NORWALK, Conn. – There’s nothing “fishy” going on with the Department of Public Works urban zone map, according to DPW Director Hal Alvord – but it’s obvious that – at least – something odd is going on.
The boundaries of what DPW calls the urban zone, defined by U.S. Census tracts, do not coincide with what the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency calls the urban zone, also defined by U.S. Census tracts.
Zoning Commissioner Mike Mushak, speaking as a private citizen, asserted at last week’s Public Works Committee meeting that there was “something really fishy going on.” Mushak was asked to leave the meeting after attempting to correct what he said was an untruth. Alvord had said the Planning and Zoning Department was responsible for the urban zone map. Mushak said he had gone to P&Z and been told that P&Z knew nothing about it.
Planning and Zoning Department Deputy Director Mike Wrinn got him a map from DPW, he said, but a notation on the map indicates a classification revision was done in February – as road work was being done on Dry Hill Road, which is on the boundary of the urban zone. Although Wrinn said the urban zone coincides with the First and Second Taxing Districts, the map includes Marvin Beach, which, he said, is hardly urban.
The map had been tampered with, he said.
The boundaries of the map are an issue because some Dry Hill Road residents got concrete sidewalks and some got asphalt. Alvord said concrete is mandatory inside the urban zone. Outside, cheaper asphalt can be used. One woman’s house is apparently in two zones as the concrete stops right outside her front door.
Mushak’s accusation of “something fishy” was at a meeting held Tuesday. On Wednesday, Alvord said some of Mushak’s assertions were correct.
“I did in fact say at one point it was from P&Z,” he said. “It was actually a map we provided – I’m trying to remember why; it’s census data from SWRPA (South Western Regional Planning Agency). We actually followed up with the guy who was the Public Works director 20 years ago when this whole thing started. He confirmed that it was actually census data outlines. When Mike Wrinn did tell Mike Mushak that it was First and Second Taxing District – the urban zone is essentially that, with a piece of the Third in there. That’s where the map came from.”
He professed no knowledge of any classification revision.
“Whatever the latest areas were, if you look at those design districts – the urban zone, the extensive business area, the intensive business area, those are directly from P&Z and those are concrete zones, too. The extensive and intensive business pieces came from P&Z. What’s called the urban zone in there, or urban boundary, came from these census data things back from before 1982,” he said.
On Thursday, he said the boundaries of the zone hadn’t changed.
“The world does not remain static. Things change over time. For example, new streets are added, some street names may change, streets may be abandoned. These items are base map revisions and these are the kinds of updates that were done from the previous update of the map. Classification revision would include such things as a road that changes from a local road to a collector road, or a collector road changes to minor arterial, etc. These are the classification revisions that were done from the previous update of the map. There were no revisions to the urban boundary,” Alvord wrote in an email.
Robert Celli, a Dry Hill Road resident who has filed a claim against the city over what he says is damage to his sidewalk, has been researching the urban zone issue. His home is in the same census tract as the homes further down the street, which got concrete sidewalks as required by the urban zone classification.
Celli found a definition of the urban zone in Norwalk Redevelopment Agency (RDA) documents, which is attached.
RDA Executive Director Tim Sheehan said the urban zone is based on demographics that are census-related, to define low and moderate income areas. That map is attached.
The DPW urban zone goes beyond the zone defined by the RDA.
Alvord said he can’t explain the DPW urban zone because the boundaries were drawn back in the 1980’s, when Dominick DiGangi was DPW director.
“Sorry, there’s no conspiracy going on here,” Alvord said. “There’s no hidden – we’re as transparent as hell. Nothing fishy going on.”
Why, if the census tracts are the basis, does the RDA have a different urban zone from DPW?
“I have no idea. Nobody here has any idea how the original boundaries got, other than what Dominick told us, because none of us were here at the time,” he said.
While Alvord said concrete sidewalks are required in the urban zone, one block of Dry Hill Road, well north from where Celli lives, has concrete sidewalks. North and south of that spot is asphalt.
“It’s been there for a while,” Alvord said, of the concrete sidewalk. “I have no idea (why). That’s what I’m telling you: Over some period of time, God only knows what, various things were done. I can’t explain them. Anything that was done before Dec. 10th of 2003 I can’t explain. I have no idea. I can’t even vouch for the record keeping that was done in those periods of time. Now we’re trying hard – I am still not allowed to have a document management system so we’re using paper records, still, but we are, in fact, trying to keep good records in what we’ve done and we’re trying to be consistent in what we’re doing.”