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Milligan blocks traffic through former Norwalk parking lot

A Norwalk Police cruiser sits near the Isaac Street dead end Tuesday, where real estate broker Jason Milligan has blockaded his parking lot, used by many people as a cut through to Leonard Street.

NORWALK, Conn. – You can’t drive down Isaac Street and exit through the former Leonard Street municipal parking lot anymore. Jason Milligan has blocked entrance to the lot.

The flashing police lights at the end of Isaac Street on Tuesday represent the latest twist in the ongoing lawsuit filed against Milligan for buying the lot and other properties slated to become part of “POKO,” the stalled Wall Street Place development. Milligan states that before last week’s election, Mayor Harry Rilling and others placated him by making it seem they’d talk but kept things superficial and didn’t really engage. Now the City and Redevelopment Agency have become “very aggressive” with the lawsuit, he asserts. He’s therefore blocked the lot because, “I do not have a seat at the table.”

Isaac Street has been a one-way street for 4-plus years. The City on Tuesday moved to disallow parking along POKO’s eastern edge, to allow room for two-way travel.

The blockade on Monday. (Jason Milligan)

“Several weeks ago, in anticipation of this possibility, the Norwalk Traffic Authority approved returning Isaac Street to a two way street,” Mayor Harry Rilling explained in an email. “Unfortunately, this results in the removal of valuable parking on the West side of Isaac Street.  It seems Mr. Milligan has little concern for the businesses relying on those additional spaces. It however, surprises no one.”

That meeting was in June. On Tuesday, the City erected a “no outlet” sign at the intersection of Isaac and Wall Streets.

“Our legal department is reviewing land records as we believe the city has an easement across the property Mr. Milligan blocked,” Rilling wrote.

 

 

Lawsuit

Milligan in May 2018 bought five properties that were slated for POKO II and III, through a Land Disposition Agreement (LDA), from Richard Olson of POKO Partners. Milligan at the time said he’d read the LDA and expected that the City and the Redevelopment Agency would negotiate with him, as spelled out by the LDA’s default remedies. Instead, they sued.

The plaintiffs sought a temporary injunction to prevent Milligan from selling, altering or renting the properties, and also to reverse the sale. A hearing on the temporary injunction began in December; on Oct. 12 an injunction was agreed to.

“It took a year” to get an injunction “that we could have agreed to that one week in,” Milligan said Tuesday.

City officials will not comment on ongoing litigation.

The injunction allows Milligan to lease out phase II properties for up to a year and phase III properties for up to five years.

“Phase III is never going to happen,” Milligan said.

No parking signs were installed Tuesday on the Western edge of Isaac Street, a Norwalk Parking Authority officer said.

The latest battle, aside from the injunction, concerns the plaintiffs’ request for information from Milligan. Judge Charles Lee in October ordered Milligan to turn over items such as the identity of his investment partner in Komi Ventures, their partnership agreement and communications with Olson.

The plaintiffs on Friday filed a motion for sanctions, accusing Milligan of defaulting on those orders. The partnership agreement was redacted, the text messages didn’t identify who said what and there was no certification under oath, they said.

Milligan on Tuesday called this “bull—-” and sanctions on “the most minor stuff.”

He had turned over un-redacted versions the day before the motion was filed and the certification for an oath is not something that you go straight to sanctions for, he said.

“They are playing games,” he said. “…Trust me, they came out guns blazing.”

Milligan had no problem identifying who said what when he submitted 68 pages of text messages between him and Chief of Staff Laoise King, the plaintiffs said in their motion for sanctions.

Milligan on Thursday filed an amended motion for summary judgment, a request for the judge to decide the case without a trial. The LDA was dependent on a Redevelopment Plan but the 2004 plan was allowed to expire, the motion argues, citing court testimony from an expert witness. The 2019 Wall Street West Avenue Neighborhood Plan does not reference Wall Street Place and was passed by the Common Council under representation by the Redevelopment Agency that no that there were no redevelopment projects anticipated in connection with the Plan, the motion argues. Not only that, but the remedies sought by the plaintiffs are in opposition to the LDA’s exclusive remedy provision, it states.

Plaintiffs have not yet filed a reply.

Legal fees paid in the lawsuit were $571,394.08 as of Oct. 25, according to documents obtained by NancyOnNorwalk.

 

A parking garage?

After apologizing to Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola, Council member John Kydes (D-District C) and Rilling in July, Milligan in August said he was in “pretty preliminary” talks with City officials to provide parking for the Wall Street area, a parking garage on the former Leonard Street lot.

NancyOnNorwalk asked Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E) about this in October. Milligan had been talking about a garage, Livingston said. Council member George Tsiranides (D-District D) indicated that he hadn’t heard about this proposal before NoN asked about it. Livingston declined further comment.

On Monday, Milligan sent an email to City and Redevelopment Agency officials, proposing that a new Conceptual Master Site Plan be created for the former Leonard Street lot, to include a four- to five-story parking garage, and cancelling the former plans for POKO phases II and III.

“Now, this potential CMSP would require plenty of heavy lifting,” he wrote. “There are at least 4 lawsuits that would have to be paused and eventually settled. Fortunately, I control the levers to at least 3 of the lawsuits. City leadership would have to admit failure up until this point, and they would have to give Jason Milligan A SEAT AT THE TABLE! That last one is perhaps the most difficult for the people with inflated egos to accept.”

Milligan said Tuesday that he’s been telling City officials that they should be asking for an Isaac Street exit through his lot. After the Traffic Authority meeting in June, the City worked to widen Isaac Street and put in parking.

“Would I have negotiated something else?  not necessarily, but I’ve been bringing it up for months and months and months and months,” Milligan said, calling it a “shame” that they are “focusing on the wrong things.”

 

 

 

Back to the NDA

Real estate broker Jason Milligan.

“You can’t blame it on me because they denied us a seat at the table and then they went underground with a nondisclosure agreement,” Milligan said Tuesday. “The exact opposite of what we were asking for. Their response was ‘nondisclosure agreement, we’re going to decide this behind closed doors.’”

The City in early 2018 signed a non-disclosure agreement with Citibank and its preferred redeveloper, JHM Group. This has prompted outrage in parts of the community.

Wall Street businessman Mike McGuire, as he was standing outside West Rocks Middle School on Election Day trying to get people to vote for Mayoral challenger Lisa Brinton, said that the NDA was the reason he wasn’t supporting Rilling. He has signed NDAs as part of his business and could have signed the Citibank NDA, and none of this would have happened, he said.

“In order for Mr. McGuire to be part of the NDA, he would have had to receive permission from Citibank, not us,” Rilling said in a Tuesday email. “Mr. Milligan continues to attempt to play this out publicly.  I will not engage him on this issue that is currently pending before the court.”

King pointed out that the NDA was effective for three months “in the spring of 2018. There has been no NDA since.”

City officials resisted Citibank’s demand for an NDA, emails obtained through a Freedom of Information request show. Coppola in a September 2017 email said the city had never executed an NDA for “a project like this.” It hadn’t been done with GGP in the months-long mall approval project, when the “stakes were higher.”

Citibank refused to turn over a proforma and a CMSP without an NDA, the emails show.

Milligan on Tuesday explained, “We wanted to help remake our future. We didn’t like the decisions they were making. If they had given us a seat at the table, we weren’t looking to assign blame, we were looking to solve problems. But when they treat us badly, then you start assigning blame because there is plenty of blame to go around.”

“Why wouldn’t they at least listen to our ideas about it and then they could bring it up to Citibank?” he asked, explaining that shortly after the City signed the NDA, “that’s when I decided to read all the documents and reread them, and read them and read them…. That’s why I understand what they’re hiding. There’s a lot to hide.”

 

Blocking the lot

Milligan said he emailed and texted Rilling on Monday, saying, “I hope you can find a minute to give me a call me to avoid a mess.” Rilling didn’t call.

Norwalk Department of Public Works employees and others survey the Isaac Street situation Tuesday. (Jason Milligan)

In addition to his desire “for a seat at the table,” there’s a safety issue with the lot as “people are ripping through there at 60-70 miles an hour. Trucks, too. So why would I have people drive over my property for no reason?”

He had left the lot open as “an accommodation, as a neighbor, as a good friend” but “that’s not what they’re doing and they came on as  aggressive as you can imagine,” he said.

That ordinary citizens will suffer pain “bothers me very much,” he said in a late-night email. “My goal is to improve the Wall Street area. I feel like some at the city are fiercely and actively working against my efforts. Sometimes there is short term pain for long term gain, and with all meaningful change there is some pain and discomfort.”

33 comments

JustATaxpayer November 13, 2019 at 8:04 am

I was intent on going to the library yesterday. Then ugh, parking meters. No wonder Mott Street was so empty. I’ll drive to Darien or Westport later

Jason Milligan November 13, 2019 at 9:20 am

Harry,

Do you know what a good negotiators do?

They find out what is important to the other side and then they leverage it to get what they want.

Do you know what I want?

Do you even know what you want?

Do you know what the public who you purport to represent wants?

The public wants to Save the Garden Cinemas! 15,000 people signed the petition to save it. 15,000 people is also near the total number of people who voted in last weeks election for mayor. You got 8000 votes. The Garden got 15,000.

An exit for Isaacs Street should be important to you, that is if you care about the people and businesses of Wall Street.

You never once asked for an exit…

New Street #1 which you are supposed to build could provide an exit, but you are busy fighting against buying one of the properties needed for the street.

POKO is a disaster and you seem to be un complete disarray.

At this time it might be wise to follow the 1st rule of holes…

When you are in one, STOP DIGGING!

Dagny November 13, 2019 at 9:36 am

The big mistake Jason made was believing the politically motivated – rose colored glasses smoke screen. Politics are a dirty business. Liberals have shown over over that they will do, will say, whatever it takes to move their agendas along – no excuses needed, the end justifies the means! Wasn‘t it oddly quiet for weeks before the election? I did not believe the City’s about face, we care about the people of Norwalk, sham for a minute!!! They had to lay low and polish up Rilling’s cunning smile and make it appear that they actually cared about what the people wanted!! all the while biding their time while falsely placating Milligan by pretending to invite an open discussion. What a win for the Rilling campaign, It was quite effective at quieting Milligan during the crucial timing right before the election!! But as the saying goes: “fool me once, shame on you! Fool me twice shame on me!” Milligan is learning the nuances of parsel Toung (for non HarryPotter fans- that is the language of snakes!). I highly doubt he will be fooled again!! . And i predict the counter punches will be relentless!!!

John Miller November 13, 2019 at 9:41 am

Does anyone have any idea how much this is going to cost the taxpayers of Norwalk when everything is said and done?

Jason Milligan November 13, 2019 at 9:43 am

Harry,

Try practicing this statement:

Dear Public,

In 2015, I gave away 2 very valuable downtown parking lots.

I am very sorry and I will try to make it up to you.

HR

*It will feel so good and will allow for proper healing.

AnswerMan November 13, 2019 at 1:35 pm

@JustATaxpayer The library has its own parking lot with free parking if you get your ticket validated inside. Also, the City is not charging for parking on Mott until January 1. No need to avoid the library.

Jason Milligan November 13, 2019 at 2:35 pm

Reminder:

I own the parking lot behind the Library.

It is leased to the Library for approximately 4 more years.

Just an Isaacs Street business owner November 13, 2019 at 2:53 pm

This is unfortunate and my business is at the mercy of the thoughtless, careless, inconsiderate people parking in and blocking my office driveway because there is no place to park on the street where it is free at this time. It seems no one wants to pay anything to park in downtown Norwalk.

Tysen Canevari November 13, 2019 at 5:29 pm

the whole poko situation is a complete joke. When it came up before the election the mayor just breezed by the topic. It is a complete mess over there and the fact they charge for parking is laughable.

Bryan Meek November 13, 2019 at 5:56 pm

@The Norwalker. I hope you are not serious. An eminent domain claim at this point will cost the city bazillions in legal expenses and Milligan would likely get a very prominent national firm to take that softball on the cheap for the headlines. Then all the dirt comes out nationally on how this went down.. It will make Kelo v New London look like a parking ticket. Norwalk is 14% affordable, neighboring towns are allowed to cheat, and you want to seize this property for what greater good? There is plenty of open space in 3% affordable housing that could be taken by eminent domain. Why hasn’t that happened and why should the courts step in to solidify a totally shady transaction?

Bryan Meek November 13, 2019 at 6:00 pm

Plenty of open space in 3% affordable Westport was cut off from my previous comment.

An eminent domain case here, if successful by the city, would open the door nationally. Marx would love it, I would hope that our courts would not.

Jason Milligan November 13, 2019 at 7:36 pm

The Norwalker,

John Dias is actively suing the city claiming that the city has to take his property by eminent domain.

The city has spent hundreds of thousands with Shipman & Goodwin fight it.

The city specifically removed their eminent domain powers in an amendment to the Redevelopment Plan years ago.

Do you realize that the city pays full market value for all property taken by eminent domain.

Jason Milligan November 13, 2019 at 8:03 pm

Btw,

Can someone articulate the city’s goals and objectives?

This is what there lawsuit asks for:

“At its heart, this action concerns Plaintiffs’ desire to undo the various property transfers,
agreements,… Plaintiffs’ ultimate prayer for relief, if it can be summarized in one sentence, is for this Court to declare void and undo
all those actions, order ILSR to perform its contractual obligations,…”

They want to invent a remedy that would somehow unwind the purchases from a year and a half ago and give the properties back to a bankrupt, defunct company who president and founder has passed away. The remaining member has no desire or mean to own or develop the properties.

Harry and his team need to start answering obvious questions and they should be have an open discussion.

At the root POKO is not that complicated. It can be easily summarized and easily solved. That is once Harry admits that he gave away 2 parking lots. After that admission there will many easy elegant solutions.

Clearly the public has the capacity to forgive Harry for his mistakes if he asks for forgiveness.

Jill St. John November 13, 2019 at 9:51 pm

His lot, his right to block…The chess pieces are made of concrete. nice job Harry. Part of the Bundle of Rights….look it up.

Sid Welker November 14, 2019 at 7:43 am

Just a further dumb move to drive another nail into his coffin. When will Jason learn? Instead he crosses his arms, holds his breath and stomps his feet like a scorn child who didn’t get his way. If Poko wasnt enough of a disaster we now have this to further disrupt the struggling retail of that area. Remind me who the bad guy is again?

The Norwalker November 14, 2019 at 8:53 am

Better yet under eminent domain the city only would need to take enough land for a one way extension of Isaac St with street parking on both sides of the street (Isaac St has always needed more street parking. There would be some parking area let for the owner. A Win-Win Proposition!

Ernie DesRochers November 14, 2019 at 11:38 am

I have been following this case with interest for a long time. This transaction is a classic example of politicians in both parties getting involved in a development they could not possibly understand because of the overly complex nature of the capital structure, design, and use. For all of the claims of the excellent planning going on in Norwalk, why would anyone agree to use a 100% affordable housing development as the cornerstone of CBD redevelopment? This is simply wasted taxpayer money. The only thing the RDA and the City has accomplished is a huge eyesore on the Norwalk skyline. The Mayor and his team should be embarrassed.

What is even nuttier I seem to recall the City deeded the Isaac Street and Leonard Street lots to POKO originally for “$1 and other consideration”? This does not include any of the $5 million in state grant money for the automated parking and the LIHTCs given to POKO as part of its capital. The automated parking has since been declared as unfeasible, which is why there is a need to acquire the Garden Cinema site.

The LDA agreement with POKO gave the City a right of re-entry on both lots in the event of a default under the LDA. The city gave up the right of as part of the Loan Recognition Agreement with Citibank as part of its construction financing. The City still has a right of re-entry on the Leonard Street lot. It could have enforced it if it paid Milligan about $3.0 million plus costs (which was an established price in the agreement). In essence, the City would be buying back land for $3 million that it had given away. Those are not good optics! The City has subsequently negotiated a deal with the McClutchy group and Citibank that would allow them to finish POKO for $80 million or $800,000 per unit. That in itself is amazing since the highest price paid to date for a market rate housing development in the City’s history is about 60% of that.

You cannot make this up and is likely the reason why none of Norwalk’s local multi-family housing development community wants to get near this mess. They only thing they can say there is a need for affordable housing. That is stating the obvious. Affordability is an issue everywhere.

Milligan is correct when he states this is nothing more than a hole that is getting deeper with a ticking legal bill that is getting more expensive every day. I am not optimistic any negotiations will happen because of bad feelings, politics, and the personalities involved. This will continue to be a mess in the next election cycle unless the Mayor and his colleagues dial it back and sit down and figure out a way to negotiate with all parties and work out this mess.

Debora Goldstein November 14, 2019 at 1:02 pm

I’d pay to watch THAT argument. Your honor, we gave the property away, allowed the re-entry price to be increased, and failed to preserve our re-entry right when it was transferred to a different phase of the project.

We are simultaneously arguing that the property be returned to its rightful owner and that we require the right to pay fair market value to take it by eminent domain, to be used in a project that does not have a valid CSMP.

Judge: Let me get this straight…you gave it away, failed to reaquire iyt through re-entry, and THEN decided on eminent domain?

John ONeill November 14, 2019 at 2:05 pm

@Ernie: Stupid question but I have to ask: Has anyone been fired for this? The only thing that seems to be missing are incriminating emails within city hall ala mosque fiasco..

Jason Milligan November 14, 2019 at 2:28 pm

@ John ONeill,

Former Redevelopment Agency director Tim Sheehan “quit” and fled the state not long after spending 8 days on the witness stand.

There are plenty of incriminating emails and circumstances.

Stay tuned.

Claire Schoen November 14, 2019 at 2:50 pm

This is where I step in and remind readers that we are in the middle of our NewsMatch campaign — your donation will be matched (up to $1000 per individual) between now and the end of the year.

Where else can you get this type of coverage of such an important issue in Norwalk? Nancy has done an amazing job covering one of the more convoluted stories in Norwalk.

Please help us keep you informed. Donate today (it’s tax-deductible) at https://www.newsmatch.org/organizations/nancy-on-norwalk

Tysen Canevari November 14, 2019 at 5:21 pm

I love the drama Jason. Isnt it amazing that when the administration gets called out to settle this fiasco they run and hide. Where are all the letter writing groupies of the democratic party? Poko and that mess is a complete joke. Be a leader Harry and do something positive here.

Babar S November 14, 2019 at 5:36 pm

I think people should have to pay a quarter to comment on this site. It will raise a lot of money especially from Milligan alone.

Mike McGuire November 15, 2019 at 1:10 pm

I agree with Ernie D. This is a fiasco the must stop for the health and well-being of Norwalk’s downtown. And that does not mean push through a bad deal just to get past this. It means do your homework, engage qualified advisors and do the right thing for Norwalk.

NOrwalk needs its leadership to lead. Not be led.

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