NORWALK, Conn. – The easements that came with the 1922 creation of Calf Pasture Beach need to be “clarified” to allow the Gardella family to update its neighboring marina and prepare for possible redevelopment, a lawyer told Norwalk Common Council members Tuesday.
This clarified legal arrangement would, under the present proposal, alter the beach driveway to include three access points to neighboring Gardella properties, with three new gates to close beach parking lots while keeping the driveway open. It would include a $175,000 payment from the family to the City; $50,000 of that would pay for a new utility easement. At some point in the future, the overflow parking along the driveway could be eliminated.
Council members tabled the proposal to October, saying this would allow time for Department of Public Works engineers to consider an alternative plan, and that the public would have more opportunity to weigh in.
The proposal was developed through two years of negotiations, Assistant Corporation Counsel Brian McCann said at a joint meeting of the Council Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs Committee and the Public Works Committee.
Back in 1922, when four families donated land to create Calf Pasture Beach park, the quitclaim deed reserved a right of way for the four properties now owned by Gardella Brothers, McCann explained. The legal language is ambiguous in today’s estimation, and part of the issue here was to agree exactly where the easement is, he said; the consensus was to keep it on the driveway that is already paved.
The 22 acre Cove Marina was developed into a full-service marina in 1959 and now there is a generational transition, with “new ownership” looking to be more responsive to current boating trends and market forces, Architect Scott Ross of Landwise said, explaining that his company was hired in 2016 to reevaluate the business plan and create a framework for expanding the marina while anticipating possible reuse of underutilized land.
Anyone who has visited the marina, Sunset Grill or the Longshore Pavilion knows how “confusing” and “highly dysfunctional” it is for drivers but “it’s now gotten to a tipping point where the access rights which were reserved for all four of these lots, they need to be exercised to redistribute access to this property,” Ross said. Drivers who may not know where they’re going travel through an operating boatyard, creating security and liability concerns.
“It needs to be fixed… It’s not the way you would ever design it and set it up,” he said.
Council members had asked if the proposal had a time sensitive element.
“Our view is this should have been done previously,” Ross said. “Everyone benefits by moving this along, we’re not suggesting that it’d be rushed. But a lot of thought has gone into the planning and the and into that easement agreement, which has been under active negotiation for two years.”
“In order to fund the infrastructure improvements that are going to be required to upgrade this marina, to the tune of about $20 million over a period of years – that’s new bulkheads, new docks, new surface facilities, club facilities – to make it what it really ought to be, the Gardellas have to find a way to fund these improvements,” he said. “And part of that has to do with making the best utilization out of all the land so that the marina can coexist with some other uses … other than Longshore and Sunset Grill.”
The new access points will allow visitors to enter the properties without going through the boatyard and the Gardellas are just as concerned about beachgoers as the City is, but their rights exist, it’s not a new creation of at the access rights, he said.
The Gardellas would pay half the cost to maintain the driveway, referred to as Marina Park Drive.
“There are other issues that have been clarified, so that everybody knows where it’s going,” Ross said. “We think it’s vitally important to both the current owner and the city to clarify the issues and finalize the implementation of a sustainable master plan for Cove Marina.”
The $125,000 would go into escrow to allow the Gardellas to apply for permits and approvals, including a special exception to allow the four lots to remain under one ownership, Attorney Brian Smith said.
Council members went into executive session for about an hour, to discuss the proposal.
“We had extensive discussion and we have decided to table this item until the Oct. 1st DPW meeting, which will be a public meeting, and I am instructing the DPW engineers to work … on conceptual designs for the driveway,” Public Works Committee Chairman John Igneri (D-District E) said.
“After all this time?” a Gardella Brothers Board member said from the audience.
Igneri explained that perhaps the DPW engineers could simplify the road so it didn’t have as many turns and workarounds as proposed, to “make something that works well for you and well for us, and eliminates some of the confusion we see here.”
Ross protested that the Gardellas had come to Recreation and Parks two years ago and spent “lots of money” to work with the City to develop the current plan, after discarding an earlier one.
“Faces have changed,” Igneri said, referring to staff turnover.
“We have been talking about this and we think there might be a better plan,” Igneri said. “…We are not saying we’re not onboard with it, we’re just saying we’d like some more information.”