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Rilling touts $4M in expected Wall Street area upgrades

Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling leads a Friday morning press conference on River Street. (Contributed)

Updated, 1:23 p.m.: Comment from Lisa Brinton.

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk is investing more than $4 million in the Wall Street/West Avenue corridor within the next year and a half, Mayor Harry Rilling said Friday.

“Investments include streetscape and roadway improvements; traffic signal replacements and upgrades; pay stations and signage; milling, paving, and line striping; enhancements to the Yankee Doodle Garage, and fencing for Freese Park,” a press release said. “In preparation for the official unveiling of these improvements, the City worked with stakeholders for more than 16 months. These enhancements were included in the budgetary process over a year ago, have gone through the proper approvals, and now are ready to be rolled out in the 2019-2020 construction season.”

Video by Harold Cobin at end of story

Rilling was joined by members of the Wall Street Neighborhood Association (WSNA), the Norwalk Parking Authority, and other area stakeholders for a Friday morning press conference on River Street, where the just-completed reverse angle parking spaces were celebrated and touted. Rilling called them a “home run” and predicted that they will be much safer than traditional parking spaces.

Rilling, a Democrat, is seeking reelection to a fourth two-year term. He is being challenged by Republican-endorsed unaffiliated Mayoral candidate Lisa Brinton. Brinton did not reply to a late Friday email asking for comment. She has left no comments on previous stories about this topic.

On Saturday, Brinton commented, “While ‘touting’ the ~$4M in Wall St. West Ave. upgrades, paid for by taxpayers, the mayor continues to distract from the core issue impacting residents this election cycle – his deliberate acquiescence to Hartford to cram as many people into Norwalk as he possibly can.”

Danna DiElsi, owner of The Silk Touch on Main Street, left a comment on Brinton’s Facebook page, calling the reverse angle parking “absurd” and predicting that it will hurt her business. You need to use an app to pay for the parking, she said.

Rilling, at the Friday press conference, said he couldn’t imagine the reverse angle parking not being a success.

Parking Authority Chairman Dick Brescia said the change has roots in outreach efforts that began in 2013, and the feedback that came from stakeholders including Michael McGuire and Jerry Petrini, owner of My Three Sons.

“The addition of reverse angle parking created nine new parking spaces in the area and will help slow traffic through the corridor,” the press release said. “Studies have shown that backing into a parking space is safer than backing out into traffic, and allows occupants to exit vehicles safely near sidewalks. A video demonstrating how to safely back into the spots is available at norwalkct.org/tmp.”

“Since January 2015, more than 200 people have been involved in nearly 100 accidents along Wall Street,” the release continued. “Of these, there were 31 injuries and one fatality. Additionally, four pedestrians were struck at intersections. The parking improvements come in direct response to requests from the business community and factor in the anticipated growth of pedestrian and bike traffic.”

“Efforts to improve parking for the Wall Street area is much appreciated by the area businesses, residents, and WSNA leadership,” Nancy McGuire, president of the Wall Street Neighborhood Association, is quoted as saying.

Area visitors will also notice new bike lanes along East Wall Street near the Mill Hill Historic Park and Norwalk Historical Society. “This addition safely expands mobility options through Wall Street. In the coming months, new sidewalks will also be installed throughout the Wall Street/West Avenue Corridor,” the release said.

“In a downtown center like the Wall Street district, curbside parking spots typically produce $100,000 or more in retail and restaurant business per year. With 18 additional spots, we have the potential for $1.8 million per year for the area,” said Jud Aley, Commissioner with the Norwalk Parking Authority. “In addition, new bike lanes and speed calming elements increase pedestrian and cyclist safety, while providing connectivity between neighborhoods.”

The investments will “improve mobility and safety in the area, help create customer turnover for local businesses, and enhance existing neighborhood resources,” Rilling is quoted as saying. “It’s important we build on the characteristics of the neighborhood and help bring more people into this area. We continue to work closely with residents, businesses, and stakeholders to identify key projects across the City that enhance the quality of life. We intend to carry this approach forward through the next budgetary process.”

21 comments

Lisa Brinton September 21, 2019 at 6:29 am

For clarification, I received NONs email after 10pm.

While ‘touting’ the ~$4M in Wall St. West Ave. upgrades, paid for by taxpayers, the mayor continues to distract from the core issue impacting residents this election cycle – his deliberate acquiescence to Hartford to cram as many people into Norwalk as he possibly can.

The population increase, does not come with sufficient revenue to cover additional city services, including the need for more teachers, police or fire, nor area jobs (except city hall) without adding an additional financial burden to current residents. It’s impacting quality of life.

As for ‘investment’ in the Wall Street area, the elephant in the room remains Poko. Approved in 2008, but delayed over financing and zoning approvals. A 2014 recap from the Greenwich Free Press was THEN of a “a 46 million development by POKO Partners of Port Chester, New York [that]will be financed with a variety of sources, including $23.7 million in conventional debt, $5 million in Urban Act Funds, $3.5 million in assistance from the Connecticut Department of Housing, $8.8 million in low-income housing tax credit equity and $4.4 million in funding from the City of Norwalk. In other words, primarily taxpayer money.

Back then, financing was questionable. NOW, the last reported deal, negotiated behind closed doors will cost nearly double, at $80M, with 101 affordable housing units, net a $6m developer fee and 15 years of tax credits courtesy of the Norwalk taxpayer. The fate of the Garden Cinema remains unclear. Again, financing remains murky.

Do readers remember we were due an update in September after the mayor tabled the vote in July? Is this his answer to Wall St before the election?

Jon J. Velez September 21, 2019 at 8:01 am

What about the exhaust fumes if & when drivers that park, leave car running & the buildings have windows open during spring & fall?

Alice September 21, 2019 at 8:06 am

Thank you Lisa. My biggest question was where this 4 million dollars was coming from. Increase in taxes it appears. Increase in taxes is driving people out of Norwalk and as to businesses along Wall St. it certainly isn’t what it used to be! As far as I’m concerned, shopping in Norwalk proper is totally out of the question!

Itsjustme8 September 21, 2019 at 8:29 am

Is there a public source for the number of children enrolled in each Norwalk public school? Does this information include the ethnicity of students? Before you go running off calling me a racist, knowing how these trends have changed over even the past 10 years should be known by our government and citizens. How many ESL teachers were there in elementary schools 10,15 years ago? Today?

Ursula Caterbone September 21, 2019 at 8:40 am

The number of those obtrusive oversized parking signs keep growing and growing. Maybe eventually they’ll appear less distracting if we ever become accustomed to their presence. Now if only the Park Mobile app actually worked.

Ernie DesRochers September 21, 2019 at 9:24 am

Mayor Rilling still has not addressed the elephant in the room. Why would anyone use a LIHTC as the anchor for redevelopment of downtown Norwalk? Spending $4 million on upgrades is admirable but the area should be an arts district with POKO used artist and creative loft spaces. This is a sad use of taxpayer money (which it is) as the proponent has no vision of the future. This area will still have issues in 50 years as this is just another boneheaded approach to redeployment.

carol September 21, 2019 at 9:53 am

one can tell it’s an election year,everything being done to distract us from norwalk’s real problems POKO. I will never go to wall street with reverse parking and I am an excellent driver. stupid,stupid. how many more people will become ill from the fumes on the sidewalk.
such poor management

LISA FOR NORWALK!!!!!!!!!
.

Debora Goldstein September 21, 2019 at 9:56 am

Good question @itsjustme8. You would think it would be in the recently released and highly touted Mayor’s Dashboard.

The state board of education compiles this information into report cards for each district and each school, with a few years of data to show trends. Here is the link to Norwalk’s report. You can use the second pulldown menu to do each school individually.

http://edsight.ct.gov/SASStoredProcess/do?_program=/CTDOE/EdSight/Release/Reporting/Public/Reports/StoredProcesses/ConnecticutReportCard&_district=Norwalk+School+District&_school=+&_select=Submit

I’m sure it exists somewhere in a BOE school operating budget document or strategic planning document as well, but this is both accessible and shows up in response to a logic search inquiry online.

Mike Mushak September 21, 2019 at 10:27 am

@Carol, tailpipes of cars are at the curb in the thousands of parallel spaces all over town, without an epidemic of emphysema or collapsing dogs related to that.

Tailpipe emissions have been drastically reduced including from diesel, and how many cars sit and idle in parking spots anyway? That complaint is very odd.

@Lisa Brinton, your claim that Mayor Rilling is “cramming people into Norwalk” is bogus. Norwalk is growing at one of its slowest rates in history, 5% this decade as opposed to nearly 40% in the 1950’s and an average of 20% per decade over the last century. .

I will continue to fact check whenever you make outrageous claims like that without facts.

On another note, good to see you supporting the Carver Foundation at our fundraiser. In my opinion they represent all that is good about Norwalk.

Sue Haynie September 21, 2019 at 12:27 pm

Lisa for Mayor!
Of all the issues affecting Norwalk’s Wall Street, this is expensive, taxpayer funded, low hanging fruit.
Rilling wanted a photo op.

Kieran Droney September 21, 2019 at 12:42 pm

Was Jud Aley quoted correctly? The quote referenced $100,000 as the current retail/restaurant business going up to $1,800,000. Wow that is 1,800% increase for angled parking spots?

Yesterday after the press conference I saw a lady back in. She had difficulty straight in her spot, so 2 parking authority staff members and their supervisor jumped into action to make the driver do better. I don’t know if the lady got it correct, but I’m sure she was embarrassed and annoyed by the attention.

The mayor was going to research the statues to see if he could ticket cars that pull in head first. Has anyone heard back from him? (there are signs saying to back in only, but no reference to it being a parking violation)

Lisa Brinton September 21, 2019 at 1:20 pm

@ Mike, I have supported Carver, NPS Schools, and the Housing Authority as a parent, teacher, fundraiser and activist for over a decade. Imagine what I could do as mayor!

Jo September 21, 2019 at 2:29 pm

Happy to hear about the upgrades on Wall Street! However, the reverse angle parking is a huge mistake that I predict taxpayers will pay to correct. I tried to park there yesterday… there was only ONE vehicle in those spaces, coming out of the space…he/she might have been giving up. Which is what I did. It was embarrassing, but at least I had a cop behind me, so I didn’t have to worry about being the subject of road rage.
We wound up parking at the lot behind Paella.
I feel badly for the business owners there, because a lot of folks will just drive by.

John Miller September 21, 2019 at 6:12 pm

@Mike Mushak: Where did you get the information that Norwalk was growing at a 40% rate during the 1950’s and at a 20% rate during the last century? I can understand the growth rate in the post WW2 period in the 50’s when Connecticut had a significant manufacturing sector but much of the manufacturing left CT in the 60’s and early 70’s.

RayJ September 22, 2019 at 3:20 am

We do not want nor need Wall St to be anchored by affordable housing. 101 units is an outrageous amount in the heart of what should be a commercial area. Add that to all the new west ave apartments , it’s an explosion.

Marc Alan September 22, 2019 at 10:18 am

It doesn’t say very much for our local drivers if they really find backing into an angled spot more difficult than parallel parking, but it’s been proven safer in many other cities. When you pull out, you can more easily see who is coming down the road to your left. That said, all the spots were full last night – saw the mayor pulling into one with his charming wife, setting out to stroll the area – with live music happening at WST and Banc House, and people walking into Garden Cinema – whoever says that Wall Street hasn’t improved, and isn’t thriving, in spite of the many challenges – need to turn off the computer and come down here! At least subscribe to the weekly Wall Street Neighborhood Newsletter that comes out every Thursday, You’ll at least see all the things you’re missing. 🙂

Julie Verley September 22, 2019 at 5:33 pm

We just watched a very irresponsible driver lurch out into traffic on wall street and make a left, a LEFT! from their backed in parking point.

We should embrace change. Change is good. We should all give this a chance. If it’s for the better we should embrace it. I know that I will.
And in that offering we should change mayors too

Joe D September 22, 2019 at 6:07 pm

Tax tax tax. Tax everyone until they can’t afford their home. Ever wonder why nobody retires here? How are you going to support this regime then move to a low tax state later and act like you were right all along. This is craziness. Let’s overhaul real estate tax and make it an algorithm. No more people subjectively deciding tax… that 100,000 square foot building needs to pay 100x the tax of the 1000 square foot single family home. Wake up.

Sherelle Harris September 23, 2019 at 10:10 am

@Itsjustme8, take a look at Nancy’s “NPS demographic study shows big hike in Hispanic students” published back in January. The article provided a good look at overall numbers as does Connecticut State Department of Education’s District Profile and Performance Report 2017-18 though the report is not hyper current. http://edsight.ct.gov/Output/District/HighSchool/1030011_201718.pdf
Neither, however, breakdown racial enrollment by school.

Nancy’s article, “Norwalk education notes: A bonus, racial balancing stats and thoughts of school additions”
https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2019/08/norwalk-education-notes-a-bonus-racial-balancing-stats-and-thoughts-of-school-additions/
published in August, brings us a step closer to your request. The article states:

Racial imbalance exists, according to the statute, when a school’s
proportion of minority students is 25% plus or minus the comparable
proportion for the district, Commissioner Dianna Wentzell wrote to
Adamowski. Impending imbalance exists when the school’s proportion of
minority students is plus or minus 15% out of whack with the comparable
proportion for the district.

They figure this out by taking the number of students enrolled in the
school and then dividing it by district-wide enrollment at that grade
level.

The statistics show:

Norwalk Early Childhood Center (NECC): 54.63% minority, imbalance 7.44%
Brookside Elementary School: 90.8% minority, imbalance 18.09%
Columbus Magnet School: 61.25% minority, imbalance 12.09%
Cranbury Elementary School: 50% minority, imbalance 23.23%
Center for Global Studies (CGS): 60.14% minority, imbalance 10.58%
Jefferson Magnet School: 91.07% minority, imbalance 17.83%
Kendall Elementary School: 88.43% minority, imbalance 15.2%
Rowayton Elementary School: 47.65% minority, imbalance 25.59%
Tracey Elementary School: 85.06% minority, imbalance 12.35%
Fox Run Elementary School: 67.94% minority, imbalance 4.77%
Marvin Elementary School: 69.14% minority, imbalance 4.1%
Naramake Elementary School: 66.39% minority, imbalance 6.32%
Silvermine Elementary School: 88.44% minority, imbalance 15.2%
Wolfpit Elementary School: 63.47% minority, imbalance 9.77%
Nathan Hale Middle School: 66.67% minority, imbalance 7.01%
Ponus Ridge Middle School: 84.9% minority, imbalance 11.22%
West Rocks Middle School: 75.41% minority, imbalance 1.73%
Roton Middle School: 66.12% minority, imbalance7.56 %
Norwalk High School: 67.83% minority, imbalance 2.9%
Brien McMahon High School: 76.76% minority, imbalance 6.03%

Adamowski pointed out Tuesday that this is becoming increasingly moot as
the elementary schools are at 73% minority enrollment and once they
become 75% minority, the State Statute will no longer apply to them.

An article on enrollment projections was also published in August.
https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2019/08/norwalk-boe-ponders-enrollment-projections/

After reading page 21 of “The State of Integration”
https://school-diversity.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/State-of-Integration_2018.pdf
one wondered what happens when districts hit the 75% minority mark. Both of Nancy’s August articles answer the question. The August 19 article states:

“One thing we haven’t touched on, and this is confirmed by data you sent
us this week, is you know, we’re now a 73% minority district,” Barbis
said.

State laws on racial balancing no longer apply to a school district when
it hits 75% minority, Barbis pointed out, commenting that Milone and
MacBroom doesn’t want to forecast it but Norwalk is on the verge of
crossing that threshold.

“We’ve surged each year, higher… we’re bound and bound to cross 75% in
the next year or two. So, some of this could be moot,” Barbis said.

Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said the prediction
is for Norwalk to cross that threshold in five to six years.

It might be “moot” in terms of relieving the district of the requirement
to racially balance schools, “but that doesn’t make moot the issue of
where the students are, which schools are going to and how that’s going
to impact enrollments in the various schools,” Hamilton said.

South Norwalk children are bussed across town, some to Marvin, some to
Naramake, Hamilton had explained.

“Theoretically though we would be able to have a neighborhood schools in
South Norwalk. We’ve been operating under the assumption that we
couldn’t,” Barbis said.

I am not sure if this is politically correct to say, but I have always thought that those during the 60s and 70s era analyzed their time and did what was right for their time. Communities and activists put in real time. Sheff V. O’Neill was the education debate that needed to happen during its era, which moved us into the late 1980s, early 1990s. What is the 2020 debate?

Among friends and acquaintnces I’ve asked such questions: Do “faces at the bottom of the well” need their own special schools for a time to meet their needs? If we go that route, would those schools be properly funded if they are in disadvantaged neighborhoods and how would the segration fought against years past play out in such a scenario? Neighborhood schools may end up segregated anyway because some people can afford the price tag of certain neighborhoods, while others cannot. I ask many more questions, but sometimes have to move on when I suspect I am dealing with people who cannot move past power and “know-it-all-ism” when it comes to just about everything, particularly race and those who have been rendered voiceless. At some point in time schools–Catholic, Hebrew, Protest, free public schools (paid for by taxes)–resulted from need for a specific type of education. What is the need of the public school today, specifically Norwalk Public Schools? Do we focus on standardized testing? Do we find and focus on each child’s individual gift or gifts and develop them?

I, too, would like to know the racial make-up of each school–and the district can provide that information–however, I don’t want us to lose sight of the importance of curriculum and meeting students needs to enable them to thrive at grade level by helping them apply subjects to their lives and retain the concepts of what they are taught. And, of course, we can’t lose sight of our purse strings.

How far do our coffers go? How do we provide equitable education–regardless of zip code, race, culture, parents’ education level or marital status, some of the thingss we claim get in the way of providing children with well educated minds–with the money we have?

A friend, with whom I can disagree and debate, and I had the conversation about what I consider a phenomenal debate in the comment’s section of Nancy’s article “NPS sees ‘fairly large influx’ of immigrant students”. We concluded that immigrant children should be allowed to stay if they are here. The question then became whether or not we have to cut some of the services they need in order to afford the cost of letting them stay.

Michael McGuire September 23, 2019 at 12:37 pm

“Norwalk is investing more than $4 million in the Wall Street/West Avenue corridor within the next year and a half, Mayor Harry Rilling said Friday.”

I think this means that despite the taxpayers frustration and concerns with how this administration has dealt with the taxpayer regarding POKO, they are going to move forward with McClutchey’s POKO deal regardless.

That deal include $4.3 million in commitments by the City for infrastructure. So the ball has been advanced by the City on allowing this horrid deal to go through.

This is a sad day when we tout the shiny new infrastructure while the $80 million gorilla is looming in the background, poised to burden this area and the Norwalk taxpayers for decades to come.

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