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Norwalkers opine on 10-year City-wide master plan

Norwalk Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin, center, explains that Vision Zero is being incorporated into the 2019-20 Plan of Conservation and Development, Thursday in City Hall. Listening are Norwalk Citizens Traffic Safety Committee leader Audrey Cozzarin, left, and Director of Business Development & Tourism Sabrina Church, right.

NORWALK, Conn. – The newly drafted 300-page 10-year City-wide master plan is now under consideration by Norwalk Common Council members, with a vote possible on Sept. 24.

Six citizens weighed in Thursday, with Joanne Horvath suggesting a map to show “exactly what type of zoning uses are planned for each section of the city so that residents who live in the north, south, east or west, parts of Norwalk can fully understand what type of development is going to be in the respective neighborhood.”

Others asked that development encourage the diversity the plan touts as a Norwalk strength, while Audrey Cozzarin that the plan address the “continuing chronic and worsening traffic congestion in Norwalk” and Diane Lauricella again asked for minor corrections, this time gaining results, and also requesting  “a real focus review on the industrial zones.”

Tweaks are likely, and “the only addition” will be a section about the Vision Zero initiative, an effort to address traffic, Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin said.

Horvath was the first speaker at the Council Planning Committee’s public hearing on the master plan, officially referred to as a Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD).

The plan is “too cumbersome for me,” she said. “So what is planned for my area? Can anyone here tonight, show me visually and explain in simple terms, what type of development is being planned for the Route Seven Main Avenue corridor? The old saying, quote, a picture is worth 1000 words is all I need, so that I can truly be an informed resident.”

Laura Dunne directed attention to page 60, where policies are listed. That includes:

“Support housing policies that promote higher-density housing near existing and future employment centers and availability of public transportation.”

“These policies clearly maintain the status quo of Norwalk’s segregated areas,” she said. “Single family neighborhoods can accommodate two family homes without disrupting anyone’s way of life and continuing to promote high density housing and low income areas clearly keeps our community segregated. While this plan touts Norwalk diversity, it contradicts itself with policies that maintain the segregated areas of our town.”

Susan Cole asked that the workforce housing regulations be changed to require 20% affordable housing in new developments, not 10%, to “promote more diversity and equity in housing and as a result in our schools, because the two are clearly connected and in your document you have said that we pride ourselves in our diversity.”

“Multifamily housing is not permitted in some Norwalk zones, even with a special permit, for example, in the triple A resident zone,” a man said. “Multifamily is permitted by right only in D resident zones, where halfway homes and group homes are also permitted by special permit. This type of zoning tends to have a disparate impact on people of color because it often generates poverty concentration.”

Cozzarin is head of the Norwalk Citizens Traffic Safety Committee. Outdated engineering on state and federal roads causes local roadways to become more dangerous, she said.

“What does the master plan propose in order to alleviate further traffic congestion in Norwalk due to more and more development?” she asked. “What does the master planning to do to help alleviate stresses on the local worlds in coordination with the state and FHA to remedy the regional tie ups that Norwalk residents and businesses are experiencing?”

Page 27 mentions the First and Second Taxing Districts as providers of energy but doesn’t also identify Eversource, Lauricella said.

“The last thing I wanted to mention was limits to growth and the need for really super-duper industrial zone review,” Lauricella said. “I do I believe initially, in speaking with Mr. Kleppin and others that that was going to be looked at. I’m very pleased, I’ve heard that …we are updating our Zoning rules…. We’ve allowed residential and big box development of retail in our industrial zones, therefore limiting a very, very good source of our tax base.”

Kleppin eventually promised to add Eversource to page 27, after explaining that it’s in a different section of the book.

Lauricella had complained that well water wasn’t mentioned as a drinking water supplier, but Kleppin said there are different sections of the plan and “I don’t think it’s absent.”

Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E) said he’s prepared a list of copy edits that are needed, and asked about implementation of the plan.

The Planning Commission will do a biannual review of the plan, and the Planning and Zoning staff will meet with department heads to check in on the plan’s recommendations and their related timelines, Kleppin said. Capital budget requests will be aligned with the plan.

The Commission is also very focused on a two-page executive summary, so that ordinary citizens can easily understand the basics of the plan, according to Kleppin. Developers can read it page by page to tailor their proposals to what’s desired, he said.

Council member Greg Burnett (D-At Large) is very interested in Complete Streets and Vision Zero, “So there’s really where there’s mention of Complete Streets, we recommended adding in Vision Zero into that as well,” to help in seeking grant funding, Kleppin said.

Waiting to Sept. 24 to vote on moving the plan onward to the Planning Commission will “allow all the Council members the opportunity to go through this significantly large document, and be as educated as possible with it,” Planning Committee Chairman John Kydes (D-District C) said. “I also want to say that I’m very pleased with the sustainability section of this plan. … without safeguarding our environment …this long-term print plan will not be worth much.”

The caption on the lead photo was corrected at 1:14 p.m. to show that Sabrina Church is Director of Business Development & Tourism.

6 comments

Alice September 6, 2019 at 7:36 am

How, in God’s name, can the city plan for anything 10 years in advance! How can they know what financial condition this city will be in without already taxing homeowners out of their homes?

Piberman September 6, 2019 at 9:56 am

What can we learn by Stamford’s highly successful reconfiguration using eminent domain rather than long winded “master plans” ?

Can we expect major inflows of good corporate jobs in our commuter City ? How would they be encouraged ?

Can we expect a major improvement in our long shabby Downtown that our citizens avoid ?
Will Nowalk ever have an attractive downtown like other towns and cities where citixzens scan securely visit and congregate ?

Diane Lauricella September 6, 2019 at 10:29 am

Points of clarification:
1. Electricity: I may have misspoken, but only the 2nd and 3rd Taxing Districts provide electricity in addition to Eversource.

2. Page 27 AND the Executive Summary should contain correct information about utilities. I requested a change because many will rely upon the first Chapter and the Executive summary only…bless their hearts and minds…

A smaller number of people, including some of our appointed and elected officials, will “dive in ” and look hundreds of pages beyond for important details like where our energy and water comes from….although I think this should be mandatory training and reading for those on Boards, Commissions Agencies, Staff and Council…

3. Drinking Water: It is the 1st and 2nd District that provide public drinking water to roughly 78% of City. Those were the only two entities mentioned as supplying drinking water on page 27 and Summary. I pointed out that this leaves out the roughly 22% of Citizens that get their drinking water from private underground drinking water wells.

This was a HUGE fact that needed to be added to the document, vision and summary. I mentioned this last year and this year to the Stantec consultants and our P&Z staff as well as the Mayor’s POCD Committee and tried to make sure the consultant and staff included the private well data up front in Executive Summary and Page 27, not only in the large body of the document (around page 211).

Lastly I take issue with the assignment of the word that I “complained” unless it is used for everyone who was brave enough to speak, as my testimony was more stated out of frustration with the fact that professionals we paid for did not see the efficacy of adding these small, more-than-minor changes…

In summary, there is still time to advocate for text changes…please jump online and read this document!!

Milly September 7, 2019 at 6:37 am

For people who constantly hold Stamford up as a city that is so well planned and run – Have you ever been to Stamford or read their local paper?

Margaret K. Suib, Esq., Fair Housing Officer September 9, 2019 at 12:06 pm

I was sorry to miss this meeting, but I was out of town last week.

In this POCD process, I was originally asked to speak to the consultants during the week of August 10, 2017. I replied I was out of town that week, and asked for any other time to meet. I was assured the consultant would “circle back” to me. That never happened, although I reminded the consultant several times.

In the spring of 2018 I was invited to join the POCD Oversight Committee and began attending meetings in May, 2018. The consultant was present at those meetings, but like many others, I felt my comments were ignored.

In July, 2018, I wrote a memorandum to the POCD Oversight Committee and the Planning Commission setting forth what is required in a POCD, vis-a-vis Fair Housing and affordable housing, in order to be accepted by the State and eligible for certain state and federal funding. I share the bulk of that memorandum here:

“Norwalk’s final POCD must be consistent with the State of CT’s POCD in order to be eligible for State and Federal funding. Among the federal and state requirements is that planning documents must “Affirmatively Further Fair Housing”. This responsibility has been defined as not only redressing instances of housing discrimination, but also taking steps to address historic patterns of segregation (Connecticut is the 7th [now the 3rd] most segregated state in the country), promote Fair Housing choice, and foster inclusive communities.

This document’s outline suggests two problematic themes: (1) only planning for multifamily housing in areas where it already exists, rather than opening opportunities to all in other areas of the city so as to do something about our historically segregated city and (2) planning for “empty nesters” and “young” residents in the urban core (a potential fair housing violation) – we need an equivalent statement and program/development requirement to provide comparably sized housing that is affordable to current residents, including families with children and people with disabilities in the urban core who are being displaced by gentrification.

We need to add that small affordable housing development (4-10 units) can be done as of right anywhere in the City; that a program beyond security deposit assistance is available to lower income people (because if they can’t afford the rents, then the security deposit program’s only possible outcome to is help lower income people move out of Norwalk, which is contrary to Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing and creating inclusivity).

The State of Connecticut’s Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice (2015) says that under Connecticut. Gen. Stat. § 8-23, Norwalk’s POCD must consider affordable housing. To consider it, the POCD must define the need. Norwalk has identified the need for affordable housing in the past as the greatest need in Norwalk, as more than 50% of renters and homeowners are paying significantly more than 30% of their income on housing costs (30% is the accepted standard for affordability). I’m not sure from the outline whether the POCD will have the data needed to quantify the need, including demographic data. It must. If not, since many Blacks, Latinos, people with disabilities, families with children and the elderly need affordable housing, failure to consider the need for this housing and to address that need is also an impediment to fair housing.

The state further instructed that TOD areas “…affirmatively further fair housing by both promoting integration and preventing displacement of low-income and minority residents from areas that are gentrifying as the result of TOD and expanding fair housing choice. “ Norwalk’s Plan appears not to include this as there is no mention of a plan to prevent displacement of current residents.

The State’s plan provided a roadmap for things the municipalities need to include, such as:
“Municipalities play a central role in ensuring that Connecticut’s residents have access to housing in a variety of locations. To ensure that their planning documents and municipal ordinances affirmatively further fair housing, municipalities should:
• Encourage the creation and rehabilitation of affordable housing in a variety of locations;
• Identify developable land within the municipality for developers of affordable housing.
• Participate in regional planning efforts to ensure that there is affordable housing in a variety of locations.
• Encourage the collection and analysis of data to determine if the municipality is meeting its goals to affirmatively further fair housing
• Report municipal and regional racial and ethnic composition data in municipal POCDs.
• Ensure local planning documents affirmatively further fair housing
• Publish the municipality’s POCD on its website;
• Convene stakeholders to review proposed legislative solutions to existing impediments to fair housing choice
• Review occupancy ordinances, regulations and/or guidelines to ensure that the rules are not unnecessarily restrictive for families with children. At a minimum, they should be in line with reasonable local fire and building codes.
• Determine whether the zoning ordinances and other occupancy rules are enforced in a non-discriminatory way.
• Review zoning ordinances to determine if they require special permits for affordable housing or require large lot sizes, low density requirements, or other policies that would make the development of affordable housing expensive and propose changes to such requirements.
• If the municipality’s zoning ordinance does not include a statement that people with disabilities have the right to request a reasonable accommodation of a change in any zoning ordinance, add this to the existing zoning ordinances.
• Maximize the effectiveness of programs that promote mobility
• If a municipality uses a residency or employment preference to select affordable housing tenants, it should conduct an analysis to determine if such requirements have an illegal disproportionate impact on non-Hispanic Blacks, Hispanics, people with disabilities, single-parent families, and people with housing subsidies.
• Maintain and make easily available comprehensive, current lists of available housing units, with a special emphasis on units in high-opportunity neighborhoods. Consider additional funding for housing authorities to support this effort.
• Promote fair housing enforcement and education [in Norwalk, continue to have and adequately fund the Fair Housing Office, e.g. Fair Housing Officer and Fair Housing Advisory Commission];
• Appoint a fair housing officer, have him or her trained on their duties and responsibilities as a fair housing officer, and publicize the person’s name, contact information, and job responsibilities. [Norwalk already has an experienced and long-time FHO, but the position and topic need to be further integrated into Norwalk’s planning and development.]
• Sponsor, or work with housing provider associations to sponsor, fair housing trainings for housing providers.[In Norwalk, increase funding for trainings for developers and housing providers]
• Refer complaints of housing discrimination to HUD, CHRO, or a private fair housing agency. [City of Norwalk should first refer complaints of housing discrimination to the FHO for assistance];
• Provide Spanish (and possibly other languages) as an option on the main telephone line for reporting fair housing complaints or asking housing related questions. [Norwalk has a language plan already];
• Pool resources to provide language access to LEP individuals on a regional basis including translating and making available vital housing forms in Spanish.”

Thank you again. I look forward to working with everyone to make sure that Norwalk’s POCD reflects the Fair Housing issues and plans needed per the State of Connecticut guidelines.”

While some of these issues are raised in the POCD, many are not. We must affirmatively further Fair Housing in Norwalk, as set forth, assuming we want to continue to accept millions of dollars in federal and state funding.

I look forward to continuing to work with our elected representatives at local, state and federal levels to address discrimination and segregation and to affirmatively further Fair Housing in Norwalk, in Connecticut, in the United States of America.

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