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Council at Large candidates discuss development

Monday’s League of Women Voters Common Council at Large forum on Zoom.

The 2021 Election is Nov. 2.

NORWALK, Conn. – Common Council at large candidates met Monday in an online forum presented by the League of Women Voters of Norwalk.

Five Democrats held the line on supporting Norwalk growth, while two Republicans and the lone independent candidate said Norwalk is losing its identity and suffering from infrastructure deficits.

Eight of nine candidates participated, with Republican hopeful Enrique Santiago absent. By luck of the draw, Republicans went first, and moderator Jean Rabinow asked, “What is your vision for future development in Norwalk?”

Video of forum at end of story

“I think the apartment buildings are going up like mushrooms all over the town. And it’s, it’s making the city it’s making the town a little bit less, enjoyable to live in,” Republican candidate Matthew Merluzzi said.

“You’re looking at cramming all kinds of people into the city. And without a plan of what school we’re going to, how the water quality is going to go? Is the sewage treatment going to handle it? Our roads are taking a beating?” said Richard Bonenfant, a Republican who has previously served on the Council. “We just got to figure out what, you know, how big do we want to be?”

Incumbent Democratic Council member Greg Burnett said talk of development has to include affordable housing because, “Having a comfortable roof over your head is the very start of having a great quality of life,” and people who work in Norwalk should be able to live here and invest their money here.

Independent candidate Lisa Brinton continued the theme of her two Mayoral runs with, “I believe we need to have development that pays for itself. I would not be encouraging these tax credits that we’ve got stretching from the base of a Water Street up to Route 1. Some of these tax credits carry for seven years; in the case of POKO, it’s 15 years.”

Democratic candidate Joshua Goldstein said, “As a member of the Zoning Commission, I can tell you firsthand, the Norwalk is growing smartly. In fact, we work very hard to make sure that neighbors retain their character and charm. It’s why we’re not building a skyscraper in Cranbury…. I’m proud to live in an Enterprise Zone because Norwalk has made sure and made the investment in developing in areas that had not been able to develop before. And Norwalk’s population growth of 6.5% over 10 years is healthy, and it shows that it’s a place people want to live.”

Incumbent Democratic Council member Barbara Smyth said Livability.com just named Norwalk as the “59th most livable city in the entire country.”

“That’s something to be really proud of and tells me that we’re moving in the right direction. My vision for the future of Norwalk development is just a livable walkable, sustainable city where development is focused around the transit oriented districts,” Smyth said.

Democratic candidate Nora Niedzielski-Eichner spoke of the “missing middle,” housing for firefighters, teachers and others who work in Norwalk, such as “people who want to be small business owners.”

Incumbent Democratic Council member Dominique Johnson spoke of green construction in light of climate change, “not just energy efficient upgrades, but low impact development practices moving forward.”

Follow-up topics included the relationship between the Council and the Board of Education, digital access, and utilities in light of climate change.

Rabinow asked the candidates for their position regarding housing development. “There are many people speculating about the impact on infrastructure, is there some alternative towards development that would still allow the city to thrive?”

Goldstein said, “Norwalk is developing responsibly.” The Zoning and Planning Commissions do a lot of vetting, and “developers are required to provide infrastructure additions… we have a reduction in water use because our pipes are better.”

Smyth said, “I do think that we do need to continue with smart development, because we continue to have a dearth of housing. And as we do so, as we increase housing, the rents will go down as something that we hear a lot of complaints about…. We need to boost our trains or buses and other forms of public Transportation to reduce the traffic.”

Brinton said, “I tend to think we are putting a strain on our infrastructure, I’d like to give a bit of a timeout in terms of these large fortress apartments. And I certainly would stop with the tax credits because the tax credits are hurting our property tax base, and not allowing us to fund our schools in other parts of the city.”

Niedzielski-Eichner said, “A city as vibrant as Norwalk is vibrant because there’s growth, because there’s change, because we have 400 years of history, that has been a history of change. And I think that we need to be responsible, we need to be thoughtful, we need to be looking strategically. We need to be building in our transit orient districts if we’re going to be increasing density.”

Johnson said, “I think what’s so important is to listen to our residents and be open to strategic growth that lays the groundwork now for our green infrastructure of the future…. We have to achieve these goals such as affordability and climate resilience, and think about the city we want to pass down to our children and grandchildren’s generation and what that looks like.”

Merluzzi said, “I hate to be a curmudgeon, but I don’t see a lot of smart intelligence in a lot of zoning recently, I think to me things are just propping up without rhyme or reason. I think it runs counter to the character of the town. … I’d like to see I’d like to see a change in direction.”

Bonenfant said P&Z’s approach is to get everybody to build a detached accessory apartment, then have cars park on lawns. “That didn’t sound too good to me.”

Burnett said, “Accessible and affordable housing, to me becomes an entire equity issue… Let’s give people the opportunity to invest and not simply live in an apartment but buy a home and build equity and build an investment within Norwalk.”

4 comments

John O'Neill October 19, 2021 at 3:51 pm

I really love Norwalk. What I hate about Norwalk are politicians using Reviews about how great the city is to pat themselves on the back. Yes, Norwalk was ranked 59th in the Livability.com rankings. It should be noted Hartford was 69th and New Haven was 87th. Not sure if Livability has found Shangi-La yet,…. at this rate probably not…
The problem we have with current Common Council and Board of Ed is they’re not living in reality. AND they’re trying to persuade voters to enter their alternate universe. There are going to be some very difficult decisions to make two years from now. We need Common Council members with backbone and discipline. That’s lacking right now.

Patrick Cooper October 19, 2021 at 7:25 pm

@John O’Neil. Do you suppose – just for a second – that “Livability.com” might just be a marketing agent that can be – ah, persuaded to add you town if you make a nice donation?

When Bob Duff is over on Next Door promoting it – you know it’s fugazy.

This tells you two things – both very important:

1. They have to pay for – or make up compliments – to counter the very negative impressions longtime residents have about their city – today. This is – don’t believe your eyes & ears – listen to us. It says everything. Alternate reality.

2. The politicians behind this ruse – likely Bob & Harry – show utter contempt for their constituents. Let’s fool them. This is done purely because – they believe we are ALL too stupid to know on our own. I’d bet my home that not a single member of our local government has ever sniffed mensa. The irony that they think we are stupid is a reflection of the deceivers.

Someone needs to FOIA the city finance team, and Jessica Casey – to find out if in fact Norwalk paid Livability.com for the mention. Before the election.

I mean – can you image Hartford being in the top 100 of anything? I went to Tninity – trust me, this is not a place for humans.

James October 19, 2021 at 9:39 pm

3 to 5 year moratorium on new apartment developments ASAP.

Enough traffic, enough construction, enough density. Quality of life for residents should matter.

Adolph Neaerland October 20, 2021 at 11:59 am

Comments re Council election debate 10/18

I found the candidates discussions (designed to influence a voters choice) lacking in substance considering the importance of our upcoming election. (listening to both the meetings recording and the comments on NON).
The euphonism of “planned growth” was dominant, without any clear statement of parameters.
What constitutes “good” planned growth in this environment of:
1. The rampant spread of virus and variants, as warned by Dr. Fauci.
Currently our P&Z has refused to require new construction to include virus mitigating features.
2. The diminishing ratio of open space (including playgrounds) to population.
3. Solving Norwalk’s periodic drinking water shortages with “bigger pipes” even if the reservoirs run dry. (for some longer time frame thinking, why not consider a reginal desalination facility for Manresa? )
4. The lack of verified financial impact of new construction. (increased “Grand List” is only one side of the equation, On the other side, School capacity and it’s ancillary costs, Police and Fire dept incremental costs are examples of associated costs that affect taxes.
5. The need to clean up our waste disposal facility to eliminate spillage in/after major storms. (per Save the Sound, Norwalk harbor is the most contaminated in the area).
6. No reference to recommendation by 2 consultants to seek out light industry for better balance for growth than residential, offering less of an infrastructure impact while offering employment for residents.
7. What legacy should we be leaving for Norwalk’s future?
I hope the candidates will address such fundamental issues with facts, not wishful thinking.

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