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Norwalk’s next POCD draws few opponents in public hearing

Norwalk Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin offers highlights on the Norwalk Citywide Plan for 2019-20, otherwise referred to as a Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD), Wednesday in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. — A modicum of people turned out Wednesday to weigh in on Norwalk’s vision for the next decade, some of them focused on a vision for December.

Republican-endorsed unaffiliated Mayoral candidate Lisa Brinton and two of her supporters blasted the drafted 10-year city-wide master plan, officially referred to as a Plan of Conservation and Development, accusing it of not being what residents want. One citizen praised the plan as being much better than the one approved in 2008, another spoke about it positively and two offered other thoughts.

“My fear is that while there’s been a good deal of the outreach… I don’t think this is necessarily a strategic document,” Brinton said. “I believe it has a lot of tactical activities, but it’s not strategic. I believe it’s a $200,000 cookie cutter consultant template where it’s inserted our name in many different places, saying we’re going to get vibrant city.”

Mayor Harry Rilling said the 296-page plan had been “done so well,” is comprehensive and “a vision not only for the next 10 years, but beyond.”

Up to 20 people attended the Common Council Planning Committee public hearing on the POCD; seven spoke. Written comments are still being accepted, and the Committee will consider the plan at its Sept. 5 meeting, Committee Chairman John Kydes (D-District C) said. Then it’s expected to go to the Planning Commission in October.

More than 20 public meetings were held in the course of developing the plan, Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin said. The goal of hosting a meeting for the Hispanic community did not work out but the city’s youth was consulted in one session, people were queried at the Department of Public Works open house and surveys were done of Merrit 7 employees and Waypointe residents. The Norwalk Tomorrow online platform is “still a work in progress to some extent,” but opinions were sought through Survey Monkey.

The 2008’s economic development section is “pretty light” on recommended actions while the drafted 2019 plan “has very specific strategies. I think maybe more specific than you would see in a typical plan of this type,” Kleppin said. “It identifies the parties responsible for implementing those. It gives a timeframe for getting those done, and talks about some additional resources that need to be brought to bear in order to achieve the goals.”

It’s also aligned with the capital budget process.

Adolph Neaderland, a long-time POCD critic and Brinton supporter, was first to speak.

The drafted plan “has been oriented toward the city’s management as opposed to city stakeholders,” he said. “I would suggest that maybe less than 5% maybe only 3% of the city’s stakeholders have been involved in this process.”

People spoke against multifamily high rises at a well-attended early meeting but that sentiment isn’t reflected in the plan, he said.

“Mr. Kydes, you have noted that this was a quality plan. And it may be in many particulars, except, in my opinion and the opinion of many others it doesn’t reflect what the people want,” Donna Smirniotopoulos, like Neaderland a member of the Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations, said.

Carlsbad, Calif., in 1986 developed a growth management program, she said. “It actually capped the number of households and it imposed upon developers the obligation to build out schools and other facilities. In other words, they were not going to allow more growth if they didn’t have a way to pay for schools and infrastructure. And I would like to see our plan include language to that effect. I know the idea that we capped the population has been rejected. I don’t think anybody has said we cap population.”

“I have to say I agree with some of the things that Donna just said, much to my great surprise, but nevertheless, I’ve been involved in the previous plan to some extent and I have to say that this process is so much better than anything I’ve seen done for a master plan in Norwalk in the past. And it also produced a document which I think is vastly better,” Tod Bryant said.

“I do believe that there is a lot of goodwill here to start, and let’s make sure we have the actual implementation phases,” Diane Lauricella said, going on to offer specific suggestions, such as “reformulate the Brownfield task force” and “look at green roofs and infrastructure.”

“You have to mention that over 21% of our city is on private drinking water wells,” she said. “That’s huge, Mr. Mayor, because if those wells become contaminated, it means that we’ll have to put in pipes or you may not have the water.”

“Here the four things I think it fails to address the strategic level for our city,” Brinton said. “It doesn’t address how many people or how big we want Norwalk to become. It ignores residents’ pleas for no more fortress apartments, it fails to address how many more tax credits we’re going to give to the city or how much more blight we’re going to declare in the future. And it fails to adequately address how we’re going to fund our schools.”

“What do we want to become in the next 10 years? And, you know, I guess we’re going to probably find out this November,” Brinton said. “But I do believe, like I said, a lot of good strategic ideas in there. But we have failed to address how many people and how we’re going to plan and zone for our biggest expense, which is the school system.”

Rilling pointed out that Neaderland had been on the POCD Committee.

“As was stated, when you have a public hearing, or public meeting, you can’t make people come out, you can ask them to come out. And I think that there were significant opportunities, there were many opportunities for the members of the general public to comment,” he said. “…I would take issue with the fact that there was no opportunity, or that there were only a few individuals, and only 3 to 5% of the stakeholders had input.”

When the administration learned of things that are not in the plan, they listened and those things were included, he said.

“Norwalk is a city on the rise, or one of the very, very few cities in the state of Connecticut where people are moving to,” Rilling said. “… This is a wonderful document. And I want to tell everybody from the administration’s perspective, this document will not sit on the shelf and … gather dust. This document will be brought forward at our cabinet meetings on a regular basis and everybody who has responsibilities for implementation will be held accountable to make sure that this document guides us in the direction that Norwalk needs to go in.”

9 comments

Bryan Meek August 29, 2019 at 6:05 am

What’s the plan for leasing out the other half of Waypoint commercial? What’s the plan for the dirt pile next door to it that has 10 foot tall weeds growing in it now? What’s the plan for Butler Street and Commerce Street which now has a few hundred more trucks barreling through a day supplying the mall? I waited 20 minutes just to get into the dump last Friday. Are we getting a traffic light there? What’s the plan for the Traffic Tsunami that is about to destroy West Avenue? Wait and see?

Adolph Neaderland August 29, 2019 at 12:59 pm

While it’s quite true that too few stakeholders are paying attention to a “Plan” that will influence Norwalk’s next 10/15 years, it is also true (but not noted in NON’s summary) that only 4 commissioners were present at last night’s public hearing. Shameful governance!

What justification is there for such a poor showing?

Rusty Guardrail August 29, 2019 at 1:17 pm

A majority of Norwalk homeowners hate the continued proliferation of apartments. Almost no one showed up to object to the POCD because a sense of futility pervades. With one or two exceptions, the CC simply obeys the Mayor. A Mayor who seems to operate within his own separate sphere, totally disconnected from the populace he is charged with serving. The only recourse will occur at the polls in November.

EnoPride August 29, 2019 at 2:09 pm

Ms. Brinton made an excellent point that we need to gauge responsible growth and analyze putting a cap on residential development, as rapid population growth comes at a high cost, can be a neighborhood character killer, and strains already challenged education funding, infrastructure funding, etc. She understands the strong correlation between development and its impact on our schools. How much is too much, and at what cost to taxpayers’ wallets, health and quality of life? The POCD should include her suggestions to determine a cap, as she is correct that Norwalk is on the fast track to becoming too large and too complex to financially sustain.

Ms. Smirniotopoulos mentioned that other communities hold developers accountable to allocating some funding toward their community’s schools to offset costs of additional students their projects will be bringing in. Why can’t that be a stipulation going forward for any developer wanting to build in Norwalk? Many taxpayers feel that city hall should be more protective of their dollars by calling the shots with the developers, and not the other way around.

Are the above very reasonable suggestions which have been voiced time after time by these residents going to make it to the POCD? After all, the mayor did mention that stakeholders’ input has been acknowledged and incorporated. Milford’s mayor is calling for a moratorium on apartment overdevelopment. Why won’t our mayor consider doing the same? We are at almost 90,000 people and have more than fulfilled the state recommended affordable housing quota. We are building new schools to accommodate our ever growing student population while our road infrastructure is strained beyond belief with not enough funding allocated to upgrading or re-engineering it. The spike of apartment developments from 2015 to now is alarming. Can we take care of our taxpayers and fix what is broken before we add more, more, more? I am deeply saddened when I see new mommies trying to push baby strollers over potholed and broken up sidewalks, sometimes having to walk in the roads. It is just not right.

I attended both East Norwalk Train Station TOD Visioning Workshops. At both, a strong majority of residents said no to more apartments and instead requested much needed businesses, services, etc., because they see on a daily basis how densely populated their tight community already is and how terribly congested their roadways are. At the second workshop, one exercise that we were handed was a sheet that had pictures of several different configurations of multi use buildings. We had to mark which ones we could envision in East Norwalk. Every single configuration on the page had apartments as part of the building. To many of us, that piece of paper strongly suggested that in addition to the apartments coming with the new train station building, and the more recent ones on East Avenue, more apartments are being pushed. I asked our consultant assigned to our table why that was. Her answer was that more people are needed around the transit oriented development. I commented how can that be, as a dense concentration of people are already within walking distance to the transit oriented development to commute to Stamford & NYC. East Norwalk is very dense with people, so why the need for more when what we really need are small businesses, services, reengineered roads/bike lanes and replaced sidewalks to encourage walkability, etc.?

The consultant’s answer validated what I have always believed, which is that apartments are being pushed not always necessarily because we need them, but because they are the quick and easy revenue jumpstart fix, which is why Hartford is pushing them. It is easy and less effort to throw apartments up everywhere – not so easy to have a plan for jumpstarting economic commerce. This practice comes at high cost to taxpayers’ economic health and quality of life; we fall victim to our state of CT which is deadlocked on exactly how to grow economic development.

A cap on housing such as Ms. Brinton is suggesting, if incorporated into the POCD, would protect communities like East Norwalk. East Norwalk, if architecturally designed and developed properly around the new station with services not apartments, has the bones to be an amazing, sought after coastal village community which would generate buzz and revenue. It could be its own special niche to rival the likes of a Greenwich or a Westport. Of concern is that there seems to be this call from Hartford to keep pushing multi use buildings with apartments attached to everything. East Norwalk residents voiced at the workshops that they did not want their community to fall victim to this practice. If we cram more and more people and apartments into East Norwalk, and lower and widen under RR trellises to encourage a vehiclecentric culture of giant trucks and more rather than less traffic, then we will lose a unique opportunity to make East Norwalk the jewel in Norwalk’s crown that it could truly be.

Tom In East Norwalk August 29, 2019 at 9:42 pm

Fewer people attend the farcical meetings because our input is not considered. The Common Council seems to disregard 99% of the valuable information offered by citizens via email and / or the public comment portion of the meetings.

When our input is sought – it seems to go directly in the trash.

Why would I continue to attend meeting, join focus groups etc, giving up my time when the town “leaders” have already decided the issue?

Norwalk seems to be in a downward spiral and our elected officals seem to be doing nothing to correct the problems, in fact they are the problem.

Bryan Meek August 29, 2019 at 11:31 pm

@Rusty….don’t discount the effect of having a public meeting in the middle of no mans land..end of August was intentional to distract. We’re on autopilot here. The focus is on union fry cooks in Darien. Screw Norwalk.

EnoPride August 30, 2019 at 11:02 am

Ms. Brinton made an excellent suggestion that the city could consider determining caps for residential development in the POCD. Caps could contribute to managing the pace of growth, while protecting and preserving the unique qualities of each neighborhood. Rapid population growth comes at a high cost, can be a neighborhood character killer, and strains already challenged education funding, infrastructure funding, etc. From 2015 to now we have seen a huge spike in apartments. We have more than fulfilled our affordable housing quota at 14%. How much is too much, and at what cost to taxpayers’ bank accounts, health and quality of life? Milford’s mayor just called for a moratorium on affordable housing as the city has fulfilled its quota. Could Norwalk afford to do the same, or is our city on the fast track to becoming too large and too complex to financially sustain?

Rusty Guardrail August 30, 2019 at 2:25 pm

It’s likely that a majority of Norwalk taxpayers don’t even know what the term “Grand List” means.

Meanwhile, in 2017 the glossy color mailing proclaiming Senator Murphy’s glowing endorsement of Rilling probably impacted the election outcome. I think that, like myself, many Norwalkers who support Murphy’s actions in DC would nonetheless decry his role in Norwalk’s election if they knew the facts.

Adolph Neaderland August 30, 2019 at 3:36 pm

Hopefully both Mr.Kleppin and Mayor Rilling have read the comments area for this posting.

It would be interesting if my comments at that meeting suggesting the need for dialog would be acted on, and either the Mayor or Mr. Kleppin would respond to the despair of the stakeholders.

Although there were multiple public sessions, the lack of attendance was due to inadequate communication, not apathy as the Mayor noted. Folks just don’t know what is at stake!

There never was a response to the issue of “no more mixed use multi story residential” voiced at most neighborhood sessions but ignored!

True, as noted by the Mayor that I was a rep on the POCD Advisory Committee, but failed to note that my comments and associate there were ignored.

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