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.”