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Latest POKO ‘deal’ will hurt Norwalk

 

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There are so many issues and basic questions associated with the stalled POKO Phase I project that residents should ask our Mayor and Common Council about claims that this is the ‘best negotiated’ offer they can do with Citibank and the JHM Group.  It’s hard to figure out where to begin, but I’ll try:

  1. With the cost of revitalizing the affordable housing project valued at $80 million, why is it costing about $800k per unit to rebuild POKO I, nearly double the median price of a four bedroom family home in Norwalk? What’s affordable about that?
  2. Why has the city spent roughly $700,000 of taxpayer money suing Jason Milligan for ‘irreparable harm’ or for saying the Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) couldn’t be modified, when clearly the city is now taking steps to modify it, in roughly the same time frame they’ve been fighting in court on the taxpayer’s dime?
  3. The mayor indicated his concern that ‘our kids cannot afford to live here’ — why not start with their parents? Existing homeowners and taxpaying residents are struggling to stay in Norwalk – primarily due to property taxes.
  4. Will tax revenues generated from this project cover Board of Education expenses associated with additional students? With 12 three-bedroom family units and 68 two-bedroom units, it’s unlikely there will be any children in the 21 one-bedroom units. However,  to assume there won’t be ANY children in this building is unrealistic.  The average cost to educate a student in Norwalk is $17,000 – more, if they have additional social needs often associated with lower income levels.
  5. The new agreement caps the property taxes at 7.5% of estimated gross income for 15 years. According to the associated Schedule E portion of the deal– the gross rent is estimated to be $194,264 per month or $2,331,168 per year.  At 7.5% that equates to an annual property tax bill of about $174,000.   With 101 units and 235 bedrooms, that tax bill only covers 10 kids!  Does anyone think it unrealistic that student numbers could be four or five times higher, given the majority of units will be two and three bedrooms?
  6. Commercial real estate experts indicate if this were a market rate development costing $80 million, it would generate around $1.5 million annually in taxes.  The difference in taxes of $1.5 million versus roughly $175,000  is $1.325 million.  Imagine what Norwalk could do with that revenue?
  7. Even the historical preservation folks have issues with this development. Successful urban renewals use a scalpel not a sledge hammer to revitalize areas.  Don’t we need an aesthetically pleasant and attractive urban environment in the historic Wall Street district to attract young professionals and companies to Norwalk?  Nobody wants ugly.
  8. Last, as a casualty of this stalled project, the beloved Garden Cinema is being torn down, invoking Joni Mitchell’s lyrics, “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

Anyone believing that the Citi Community Capital division of Citibank  is in the affordable housing business for the community, probably thinks there’s a bridge in Brooklyn for sale.  All banks and their divisions are in business to make money, and there’s money to be made off of selling low income tax credits bundled and sold to rich investors or corporations needing tax credits to offset revenue or other capital gains. Citibank could care less about Norwalk or any downstream city services or infrastructure costs that local taxpayers will have to pay for once the building goes up.

The Mayor needs to stand up for the residents and taxpayers of Norwalk and 1) force Citibank to sell the property, 2) make  them take the financial hit,  3) tear the building down and start again.   That’s what I would do.  I fear this deal was cooked up by City Hall’s expensive legal counsel and outside lawyers, paid of course, by local taxpayers.

I am all for healthy growth and development that benefits the city and helps our city coffers.  However, having such a large development of 101 units, below market price, in the center of our city will certainly define the area for decades to come, encouraging lower standards of investment going forward.  Doesn’t anybody at City Hall understand math – or do they just not care?

 

 

Lisa Brinton

 

The writer is an unaffiliated candidate for Mayor.

31 comments

Sue Haynie June 30, 2019 at 6:30 am

Mayor Rilling has decided to make his own ‘flood’. Wall Street was heavily damaged by a flood 65 years ago and Wall Street still has the look of a downtown under siege. Mayor Rilling must like the look of undervalued, under taxed, under-inspired downtowns. Rilling has hid this plan from the public and will try to shove it down the taxpayer’s throats. Rilling is selling out Norwalk taxpayers.

VOTE LISA for MAYOR. Norwalk residents and taxpayers need someone who will fight for them for a change.

Mike Mushak June 30, 2019 at 7:03 am

Lisa, and her small gaggle of reactionary anti-growth and self-serving supporters who post comments incessantly, are desperately hoping to keep Wall Street stagnant and depressed and would love nothing more than see POKO fail.

One of her main supporters from out of town has even tried to profit from that failure, so let’s talk about transparency here. Let’s get the real truth here on what’s going on. The “sky-is-falling” hysteria is getting tired, and smart observers can see through the smokescreen.

As Harry Rilling’s professional and competent leadership has successfully pulled a trifecta of lower taxes, increased services, and improved management, what does Lisa have left to run on but hoping and praying that Wall Street fails?

Wall Street and the entire city desperately need POKO to be finished, despite Lisa’s seriously flawed and myopic argument about the cost of schoolchildren, which she pulls out of her hat whenever she has run out of reasons to be against increased density.

Lisa seems oblivious to the fact that single family homes sprawled across the city cost the city far more in services in the end, and that dense multi-family housing in walkable neighborhoods offers greater choices of affordability and builds stronger communities that attracts both young and old residents, most of them without children as we all know.

And any first-year urban planning student can tell you the local economic activity generated by 100 units of housing in a downtown location far offset any costs, in this case over $5 million annually from this one project alone.

Add to that the concept that new businesses seek locations with affordable housing for their employees, and you have an argument for the new POKO plan that far exceeds any bogus “sky-is-falling” scenario being pushed by the anti-growth reactionaries.

Lisa always conveniently leaves these parts of the equation out, because for her to admit new housing in our downtown cores is beneficial to the city as every other city in America has figured out is a good thing, would be to admit failure of her entire suburban-centric campaign platform, which is anti-growth, anti-diversity, and anti-Norwalk.

Happy Pride Day everyone!

Ct. V June 30, 2019 at 7:21 am

This is seeming to follow the pattern from the mall. Let’s debate forever, get backed into a corner and accept whatever is put out as the “final offer” whether it meets any of the rules or not.

Jason Milligan June 30, 2019 at 7:40 am

Does anyone believe Harry’s clalim that 5 stakeholders were consulted and to a person they supported this plan?

These Phantom 5 supporters should be rushing to Harry’s defense if they truly support the plan.

I suspect that if they exist at all that a. they are NOT really supporters. b. they are NOT really stakeholders.

More likely Harry leaned hard on a handful of his “cronies” that are either doing tremendous business with the City or they are looking for future favors with the city of Norwalk.

I challenge one stakeholder to come forward and publicly support this plan as a good plan for Norwalk.

It is impossible to be a true stakeholder that is involved with and that cares for the Wall St area and to also support this $80 Million trainwreck.

Harry didn’t ask true stakeholders!

Harry didn’t explain this trainwreck and then seek genuine input & feedback.

Harry please articulate how this plan is good for Wall st and Norwalk in general.

Most of us know that there are lots of better plans, and most of us know that there is a better process to get to those plans.

Jason Milligan June 30, 2019 at 7:46 am

A recent online survey asked 3 very appropriate questions:

Should the City of Norwalk terminate the LDA & start over?
Yes 92.59%
No 7.41%

Should the Mayor & Council engage with the Wall Street Neighborhood Association and other area stakeholders before rushing an unsupported plan forward?
Yes 92.59%
No 7.41%

Should the City of Norwalk financially support Citibank’s $80 Million POKO Plan?
Yes 7.69%
No 92.31%

City & Council will you please listen to the people?

Link to POKO Survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/XQPGKGK

Jason Milligan June 30, 2019 at 7:55 am

The only immediate action that the City of Norwalk should be taking is to enforce the demands made by DPW over 1 year ago to restore Isaacs street to pre-construction conditions.

Please sign the petition asking DPW to enforce their request or start fining Citibank $250 until it is done.

Link to petition: http://chng.it/phx64LQZ5B

We have 32 signatures and counting.

Isabelle Hargrove June 30, 2019 at 9:12 am

With each op-ed,Lisa is proving to be the person Norwalk needs at the helm! She has an impressive command of the issues, understands that we need to make more financially sound land use decisions if homeowners have any hopes at seeing property taxes reliefs, has a vision for our beautiful city not sold to the lowest (yes, not even the highest!) bidder or ConnDOT, and finally she has the courage, free of special interest and party loyalty, to make it happen!

Piberman June 30, 2019 at 9:23 am

Imagine if City Hall spent its formidable energies on encouraging major firms to invest and bring good jobs to Norwalk as commonly done in well managed cities. Rather than encouraging more developers bringing more renters who fail to pay their full share of City services. Why do major businesses avoid investing in Norwalk ?

Lisa Brinton June 30, 2019 at 9:33 am

Sorry Mike – been our door knocking talking to regular folks not surrogates such as yourself… the biggest question? “Why are my taxes still going up with all of this development?”

Your narrative of saying I’m anti-development is getting old. My former career at AT&T was about ‘growth’ and putting in new infrastructure networks BECAUSE of it. However, neither you in your Planning Commissioner role, nor this administration has ever provided a realistic financial model of growth for Norwalk. NEVER!!! Lots of ‘first year urban planning student fluff’ but NO concrete evidence. Since 2013, the grandlist grew 12%, yet the city budget grew by 24%. What’s wrong with that picture? Am I missing something? I’m not anti growth – I’m anti bad land deals that place more burden on homeowners struggling to stay in the city or anything that diminishes quality of life.

Missed you yesterday at the traffic safety meeting that was packed at the Main Library. You would have heard from 50+ residents on a Saturday morning about the congestion that is choking our city! So much for planning.

Jason Milligan June 30, 2019 at 10:15 am

Mushak,

You arguments made in a vacuum might hold water, but we have a very specific and very expensive proposal to examine.

Norwalk must contribute $4.3 million to this Citibank/Team McClutchy bailout.

The project gets a sweetheart property tax deal for 15 years at approximately $175K.

The state of CT would issue $32 million in tax credits.

The city would back the project with bonds.

Should the public financial burden be examined at all, or if you wrap yourself in a noble cause as Citibank is attempting to do should finances be ignored?

Would your argument change at all if the city gave Citibank $8 million, $10 million or $20 million.

At what point would you accept an ounce of “naysaying”?

Steve Mann June 30, 2019 at 10:46 am

Hey Mike, when will you be moving from your single family home? You know, the ones sprawled across the city that end up costing much more in services in the long run? Maybe you’ll be checking out the new apartments in East Norwalk once we clean up the place a bit? Unless of course you want to move to our little “ghetto” now? We sure could use a hand over here.

Rusty Guardrail June 30, 2019 at 12:11 pm

So who holds the reins here? Can this deal be stalled until Election Day?

Thousands of apartments were built, yet homeowners’ taxes increased.

The Grand List posted at norwalkct.org is from February 2019. That’s BEFORE several months of valuation appeals from residents and businesses. TAX BILLS HAVE BEEN SENT OUT…WHERE IS THE UPDATED GRAND LIST?

Sue Haynie June 30, 2019 at 12:49 pm

@Mike Musak,

“any first-year urban planning student can tell you the local economic activity generated by 100 units of housing in a downtown location far offset any costs” True IF talking Market Rate units; not true if 33% of the units are HUD classified extremely low income (40% AMI), 33% are HUD classified very low income (60% AMI) and 33% are low income (80%AMI).

“dense multi-family housing in walkable neighborhoods…attracts both young and old residents, most of them without children as we all know.” Again, True apartments don’t attract a lot of children IF the units are Market Rate. Not true if the units are extremely low income (40%AMI), very low income (60%AMI) and low income (80%AMI), those are student magnets.

“…new businesses seek locations with affordable housing for their employee..” Yes, but Norwalk is already at 13% for our affordable housing and it’s had a minimal impact in bringing in new jobs to Norwalk.

Mike McGuire June 30, 2019 at 1:09 pm

@Mushak

I have to give you credit for your loyalty. But your arguments, as usual, are inane.

Simple truth- 101 housing units downtown are good for Norwalk. But 101 units rented to high income earners sure beats 101 renters struggling to make ends meet.

Simple truth – 2 and 3 bedroom apartments are very attractive to families. 80 of the 101 units are 2-3 bedroom. Last I checked kids have to go to school. Student Cost per child in Norwalk – $17,000 per child.

The city will only get $174,000 per year in taxes, enough to cover 10 kids in school. Nothing left over for anything else in out $360 million budget Who’s the myopic one here?

It actually frightens me that you are on the planning commission. It also explains a lot about the messes Norwalk has with land planning.

Alan June 30, 2019 at 2:50 pm

Wouldn’t we want tenants in the POKO apartments who will have the means to support the merchants in their Wall St. neighborhood? How will a building completely full of low-income families accomplish that? Why not work-force apartments, although I doubt any city employee would meet the low income requirements? This isn’t a good deal for Norwalk. Tear it down and build a project that makes economic sense. Too much taxpayer money has already been flushed down the toilet (an too much profit has been made on an unfinished project)

Patrick Cooper June 30, 2019 at 2:54 pm

In other news (The Onion), Bookings Holdings, Frontier Communications, Xerox Corp, EMCOR Group – all Norwalk companies – released their latest secret plans to grow their businesses. And who did they count on as their respective spokespeople? A house painter, a plumber, the cable repair man, and Sal from the florist shop. Harry might be on to something.

Adolph Neaderland June 30, 2019 at 4:08 pm

Considering the backlash firestorm raised by city stakeholders to the Mayor’s new plan to resuscitate the POKO project, this project should be put on hold until a rational public debate can be had.
I see 2 basic issues that need input expertise and resident’s feedback:
• A truly independent analysis of the various financial analysis put forth by Mayor Rilling, Jason Milligan, Mike McGuire and Lisa Britton. (perhaps others as they are made available)
• A development guide for the future of downtown Norwalk– more West Ave type development or an aesthetically pleasant and attractive urban environment in the historic Wall Street district as proposed by Lisa.
This project will have a long term effect on Norwalk’s future and should not be forced through the approval process. (perhaps requiring a referendum).
As an aside, I find it discouraging that our major planning department heads ( Chief Financial officer & Chief of Economic and Commercial Development), have chosen to stand on the sidelines.

Mike Mushak July 1, 2019 at 2:04 am

When Lisa stated in a comment here on NoN that Washington Village didn’t deserve to be for low-income folks, because they don’t deserve to live in such a nice location near the water, I knew then that we were dealing with a suburban candidate who was in way over her head in understanding cities and inclusive land use decisions, as well as this little thing called the Fair Housing Act.

Look it up, as you may think twice about what you say in this comment section about where you think folks of certain incomes deserve to live. Its astounding actually that I even need to say this here.

Same thing with the same five incessant commenters on here here seem stuck in some kind of negative feedback loop of their own misinformation, that only people who can afford market-rate housing deserve to live in nice locations. Where do they think lower income folks should live, anyway? These are the hard-working folks who keep our economy humming in one of the most expensive housing markets in the country.

I suspect these blatantly discriminatory comments may come back to haunt them some day.

Bryan Meek July 1, 2019 at 9:13 am

Westport should seize this opportunity to have Poko put in their downtown since they love helping those in need so much. Share the love.

Tom G. July 1, 2019 at 11:15 am

The updated POKO plan is not good for Norwalk and its taxpayers. The new terms are not acceptable.

It will add to congestion on the roads and in our schools, not to mention a drain to the budget and infrastructure.

There is no reason to add 100% below market rate rental units. This doesn’t make sense to further spend more money and abate substantially all property taxes. How do you revitalize Wall Street by filling it with 100% subsidized rental apartments?

Citibank made a bad business decision years ago and just needs to write this off as a bad investment. It is not the role of the hard-working Norwalk taxpayers to bail them out.

I would love to hear from the mayor how my observations are not valid.

Bryan Meek July 1, 2019 at 11:45 am

Oh, and let me not forget to demand Mike Mushak resign from the Planning Commission immediately. I can’t ever recall a public commissioner politicking for a matter that hasn’t even come before his board yet. Is the Ethics panel taking the summer off? This is about as low as it gets.

Lisa Brinton July 1, 2019 at 12:39 pm

@ Mike M. I will be reporting you to NON (again) with regard to your blatantly false lies over my comments regarding the Washington Village development. You are bordering on libel my friend. My statements were about replacement costs not deserving status. Why did it cost nearly $700,000 per unit (again, more than the median price of a home in Norwalk) to build this affordable housing? You could have GIVEN each of the ~125 tenants money to buy a condo in Norwalk for what was spent! Let’s call government affordable housing what it really is – subsidized tax credits for rich people and corporations who need ‘losses’ to offset ‘gains’. Often these rents are still too high for the folks who desperately need Section 8 vouchers – which is another reason why we have such a high ‘off the property tax books’ rental market in Norwalk. I’m out talking to the folks who need this kinds of housing Mike. Let’s keep things real here.

I was on the Washington Village site when the mayor did a walk about, last winter, as senior tenants were sucking in asbestos, while buildings were being torn down around them because their health was not as important at the developer’s bottom line. Funny, I didn’t see you there. I spent years at Washington Village and other the housing projects working with kids – I know the conditions these folks lived under. Can you say the same?

Once again, as a Planning Commissioner – you refuse to discuss any common sense financials…be it POKO, Washington Village, the Walk Bridge, tax credits for the Mall… etc. You’ve had your hand in all of these things as a zoning or planning commissioner. Yet you cannot provide answers to simple math questions. However, your abusive behavior on this site is par excellence. I get it, your the mayor’s surrogate. However, many residents, including myself want to hear about these issues from him. Not you. Not Laiose. Not Josh.

Michael McGuire July 1, 2019 at 1:36 pm

@ Mushak,

Show us the math that supports your position. Only then can we have a meaningful discussion. Our arguments are based on the math – this project is a massive economic burden to the City of Norwalk and will be for 40 years.

With potentially 80 kids, if not more, the costs to Norwalk Schools alone is $1,360,000 per year. That’s $1,186,000 more than the maximum “tax revenue” the City would see from this project.

M. Mushak – who will make up the $1,186,000 shortfall?

What about all the other Norwalk government costs that need to be covered (police, fire, zoning, building, etc. etc.). Where does that revenue come from since $0.00 is left over.

Why are you on the Planning Commission?

Isabelle Hargrove July 1, 2019 at 1:57 pm

@Mike Mushak. Your comments, while slanderous and unbecoming of a sitting commissioner or even a decent person, made me smile. As Margaret Thatcher said, “if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.”

The numbers are what they are, there is no possible defense of this project except insults to people’s character.

Jason Milligan July 1, 2019 at 3:10 pm

There are 4 lawsuits that will keep this project from going anywhere.

1. I own an easement under the Tyvek Temple to access the back of the FC Bank Building. There is no denying this easement. Redniss & Mead know that it is valid and that is why they list it on their most recent site plan. Check pg. 34 of the most recent Citibank plan. If you look closely at the site plan: Platform & Access easement BK 464 Pg 106 N.L.R.
I have commenced a lawsuit to restore my access and all of my rights to the loading and unloading area.

2. There is a frivolous lawsuit initiated by the Redevelopment Agency against me claiming Irreparable harm is a legal concept which argues that the type of harm threatened cannot be corrected through monetary compensation or conditions cannot be put back the way they were. The latest Citibank Plan while a complete financial train wreck it would provide a solution that the City of Norwalk claimed was irreparable. Surely there are other solutions that would also remedy the situation.
This lawsuit is currently on pause while the judge contemplates the 1st of 3 motions to dismiss the lawsuit. This new Citibank plan might create grounds for a 4th motion to dismiss if it were to become necessary. This motion to dismiss argues that the LDA is invalid for a variety of reasons.

3. I am suing the Redevelopment Agency for fraudulently created the 2019 Redevelopment Plan. The Agency did not strictly adhere to the Chapter 130 State Statute procedures, and the suit intends to prove they committed fraud along with their consultants. This suit has been delayed by several defendants.

4. John Dias, owner of the El Dorado Club is suing the City and Redevelopment Agency

There are countless other problems that have not risen to the level of a lawsuit yet but they have the potential to get there.

Chapter 130 state statute and the LDA both require written consent from all parties and successors to make any amendments to the plan, project or agreements.

I am a successor. The Wall Street Theater is a successor. The Theater was part of the original plan and LDA and it was never taken out.

Isaacs street is currently a 1 way dead end street. I am generously permitting traffic to cross my property to exit via Leonard St. My generosity is running thin.

Citibank’s new plan keeps Isaacs street one-way. Maybe they plan to use pixie dust to get the cars out. Even if the street were returned to 2 way there is no place to turn around.

Part of the problem is the plan and LDA require the City of Norwalk to build New Street #1. New Street #1 is supposed to go where the John Dias El Dorado Club is located and the People’s Chicken Property located at 77 Wall st. New Street #1 is also where the utilities including sewer for POKO were also supposed to go. New Street #1 could provide the circulation that would be needed, but the City and Agency are actively fighting John Dias in that lawsuit. They are claiming that they don’t need the property, and they don’t need to buy. John is saying that the city basically condemned his property and put him out of business while they told him they were taking it for this project and they built up to his door step and took all of his parking.

Did everyone follow all of that?

There are some very easy and elegant and inexpensive solutions to the POKO mess. The $80 Million Citibank & Team McClutchy BAILOUT is not the answer!!

Andrew July 1, 2019 at 6:46 pm

“As Harry Rilling’s professional and competent leadership has successfully pulled a trifecta of lower taxes, increased services, and improved management, ”

Best quote ever. Thanks for the chuckle.

Paul A. July 1, 2019 at 10:32 pm

I was pretty much non-plussed by the comments here as they often seem similar until I saw Mr. Milligan’s comment’s about John Diaz and the City is “actively fighting John Dias in that lawsuit. They are claiming that they don’t need the property, and they don’t need to buy. John is saying that the city basically condemned his property and put him out of business while they told him they were taking it for this project and they built up to his door step and took all of his parking”
If this is factual as stated, its been underreported and could be a vote-changer for me. That’s unfair to local business in my mind. I’ve walked by the storefront, it’s creepy back there now. …right behind the WS Theatre no less.
Come on people, work this out

Mike Mushak July 2, 2019 at 12:43 am

@Lisa, you said clearly that affordable housing should not be built on valuable waterfront land, and that it was a waste of taxpayer money. I have the screen shot.

Yes, you said it. No slander, no libel. You are clearly out of your element when talking about housing and urban planning, and you are definitely not ready for prime time in City Hall.

Why don’t you run for Council or Board of Ed? That way you can prove your self-proclaimed leadership skills and we can all see them in action, beyond the regurgitated insults and sarcasm you post incessantly.

And take my word for it, the Republican endorsement you think will save you, with Trump in control of that party now, isn’t worth the gold leaf toilet paper it’s printed on. How could you compromise your lifelong principles like this? Shameful.

Jo July 2, 2019 at 6:49 am

Nancy, it would be great to learn about the John Diaz/El Dorado situation, if it hasn’t been covered before.
Mike Mushak, if you have a treasure trove of screen shots, why not just release them, and free your hard drive of this weighty burden?

So much drama.

Debora Goldstein July 2, 2019 at 6:06 pm

Hands up Wall Street businesses! All those who saw the equivalent of $5million additional economic activity after HOTH opened, raise your hand!

If you created one additional job for a local since they opened their doors, raise your hand!

HOTH had three times the number of units than the 100 proposed for POKO Phase I, went up in a reasonable time frame, and they TAKE NO TAX SUBSIDIES while adhering to the very reasonable 10% affordable metric without complaint.

It’s hard to see where Planning Commissioner Mushak’s $5million is coming from, but its pretty clear that Mr. DiScala has proved that it’s possible to do market-based in that area.

Perhaps Norwalk’s next Redevelopment Director needs to revisit whether its time to shrink its area of responsibility.

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