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Norwalk Council to consider ‘POKO’ Tuesday

Lawyers face Norwalk Common Council members, Thursday in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. – The Norwalk Common Council on Tuesday will consider moving the plan to restart “POKO” forward.

The full Council will hear the same presentation the Planning Committee did, Planning Committee Chairman John Kydes (D-District C) said.

Video by Harold Cobin at end of story

That’s actually two presentations; the Committee first heard proposed developers John and Todd McClutchy explain their background and the plan they have developed for Wall Street Place, known to many as “POKO” and as The Tyvek Temple to some. On Thursday, the Committee listened to the public and then reviewed the proposed changes to the Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) and the Loan Recognition Agreement (LRA).

Commentary at Thursday’s meeting included multiple Wall Street stakeholders pleading for an arts-centric development, asking that either the Garden Cinemas not be demolished or that it be resurrected in Wall Street Place itself.

Others focused on the 100% affordable housing that is planned for the project. Norwalk Housing Authority Executive Director Adam Bovilsky said a family seeking an unsubsidized apartment would need to make $75,000 a year, or, 3.5 jobs if a person is making minimum wage. The lowest level of income needed to live in the proposed Wall Street Place would be $57,720 for a family of four and “31% of our current Norwalk resident families earn less than $50,000 so unless we think that 31% of our current Norwalk residents shouldn’t be able to afford to live here, then we need to make sure that we have housing like this for them.”

Norwalk NAACP President Brenda Penn-Williams said entry level City employees could live in the project, and 39.1 % of City employees live here now.

Others dwelled on the history itself.

Andy Glaser, a developer, said he’d attended Zoning Commission meetings for his own business and listened in dismay as POKO Partners get extensions on its approvals.

“You sat there and shook your head,” he said, calling the end result frustrating.

“Citibank should take the hit,” John Romano said. “gift it to the city and let the city put it out to the highest bidder.”

Deb Goldstein asked the Council to take out the LDA passages that allowed former developer Ken Olson to come in with a demolition permit and say he started construction.

Common Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E) fought that battle, asking City lawyers numerous questions on the topic.

The changes approve McClutchy as the developer, subject to Zoning approval of the plans, and obligates McClutchy to the LDA, Livingston was told. Retail space is being cut from 20,000 square feet to 11,506 square feet and McClutchy has 180 days to start construction after receiving land use approvals.

Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola pointed out that “land use approvals” means the end of any appeals that are filed on the Zoning approval. Real estate broker Jason Milligan has predicted legal challenges for the development.

In another change, the Redevelopment Agency will pay for a parking consultant, if one is needed, instead of McClutchy.

The conversation touched on the $4.4 million in possible infrastructure improvements in connection with the project; the LRA was amended in 2014 to allow the $4.4 million, which was originally slated to provide for infrastructure improvements across the expected three phases of Wall Street Place, to be spent on just phase I, Coppola said. The infrastructure improvements could also benefit other properties in the area.

“How do we avoid being in the situation we are in today?” Livingston asked, referring to a half-built project that’s been sitting for three years, and the Council seeking the best case scenario for a problem.

It’s a condition for McClutchy’s approval that they have to have funding, he was told.

“What if they don’t get it? this agreement sits here for another – forever? There’s no time frame in which they have to get these approvals?” Livingston asked.

The funding from the Department of Economic and Community Development and from the Department of Housing is already there, John McClutchy said.

“Citibank has committed to us that they are going to buy the bonds that we sell, which is the underlying debt,” he said. Citibank will also issue a construction loan and, “I don’t think it will take them long.”

Then- Norwalk Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan called the State and confirmed the tax credit deal, Coppola said, also relaying that Citibank’s highest levels have “confirmed their commitment to the financing of this project.”

McClutchy said Citibank would agree to new language concerning the commitment of funding.

Council member Doug Hempstead (R-District D) warned that once the Council approves the LDA, it will have no say in the design of the building.

Interim Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tami Strauss said that a joint review of the design is likely. She called DeCarlo & Doll, Inc., the selected consultant, “a pretty tough reviewer.”

“This is the beginning of the process. This is not a final approval of the actual development,” Attorney Peter Nolin emphasized.

“There are certain aspects of that building that cannot be changed and would be too costly to do so. But looking at different façade treatments and colors are certainly things that we will take into consideration as part of the design process,” Todd McClutchy said.

Kydes said the Council would be lobbying the Zoning Commission to make aesthetic changes to the building. He asked if JHM would hold a public meeting to get community input.
“Every good developer does that,” Nolin said. “There’s no sense walking into a (Zoning Commission public hearing) when you don’t know what the public wants.”

The July 2 presentation:

16 comments

Jason Milligan July 21, 2019 at 4:25 am

LIHTC money does not come easy. Lots of people apply.

Last year McClutchy applied for LIHTC for 3 separate projects. All 3 were turned down!!

It was a complete lie for John McClutchy to say all the state money is in place and all they have to do is draw down on it.

JHM is seeking like $30 million in LIHTC cash. That is a huge amount to ask. POKO 1 orinally had less than $9 million in LIHTC approved. JHM has not even applied and will not apply for the LIHTC money until or unless they have a fully approved project from zoning. (After appeals)

POKO 1 received $5 mill. from DECD and spent $3.4 on the automated garage, and I believe DOH gave POKO around $3 million and $1.3 was spent. Both DECD and DOH will leave that approved money in place if the project gets reactivated, which would provide around $3 million additional.

It is maddening to watch this play out.

I hope our full council is really curious on Tuesday.

Jason Milligan July 21, 2019 at 4:42 am

STATE agency CHFA awards the LIHTC money.

The criteria for approval is rigorous and competitive. There is a limited fixed amount of LIHTC money awarded each year. When the money is awarded CHFA wants to see it be used directly.

Lawsuits are a big negative turn off to CHFA. JHM was denied 3 times last year for much smaller amounts of money and without lawsuits.

This project has multiple lawsuits from multiple parties and there are more lawsuits coming.

JHM getting the $30 million LIHTC money is a big IF.

Tom Livingston was on to something when he wanted a drop dead date for approval. If not awarded the LDA should automatically terminate, not be a default that goes through the B.S. default process.

Council-Slam the brakes until all stakeholders are engaged. Why not invite me in for an informal chat. Just hear from me. Ask me questions. I will only provide information and insight. You would be bound to nothing.

Invite in Frank Farriker.

John Dias of the El Dorado Club.

Educate yourself before being led back down a One Way Dead End!

Jason Milligan July 21, 2019 at 6:54 am

The 1st video has the public speakers. There were many great speeches. Lisa Brinton’s was spot on. Marc Alan and Frank Farriker were great. As were Perer Fullam, Andy Glazer and others.

If you only watch a few minutes of the videos make sure you watch the speaker that starts 52 minutes in on the 1st video.

She was amazing!

Adolph Neaderland July 21, 2019 at 12:36 pm

Hard to believe that the Planing Committee of the Council would even consider an affordable housing residential unit for the POKO location in downtown Norwalk as being in the best interest of Norwalk!

It is an expensive “Hail Mary” toss by the Mayor to salvage a botched project by his administration. (Note: only 2 % of Hail Mary passes are successful).

Consider:
1: The POKO structure, 6 story’s high, is completely out of context with the area consisting of much lower buildings, some of colonial configuration.
2: To put said multi bedroom apartments (with children) in an area without a playground with busing, is not sound planning.
3: Not to take advantage of the opportunity to enhance the downtown commercial possibility doesn’t speak well for creative, long term “planning”.
4: The current encased structure, has all the attributes for black mold:
a) warm environment
b) lack of sunlight
c) moist environment
d) time
If approved, the developer will most assuredly seek additional funding for remediation, which at best, is difficult.
Black mold is dangerous to health!
4: There is no good reason to bail out Citi Bank at Norwalk’s taxpayers expense. Citi Bank doesn’t bail out anyone.
5: We should swallow hard, cut our losses, tear down the structure and start over.
Let’s take advantage of Mssrs Milligan and McGuire’s offer to collaborate on better alternatives.

There is nothing to lose!.

The current path is a choice counter to the wishes of most stakeholders as evidenced by the overwhelming vote of the 1st POCD session in October 2017!.participants.

NO MORE MULTI STORY MIXED USE BUILDINGS IN DOWNTOWN
NORWALK !.

EnoPride July 21, 2019 at 1:55 pm

“It is an expensive ‘Hail Mary’ toss by the Mayor to salvage a botched project by his administration. (Note: only 2 % of Hail Mary passes are successful).”

Amen, Adolph Neaderland! The voice of reason!

Force Citibank to sell! Pop the clutch on the McClutchys! Wreck it, Rilling! The people have spoken, and they have resoundingly said, “No deal!!!” Go back to the drawing board, but this time around (Jeeeeez!!) do it the right way, IN PLAIN SIGHT, with your creative and engaged residents at the table by your side, to design an arts district with a reimagined/repurposed Garden Cinemas as a star player. This deal stinks to high heavens! Do what’s right for your constituents, Mayor Rilling and Common Council! We have grown tiresome of having to be dragged along with your incompetent nonsense. Those who follow are well aware of what is going on here. What an embarrassment and a disgrace for the people of Norwalk to behold. What a huge waste of taxpayer money! You have failed us. Shame on you all.

Vote for change and get your voice back this November, fellow Norwalkers! Power in numbers! Stop the insanity! Norwalk cannot afford to withstand two more years of this high level of incompetence!

Another Opinion July 21, 2019 at 2:12 pm

The fix is already in – the rubber stamp Common Council will never go against the mayor. When approved, this will define downtown as a mini Bridgeport. Shame on the mayor!

CAROL July 21, 2019 at 4:00 pm

there must be a way the citizens of norwalk to put a stop to this unwanted nightmare.
help,help,anyone with ideas????

Patrick Cooper July 21, 2019 at 7:43 pm

Hello Harry. It’s me. I know you know.

I’ve not complimented you – once – ever – in this comment section. Perhaps one sided – but from my perspective – well deserved. So let’s talk the November election, and POKO – for a second.

What do you want? Because I believe – you have to choose. Do you want the undying love of the state democratic party Or do you want to win another term?

I believe if you try to use your considerable charm and powers of persuasion on this council that absolutely never ever votes any other way but with you – you’ll get what you want – approval. No one dare – it’s impressive.

But if you do that – your “I love Norwalk” charade turn’s into “The King has no Clothes” – with measurable political damage. No doubt the courts will keep the issue in purgatory – tick tick tick – as November approaches. Lisa will thank you for the chicago style softball.

So that’s it Harry. Use your charm – and shut this down – you might even stay mayor. But jam this colossal mess down our throats in the cover a July heatwave? I believe you can kiss your next term goodbye.

Norwalk Lost July 21, 2019 at 8:06 pm

With adverse impacts to the city’s schools, amenities and taxpayers, city government appears intent to fundamentally transform downtown into a low income/welfare magnet with the approval of this hideous structure. Malfeasance anyone? And yet another example of crony capitalism at its finest. Disgusting!

Paul A. July 22, 2019 at 2:53 pm

Can we get a bit more dramatic here, I know this is mostly done for political gain and Rilling-bashing. My homeowner property tax lowered this year, my city is finally looking like a city, not a 1950’s leftover facade. The traffic is average as is everywhere and the fantasy of Genungs and Kiddy town returning to make you all feel warm smd fuzzy is false.
Lets get this building finished, no long delays by Milligan lawsuits, no bs about the failing arts cinema suddenly being threatened, how many movies did Jason or Lisa go see recently there? I’ll bet the same amount as me. Zero. Not a very attractive or comfortable venue.
The drama laid out about of all the families and children that are supposed to pack this building and the resources they will use. Yeah it’s a city and we need people downtown to give it some life. I call bs, and you all know it.
My votes for Harry. I was back and forth but the latest posts here sealed the deal for me. I’m going rational not dramatic. Let’s get it finished sooner than later.

Patrick Cooper July 22, 2019 at 4:27 pm

Paul A. (nice nome de plume). A Harry supporter out of the blue, posts comments across the spectrum of articles. I suppose it should be said – welcome to the echo chamber. Or – maybe it’s all I need to know about just how unbiased you are. Your property tax lowered? How about the value – you know – what you can sell for? Looking like a city? Traffic is standard?

Well nice try.

Jason Milligan July 22, 2019 at 7:07 pm

Paul A.,

I went to Garden Cinema on July 6th. Me, my wife and another couple watched the Big Little Farm on July 6th, and then went out to Kazu for dinner.

The movie was great!

The theater could use a little freshening up, but that is what any new owner would do. The current owner is burt out and was treated terribly by the city. The City and POKO ruined him!!

Mike McGuire July 22, 2019 at 7:37 pm

Problem is this POKO/McClutchy project falls outside the CHFA guidelines. That means that it will be very challenging to get this approved by CHFA if at all. The result is that this project, if approved tomorrow has a high risk of not getting started anytime before 2023 or later.

But wait Tim Sheehan said he checked with CHFA and they were a go!? More misdirection by the king of spin….. Tim maybe should have told CHFA that the project has multiple law suits of the type that would stop CHFA cold, and that the cost is $800,000 per unit which 33% higher than any project CHFA has ever approved. To quote Mike Mushak “Oops”.

CHFA would require all the law suits to be completed and finalized PRIOR to approval. These law suits will take years to clear up. Then, and only then, will the POKO/McClutchy project have to past the cost hurdle.

Bottom line – as is the POKO/McClutchy project will be years away from getting going – at least 4 years minimum to clear up the law suits than an another 1-2 to find out if CHFA will be OK with the bloated cost structure.

However, if the CC plus the plug and tears up the LDA than Citibank would sell to a market rate developer. We could then have a market rate project starting next year.

Sadly, RDA did not do their homework, or job for that matter, and put the CC into a bind by misleading the CC that this is the only viable option.

CC members, don’t fold on this. Do your job, Norwalk has options.

Contact your CC member today/tonight/tomorrow and insist they they d,and RDA do its job and give the CC options to work with.

Bill Nightingale July 22, 2019 at 8:23 pm

I just hope people show up and give the common council hell for allowing the Redevelopment Agency to get us into this situation and then for continuing to approve agreements with the Redevelopment Agency as a counterparty. The mayor and CC need to step up and do what’s right. That is abolish the Redevelopment Agency.

Rusty Guardrail July 22, 2019 at 10:12 pm

I don’t think the majority of Norwalkers know anything at all about this situation.

Once the 100% politically partisan Council gives thumbs-up to this wrong-minded plan, Norwalk homeowners will see a few points increase in their monthly mortgage bill which includes baked-in tax payments. They’ll grumble some, then shrug and pay it.

Apathetic homeowners are the administration’s #1 asset.

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