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Norwalk department heads address traffic complaints, development concerns

From left, Norwalk Citizens Traffic Safety Committee leader Audrey Cozzarin, Norwalk Chief of Operations and Public Works Anthony Robert Carr and Norwalk Chief of Economic and Community Development Jessica Casey attend a Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations (CNNA) forum Monday in City Hall. Carr and Casey are City employees; Cozzarin is a concerned citizen.

Updated, 1:39 p.m.: Comments from Mayor Harry Rilling.

NORWALK, Conn. — Traffic-traffic-traffic. Also, a desire for a Wall Street train station, a “joke” New Canaan decision that’s affecting West Norwalk, “nothing about East Norwalk” and a Mayoral candidate’s suspicions that the state is directing Norwalk development.

Such were the issues at Monday’s Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations “Quality of Life” forum in City Hall, said to have attracted 45 citizens for an event similar to the Mayor’s Night Out discussions Mayor Harry Rilling used to hold.

Four Norwalk department heads, and the leader of a new community group, took a few questions, listened to citizens vent and heard many suggestions from CNNA moderator Donna Smirniotopoulos about how things could be better.

News developed:

  • Rilling said he’s looking into the legality of a decision made by New Canaan
  • The City is seeking a state grant to help fund pedestrian improvements in two areas
  • The City is planning compactor garbage cans for SoNo and Norwalk Center

 

 

Bike lanes endorsed

Good progress has been made with bike lanes, Tanner Thompson, a South Norwalk resident said, beginning the traffic commentary.

“I think that that working on designing streets to be safer and more walkable, really increases the quality of life of a neighborhood,” he commented. “…I don’t want to force anybody out of the car. What I want to do is create a community where people want to leave their cars and want to run errands on foot or on a bike or anything besides my car because I think that fosters have more integrated, stronger community.”

“Generally, people say ‘I want them to slow down in my neighborhood,’ and everywhere else, ‘I want to be able to speed as fast as possible,’” Bobbie Kinn said, calling East Avenue a classic example of a speedway “between Stew Leonard’s and I-95” when the Interstate is backed up, and people seek workarounds. She endorsed narrowing traffic lanes to slow drivers down and encourage them to stay on the highway, drawing applause.

Smirniotopoulos questioned Thompson and suggested that the City seek grant funding, as Hartford has done, and opined that the mall will increase congestion.

 

 

New Canaan move ‘not good for anyone’

West Norwalk is struggling with the same traffic issues that South Norwalk is, a woman said, decrying stop signs erected by New Canaan at Nursery Road and Marvin Ridge Road, just north of the Merritt Parkway, and signs announcing restrictions on left turns.

“To be perfectly honest they did this in order to force Norwalk to act,” she said, describing commuters coming off the Merritt Parkway and going “down Old Rock Lane at 90 miles an hour, so they can pick up 30 seconds and avoid, I don’t know, maybe a mile of the highway.”

“Traffic on Nursery Road spikes to more than 300 vehicles between 8 and 9 a.m. on weekdays, officials have found—a result of New York City-bound motorists avoiding the congested Merritt Parkway,” a January story on the New Canaanite states.

Mayor Harry Rilling listens to the conversation, Monday in City Hall.

Rilling said he’s attended a recent New Canaan Police Commission meeting where, “Regardless of the fact that there were people from New Canaan that spoke against (a left turn restriction), there were people from Norwalk that spoke against it… it was very clear that they had already made up their mind” to continue the restriction after a six month trial period.

A traffic study recommended no restriction, “So it was really it’s really a joke,” he said. “So I don’t know if there’s anything legally that we can do. But we’re looking into it.”

State Rep. Lucy Dathan (D-142) said there were “funny” things about New Canaan’s process, as West Norwalk residents “got a notice that the traffic meetings was going to be an hour later than it actually was.”

“This wasn’t good for anybody,” Dathan said, describing concern from constituents on “both sides of the border.” She promised to see what the State can do about it, because “I don’t think the intent of making the road safer, which is what New Canaan is claiming, is actually happening.”

Smirniotopoulos suggested that maybe New Canaan residents could be embarrassed by bad press pointing out that they are “creating this is terrible problem for Norwalk.” Audience members told her that wouldn’t work.

Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik said 30 complaints had inspired him to send motorcycle police to check on the area, but no speeders had been observed. There was a high volume of traffic.

“New Canaan, they should be working with us also,” Smirniotopoulos said. “We should have a common goal, which is to improve everyone’s quality of life, and in order to do that we have to respect one another. And we’re just trying to get that basic respect.”

Rilling on Thursday wrote:

“The Law Department has the study and it is being reviewed to determine if Norwalk has any legal recourse.  Also, the traffic authority agenda indicated the meeting would start at 7 PM. The meeting actually started at 6 PM. Many people from Norwalk arrived after the authority had already voted on this issue and therefore were not allowed to speak. We are looking into whether or not this was an FOI violation. All the previous traffic authority meetings began at 6 PM so it appears there was an error in posting the agenda.”

 

Mall congestion

Norwalk Chief of Economic and Community Development Jessica Casey dominated the City-side of the discussion, including providing information about mall traffic measures in a back and forth with the moderator.

“I think what people need to understand is that the mall is not just related to city approvals… some of those decisions are also related to state of Connecticut DOT transportation decisions,” Casey said.

The Connecticut Department of Transportation decided traffic lights were needed and Norwalk has worked to install adaptive signals, lights that will change their patterns in accordance with the volume of cars lined up, Casey explained.

 

Wall Street garbage

“I’m curious about the garbage policy,” Wall Street area real estate mogul Jason Milligan said. “…There’s garbage on the street many of the days which has been an ongoing complaint for the residents and businesses. Because there’s different people that pick it up different private garbage collectors. Have you thought about it?”

“I am working on it,” Norwalk Chief of Operations and Public Works Anthony Robert Carr said, describing his experience with apps in other communities he’s worked in.

“One of the things that we’ve learned is that we can do a better job on this,” Casey said, describing the input that she and Carr have sought as new Norwalk department heads. “What was happening at one point in time is that we had garbage bins that were out and residential garbage was building up in the garbage bin. And as a result, the garbage bins were removed.”

Norwalk is “looking at” compactor garbage cans to install in South Norwalk, Wall Street and West Avenue, she said.

Norwalk Communications Manager Joshua Morgan on Wednesday explained:

“These are called compacting trash cans and would replace the more traditional metal (and open) receptacles in the area. Those style garbage cans overflow and trash can blow around. Compactors require fewer bins and hold more waste. These would be located in the SoNo and Wall Street/West Avenue areas. Adding those would then allow the city to move the existing garbage cans to other areas. A RFP will be going out in the coming weeks.”

 

The Wall Street garbage issue is “a complex animal for sure,” Casey said Monday, describing conversations with Wall Street Neighborhood Association President Nancy McGuire on the topic. “I think we’re all working in the same direction. And we all know that, you know, again, come back to quality of life, it needs to be safe, and it needs to be clean.”

 

 

How many people does Norwalk want?

“Do you know how big Norwalk is going to become? Or if you don’t, how about we step back and say, ‘Okay, we’re going to slow down till we figure out how big we want it to be?’” Ron Palladino asked. “…Do we want 125,000? 100,000? I thought it was too big at 75,000. Not because I don’t like people but because the infrastructure can’t handle what we have.”

“No, we don’t look at it as a number. I don’t think you can, say 100,000 people is the magic number,” Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin replied. “…The city is going to naturally grow over time. There’s demand to be in Norwalk by people who don’t live here and haven’t lived here their whole lives.”

Water companies have sometimes reported that demand drops after a new development because the old infrastructure is replaced, Kleppin said. Traffic studies that follow up on development sometimes show traffic has decreased.

“I think people have kind of had it with the driving around town,” Norwalk Citizens Traffic Safety Committee leader Audrey Cozzarin said, as a member of the panel. “…Maybe from the city perspective, everything is working just fine. But I think most people are, are stressed out by the traffic.”

Smirniotopoulos opined that she can’t walk to a grocery store, and, “I think it’s great to talk about adding density into some of the central business districts… But what about everybody else who doesn’t live within easy access, we’re dependent on our cars?”

“It’s a little bit of a chicken and egg exercise,” Casey said, asserting that increased density encourages businesses to open, creating amenities like nearby grocery stores. “That’s when you start to see the businesses come in, whether it be urban Whole Foods or an urban size Trader Joes or whatever that happens to be.”

Director of Transportation, Mobility and Parking Kathryn Hebert talked of microtransit and the coming rollout of a bike share program, and the Norwalk River Valley Trail extensions.

“We want people not only to connect to all of these neighborhoods, but to become more …  we are looking at all of these other these programs and services and mobility options to connect Norwalk, not only within Norwalk, but to get people in  and out of Norwalk in the most safe, reliable way in in in a in a reasonable amount of time.”

 

Wall Street train station

Rilling took a little heat from Wall Street businessman Michael McGuire, who suggested that he be like Nikita Khrushchev and “take his sneakers off,” demand that the state put in a train station for the Wall Street area.

The state is planning to spend $250,000 on a study on the train station feasibility, Rilling said, explaining that he spoke to ConnDOT Commissioner Joseph Giulietti.

“Why does it take years and years?” McGuire asked.

“We are huge advocates of transit,” Casey said. “And obviously I think that the tone of the room tonight is that transportation is key and that traffic is a real challenge.”

ConnDOT is moving ahead with the study, and it’s not just about Norwalk Center, it’s also about the impact on Danbury, she said.

the there’s the infrastructure costs of the actual station. And then there’s the operating costs of actually having the operate the state carry the operations for being able to have that train station be active

“Do we have to go through the whole exercise of a feasibility of $250,000 study in order to for Norwalk to say we want this?” Smirniotopoulos asked. “I don’t understand how the snail’s pace of how governments work.”

Republican Mayoral candidate Lisa Brinton, left, listens to Norwalk department heads, Monday in City Hall.

“I want to be clear about something,” Casey replied. “The City of Norwalk has never called the State of Connecticut and said ‘please do not open a transit station here, please do not look at this,’ right? That has never been a conversation that’s ever happened.”

“Saying we’re not against it isn’t the same” as supporting it, Smirniotopoulos said, drawing a snicker and nod of agreement from Brinton.

“I don’t know how many times I have to say we’re for the train,” Casey replied, pleasantly.

Rilling said Thursday that his administration will reach out to Giulietti and check on the study, and he will talk to State Rep. Chris Perone (D-137), who “got the funds approved.”

“There was a question that evening whether the city supported the train station on Wall Street or if we had no opposition to it,” Rilling wrote. “I’ve made it very clear that I support a train station on Wall Street.”

 

Building ‘what the state wants’?

Brinton asked Kleppin a “quick question.”

“Steve, are we building?” she asked. “What the state wants? Or are we building what Norwalk residents want?… Are we … going to cram as many people in Norwalk as we possibly can, or are we building for the residents who live here to maintain a quality of life, because that’s what this forum was supposed to be about.”

“I don’t think anybody has ever said we need 5,000-10,000-20,000 more apartments,” Kleppin replied. “I’ve never been in one meeting with the state of Connecticut where they say Norwalk you need to build this or build that. I don’t think that’s their role.”

Casey said the market drives development, prompting Rilling, in the audience, to wave his arms as if to say, “Right.”

Isabelle Hargrove commented, “It is not the market. It would be and I agree with you, it should be the market, but it’s not really because of all the tax subsidies and the abatements.”

“I can understand that,” Casey replied. “And I would say that that’s a piece of the puzzle. Right. So I would say that there’s a puzzle that with a lot of pieces, and that’s one of them.

She reminded everyone that she decided to move to Norwalk before getting her current job because she felt welcomed while visiting.

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’ve seen Stamford grow and change, you now are starting to see in Norwalk grow and change. …That changes along a transportation line. And that changes depending on what amenities you’re looking for and how you’re looking for them. It depends on affordability, it depends on housing options. It depends on all the quality of life variables that we’re talking about. But when we decided to move to Norwalk, it’s not because we got a tax abatement, or we got a tax credit.”

 

 

Unhappy audience members

After the forum ended, George Kensinger complained that he’d had his hand up and been ignored.

“She only called on people she knew,” he said. “What about the East Norwalk traffic?” Not only did the traffic studies for the mall stop at the Stroffolino Bridge and therefore didn’t consider East Norwalk, but East Avenue is being lowered under the railroad bridge to invite 18-wheelers, he said, and “They didn’t talk about East Norwalk.”

Common Council member Ernie Dumas (D-District B) speaks his mind, Monday in City Hall.

South Norwalk got attention. Common Council member Ernie Dumas (D-District B) went on at length about problems there, including contractor yards, poor sidewalks and traffic.

“Everything you’re saying is resonating with me,” Smirniotopoulos said, referring to “forgotten neighborhoods of the city.”

The faith community is organizing open houses to get South Norwalk input, Casey said.

Morgan issued a press release Wednesday. “Next week, on October 2, the City of Norwalk and community partners will be hosting two open house sessions to gather feedback from the public about initiatives occurring in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Corridor in Norwalk,” he wrote. “Residents and businesses are invited to attend to share their opinions on potential enhancements in the neighborhood, such as education, economic development, jobs, and housing.”

“The first session is from 10 a.m. – 12 p.m., and the second session runs from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. Both open houses will be held at the South Norwalk Branch Library, 10 Washington Street,” the release said.

Carr said Monday that the City is seeking a state grant to fund sidewalk work on Woodward Avenue, outside of the City’s regular paving and sidewalk work.

Morgan explained Wednesday:

“The city is still waiting to hear on the grant. The application is for new pedestrian signals, additional crosswalks, ADA compliant ramps, and sidewalk/curb replacement projects along Westport Avenue and Woodward Avenue.

“Along Westport Avenue, work would be on George Avenue and Dry Hill Road, with ADA improvements and new pedestrian signals at the intersections. On Woodward, work would be from Neptune Avenue up to Burritt Avenue, with ADA ramps at the intersections – Woodward and Meadow; Woodward and Lawrence; and Woodward and Baxter.”

40 comments

Milly September 26, 2019 at 6:14 am

$250,000 for a study to add a 5th train station in Norwalk? And the size of the city grows naturally when the city is allowing huge apartments to be built everywere? I commend the citizens who take the time to fight for Norwalk but it is futile – New Canaan makes quality of life decisions for its citizens not developers.

Lisa Brinton September 26, 2019 at 7:08 am

The biggest concern that night was the refusal by city officials to answer the question: How big do they ‘plan’ to make Norwalk? Despite pleas from residents over symptoms like traffic congestion, blight, and overcrowding the mayor remained silent!

This election is about quality of life, economics and defining growth. We need to hit the ‘pause button’ and catch up!

PS – NON – Any particular reason you dropped ‘Unaffiliated’ from my Republican Party endorsement?

Scott Vetare September 26, 2019 at 7:42 am

I unfortunately could not attend due to a prior commitment. The traffic in East Norwalk is HORRENDOUS! Why should it take 15 minutes most times of the day to travel from Winfield St. to the I-95 bridge? Totally unacceptable in my book! I will admit though going from I-95 to Winfield takes much less time. Maybe a traffic study should be done to show that the light at the 95 south entrance is the PROBLEM! Now they’re building MORE apartments at the old Factory Store site. Let’s hope those people take mass transit.
I live in a small neighborhood in East Norwalk. The cars and trucks constantly cut through – Strawberry Hill to Winfield St & reverse to save 1 traffic light. The speeders that also go through the stop signs here are dangerous. I’ve asked the NPD community police officer from East Norwalk to set up here (in my driveway) to see. I was told by him he would! Never have I seen him once! I don’t even see him driving around East Norwalk. Is this something from above? Not sure but would love to know!
NORWALK, STOP THE BUILD!
Have a great day folks!

Al Bore September 26, 2019 at 8:11 am

Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin replied. “…The city is going to naturally grow over time. The growth is not natural it is because we are overbuilding.There’s demand to be in Norwalk by people who don’t live here and haven’t lived here their whole lives.” How many of the thousands of apartments built already are rented?
Water companies have sometimes reported that demand drops after a new development because the old infrastructure is replaced, Makes no sense, more people more water no matter how you spin it. Kleppin said. Traffic studies that follow up on development sometimes show traffic has decreased. The traffic studies are done by the developers so again it makes no sense. Driving in Norwalk all the time what I do not see is people on bikes it is scary to drive a car in Norwalk let alone a bike.

Alice September 26, 2019 at 8:23 am

Our illustrious politicians should be very concerned in traffic and speed all over town. Take for example the Broad River area. Large commercial trucks (box trucks, 18 wheelers etc) using Harris Street as a cut through to avoid the traffic lights on New Canaan Ave. Speed limit is 25 mph which is much too fast for residential streets. Even school buses whiz down the street. Parking on Silvermine Ave is atrocious. Trying to get out of any of the streets onto Silvermine is worth your life especially when you have high profile vehicles parked at the intersections. But city officials can’t be bothered with ‘minor’ problems.

Tobias September 26, 2019 at 8:51 am

The two worst intersections in Norwalk are the Route 7 Walmart and tying to turn out of West Rocks and now in front of the mall. It took me 30 minutes to go from the Washington St railroad bridge to 95 (and the Washington st traffic wasn’t moving either to head over the bridge towards east Norwalk). I love how blame is automatically shifted to CT DOT for both these areas because of their being “State Roads” Unfortunately for The mall area, it’s not just limited to rush hour. Yes it’s a perfect storm of construction issues now, but they are just using that as the excuse of the moment. That area is going to be a cluster of brake lights for some time to come and I’ve given up hope on Route 7/ West Rocks for years. Maybe it’s time for new administration.

Mike Mushak September 26, 2019 at 9:30 am

Lisa Brinton continues to appeal to fear by deliberately pushing misinformation.

Norwalk’s growth is not “out of control”. Our growth rate this decade will be steady at around 6%, about the same as the 1990’s, and far slower than the explosive growth of previous decades including the 17% growth of the 1960’s, 37% growth of the 1950’s, 24% growth of the 1940’s, 11% growth of the 1940’s, 30% of the 1920’s, and 36% from 1900-1920.

The 1970’s was the decade Norwalk grew the least, and actually shrank by 2%, after most of our factories closed putting thousands out of work, our downtowns were abandoned to crime-infested blight and unemployment and poverty, and Norwalk went through years of struggling to recover while it let its schools and roads crumble.

Lisa Brinton’s no-growth dystopian 1970’s vision for Norwalk is not the vision most Norwalkers want, as we are now growing responsibly and rebuilding our schools and ball fields and roads and growing our grand list, while our downtowns become vibrant again with new residents and businesses in energy-efficient and sustainable walkable and bikable neighborhoods near transit hubs.

Let’s debunk another Lisa Brinton myth as well that she pushes constantly: she claims renters are a burden on single-family taxpayers.

She’s got that all wrong. On the contrary, renters pay more in property taxes through their rent, and more per square foot than single-family owners do.

So it’s the renters in denser and more efficient-to-maintain and walkable neighborhoods who are subsidizing the single-family homes built on car-oriented and more expensive-to-maintain roads and infrastructure sprawled across thousands of acres of former open space, a wasteful and ultimately unsustainable housing model from the car-oriented 1950’s and 60’s that Lisa Brinton astoundingly wants to see more of, instead of the well-planned smart growth near transit that is happening now to absorb both population growth and an expanding economy in a responsible and well-planned strategy.

It is truly amazing to me that there are folks like Lisa Brinton who want to see Norwalk return to the dystopian no-growth 1970’s, when our tax base declined and our city crumbled and crime and poverty spiked, a costly mistake we are all still paying for as we rebuild our schools and infrastructure after decades of deferrred investment. No thanks!

Harry Rilling and his team of smart managers and staff and elected colleagues do have a strong vision for Norwalk, which is to grow responsibly adding much needed housing near transit in a city with a severe housing shortage, and adding new jobs and opportunities leading to improved and more stable communities (and property values) for everyone no matter where they live in our great city.

Bobby Lamb September 26, 2019 at 12:14 pm

Lisa – I don’t think the mayor has remained silent on the issue of growth. I think he’s been pretty clear that he embraces it as long as it’s done smartly. You keep claiming the infrastructure can’t support more people but you have no data on that. In fact, due to past administrations failing to invest in infrastructure we have a lot to work on – and you know what? That costs money. You complain about the tax burden on homeowners and not enough grandlist growth, but at the same time decry the very growth that eases the burden on homeowners. More single family homes won’t support the costs we need to pay for the infrastructure we need. There’s also a slow market for that type of housing and we’re out of space for it. Are you saying we should support development of single family homes? Where? The white barn property? NO – WE NEED MORE OPEN SPACE! In the urban core? NO – TOO MUCH TRAFFIC. Commercial development on major arteries? NO – BJ’s WILL RUIN NORWALK. More two family houses? NO – ILLEGAL ALIENS WILL OVERCROWD THEM. We need to invest in schools, in flood prevention and our roads and transportation – for that we need taxes. This administration is seeing a shift off home owners and on to multi family landlords and business. To get more business you need young educated workers. To have workers you need a place for them to live. And you know what? It’s good fo all of us – better parks, a new library, improving schools! Your constant complaining with no solution is boring and getting really annoying. I think Norwalk is fantastic and I’m proud to be in a place so many people see as the best place in Fairfield county to live. You’re all complaints and no solutions. You’re like the kid running for class president who on a NO HOMEWORK platform. Running Norwalk isn’t a joke. It’s a tough job. Being a leader means helping people understand the real challenges we face and offer real solutions. Not just a complainer. If you hate it here so much maybe you should move?

Al Bore September 26, 2019 at 12:48 pm

Bobby those are real issues you have put in all caps, thank you and I think they all need to be addressed before it is to late to bring them under control. Norwalk is getting too big too fast and it is out of control, maybe the traffic and overcrowding in Norwalk works for you, it does not for me and many others. I’m sure you think I should move out as well however I would loose around 200k on my property so for now I want to see the problems get fixed. I think Lisa deserves a chance to try to fix Norwalk because having talked to her I know she really cares about Norwalk. I have been to many meetings and listened to her speak and I think she does have solutions, have you gone to any of the many meet and greets she has hosted, maybe you should. Let me know if you need a list of the many upcoming meet and greets I will be happy to send you a list.

Jeff September 26, 2019 at 1:28 pm

@Tobias It baffles me how that Walmart does not have a traffic light exit. Exceptionally bad planning. That parking lot holds 350-400 cars I would guess.

Lisa Brinton September 26, 2019 at 2:30 pm

Mike, Not against growth – that’s your myth. I just want it to pay for itself or be sustainable. We can debate various projects ad nauseam, but the fact that taxes continue to climb, despite the ‘fortress structure growth’ or that we want to give 15 years of tax credits to Poko, so a developer can pocket $6m suggests prosperity eludes most regular Norwalk folk.

Is it really impossible to disagree on the direction our former police chief mayor is taking us, without being demonized? I’m not running because I woke up one day and said, “Geez, I think I want to be mayor.” I’m running because I believe we’re moving in the wrong direction, with no checks and balances in local government. Last time I checked, our democracy still allows for different opinions and it would seem enough people agree, that we have ourselves a race. What the result will be in November, who knows?

The fact that the mayor’s FIRST bullet point on his palm card is about reduced crime – a national trend by the way suggests that he’s still in ‘police mode’ and not fixing the P&Z issues he campaigned on and which I supported six years ago. Also, when he replaces a grant writer with a personal PR rep, or hires a Tourism Director when neighborhoods are still flooding and ordinances not being enforced, then I think he has his priorities mixed up and is straying from the fundamentals, begging the question: Does he still represent Norwalk residents? Obviously, I don’t think he does anymore.

RayJ September 26, 2019 at 3:15 pm

@Lisa Thank you for your efforts in trying to keep Norwalk from becoming another Stamford, or worse, Bridgeport. I can imagine
( I wasn’t there BTW ) that Norwalk of the 1900’s, 1920’s, and 1940’s was a far different place than it is now and trying to fold those numbers into today’s planning is apples and oranges. There is a limit to how much we can actually stuff into a bag. I would like to see numbers on how many tax dollars are being paid into our city’s coffers from the developers of apartments minus the tax abatememnts they have received. And now single family homeowners are to be vilified for homeownership of quarter acre sized building lots and driving cars. I don’t like where this is headed.

Mike Mushak September 26, 2019 at 3:39 pm

@Lisa, you keep saying taxes have climbed this year, when in fact they went down for the majority of homeowners across the city. I’m curious, how much did your property tax go up, as you keep claiming?

Michael McGuire September 26, 2019 at 3:45 pm

Mike Mushak,

Your comment “On the contrary, renters pay more in property taxes through their rent, and more per square foot than single-family owners do.”

Can you tell us where you got that conclusion from? I don’t think it’s accurate for Norwalk but I’m interested to know and I could be wrong.

Paul Lanning September 26, 2019 at 4:56 pm

What do taxpayers get for subsidizing the mall?

Why should taxpayers subsidize ANY private commercial enterprise in town?

Can any city official give a concise substantive answer devoid of rhetorical generalizations?

Norwalk Traffic September 26, 2019 at 5:57 pm

I would like to make everyone aware that next year, both Norwalk and Brien McMahon High School will be moving their start times ahead by one hour. Norwalk high school students are currently dismissed at 2:15 each day. Next year, they will be dismissed at 3:15, which will severely compound the traffic situation on the roads and highways that already plague Norwalk. The schools currently hold almost 2,000 students EACH. The nearly 4,000 students, who drive or are picked up, combined with school buses essentially giving students door to door/driveway to driveway service, combined with the hundreds of teachers will all be released onto the roads of Norwalk after the 3:15, which is during the rush hours of traffic. Also, please note that the high schools are not switching release times with the middle or elementary schools. Instead, needless money will be spent to hire additional bus drivers/buses to transport these students. The traffic is going to be incredible.

Please consider this information, as there is one final budget vote approaching (I believe in early October), that will confirm their decision to approve this new start time. Intervening or at least alerting other city residents who may be able to stop or delay this awful decision will hopefully be something that you all will consider.

Tysen Canevari September 26, 2019 at 6:29 pm

@ Bobby Lamb : “If you dont like it leave?” This is the problem. We all love Norwalk but it seems that we are beginning to sacrifice its value at what expense? I think it is a shame that I have to pay to park in public lots in the city I live in. The schools are getting worse. We have over 300 kids waiting to get in school here but the health department doesnt have time to give them free physicals. We teach Silvermine school in Spanish? Are you kidding me? The police and fire union endorses Harry but most of them dont live here anyway. What does that tell you? The mayor is good for their pocket. My family has been a part of Norwalk for many generations. My hope is that it will be for much longer. Why do we need to keep raising the skyline here? To keep up with the Jones’s? Lisa is trying to make some practical sense. Give here an opportunity. We have seen what Harry can do.

Lisa Brinton September 26, 2019 at 7:30 pm

@Mike: You know (it’s public information) mine went down slightly to ~$21,000 mainly because when Tyler ‘personally’ visited my 100 year old house (that sits at a T-junction and gets hit by fancy cars from time to time) it was downgraded to ‘good’ from it’s previous ‘excellent’ condition status. Something I did not catch in 2013. I got clobbered back then. This year my house value is flat. Generally speaking, my taxes have tripled over 20 years and I expect them to go up in 2020 given our school enrollment crisis.

Generally, Rowayton was mixed this time around. Over at Brookside, off Scribner homeowners claimed their taxes went up, most were small post-war capes. East Norwalk got clobbered, as did Silvermine and Cranbury. These people were angry! West Norwalk was mixed. Wolfpit area mixed. Sono mixed – folks near the water clobbered.

With all due respect, property taxes come up on a fairly frequent basis, as I door knocked. I suspect my sampling is far larger than yours. That’s why I can say with great confidence that you or this administration claiming taxes went down for most homeowners is not true. The record number of valuation appeals outstanding is another data point which dispels that myth. Generally speaking – high end homes are coming down in value and the low end is slightly rising.

A real estate report I had generated for the 1H2019 showed dollar volume down, price down, number of sales down, days on market up. There is nothing comforting about owning a single family home in Connecticut given our current fiscal crisis and lack of good paying jobs, unless you’re a mayor earning six figures with two public pensions.

Scott September 26, 2019 at 9:04 pm

@Julie – spot on. Looking forward to that debate (and would pay money for it) rather than same old diatribe from his mouth piece.

Isabelle Hargrove September 26, 2019 at 9:09 pm

First, I would like to call on all residents to join their neighborhood association and play an active part in the future of their neighborhood. The Coalition of Neighborhood Associations plays an important role in giving everyday residents a voice. I am proud to be associated with it.

This forum was very enlightening and I am sorry to say that it confirmed my fears about the mindset and agenda of the Rilling administration.

Mr. Kepplin was clear and adamant. More people are great. Do we have the infrastructure to support them? Do they pay their own way or rely on taxpayers to fund? Who knows and who cares! The developments and studies looked good on paper, what can he do if residents are living a traffic nightmare and taxpayers are footing the bill?

I disagree. Here is my answer to how many people should be in Norwalk: the number our infrastructure can handle. If we need better infrastructure to support more, then developers should help pay for it, not overburdened homeowners.

Second, no one on this panel was focused on business and job growth. More transient renters are all everyone is looking for. Ms. Casey sounded very new and very green. Her market comment was gravely concerning. It showed a real confusion between market forces and expensive big government subsidies. Hence why Norwalk is growing on the back of homeowners instead of growth that pays dividends to taxpayers.

Finally, the panel seemed genuinely surprised that residents are angry about traffic, congestion or illegal contractor yards in South Norwalk. Mr. Rilling is running for his 4th term. That any of this is a surprise or that his administration is still scheduling listening sessions so residents can voice their concerns is simply condescending lip service.

Norwalk needs to keep growing, but we need an administration who understands how to engineer growth to benefit, not hurt, Norwalkers. Residents have a right to demand a decent quality of life. Homeowners should be able to afford to stay in their home. Longtime Norwalk families should expect to keep the character of the hometown they love. And everyone should expect city hall to help promote good jobs and small businesses.

None of this is happening under the Rilling administration, after 3 terms, I say enough!

Jason Milligan September 26, 2019 at 10:22 pm

@Mushak,

There are 2 mistakes in your assertions.

1. Renters do not directly pay property taxes, period! Property owners pay property taxes.

2. Even if we follow the flawed logic that the property taxes are somehow baked into the rent payment so therefore paid by the renter, it is still a false statement to say renters pay more than owners.

If an apartment building gets converted into condominiums the taxes go up!!

Tax bills for Individual condo units are higher than a per unit tax amounts for comparable apartments.

Please stop repeating something that is easily proven false.

Mike Mushak September 26, 2019 at 10:29 pm

@Lisa, so your property tax was reduced, along with a majority of Norwalk homeowners based on hard data on mil rates, but you’re repeatedly claiming taxes went up. How do you justify intentionally spreading that misinformation?

So, what is your plan to lower taxes while simultaneously lowering the grand list? Would you reduce spending on our schools and ball fields and infrastructure that Harry Rilling has increased significantly?

Lisa, what would you cut? No more blanket generalizations and personal insults please. What salary cuts to police and fireman and teachers would you make and by how much, since you recently claimed city staff are paid too much? Or was that just another convenient sound byte with no substance or plan behind it? Be specific, and transparent.

Mike Mushak September 26, 2019 at 11:37 pm

@Jason Milligan, no developers are building condos anymore because they are difficult to sell after the FHA increased scrutiny and restrictions after the ‘08 crash.

Are your new projects condos or rentals? If rentals, I hope you included the property tax in your financial analysis, as it is one of the biggest expenses for rental properties and is always calculated in the rent, according to the Institute of Real Estate Management( or just ask any landlord like me.) To suggest otherwise, especially coming from a self-developer, is astoundingly naive.

And I never said renters pay property tax directly. I said they pay it “through their rent” as every landlord knows. Not sure why you would misrepresent what I said. Is that intentional, or did you just misread what I said in my comment above that anyone can fact check?

Bizarre.

Jason Milligan September 27, 2019 at 8:12 am

MM,

Thanks for the Real Estate lesson. People are still building and selling condos.

Condo taxes are higher than their equivalent apartments per unit.

Trying to claim that renters pay property taxes is ridiculous.

“Always calculated in rent” Tenants suddenly get an itemized bill??

You are doing mental gymnastics to claim renters pay property tax. It is false!

Then you claim renters pay higher property taxes than homeowners which is double false.

2 pinocchios.

Bryan Meek September 27, 2019 at 8:39 am

My commercial property taxes went up 150% with the reval, probably another expensive lawsuit coming. Commercial tenants pay triple net…..apartment dwellers do not. Landlords also get depreciation deduction that can be more than property tax bill.

Cheap apartments are a fantastic means for transferring wealth from the poor to the well connected. And the Soviet block style makes for a wonderful view from the harbor.

You can believe a CPA or a landscaper who thinks the new Mall preserves the historic nature of SoNo.

LadyDrivr September 27, 2019 at 1:16 pm

I support what Elizabeth said and think it bears repeating: “Norwalk needs to keep growing, but we need an administration who understands how to engineer growth to benefit, not hurt, Norwalkers. Residents have a right to demand a decent quality of life. Homeowners should be able to afford to stay in their home. Longtime Norwalk families should expect to keep the character of the hometown they love. And everyone should expect city hall to help promote good jobs and small businesses.”

None of this is happening under the Rilling administration, after 3 terms, I say enough!

Chris MacDonnell September 27, 2019 at 4:44 pm

Apartments sure seem to be the be the demon of Norwalk politics. Let’s look at everyone’s favorite fortress on West Ave. Waypoint. According to city tax bills in 2013 before the fortress was constructed their biannual tax bill was $69,913. The most recent bill from this summer was $1,464,875. Let me help you with the math, that is 2,000% increase, 20 times as much tax paid for an apartment building than for the previous building and parking lot. This was before the city started any tax abatement program.
And what is so wrong with a tax abatement program? If your boss said they are going to raise your salary 2,000% but not all at once. I am going give you a 20% of the raise every year for ten years what would you say? You’re not stupid you would say yes, of course you would, remember you’re not stupid, and neither is the city. You are not subsidizing your boss you are getting a really good deal.
Who lives in these unwelcome people living in these unwelcome edifices? These apartments start at $2,000 per month. They are not being filled up with blue collar immigrants and their kids who don’t speak english and are overburdening our school system. You can’t afford to live there, how do you think the guy cutting your grass is going to afford it?
That must mean they are Millennials, oh no! What are they going to do next? Probably buy your rundown old house when you want to move to Florida and sink a couple $100k into it. They are going out on Washington Street every week supporting restaurants so that when you have your annual date night there are actually restaurants in town. They are making Norwalk attractive to companies to move here because they know how to use computers for more than complaining about the government.

Milly September 28, 2019 at 6:32 am

Chris – So your theory is that thousands of people living in apartments only add revenue to the city & no cost? How much water is needed, sewage produced garbage, pollution? What are these millions of dollars going to do for the city? What about the quality of life?
Turning Norwalk into the next Stamford is no achievement.

Jason Milligan September 28, 2019 at 7:47 am

Chris,

I understand your logic. I agree that Norwalk in aggregate is better off in the long term with Waypointe.

I question your tax figures and you have over simplified the issues. Waypointe was an assembledge of many properties over many years. Some like Casey’s Sheet Metal went through lengthy, costly eminent domain proceedings.

I do not believe your stated $69,913 pre construction tax bill includes all of the properties.

You also do not account for all of the millions the city invested in infrastructure.

I would actually really like to see an open honest financial history to see how good of an investment Waypointe is.

Maria Weingarten September 28, 2019 at 10:07 am

Lucy Dathan is misinformed on the Nursery Road Issue and is favoring one constituency over another – “funny things” and “this wasn’t good for anybody'” are very disappointing remarks from a State Rep who represents New Canaan as well. Maybe she was unaware of the accident that had occurred on Nursery due to morning congestion from commuter traffic that spilled onto this local road, and commuters that are excessively speeding on these local roads. There are plenty of people who did want this valid safety concern addressed and have also reached out to Waze and other commuter platforms so these alternate routes are not provided to commuters – that was an effort to improve quality of life for ALL impacted. The US vs THEM mentality is not appropriate in this case.

John Miller September 28, 2019 at 12:05 pm

@Musak: I’m curious. Where did you get the “hard data on mil rates” which shows that the property taxes for the majority of Norwalk taxpayers were reduced? Is there a spreadsheet somewhere which compares the new property taxes with the previous property taxes for every residence in the City? Even the Mayor said that property taxes might be reduced for some but not for all homeowners. Where’s the definitive evidence that a majority of homeowners will be paying lower property taxes this year than they did last year?

Chris Macdonnell September 28, 2019 at 3:50 pm

Jason, the tax figures are for the three parcels that now make up waypoint at 515 West Ave from the online tax bills. I understand that there are unfront infrastructure cost to the city for any project and I don’t know what those were for Waypoint. I was trying to counter the idea that these developments are a burden on the city.

Mike Mushak September 28, 2019 at 6:43 pm

Lisa Brinton, in her zeal to push a false and obsolete 1950’s narrative that “apartments are bad/single family homes are good”, with its inherent dog-whistle assumptions about race and class, is clearly using bad math in her desperate attempt to paint Norwalk as a city moving backwards. On the contrary, we are doing everything right.

Let’s set the record straight. Property taxes are only part of the picture, despite Lisa’s naive attempts at real estate economics.

Let’s set aside the fact that every new unit of rental housing is paying more for property tax on a square foot basis that single family homes, meaning rental units in energy-efficient buildings in dense walkable neighborhoods near transit are subsidizing costly single family homes sprawled across thousands of acres of former open space on expensive-to-maintain streets and roads, hooked up to miles of expensive-to-maintain infrastructure.

Let’s look beyond property tax, at the big picture of the positive impact of adding more housing in a supply-and-demand situation where adding more housing in a market with a severe housing shortage will help stabilize housing costs.

Better yet, lets looks at the economic impact of each new rental unit, which the Urban Land Institute (ULI) has determined to be between $50,000 to 75,000 per unit per year, which is based on everything those residents need to spend money on, including food, transportation, healthcare, recreation, entertainment, etc., which helps many local businesses thrive and even spurns new ones, adding jobs and opportunity and an increasing grand list to a city’s economy and its current population.

For example, the 189-unit building the city approved at 230 East Avenue next to the East Norwalk train station, involving a complete gut and renovation to the mostly-abandoned and blighted former hat factory, will not only pay over 20 times the existing property tax when completed, nearly $1 million per year with no subsidies ar abatement to defer those payments, but based on the ULI formula that 189-units of new housing will also add between $9.45 million and $14.17 million of annual economic activity to our city.

Lisa Brinton ignores these benefits, because acknowledging reality would ruin her completely bogus argument that new apartments cost single-family homeowners more money. On the contrary, the new apartment buildings are adding quality housing supply and economic growth to a city that needs it, as well as expanding our grand list taking the burden off of single-family homeowners, just as Mayor Rilling has done this year by reducing mil rates because our grand list increased 16%.

Lisa Brinton will tell you taxes went up this year, but for most homeowners they went down based on lower mil rates for most of the city, even for her own home. She wont tell you that, because it messes with her false narrative.

And lets not forget why Diageo is leaving CT for NYC-it has nothing to do with taxes, but with lack of good talent and workers in their own words. Lisa Brinton, through her reactionary and naive no-growth policy, wants to make sure corporations and start-ups continue to have trouble finding good talent in our area. Thats just dumb.

Vote for Harry Rilling and the Democrats, who have proven they can grow our great city responsibly while adding more housing choices and more vibrant downtowns and more opportunities for everyone including our growing business community.

Jason Milligan September 28, 2019 at 7:11 pm

Chris I hear you and probably agree with you that Waypointe is a net positive.

However Waypointe’s taxes went up 40 to 50% this year. I am almost positive they are appealing their tax assessmen.

Also Waypointe is more than 3 parcels. It does not have tax breaks.

Your way of analyzing the projects is worthy. The city should benefit from growth and development. The benefits are measurable. I do not believe that the city currently measures or quantifies the benefits. That would be something awesome to share on the mayor’s dashboard…

So far POKO has not been a net benefit. Neither has the mall. Both also have tax breaks baked in.

Hopefully the mall will be a success.

Hopefully we can all find a way to make POKO a success. Meaning a net financial benefit to Norwalk

Mike Mushak September 30, 2019 at 4:27 pm

@Jason Milligan:

You said the mall has not yet had a net benefit to the city in your last comment. Oops! Did you happen to attend the Lisa Brinton school of urban economics?

Based on the numbers below, it looks like a roughly $800 million benefit to our local economy during the construction phase which is nearly complete, creating 1,745 jobs before it even opens, and another 2,475 permanent jobs once it opens.

I’d recheck your numbers if I were you.

These are excerpts from the mall economic analysis:

“According to HR&A Advisors, the project is expected to generate significant revenue and job growth for the City of Norwalk and the State of Connecticut.

“One-Time Economic Output: One-time construction economic output (spending) will generate an impact of $773 million in the City and $967 million in the State.

“One-Time Employment: The Project will support 1,745 construction jobs in the City of Norwalk. In addition to construction jobs, supporting industries such as architecture, real estate, healthcare, and retail in the state will also benefit.

“One-Time Labor Income: Construction will generate $424 million in one-time labor income, with the majority from high-wage construction jobs.

“One-Time Tax Revenues: Project construction will generate over $34.3 million in one-time fiscal impact to the City and State. This includes City building permit fees, State sales and use tax for construction materials, fixtures, furniture, equipment, and State personal income tax from direct and multiplier employment.

“Ongoing Tax Revenues: The Project is projected to generate approximately $26.6 million in sales and personal income tax revenues to the State each year, equivalent to $299.6 million over 15 years in net present value terms. An Enterprise Zone agreement will bring $2.5 million in new real estate tax revenue to the City of Norwalk for 7 years, with $5 million in revenue per year thereafter. It will become the third largest taxpayer in the City after the Enterprise Zone has phased out. The total tax revenue generated to the City of Norwalk by the Project over 15 years is equivalent to $45.7 million ($2017).

“Ongoing Labor Income: Ongoing operations will generate $105 million in labor income each year in addition to benefits.”

Residente September 30, 2019 at 4:58 pm

Isabelle, it doesn’t seem like Mr. Kleppin is interested in how many people Norwalk’s infrastructure can handle, he is more focused on demand – an outside force. Ms. Casey is spot on with what is happening, we’ve seen Stamford change and now Norwalk is following.. Driving in downtown Stamford is AWFUL, to her point we are seeing Norwalk headed in the same direction.

I do think they should “be looking at is as a number”. They probably are and choose not to discuss..

It would be great to see the subsidies given to the developers in recent years?

Unfortunately my taxes have gone up.

Jason Milligan September 30, 2019 at 10:46 pm

Who is HR & A advisors?

Your proof were predictions by them.

No matter how you spin the jury is still out on the mall.

A cost benefit analysis requires analysis of 2 components.

The cost.

And…

The benefit.

Your analysis:

Crony consultant predicted benefits and the benefits we can latch onto eventually regardless of the true costs that we will never measure and will ignore, did I mention the benefits. (Forget the costs)

Math is for evil people…feelings and raw emotion is much better.

niz October 1, 2019 at 6:19 am

Norwalk is a coast line city, with a river that runs through it. I think storm water management systems, and new infrastructure or improved … (like sewage system that can manage the increase) needs to be the topic and how much more new buildings / development does the city plan?
Needs to be answered, with clear & concise language please? Considering it’s over populated now (traffic issues supports that claim).

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