A 2017 triumph: Love for Fodor Farm

From left, Bill Kraus, Bill Wrenn, Betsy Wrenn, Mary Finnegan, Diane Keefe, John Levin and Diane Lauricella celebrate the renovation of Fodor Farm, during a November reception in the renovated homestead.

Updated, 12:06 p.m.: Additional information.

NORWALK, Conn. – The restoration of Fodor Farm is a testament to community activism, excited Norwalkers said recently.

“It took a lot of people to make it happen,” Norwalk Preservation Trust President Tod Bryant said on Nov. 11, during an open house showcasing three exhibits in the renovated Fodor Farm homestead, which were developed and paid for by by the Norwalk Historical Society and the Norwalk Historical Commission.

A photo by Dan Lenore, part of the “Fodor Farm through the Lens of Dan Lenore” exhibit.

“It took a lot of work for months and months but it’s just to show you that people can make a difference,” Diane Lauricella said. “You don’t have to start with a huge group; we were small group but we had a lot of fun and I kept meeting more skilled people who know what to do and how to do it.”

Posters in the “Saving Fodor Farm” exhibit tell the story: when the last of John and Clara Fodor’s six sons died in 1990, relatives felt they had no choice but to sell the 9.2-acre property located at 328 Flax Hill Road.

“The real estate taxes were killing us,” Ronald Fodor is quoted as saying. “My brother Mark and I realized we’d have to sell the family farm.”

Plans were submitted to build 48 homes on the property and in 1996, a grassroots effort rose in opposition, with the formation of the Brookside Neighborhood Association to represent 1,100 nearby homeowners.

Part of the “The History of Fodor Farm” exhibit.

“The high number of houses being built for this development will create extreme ugliness in what is an historic and well established community,” BNA leader Samuel Russell is quoted as having said in 1996.

The development was stopped. The Common Council in 1999 paid $4.75 million for the property and in 2000 there was a proposal to tear down the homestead, which dated to 1809. There was talk of a new school but eventually, with the support of Norwalk Recreation and Parks Department Director Mike Mocciae, a community garden was established, along with an orchard, and the homestead was rebuilt from the inside out. A barn was built to house community events and the homestead’s second floor was rented to nonprofit organizations.

Betsy Fox is applauded during the Nov. 11 exhibit opening in Fodor Farm.

Recognized at the exhibit opening were Bill Kraus, Bill Wrenn, John Levin, Betsy Fox and photographer Dan Lenore, along with Bryant and Lauricella.

“When we first moved to Norwalk we didn’t know a soul we got to meet a few people one of them was Diane Lauricella, who said, ‘We have to save Fodor Farm,” Levin said. “I had no idea what it was.”

Lauricella kept saying it and didn’t quit, he said, telling her, “You were absolutely right.”

“Citizen activism doesn’t always work but it can, so it’s worth a try,” Levin said. “… You guys taught me so much. This one worked. They won’t all work and that’s OK.”

Bryant and Lauricella said they didn’t know why the late then-Mayor Frank Esposito went along with the grassroots demands to save the farm.

“He was the last person who cared about open space,” Bryant said. “So we don’t know why he did it, but he like being elected. Even people didn’t live in the neighborhood didn’t want that development.”

Bill Kraus admires part of the “Saving Fodor Farm” exhibit.

By the time the Preservation Trust got involved the core group of activists had already done the hard work, he said, commenting, “It really was a matter of working with administration at the time.”

Mocciae established a national model in saving the house, with the gardens and orchard, he said.

Getting the house on the historic register made it eligible for grant money, with $200,000 in state Historic Restoration Fund money matched by the city, and the sale of the property’s other two houses paying for the bulk of the work.

But, “Nothing would’ve happened without these guys, they did the heavy lifting,” Bryant said.

“It took a city,” Kraus said.

“My claim to fame is that I got the T-shirt,” Levin said.

“It wasn’t easy,” Lauricella said. “We were kind of like Don Quixote definitely but you can make a difference. I love that little small changes make a difference.”

John Levin is Board chairman of Chapman Hyperlocal Media Inc., the parent company of NancyOnNorwalk. 


8 responses to “A 2017 triumph: Love for Fodor Farm”

  1. M. Murray

    How has the loss of 48 potential homes affected the grand list?

  2. Bruce Kimmel

    Mayor Esposito was never completely on board with the proposal to acquire the property. A few members of the Common Council kept pushing for acquisition, noting that Norwalk was far behind the curve when it came to protecting open space. At the time, we did not have an open space ordinance, while many other towns in the area did.

    Also, there was a feeling among some Council members that the specific development proposal was much too dense for that particular piece of land; plus, the neighborhood was already fairly tight when it came to housing.

    And finally, the grassroots opposition to the housing proposal was growing and Fodor Farm had become a big political issue. I remember calling 32 of the folks in Cranbury and Silvermine who had taken my lawn signs in recent elections and asking them what they thought the city should do. A small majority for buying the land; most of the rest were for renovating schools. At the time, our school facilities were in extremely bad shape; nonetheless, a majority were okay with the land purchase.

  3. Ed

    So 48 homes would have destroyed the community back in 1996. But several large high rises and a mall are now okay.

  4. KRK

    In that light I guess one can say that Central Park was a land grab.

  5. Bruce Kimmel

    The 1990s was an interesting period for the city.

    I still believe we made a mistake by not ensuring that the Lock Building (in the heart of SONO) remain a home/studio space for artists. That would have added another, and needed, dimension to that neighborhood.

    The city devised an open space ordinance. While limited — it does not automatically and incrementally replenish itself on a yearly basis — it was a huge step forward after years of legislative opposition.

    After we acquired Fodor Farm, the city acquired 18 acres of open space off lower East Rocks Road, then known as the Crossland Property. At the time, Norwalk was a tad under the state’s 10% threshold for affordable housing, and the proposal for the Crossland Property was incredibly out of character with the rest of that neighborhood.

  6. Susan Wallerstein

    @ Bruice Kimmel agree about artists’ studios in the Lock Building. Among those who deserve recognition for Fodor Farm restoration are the incredibly talented Parks & Recreation employees for whom this was a true labor of love.

    1. Here’s a story I did in 2014, with Parks & Rec carpenter Steve Green explaining the work he was doing on Fodor Farm. https://nancyonnorwalk.com/2014/06/norwalk-carpenter-dont-rush-fodor-farm-fix-up/

  7. David Park

    Steve Green was also the primary carpenter who built the kiosk along the Norwalk River Valley Trail in Mathews Park that resembles the design of the Lockwood Mathews Mansion. (The kiosk project was financed by the Norwalk River Watershed Assoc thru an REI grant.) Steve was part of the ribbon cutting and was congratulated for his fine work along with several other people instrumental in getting it built.

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