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Alvord: ‘Nothing fishy’ going on with Norwalk urban zone boundries

 

Norwalk urban zone
From left: Norwalk taxing district boundaries; the Department of Public Works Norwalk urban zone map; the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency Norwalk urban zone map. Confused yet?

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.

Sharon Meinck Norwalk
Norwalker Sharon Meinck said she was puzzled by the abrupt change in new sidewalks in front of her Dry Hill Road home. She figured it had something to do with money, she said, shaking her head.

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.”

Urban core census tracts defined(1)

Redevelopment Urban Zone Map008

Comments

17 responses to “Alvord: ‘Nothing fishy’ going on with Norwalk urban zone boundries”

  1. Dorothy Mobilia

    You could ask Dominick DiGangi about the boundaries. He presently is the operations and general manager for the First taxing District.

  2. John Hamlin

    Isn’t it DPW’s job to get the right map and know where the urban zone is located? So Mr. Mushak was right that all was not right. And Mr Alvord is right that he is “transparent” — if he means that he and his department are transparently incompetent.

  3. EveT

    Is this the kind of statement that a competent manager ought to make to the media? “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.”???

  4. M. Murray’s

    Wait. Low and moderate income areas get concrete and middle and upper income areas get asphalt? And the reasoning is????

  5. Nora King

    This is not the first time Hal has moved district or boundary lines. He did this five years ago when he took properties out of the sixth taxing district and put them in the first. A lawsuit was filed and it was very clear that Hal and Michael Stewart had acted outside the boundaries of their job when they moved the properties. It doesn’t seem odd that Hal would try something like this again.

  6. Oldtimer

    I guess it all depends on what your version of FISHY is. Alvord apparently has a different version. When is he going to retire ?

  7. EastNorwalkChick

    “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.”

    That statement right there in the private sector would be cause for either demotion or termination of employment. This is not the first, nor will this be the last time we will get explanations like this from him. He has been doing this kind of thing for years and gets away with it. I don’t get it, why is he still employed by the City? It’s like he is made of Teflon, nothing sticks to him.

  8. Peter Parker

    Alvord should be fired over this. If you look at the cencus tract map attached Dry Hill Road is not in the Urban Core. I agree with Mushak, SOMETHING SMELLS FISHY! CORRECTION. SOMETHING SMEELS ROTTEN!!

    Again I will ask, where is the Mayor on this issuye, and when will he remove this cancer from our government?

  9. John Hamlin

    It’s clear that department heads are never removed from the City government — they have lifetime tenure. Is this in the interests of the taxpayers?

  10. One and Done.

    The one department with a steadily shrinking budget and everyone expects the streets to be paved in gold. Wake up! The money is being sucked out of this system by the various labor unions who’s mission is to line their pockets with this gold. Alvord’s successor will be tasked with managing this race to the bottom for our infrastructure. I can’t wait to see your complaints then when it gets worse.
    .
    One and Done.

  11. Peter Parker

    Simple if you give one taxpayer a free sidewalk you have to do it for all taxpayers. Looks like all of Dry Hill got new sidewalks for free except 6 homeowners. Whats wrong with that picture?

  12. Robert Celli

    Suddenly Mr. Alvord seems to suggest he himself is unsure of the facts on the Urban Core. He seemed perfectly clear that the US Census Bureau Census Tracts defined the City’s Urban Core in the meeting I had with him the Mayor, and Councilman Watts. Now Alvord says things change every year, and he can’t be sure of what happened before him. One thing is certain, the US Census Tracts are defined by the US Census Bureau and the attached map clearly shows what is in the Urban Core, and my house is not. In fact none of Dry Hill Road is in the Urban Core per the US Census Tracts. So why then is it different in the DPW map given to Mushak?.
    >
    After much research, it seems evident there is some issue with how DPW is representing what comprises the Urban Core in the City of Norwalk. It’s evident something is amiss. Simply put the Urban Core is simply that, and is defined by the US Census Tracts. Is the DPW director designating new lines to the US defined Census Tracts as it relates to the Urban Core? One has to wonder what the United States Census Bureau would think of that? My home is not in the Urban Core per the United States Census Tracts. DPW cannot redefine US Census Tract designations for its own purposes regardless of when or who changed these lines. As DPW Director it is Alvord’s responsibility to get these zones correct. This error will negatively impact property values for all the homes affected by the changes made to those tract lines. I’m wondering, could someone possibly raise a claim against the city for misrepresenting the United States Census Bureau Census Tracts? My research continues.

  13. Suzanne

    I am sorry to hear all of the excuses from Mr. Alvord or the “vague” recollections that absolves him of any responsibility for his department. I keep reading that he is picked on, somehow, because he does not get the budget he needs and his staff is so unionized, they are hampering any progress. It feels like goals and work are just not clearly defined, much less the Urban Core. It also feels like Mr. Alvord is just biding his time, awaiting a retirement package (?) while Mr. McCarthy continues to be his apologist. One has to ask, Does Norwalk deserve better? Of course, most would reply with a resounding “Yes” and so would I. He seems like a manager consistently under water with no comprehensive remedy citywide for anything, not even the skeleton of a plan, that would keep services going at any level much less talking about excellence. I wish Mayor Rilling would move on this: I wish he was interviewing other candidates with more vigor, more organizational skills and more knowledge. Whatever of the latter Mr. Alvord may have, it is not being used in the service of Norwalk.

  14. M. Murray’s

    I still go back to the question as to why urban areas need not expensive concrete instead of asphalt, which is cheaper and more easily repaired

  15. Mike Mushak

    Great article Nancy. The 3 different maps at the top, priceless. @ “M Murray’s”, great question, along with everyone else’s questions. Thank you for highlighting this issue, and the fact that Dave McCarthy threw me out of a meeting last week for pointing out these discrepancies just before the committee he chairs voted to approve a $20,000 study to do a sidewalk inventory in the “urban core”. That number might have been only been $10,000 if we used the original urban core map that P and Z uses, which is the 1st and 2nd taxing districts, or the Redevelopment map, which uses Census Tracts.

    After I was thrown out of the meeting for making a point of order to say Mr. Alvord was wrong in his statement about the map, which was DIRECTLY related to the agenda item the committee was discussing at the time, McCarthy then proceeded to not even ask Mr. Alvord what this was about. It’s as if he could care less, perhaps since McCarthy doesn’t have a sidewalk in front of his house that the city might tell him has to be expensive concrete instead of asphalt.
    .
    The truth is, this issue affects thousands of property owners all over the city, many who may actually want to fix their sidewalks but are told they have to use concrete, costing maybe $6 or $7,000 instead of $1500 for the average sidewalk. This is part of the reason our sidewalks don’t get fixed! Why am I the only one who seems to get this? I am glad this absurd policy is having a spotlight shined on it.

    Mr. Celli’s property is in a “B Residence” zone, just like the 120 or so properties along Dry Hill Rd. to the north and south of him. About 60 of those properties to the north of him got new sidewalks, except for the 6 or so properties around Mr. Celli an including his, that didn’t get new sidewalks. There wis NOTHING urban about Mr. Celli’s block and the 2 blocks south of him towards Westport Ave., and in fact that are ALL in the “B Residence” zone.
    .
    The map DPW produced clearly doesn’t match P and Z’s or Redevelopment’s definition, and is in direct conflict with the city’s own “Roadway Standards” of 1982, which states on page 14: “In urban areas sidewalks shall be concrete. In RESIDENTIAL areas they MAY be ASPHALT or CONCRETE.”
    .
    My emphasis in capitals to highlight that ALL of Dry Hill Rd. is in a “B Residence” zone, which indicates that the entire road beginning at Westport Ave, across from Stew’s, may have asphalt or concrete sidewalks in this ALL RESIDENTIAL neighborhood. How does Mr. Alvord explain the so-called urban nature of the 3 blocks south of Merrill St? He can’t explain it, yet he insists of punishing those unlucky property owners in this stretch who now have to pay OUT OF THEIR OWN POCKET, the $6 or 7 k for concrete while most of their neighborhood got free sidewalks in the recent renovation. It is pure harassment of taxpayers who engineers have decided with no rationale that they need to spend their own money. McCarthy even insulted Mr Celli in a public meeting by saying all he needs to do is “power-wash his dirty sidewalk” when shown photos of his broken sidewalk, one of the few left on the mile-long Dry Hill Rd that were not replaced.

    In another article today on Mr. Celli’s sidewalk, I describe the absurdity of what happened to the Norwalk Inn, whose owner was almost forced by DPW engineers a couple of years ago to spend about $20,000 replacing most of his perfectly fine existing concrete sidewalk with a new concrete sidewalk, for no apparent reason except to harass the owner. However, we lost a landmark 100 year old oak in front of the beautifully restored 93 East Ave., part of the Inn, because of the city’s absurd sidewalk policy, that doesn’t even allow brick that can flow over roots, in a designated Village District and an Historic District, which the Norwalk Inn is located in. I stepped in and sent emails to everyone concerned, and the city backed off, but we lost the tree because the city engineers expressly stated that they DO NOT ALLOW BRICK in this location! I believe they just made it up, as there is brick just down the street in front of City Hall, but you cannot argue with these guys, as they are always right and they can hold up your Certificate of Occupancy if you don’t do exactly as they say. It’s really like a bad petty ego trip sometimes.
    .
    I should also explain that miles of sidewalks are in such bad repair directly because of the DPW’s failed policy. In our neighborhood of Golden Hill, which is in the now famous “urban zone” even though it is all residential and has 95% asphalt sidewalks already (some put in by the city themselves in recent years!), if you repair your existing asphalt sidewalk without a permit, the city fines you. If you try to get a permit to repair it, they make you replace the entire sidewalk with new concrete, and in our low income neighborhood, few can afford that even though they want to do the right thing and fix the sidewalk. To avoid the fines,, the sidewalks just sit for years unrepaired even though the owners want to repair them, just because of the city’s absurd and punitive policy!
    .
    This gets to “M Murray’s point above, in that why would you require lower-income residential neighborhoods to install expensive concrete and allow wealthier areas to use cheaper asphalt? We should follow the “Roadway Standards” recommendation and throw the whole map out, and just say that in “urban areas”, which we can safely say is business and industrial zones where concrete is obviously the best choice for durability, we use concrete. In ALL other RESIDENTIAL areas, as the standard states, sidewalks may be asphalt OR concrete. What is so complicated about that?
    .
    That inability to see how absurd their own policies are is exactly what is happening now with this urban core map, which Alvord can’t explain and anyone can see it makes no sense at all, as the line splits blocks in half and includes purely residential areas like Marvin Beach, Bettswood, and Spring Hill, affecting thousands of properties.
    .

    .

  16. peter parker

    According to his statements Alvord doesn’t seem to know where, when or why, and has no records or back up for much. So how does he even know if the map he has given to Mushak shows the correct Urban Core? Obviously he doesn’t. I’d say to go ask DPW, but its clearly obvious they don’t know. When does the Mayor tire of this circle of incompetence fostered by Alvord and the DPW? Again I ask, when will this Mayor do something about DPW and its Director?

  17. Norewalk Lifer

    David McCarthy should do a little homework because he throws people out of council meetings, he has no right nor any license to do so.

    This is why Lawyers are rich, a lot of what you read here could have been resolved in mediation during council meetings.
    *

    If those meetings are not productive, stop them; we don’t want to pay for the utilities nor use of the facilities when meetings are held and nothing comes of them.
    *
    If Mr. Alvord has no control over his department, he should be asked to step down, to state, that he has no idea what the past workings were, is an abomination; no one in any commercial sector, directly responsible for such a work scope would be allowed to say “I don’t know or I didn’t know”
    *
    A prime yet extreme example: Ken Lay, he tried that Sargeant Schultz “I know nothing” routine, and he ended up in jail, and we ended up with Sarbanes Oxley.

    Regards
    Norwalk Lifer

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