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: