BJ’s, Costco, debated by Norwalk mayoral candidates

NORWALK, Conn. – The big box store issue made its way into the dialogue at Wednesday’s debate-like discussion between Republican incumbent Mayor Richard Moccia and Democratic challenger Harry Rillin, as a proposed BJ’s Wholesale Club was weighing on the mind of audience members.

One woman started to ask the candidates about the development planned for Main Avenue, only to be surprised with the news that the application had been withdrawn a few hours earlier.

Rilling told her to go ahead.

“You should ask your question because they’re going to put it in again,” he said, causing Moccia’s eyebrows to raise.

For the record, Zoning Commission Chairwoman Emily Wilson indicated Thursday night that a reapplication was possible.

Rilling went on to recount the “trouble” he had gotten into for saying Norwalk should say no to big box stores. He criticized Moccia for not marketing the Main Avenue property.

Moccia fired back.

“The city cannot market,” he said. “We’re not a real estate agency. We don’t market somebody’s private property. That’s a violation of city ethics, 32-4, you can’t give special consideration to one group over another. Then we’d have to market every piece of property in the town, for everybody.”

BJ’s did a terrible job marketing their proposal, he said.

“Some people blame me for it coming in. I can’t stop an application,” Moccia said.

Former Zoning Commissioner Adam Blank said recently that he wasn’t reappointed to the commission because Moccia wanted people who would do his bidding. Moccia wanted the BJ’s application approved, Blank said.

Rilling came back at Moccia in the next segment of the discussion, which is not shown in the video above.

“For the record, I didn’t say market private property, but we could bring people in to look at the private property and maybe make some offer on it,” he said.

Earlier that day, Rilling had held a press conference to criticize Moccia for the lack of marketing and to talk about his feeling that the BJ’s would be bad for Norwalk in that location.

In pitching the application, Attorney Frank Zullo said many times that getting another developer with the deep pockets BJ’s has would be unlikely, that this application was the chance to get a new traffic signal at the site and synchronize the lights in the vicinity.

Asked about that, Rilling said, “If you didn’t have the high volume of traffic that would result from BJ’s, perhaps they wouldn’t need to do as much. This is going to generate trips all day long. Wait until you see Saturday and Sunday. Go up to the Costco parking lot. Any time of the day or night, try to drive down Connecticut Avenue anytime on the weekend and see how frustrating it can be.”

Moccia also mentioned Costco and traffic, as shown at the tail end of the video.

If you’re curious about the pay raise remark in the video, read this story.


10 responses to “BJ’s, Costco, debated by Norwalk mayoral candidates”

  1. Herb Eaversmels

    “The City cannot Market”. Is the Mayor okay? Did he forget Tad Diesel works for him? Mr. Diesel is Director Of Marketing & Business Development. Hear that? Director of Marketing & Business Development.

  2. Independent Voter

    Tad Diesel is a former banking executive who doesn’t even live in Norwalk – he lives in Farmington. As with Mike Mushak’s well-directed comments about Zoning Staff having no relevant qualifications, the same critique applies in this case. If the City was serious about marketing itself, why hire a bankster to do it for them? Couple of other points that are curious: I was told personally at one point by Tad that he has no budget, so that shows just how seriously the City takes the business of marketing itself (as evidenced by the freebie logo – “Norwalk on the Move” – that was donated by a Bridgeport designer a few years ago). And finally, his position is listed under the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency, which gets all its funding from the state: http://www.norwalkct.org/index.aspx?nid=652

  3. Herb Eaversmels

    His positon is also listed as part of the Mayors office: http://www.norwalkct.org/Directory.aspx?DID=3

  4. JustAsking

    I know Tad, he has been living in Norwalk for a few years now.

  5. Tim T

    How does anyone expect Tad or anyone else to market Norwalk when we have a bunch of cry babies that find fault with every improvement.
    As a side comment Mike Mushak is getting to be a bit much with his obsession against retail. Why doesn’t he just do the right thing and go away.

  6. Suzanne

    Tim T, you might take your own advice about doing the “right thing” in that last comment.

    It would be helpful if Norwalk had a Master Plan that was realistic, workable and in the 21st Century with features of “Livable Cities” similar to New Haven’s initiative for housing and the International Livable Cities movement. Both of these plans include features that make a town a comfortable entity to live in, revitalizes neglected neighborhoods and makes variable features within walking distance, like city services, retail and schools to housing.

    Norwalk has the baseline conditions to make this happen with some imagination and initiative. However, this city government seriously lacks common vision and common goals starting at the top with the “No Sayer” Moccia who says the town cannot be marketed. If this were the case, New Haven would not have the beautiful and comprehensive WEB site that explains their initiative in improving their housing situation.

    Rilling is on the right track: you don’t tell a given developer or interested retailer that they must buy or could buy or “market” in terms of taxable income in that sense to the Town thus showing a conflict of interest, but you CAN tell these potential occupants what is available and, perhaps, what is doable given an overall workable town development plan.

    These Commissions have completely forgotten what purpose they are there to provide. Every last one of the participants need to step back and get some perspective, impossible I believe, with this current administration who expects and gets the duality of conflict, party against party, and encourages such behavior and actions.

    So, Mayor Moccia, politics as usual is not good enough for this town. It is time for everyone to do their job in the best interests of its citizens. You do not seem to play a role in that. It is a shame: so much opportunity to see Norwalk become a real destination and desirable on so many levels, again, the infrastructure is all there, if only you could lead the way for a solid, comprehensive plan for a livable city. Then, instead of putting everything in a drawer as though you have completed the task, a follow through with implementation. What a concept.

  7. Tad Diesel moved to Norwalk more than a year ago.

  8. Norwalk Lifer

    I find the Mayor’s deflection of responsibility curious; real leaders push for improvements, look at Governor Cuomo in NY State, his legislators pushed hard for a technology center in Albany NY, it’s reality now, and a group of high tech companies have made the investment.

    Albany was a hub of industrialization for many decades and fell short during the Pataki years, of course, Pataki was Al D’Amato experiment to see if he could unseat Mario Cuomo, funny how politicians play such games, no?

    If the Mayor were less insular and more global, he might take time to “market” Norwalk’s potential to small businesses and start ups; he doesn’t do this, he leaves the heavy lifting to others. I ask you, if there is such a vested interest in Norwalk’s future by this mayor, why isn’t he more vocal and more global in his efforts to attract business to Norwalk?

    Big Box is the cheap and easy way to generate revenue, with disastrous effects; but it’s easy, isn’t it?

    What happens when the consumer sector falters? isn’t the proposal of another Big Box, high discount, low tax base generating business a little concerning to folks? 700 jobs? low paying jobs? what good does that do for Norwalk?

    Maybe both Rilling and Moccia would serve themselves better by talking to Governors and Mayors who have taken the time to use their political sinew to help their cities and states.

    Afterall, that’s what leaders and visionaries do.

    Norwalk isn’t so small a “town” that this would be out of character, oh yes, I forgot, Norwalk is a “city”, it’s leaders should start acting like they manage a city.

    Norwalk Lifer

  9. EDR

    You would think from the comments made on these pages that the only thing built in Norwalk over the past 20 years has been big box stores. That is so far from the truth. If you compare what has happened in the varying commercial real estate sectors in Norwalk to that of cities relative to our size anywhere in the US you would know that the city has participated quite nicely in this current little boomlet in development. Throw in 95/7 and the next Mayor is gong to have a very nice and diversified city tax base. The rating agencies have recognized this. So while all of you progressive types wax eloquently why the city does not work I will tell you that we are fortunate. Just saying.

  10. Suzanne

    EDR, How can you “throw in 95/7?” There isn’t one.

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