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.”