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Norwalk Council notes: ‘POKO,’ straws and Maritime Aquarium

The Maritime Aquarium went straw-less more than a year ago. The Norwalk Common Council is now considering a city-wide ban.

NORWALK, Conn. – Some Common Council news for you:

  • McClutchy’s ‘POKO’ plan going to full Council?
  • Potential plastic straw ban draws concern for disabled
  • Meerkats to stay put, unless…

Agenda draws pushback

“The public deserves more respect from their elected officials,” Isabelle Hargrove said Sunday, decrying the agenda for Thursday’s public hearing on the proposal to restart construction on Wall Street Place, known to many simply as “POKO.”

That’s the Tyvek-wrapped structure on Wall Street, owned by Citibank under the subsidiary Municipal Holdings LL. Construction stopped in mid-2016 and John and Tod McClutchy of JHM Group recently publicly presented their restart plan, which includes 101 apartments, all affordable housing for three different income levels, and would demolish the Garden Cinemas to provide space for a parking garage.

Under the plan, a third of households would earn a maximum of 80% of Area Median Income (AMI), for an income range of about $85,000 to $115,000, a third would earn a maximum of 60%, for an income range of $65,000-85,000, and a third would earn a maximum of 40% of AMI, for a maximum income range of $40,000-57,000, depending on household size.

Council Planning Committee members voted to hold a public hearing on the plan this Thursday at 7 p.m. in Common Council chambers.  The agenda includes a line that drew criticism from some activists:

“Advance Municipal Holdings LLC’s Proposal including the proposed amendments to the LDA and LRA for Phase I of the Wall Street Place Project to the Common Council for approval.”

 

“I was surprised to read that the agenda already included advancing the proposal,” Republican activist Isabelle Hargrove wrote. “Sadly, a part of me was glad to see a bit of honesty and transparency from our common council. But really, it is sad to see that decisions have already been made, despite public outcry and even the Editorial Board of The Hour.”

“{The} agenda indicates that they are advancing the project to the full council. Not possible advancement. Not decision on whether to advance, but that the decision is already made,” Debora Goldstein wrote Saturday in a NancyOnNorwalk comment.

Asked about that line in the agenda, Planning Committee Chairman John Kydes (D-District C) responded Monday by email: “I believe that the full Council deserves the opportunity to weigh-in on this project. There’s a lot of history here and just as much misinformation that’s been spread about this project and the council needs to figure out for themselves what’s real and what’s not.”

As Committee Chairman, Kydes has the ability to send the issue to the full Council without his Committee’s approval. Asked about that, Kydes wrote, “There will be a vote to move it to the full Council and I cannot speak for anyone’s vote besides myself.”

 

 

Plastic straws

The Council Ordinance Committee has been working on creating an ordinance to ban straws in Norwalk.

A California activist for the disabled “somehow found out about the proposed straw ban,” Connecticut Legal Rights Project (CLRP) Executive Director Kathleen Flaherty wrote Monday to NancyOnNorwalk.

“When one was proposed in my town (Newington) I was able to post on our town Facebook pages about how straw bans impact disabled people who need straws to drink, and when a lot of people started commenting about that (plus the fact that straws represent a minuscule proportion by weight of plastics in the ocean, and how bans are nothing but performative environmentalism) the proposal was withdrawn without being voted on,” she wrote.

“These bans negatively affect people with disabilities, and that’s something the proponents never even consider. Gatekeeping straws doesn’t work either. I don’t understand why — if people care so much about this — they simply can’t refrain from using straws if they don’t need them, and why they need the government to ban them.”

Norwalk have discussed the concern regarding people with disabilities.  According to the draft minutes of the June Ordinance Committee meeting, Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E) raised the issue and said Westport food establishments are required to keep plastic straws on hand to accommodate their customers. Council member Michael Corsello (D-At Large) called that a reasonable accommodation.

The Committee will consider American Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements at Tuesday’s meeting, according to the minutes.

Public speakers can address the topic at Tuesday’s meeting, at 7 p.m. in City Hall room 231, but may have to wait for comments to be made first in four public hearings on less contentious proposals.

Ordinance Committee Chairwoman Eloisa Melendez (D-District A) said she wasn’t sure if the Committee would vote on the matter Tuesday but when it goes to the full Council there will be a public hearing.

Flaherty suggests some reading material:

 

A disabled woman was killed last week in Britain when she fell and was impaled on a metal straw, the New York Times reports.

 

Aquarium ‘functional replacement’

Council members on Wednesday will consider a $387,830 contract with Construction Solutions Group for management services in the State’s rebuilding of the Maritime Aquarium’s movie theater.

Plans for a 4-D theater to replace the IMAX theater have been in place for more than a year, as the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) intends to demolish the IMAX theater as part of replacing the aged railroad bridge over the Norwalk River, a.k.a., the Walk Bridge. Estimates were well above what ConnDOT was willing to pay and the project has been scaled back.

Aquarium leaders drew up designs for a 4-D theater on the northern side of the aquarium, a bi-level seal tank,  a new meerkat area and a new entrance on Marshall Street. Those plans were estimated to cost $34.5 million and when the bids came in over budget, the City rejiggered its legal relationship with the Aquarium so that it would hold and manage the funds involved and have direct responsibility over all contracts necessary for the project. Hence, the desire for a program manager. Construction Solutions Group is already under contract with the City to manage the school construction projects that are in process.

The project now includes “only the 4D Theater and the Seal Tank,” Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo wrote last week to the Council Land Use and Building Management Committee. “Remaining eligible items {will} be implemented only if there is free balance available,” Lo wrote, which means that other things on the Aquarium’s wish list will be done if there’s money available.

ConnDOT is legally on the hook to foot the project’s bill due to a federal regulation dating back to President Dwight Eisenhower – never before used – which mandates that the state functionally replace the theater because it’s on city-owned property and is used by the public for education purposes, Maritime Board of Trustees Co-Chairman Michael Widland said in May 2018.

The seal tank currently holds 20,000 gallons of water but the new tank will hold 150,000 gallons because the rules and regulations have changed, Widland said, explaining that “functional replacement says that’s the equivalent of when you built that seal tank.”

9 comments

Milly July 16, 2019 at 6:17 am

The environment is being ruined in Norwalk by the huge apartment buildings all over town. How much water is being used? What about all the waste water and garbage these thousands of people are producing? More cars means more congestion and pollution. But banning plastic bags and straws is the Council main concern to save the environment.
I still want to know why the Traffic Authority after it received numerous complaints about the danger of cars parking on Mill Hill their solution was to put up signs making it legal to park there. Personal parking for Head of Harbor South?

Itsjustme July 16, 2019 at 12:34 pm

I’m glad to see our government is focused on the key issues facing Norwalk — in addition to what Trump is up to we now have straws.

Rusty Guardrail July 16, 2019 at 12:48 pm

Proponents of the POKO plan have stated no reasons for building taxpayer-subsidized below-market rate apartments in the center of our desirable gold-coast city beyond glibly telling us “It’s the best option.”

In contrast, opponents of the plan-who are being ignored-have stated extensively detailed reasons to explore alternatives.

It might make a difference if more Norwalkers knew or cared about this, but they don’t. So at the big hearing on Thursday,use your 180 seconds to make faces and lewd gestures at the pre-decided Council members. It’s a done deal.

Joe July 16, 2019 at 2:38 pm

Sick and disabled people need straws to drink well and be well.

I think we used to have some kind of paper straws back in the 1950’s. We should make those paper straws available for the people who need them, especially in hospitals and home care.

And if we need extra trees, annex Western Canada.

Al Bore July 16, 2019 at 3:49 pm

POKO is a done deal “a bad deal” otherwise they would not bring it to a public hearing. They make the decisions behind closed doors and make believe they are asking the taxpayers that pay for it what we think when in fact they couldn’t care less. Milly you are so correct it is a shame what was done to Norwalk with these giant apartment buildings, a shame. VOTE Lisa she truly cares about Norwalk, I spoke to her and she is in this to make a difference for the taxpayers of Norwalk, no other reason and she will listen to what we think. She will balance the council as it can never work as a mostly single party like it is now. There are no checks and balances and we pay the price (higher taxes). Status quo is not working!!

Jason Milligan July 16, 2019 at 5:17 pm

Prior to demolition the Garden Cinema will be playing a sequel…

“POKO Part 2 – One Way Dead End”

The project as depicted cannot pass zoning!

How can the planning committee or council endorse/approve of a project that is blatantly in violation of the new CBD zoning regulations?

It is 2 stories taller than the new max height and there is no exit for Isaacs St traffic. It literally creates a road to nowhere with a one way street with no exit. Returning Isaac’s St to a two way street would not solve the road issues since there is no viable turn around.

New Street #1 is part of phase I as approved. The New Street along with 2 way traffic would have provided adequate circulation. However, New Street #1 is expensive-like $3.5 to $4 million just for the 2 land parcels needed. So Citibank/McClutchy’s new plan eliminates New Street #1 & turns Isaac’s Street permanently one way.

Brilliant!

CAROL July 16, 2019 at 7:25 pm

in this day and age it is unconscionable that no one cares or listens to what the public wants and needs. It is all about “the group” that controls our city. shame on all of you,when wall street becomes a slum with no people to shop,dine or work there,then what will the powers that be do?????

Andrew July 17, 2019 at 10:49 am

I’m all for not using straws, and have cut back to almost zero myself. My one concern is what about milkshakes? I really enjoy them as a treat once in a while and eagerly await someone smart coming up wihth a solution.

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