would be done by the public sector). Yet, no study has been done to compare the economics of a train station at Wall vs. a Circulator bus.

I’m always amazed that the council and commissions have so few members with a solid understanding to commercial real estate markets. Correcting that oversight should be step one in reigning in RDA. Actual, check that, that should be step two.

Step one should be for current council and commission members to seek outside advise on anything to do with RDA “plans”, and don’t wait until the day of voting to get that advise.

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