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DEEP official denies saying Norwalk is ‘worst’ on coastal management enforcement

Norwalk Zoning Commissioner Nora King.
Norwalk Zoning Commissioner Nora King.

NORWALK, Conn. – The Zoning Commission battles continue with a Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) official denying that the agency is trying to take over Norwalk.

DEEP Senior Environmental Analyst Marcy Balint also said that she had been misquoted by Zoning Commissioner Nora King at a recent Zoning Committee meeting, that she hadn’t said Norwalk has the most relaxed laws in the state and does not defend its coastline. King said she stands by her version of the conversation. Emails from Balint to the Zoning Commission and from Sue Jacobsen of DEEP to the Planning and Zoning office were forwarded to NancyOnNorwalk Tuesday afternoon. After being reached by telephone, King later copied NoN on an email to Zoning Commission Chairman Joe Santo. No emails from Santo have been copied or forwarded to NoN.

“I am copying Nancy on this because someone sent her the letter and I think since she was mentioned in this letter she should be aware of what is going on,” King wrote to Santo. “You are more than welcome to continue this kind of behavior towards me and discuss whatever you want in our next meeting. I could care less about any of those threats you continue to make towards me.  I have nothing to hide and I am an advocate that we need serious overhaul in our P and Z department.”

At the Oct. 9 committee meeting, King said she had talked with Balint and Jacobsen. “You know what they said? We have the most shoreline out of any, any city in the state of Connecticut,” King said. “We have the most relaxed laws and we do not fight or defend our coastline. When somebody up at the state tells me that Norwalk is the worst city in the state that does this…”

Jacobsen wrote to Site Planner Frank Strauch on Oct. 10:

“I don’t recall having such a conversation with Ms. King. I don’t remember speaking to her at all, but there was a brief period a year or so ago that lots of people were asking about the Farm Creek project, so I may have had a brief conversation with her,” Jacobsen said. “I would not have made any comments on the project since there was nothing proposed in my permitting jurisdiction.  And my dealings in Norwalk were mostly with the Shellfish and Harbor Management Commissions – talk about protecting Norwalk’s coast!!!  I don’t believe there are any tougher Commissions in the State.”

NoN printed an article about the meeting on Oct. 12. On Oct. 15, Balint wrote to the Zoning Commission:

“In response to several inquiries, I would like to clarify certain supposed quotes and comments from me, regarding coastal zoning issues in Norwalk,” Balint wrote. “While I did have a conversation with Nora King by phone several weeks ago, I did not make the statements attributed to me in the October 12, 2014 article by Nancy Chapman, nor would I have had cause to do so …”

The comments do not reflect the opinion of the Office of Long Island Sound Programs (OSLIP), Balint said. Norwalk Zoning staff have always been professional and willing to listen and consider comments regarding the Connecticut Coastal Management Act (CCMA), Balint said.

“As such, we are by no means trying to ‘take over Norwalk’ as quoted in the Oct. 12 article,” Balint wrote. “For example, we cooperated in joining lawsuits on Norwalk’s behalf and at its request when a CSPR has been appealed, and partnered with many City staff on major in-water violations that significantly damaged coastal resources in the harbor islands.”

The story made it clear it was Santo who said the state was trying to take over Norwalk.

Balint went on to address the issues of coastal management:

“I would like to clarify that the CSPR provisions within the City’s zoning regulations are not ‘out of compliance’ with CCMA statutory provisions.  If the City chooses to exempt the raising of existing homes that immediately adjoin coastal waters and wetlands, even those potentially directly regulated by the OLISP permitting section, that is its decision.

“However, given the volume of comments I received from Rowayton residents concerning the 2 Nearwater Lane site, I had simply offered a voluntary suggestion (as detailed in an email dated 8/6/14, and in accordance with CGS Sec. 22a-109(b)) to slightly modify the CSPR exemption language in the City Zoning Regulations so that the City ‘may’ rather than ‘shall’ exempt modifications to residential properties to allow needed flexibility when addressing proposals directly abutting coastal waters and resources).  My goal in making this suggestion was to provide a potential opportunity for community input for residents concerned with environmental and climate change issues.

“Based on my communications with many Norwalk residents as well as Ms. King, there does appear to be widespread concern regarding coastal development in the context of climate change. OLISP shares this concern.  In the aftermath of Storms Irene and Sandy, along with rising sea levels, OLISP is seeing statewide trends toward intensification of residential uses along the water’s edge, even as structures are raised to meet FEMA standards.  But because FEMA standards are designed to protect property, not residents, and do not account for sea level rise projections, they are not sufficient by themselves to ensure a resilient developed shoreline.  There are several zoning approaches the city might consider to better protect its coastal residents and resources, such as minimizing variances that allow substantial increases in living space in coastal hazard areas, increasing setbacks from wetlands or water, requiring V-zone standards for some A-zone construction,  or requiring or encouraging elevations above BFE for new construction.

“In my opinion, potential responses to climate change such as these pose far more significant issues for Norwalk than a dispute over zoning procedures, and I look forward to assisting the City in a productive dialogue with all interested stakeholders to address coastal resiliency and other common issues of concern.”

King’s email to Santo was sent at 7:30 p.m.:

“Joe,

“Once again the chairman and the director are focused on the wrong things.  This should not be turned into the ‘Mike Mushak flowerpot.’  I would hope our staff and our chairman have better things to do with their time and taxpayers dollars. It is obvious from your follow up emails to me that you don’t really grasp the issue and that is our lack of coastal management planning within our zoning department needs overhaul.

“Marcy clearly outlines in this letter. I am paraphrasing this. So I hope that you and Mike Greene do not get up in a ‘tit for tat’ conversation, which Joe you seem to thrive on.

“1)       That the DEP is not taking over Norwalk, which Joe implied at the last meeting

“2)      Based on the volume of comments she received there does seem to be widespread concern regarding coastal development.

“3)      She clearly points out that the FEMA requirements protect property and not residents and do not account for sea level.

“4)      She further states that there are several zoning approaches that the city might consider to better protect its coastal residents and resources.

“Her letter clearly outlines that there is more that we can do. Hence why we need a stronger leader with a strong planning background to help us with our coastal concerns.

“Once again Joe – you take this approach that we cannot improve on our approach to our coastal resources. It is part of this old school way of thinking that the world doesn’t move forward.  Change has to occur based on our changing world or in this case the changing environment.

“I am deeply concerned that we are not demonstrating better leadership in our planning and zoning department and in our management of coastal resources.    We have a responsibility to the taxpayers of this city to do a better job here.”

Comments

16 responses to “DEEP official denies saying Norwalk is ‘worst’ on coastal management enforcement”

  1. Mike Mushak

    Nora King should be commended for shining a spotlight on these important issues that have deteriorated over decades into the dumbed-down corruption of process we have now.

    It is clear some of our long-term P and Z staff and some commissioners have disdain for state and local regulations including our own Master Plan, which Planning and Zoning a Director Mike Greene has said recently is useless, a shocking misinterpretation of CT General Statutes and a troubling revelation for Norwalk’s top planning official to make.

    Mr. Greene also said he alone interprets regulations any way he wants, when it was pointed out he violated state and local regulations by approving parking lots (including one on Crescent Street) that drain potential polluted runoff into Norwalk Harbor every time it rains. It is a felony for an official to be aware of a polluting incident and do nothing about it, but in Norwalk, we give that same official an annual guaranteed raise with no performance review. Unbelievable.

    Let us also not forget that earlier this year, when I still served on the ZC, the staff lied to the Zoning Commission (ZC) and to the public, on the record, on a waterfront CAM application in Rowayton. They told the ZC that the application followed all regulations and recommended we approve it, completely ignoring a letter from a state DEEP official buried in the packet ( which I read into the record as the speechless staff looked on in shock) that contradicted our own staff’s recommendation to approve. The state recommended we seek mitigation measures including preservation of public access to the dwindling public waterfront in Rowayton, where a water-dependent use was being replaced with a private residence, a troubling trend for years in downtown Rowayton as everyone can see.

    The big issue here and the message from the DEEP official was clear: the waterfront areas in Norwalk are under assault and need protection, and it is up to the ZC to make that happen. That is what Nora King and a large group of concerned citizens in Rowayton and all over Norwalk are trying to do. Marvin Beach, Harborview, and Harbor Shores are all communities affected by the same poor planning decisions and loose zoning regulations (including lack of reasonable limits on size and scale that other towns and cities around us have) that are now destroying the character and potentially the property values of entire neighborhoods, the same argument made by mosque opponents recently (the mosque carefully followed our zoning code for lot coverage, size, and setbacks, believe it or not). Yes, that’s true.

    It’s the broken zoning code and our corrupted planning process promoted by certain long-term staff and commissioners (cronyism basically) that is the real issue here. Fix that, and you will see a city that has a future that looks promising to generations to come. As a DEEP official said recently, once the waterfront communities are ruined in Norwalk, they are ruined forever. The same can be said of every single neighborhood in Norwalk, not just along our precious and irreplaceable waterfront. That is why the state requires municipalities have comprehensive Master Plans, a far from useless document as our esteemed P and Z Director (who is not a planner) seems to think it is. There is an urgency here to fix this as soon as possible, as we enter another building boom where developers from all over are now eyeing waterfront and nearby properties in Norwalk to build overscale architectural obscenities that will change the character of our city forever.

    We must welcome new projects for sure, but our responsibility is to make sure that it happens with proper controls in place to protect the property rights of people who are already here and who have already invested their lives and resources in their homes and businesses, and who don’t want to see greed and poor planning ruin their communities forever.

    That’s what good planning is for, something we clearly have little of in Norwalk at this time, and what many concerned folks like Nora King are demanding.

  2. Non partisan

    Start with
    – required written notifications for all building permit, zoning and wetland applications for abutting and neighboring properties
    – notifications would include time/date of committee hearings where project is being discussed and have oppty for neighbor comment
    – better enforcement of existing surface water control methods on all construction and major landscaping projects. Include public awareness of impacts of not having a simple silt fence in all locations that drain directly or indirectly to watercourses. Include hand out with all permits.
    – better public awareness that what you put on your lawn winds up in Li sound

    These are all simple solutions that improve water quality, reduce long term operating costs of the storm water system, increase public involvement and increases government transparency

  3. Lisa Thomson

    Thank YOU Mike Mushak and Nora King!

  4. piethein

    Happy to have Nora and Mike as concerned and pro active Rowayton and Norwalk neighbors and friends.

  5. Andrea Light

    Mike, I think you are totally mischaracterizing Harborview’s issues with Planning and Zoning. I live there, and as a commissioner for several years I participated in a lot of planning initiatives and discussions over the past ten plus years.

  6. Mike Mushak

    Andrea, of course I respect your past contributions. Please share the policy changes you were responsible for in Harborview, as that would be helpful to folks in other waterfront communities who are appalled at what is happening. I will also suggest that for the past six years I served on the ZC, a couple of which overlapped with your service, I do not recall a single instance of our ever discussing the goals and objectives of the Norwalk Harbor Management Plan (NHMP) except when I brought it up after you were gone, to much consternation by the staff and current zoning leadership.

    The state-approved NHMP is a powerful under-utilized tool, that has specific recommendations for the Planning and Zoning Commissions to work together with the Harbor Commission to implement and maintain the NHMP goals and objectives. I never once heard staff mention the NHMP, which is shocking as they are the same P and Z staff to all three commissions who should be responsible for coordinating their efforts exactly as the NHMP requires but is never done. I know the Harbor Commission takes their work very seriously and have been trying hard to further the NHMP goals, but I also know they have at times been very frustrated with P and Z staff’s lack of enthusiasm for the NHMP goals.

    In fact, there is a whole chapter on the subject, “Waterfront Land Use and Development Policies”, section 5.0, that is basically ignored by P and Z staff. Included in the long list of goals are specific recommendations to “preserve shorefront neighborhood character and quality of life”, promote communal dock facilities to limit impacts of numerous individual private docks, preserve scenic natural beauty of the harbor, and respect the natural “carrying capacity” of the harbor to handle new development. You don’t need to go far to see what happens when the carrying capacity of a delicate natural saltwater estuary is exceeded, at Great South Bay on Long Island or Barnegat Bay in NJ, both with tragic consequences both ecologically and aesthetically. It happens slowly over time with poor planning decisions, project by project, until it is too late, with permanent irreversible damage. That is why we have the NHMP, but it is useless if it is not actively consulted for every single land use decision we make.

    Chapter 2 lists all the Goals and Objectives, and is worth a read to see everything P and Z is failing to do, including encouraging public participation in waterfront land use decisions ( the staff and ZC leadership do just the opposite actually, and discourage public hearings and any public feedback which is why the public is so angry). Just Google the full name of the NHMP and it will come up instead of trying to navigate the confusing city website yourself.

    Finally, I also know people in Harborview who are so fed up with the scale of new projects that they are moving, and I don”t mean from the necessary raising of houses above the flood level but new houses that are completely out of scale with the neighborhood and block light and air of their neighbors. I know folks in Marvin Beach who are also dealing with the same issue, and considering moving as the character of their neighborhood is rapidly changing.

    It is clear there is basically no planning going on at all in defiance of the NHMP goals and objectives, to assess the cumulative impacts of so much new development along the waterfront and it’s effect on the ultimate carrying capacity of the precious Harbor to sustain this kind of growth.

    Don’t even get me started on the city’s obsolete stormwater regulations which pollute the harbor with nitrogen-laced and toxic runoff from roofs and driveways and parking lots every time it rains, adding to algae blooms and fish die-offs and closed shellfish beds, which I tried for years to update on the ZC with the help of an expert drainage consultant I wanted the ZC to hire, with nasty retaliation from staff (Mike Greene said if I wanted the regulations updated so badly, I should just do it myself, which of course was impossible without the staff’s help). In one meeting, on the record, Mike Greene revealed his 1970’s knowledge of drainage standards and his arrogance by publicly chastising me when I suggested water quality was the reason for not having a pipe he was allowing on a project go directly from a driveway and roof leaders into the Five Mile River in downtown Rowayton. The engineers in the room for the applicant were as embarrassed as I was at the display of ignorance of our P and Z Director, who has no professional qualifications at all except being a career bureaucrat. No city on Long Island Sound in NY or CT would ever allow this to happen on a new project, but Mr. Greene was completely unaware of 30 years of best practices of stormwater management. Yet I’m the one that is identified as so harsh sometimes for pointing this nonsense out, as if protecting our harbor and Sound from pollution is just a big nuisance for property owners and developers.

    The incompetence and ignorance of environmental laws and regulations in our P and Z Department is astounding, especially considering the millions we pay out in salaries and benefits.

    I know I go on and on, but notice no one ever contradicts my facts, which I am careful about reporting as accurately as I can. But they do sometimes come after me personally for exposing this nonsense, the same way they are now going after Nora King. Imagine how amazing Norwalk could be if dedicated volunteers like Nora and I didn’t have to waste all this time and energy fighting the entrenched forces of the corrupt status quo to get good plannjng restored to Norwalk. The apologists for the broken system are still around, but are dwindling as the facts about how bad the P and Z Department really is are revealed through numerous sources, including reporting on NON and huge public uprisings like what occurred over BJ’s, the mosque , and Farm Creek, which are happening with more frequency and intensity as the public figures out it is our broken P and Z Department that is the biggest problem in Norwalk, not people like me and Nora King who are trying to fix it at sometimes great personal cost.

  7. Nora King

    I love Harborview Andrea. It is one of my favorite places in Norwalk. However, it could benefit from stronger coastal planning. There is flooding issues in this area and now most of the homes are not in compliance with the flood codes. The rebuilding will end up changing the character. I think all of our coastal areas could benefit from better citywide planning versus the case by case approach that takes place currently in our administration. Haborview is a beautiful neighborhood and I think it could see future challenges like all our coastal resources as well. Planning is a good thing. Taking a hard look at how the city manages our coastal resources could only benefit the neighborhoods and our city.

    Mike Mushak understands the importance of our resources and has done a great job of ensuring that we should be using the plans that the taxpayers have paid for and we should do future planning in areas that we need.

  8. WOW just WOW

    Mike
    Not for nothing but you constant vendetta against P and Z and especially Mr Greene make you lose any credulity that you may have had.. We get it you don’t like Mr Greene. However many in Norwalk do. I actually believe he is doing a GREAT job working with the codes as written.

  9. Mike Mushak

    WJW, you obviously have not read anything I wrote, and are attacking me personally, reinforcing my position that the protectors of the status quo are not interested in the truth. Laws are being broken, lies are being told to the public and commissions by staff, studies and plans costing taxpayers millions are being ignored, and the public are getting fed up with the repeated crises of ill-conceived projects like BJ’s and the mosque that followed our existing codes exactly despite their large scale and impacts. I stand by my comments and challenge you to refute anything I said.

    And I am far from alone in my disgust with the arrogance and corruption of the P and Z Department. Just ask any major developer or investor, off the record of course. They would not dare go public with criticism because of the potential retaliation Greene can inflict, which he has freely done with impunity for years to punish anyone who challenged him including dozens of small businesses. He has no supervision from anyone in City Hall, , has no professional planning credentials (ask him yourself and watch the reaction), and has threatened a lawsuit against the one entity that can supervise him by city charter, the Zoning Commission, if they ever mentioned doing a performance review of him. And you think he’s doing a great job? Lol!

    On any planning benchmark, from drainage standards to TOD to parking standards to sustainability plans to transportation, which all fall under the American Planning Association’s definition of plannjng, Norwalk falls far short of where any modern city of 85,000 should be in 2014. As a licensed landscape architect in 3 states, with a background in urban planning and a requirement for annual continuing education in planning best practices, I know what I’m talking about.

    Please, WJW, share with us the current policies and innovations in our planning processes and P and Z Department that you are so enamored with. And tell us what you think about the fact that the mosque and BJ’s both followed our current broken zoning code which P and Z staff have protected with an irrational tenacity, going so far as providing bogus data to manipulate the ZC to not make changes to the broken code. This is exactly what happened with the staff’s mysterious opposition to the Main Ave zone change which was proposed by experts to protect Silvermine and Cranbury from the same negative impacts of regional traffic seeking big box stores that ruined West Norwalk 20 years earlier when that area was poorly planned and overbuilt with big box retail. When I exposed to staff privately the fact that I knew the corrupt ruse they used to manipulate the ZC, I was begged not to bring it up on the record in the next meeting as the implications were so shocking. I regrettably agreed to not make it public, but at this point I’m so disgusted with what I’m seeing happen on the ZC that there is no reason at all to pretend that didn’t happen.

    So, WJW, share with us your specific examples of how Mike Greene is doing such a good job planning Norwalk. And don’t forget the most recent expansion application of AMEC, which is based on a traffic study based on a faulty assumption that Crescent Street will never be reopened to the public even though a million dollars of planning studies done by the Redevelopment Agency recommend that it should be, which Greene ignored by not telling the applicant or the ZC as I think he wasn’t even aware of them himself, since he despises plans and think they don’t matter. It is actually the opposite of planning, which is just chaos. The ZC is poised to make a decision that will impact Crescent Street permanently with increased truck traffic, assuming the street will remain a dead end as it is now instead of becoming the major car/bike/pedestrian corridor it is recommended to become in numerous studies. Planning just doesn’t get any worse than this example of a decision with huge potential impacts based on very bad information or omissions.

    I can’t wait to find out what your examples of Greene’s planning accomplishments might be. We’ll all be waiting patiently.

  10. Yankee Clipper

    Yes, WJW, please share what Norwalk’s Planning and Zoning Department has accomplished in the last decade … other than enforce zoning codes from the 1970s!

  11. EveT

    How can we get more proactive commissioners like Nora King appointed to the Zoning Commission — and the Planning Commission while we’re at it?

  12. Lisa Thomson

    Eve, my understanding is that Joe Santos and two alternate positions are up July 2015. Harry needs to appoint reformers and the Common Council would have to approve.

  13. Oldtimer

    The DEEP rule that Alvord recently complained about requires local land use agencies (ZONING ?) to make and enforce rules to prevent pollution from being washed into the harbor, or the river, including street sweeping and regular cleaning of catch basins before they are more than half full. To a great extent, implementation of such rules, if ever made, falls to DPW. Alvord is complaining that his DPW budget does not have enough in it to hire enough street sweeper operators or catch basin clean out machine operators and is unhappy about what he is calling unfunded mandates. The alternative, if Alvord gets his way, is to ignore the DEEP rule and let the pollution flow into the harbor and the river.

  14. Oldtimer

    As it is now, the beaches and the shellfish beds are routinely closed after every heavy rainfall because of pollution that gets washed into the harbor. If the catch basins at the beach parking lots and Vet’s park are cleaned before they are more than half full, that will keep a lot of goose droppings from being washed into the harbor.

  15. Non partisan

    See list above on 10/22- cost $ 0 at the municipal level
    Cost to property owners- minimal
    Benefits to water courses- huge.

    All you need is an enlightened management team.

    Phase 2- more expensive – 100 % detention of surface water for a 7 year storm for all new construction , additions, and impervious surfaces.

  16. Mr. Ludlow

    Nora King’s lie tells us more about the “Say Anything” gang than it does about her.
    Telling people that they “missed the point”, or pointing the finger of blame at Joe “T-Model Blues” Santo, highlights their glaring lack of integrity.
    Maybe there are times when the line between political spin and lying is fuzzy. This time, however, it is as clear as Nora King’s double standard for wanting some Rowayton homeowners to be subjected to public hearings for modest home improvements while protecting others.

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