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Developer proposes 1,303 apartments for Glover Avenue

An illustration presented in a recent Norwalk Zoning Commission meeting.

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk Zoners are considering a proposal for a mixed-use complex called “North Seven” on a 16.9-acre tract along the west side of Glover Avenue.

The plan calls for 1,303 apartments (456 1-bedroom, 782 2-bedroom, and 65 3-bedroom), plus 27,865 square feet of retail across eight buildings ranging from 5- to 15-stories was presented by Attorney David Waters, General Counsel for Stamford-based developer Building Land Technology to the Norwalk Zoning Commission on May 26. Estimated construction time is stated as 10 years.

Waters touted the proposed complex as a well-appointed neighborhood with walkable access both to the massive office buildings lining the parallel stretch of Main Avenue, and to the soon-to-be-relocated Merritt 7 train station. “The idea is a unified community with a sense of identity” he said.

Building Land Technology (BLT) is already a presence in the immediate area, having built “The Curb,” a 760-unit three building apartment complex on the east side of Glover just south of Grist Mill Road.

One of the three buildings there is still under construction.

 

Work from home, walk to the office or the train

The Main Avenue corridor has “2.5 million square feet of office space that’s the real economic engine for the City of Norwalk,” Waters said. “The tenants are looking for a true live/work/play environment.”

An illustration presented in a recent Norwalk Zoning Commission meeting.

That’s not only a place where their employees can reside and enjoy themselves, but a locale that will attract people to their corporate headquarters as well. “And that is becoming increasingly difficult if you’re not in an area which allows for an entirety of experiences, as opposed to just being an office park,” he said. “(The proposed development) allows people to work from home but still be within walking distance of the office. …Being able to create that support for the office space in the area is very important, not only to attract new corporate offices, but also to retain the ones that are here. We’ve been very successful in doing that.”

The Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT)’s planned relocation of the train station to a space several hundred feet north of its present location is expected to start this summer and involve 18 months of construction, Waters said.  He emphasized that the DOT plan includes a pedestrian bridge across the tracks, enabling easy walking connectivity between the Merritt 7 office buildings on Main Avenue and the proposed North Seven development.  Pedestrians coming across from the offices could walk straight across Glover Avenue to a 10,000 square foot “town square” lodged between two of the new buildings and lined with retail spaces on both sides.

“When we talk about retail, we mean supportive retail,” he said. “Things like a coffee shop, a bank branch, a dry cleaner drop off,  a deli, the types of things that people on their way to the train station or coming across from Merritt 7 or from up on the hill will be able to grab,”  The town square would be “a place where you could have a farmer’s market, an arts and crafts show, people sitting around enjoying themselves playing chess or doing whatever.”

Commission Chairman Louis Schulman expressed doubt.  “The town square is just not that large,” he said.  “It’s hard for me to imagine it being a defining space where you can do the sort of things you’re talking about.”

 

 

Detailed study predicts 91 new students

An in-depth feasibility and fiscal impact study prepared for BLT predicts that the North Seven complex would house 181 public school-enrolled children, 91 of whom would be new to the school system. Hartford-based real estate consultants Goman York Property Advisors say these 91 new students would cost the City $1.3 million yearly, a sum based on their education costing $14,264 each.

The study, viewable here,  offers these calculations:

  • Real property tax revenue per year: $4,159,653
  • Motor vehicle property tax revenue per year: $415,125
  • Total tax revenue per year: $4,574,778
  • Education costs per year: [$1,296,386]
  • Positive municipal fiscal impact: $3,278,392

 

Anticipated one-time development payments are $3,732,753 ($2,428,753 in building and land use permitting fees plus $1,304,000 in water connection fees).  Between 345 and 365 new direct and indirect construction jobs are predicted, assuming .3 jobs per new housing unit.

Waters described the buildings’ design as “plug and play,” saying, “It would be very simple to be able to take one or two of these buildings and instead make that into an office building. Or we could very easily put a class A hotel up at one of the locations rather than a residential building.”

 

 

Master plan vs. special permits

A small section of the 16.9 acres is presently zoned AAA residential, but lack of access to that parcel negates any likelihood of homes being built there. The rest of the land is divided between Business 2 and Executive Office zones.  BLT is asking the Commission to rezone the entire tract as Executive Office, amending the Zoning regulations to facilitate a new use stated as a master plan concept, and then issuing a special permit for the master plan.  With a master plan in place, all the buildings would be conceptually approved, but each would require a site plan review before issuance of Zoning and building permits.

The “North Seven” master plan area.

The Zoning Commission would review each building for compliance, including traffic studies.

Schulman is leery of the master plan scenario.  “I prefer special permits (for each building), particularly for this project,” he said.  “You’re talking about a project that is 10 years or more. And so, we’d be making decisions, not just as the existing Commission, but for the Commissioners that follow us. By maintaining a special permit requirement, we give a little more control to those people who will be coming after us as Zoning Commissioners.”

Waters said, “We don’t have a problem with the idea of approving a master plan by special permit. But we don’t want to have each of the individual buildings then be subject to special permit review.  They should be subject only to site plan review. And that is because you’ve already got the overall plan that is then being implemented. …We want to make sure that that it doesn’t become something where short memories then create greater problems to be able to implement a plan that everybody agreed was the right plan to begin with.”

“You’re asking us to approve a plan that could potentially overwhelm traffic in the area without giving us the tools to stop development, should traffic mitigation not be sufficient,” Schulman said.

An illustration presented in a recent Norwalk Zoning Commission meeting.

Waters disagreed. “Whether it’s special permit or a site plan review, the same traffic standard applies literally word for word,” he said. “Each time we come in with an application for one of these buildings, we have to demonstrate that stable traffic flow will be maintained if that building is built.  The approval of the master plan doesn’t mean that you’ve given up any control whatsoever.”

“Our master plan and all of the improvements that we’re talking about here, none of them involve any public funds. We haven’t asked for an Enterprise Zone.  We haven’t asked for a TIF. We haven’t asked for tax breaks. And that’s one of the reasons why certainty is important, because without the type of certainty that we actually will be able to bear fruit from doing all of this, it becomes a very high risk and virtually impossible to create.”

BLT’s various proposed Zoning text amendments would:

  • Allow 500 square feet of outdoor space per apartment, instead of the 1,650 square feet required in an Executive Office Zone.
  • Allow a maximum floor area ratio (FAR) of 2.0.
  • Allow an individual parcel’s FAR to exceed 2.0 as long as the entire development’s FAR doesn’t exceed 2.0.
  • Allow an individual parcel’s open space to be less than 30 percent as long as the entire development’s open space is at least 30 percent.
  • Allow an individual parcel’s maximum residential density to exceed 500 square feet per dwelling unit as long as the entire development’s maximum residential density doesn’t exceed 500 square feet per dwelling unit.
  • Allocate 1.3 parking spaces per dwelling unit in accordance with Norwalk’s TOD (Transit Oriented Development) regulations.
  • Allow maximum height of 15 stories/150 feet.
  • Allow 150 square feet recreation area per residential unit to include balconies, courtyards, indoor recreational facilities, landscaped roofs and outdoor recreational areas.
  • Allow the developer to seek approval by site plan review of individual buildings and improvements reflected on the master plan.

 

Developer: ‘We’re bullish about apartments.’

Schulman asked, “What is your current occupancy rate for all of the apartments that you control?   And what do your forecasts look like for apartments?”

“The first building of The Curb, Building A, is at 98 percent occupancy.  Building B is getting there,” Waters replied. “It think it’s now at about 50 percent, which is pretty much where we expected it to be and is actually quite good given the fact that we’re now giving virtual tours of apartments rather than having people coming in.”

An illustration presented in a recent Norwalk Zoning Commission meeting.

“We’re actually quite bullish about apartments,” he continued.  “A lot depends on the building and the location and the concept.  We’ve gotten the experience of creating a community in Stamford. If you can create that type of a community, it’s the type of thing that people will really be interested in.  We’ve been pleasantly surprised that, for example at The Curb, not only are we getting people from Factset and from Datto and places like that right in the neighborhood, we are also getting a number of people that are saying ‘I’ve lived in Norwalk all my life, I don’t want to have to deal with my lawn, or maintenance of my house and utilities and things like that. I love the idea that I can just come here, go out to the pool, the fitness center, whatever.’”

He continued, “So we’re getting a broad spectrum of people, and that’s the kind of thing that we’re trying to build upon here. We’re pretty comfortable with the idea. The other piece that we’re pretty happy about is that looking at some of the early indications, Fairfield County, and Norwalk and Wilton in particular, are probably going to benefit a lot from people that are no longer happy about living in New York City and living on top of each other.”

Commissioner Stephanie Thomas questioned the numbers. “At this time, you don’t know how the buildings will be used,” she said. “Hotel, residential and commercial can all have different parking needs.  Have you thought about that in terms of your 1.3 allocation?  If you put up a hotel for example, do you have the flexibility to accommodate a maximum and a minimum?”

Waters said BLT considers flexibility in its designs.  “It’s easy between residential at 1.3 and hotel, because for hotel you need one space per guest room and then some for other types of uses, so the .3 comes into play there, and we would probably be able to create some additional if we needed to, based upon either going down further into the ground or what have you.  But we always make sure that we keep that flexibility.”

Thomas said, “On the whole, it seems like a very well-conceived plan. I am looking at it from the economic cost to the city in terms of schools, and the need for perhaps additional schools based on the number of units being built. I did not agree with the formulation in the economic impact study. I think there’s a potential for more school aged children.”

“Glover Avenue is not that wide,” she added, “and when I think about the number of units, not to mention if a hotel was there or even a large office, it would change that area a lot.”

“I think we definitely need more information on the schools and the traffic,” Commissioner Michael Witherspoon agreed.

“Given the scope of this, we don’t want to rush it through, Norwalk Director of Zoning Steve Kleppin said.  “I think a 3D model of the area would be helpful, especially in looking at whether the heights should be shifted south.   Building 3.1 and 3.2 being essentially taller buildings, how do those sit versus The Curb versus the neighborhood to the north and east?  Will people see it?    If the applicants are agreeable, I think the Commission should make that as a request.”

“We’re happy to do that,” Waters replied.

 

 

“The devil’s going to be in the details.”

An illustration presented in a recent Norwalk Zoning Commission meeting.

Commissioner Nate Sumpter seconded the 3D model idea.

“I’ve seen some of your work in Stamford, and I’ve seen a lot of progress as you continue to build up what used to be called the south end, which I was quite familiar with.”

The master plan sounds good but moving traffic during construction is a concern, and it will probably take longer than 10 years, Sumpter said.

Commissioner Galen Wells also approved of the overall concept but cautioned that Zoning needs to work with the Board of Education on the estimates for the schools. “Is it just a per pupil cost, or are you going to have to build a new school?  The school buildings only fit so many kids,” she said.

Schulman summed up. “David, I think what you’re hearing is, in a broad sense, support for this project, and I agree with that as well.  The devil’s going to be in the details….It’s exciting and frightening, but I’m beginning to feel more comfortable with my understanding of what you’re planning and why you’re planning it,” he said. “I think you’re on the right track and we ought to start the process of moving this forward.”

Kleppin has already contacted the Commission’s consultants, and when the review is complete a public hearing is needed, Schulman said. “That may not happen until late June or July but I think we would like to see this moving forward.”

Waters did not reply to NancyOnNorwalk’s  email request for comment.

 

Peer review comes next

That peer review has been assigned to West Haven-based architectural consultants DeCarlo & Doll (D & D).  The consultants work for and are paid by the city, but the applicant (BLT) is required to pay the city 150 percent of the review’s estimated cost.

Kleppin and the Commission undertook a preliminary discussion of the review last week with D & D representative Robert Grzywacz and planner Alan Plattus.

An illustration presented in a recent Norwalk Zoning Commission meeting.

D&D is looking at how the proposal fits in with the POCD (Plan of Conservation and Development) and comparing it to a similar project in Newton, Mass., Kleppin said. Grzywacz and Plattus noted significant differences between that project and BLT’s proposal.

Schulman criticized a lack of a traffic plan. “They’re proposing to do traffic plans as each building is proposed, and they are relying extraordinarily heavily on State projects which have been stalled for over 20 years,” he said. “So I’m concerned that there’s no real assurance that those projects will move forward, and if they don’t, in terms of your review of the Master Plan, what happens?”

He also turned a skeptical eye to the talk of public space between two of the buildings “as being the public space for this community.”

“We’re talking about a space that’s less than 10,000 square feet.  For 1,300 units and 27,000 square feet of retail, I’m wondering whether that space is adequate to turn it into a real community,” he said. “I made a number of visits to their two buildings on the other side of Glover and a third building which is now starting to come out of the ground.  Maybe it’s just me but I don’t see any sense of community among or between those three buildings.  They seem more like separate islands.”

“I don’t recall any attempt to form a community there,” Wells replied. “…  With this one, I think that if there is an attempted community it could draw those and other existing buildings in.  But the challenge would be to require a large enough space to accomplish that purpose.”

While there are preliminary drawings, “we don’t really know what the project will look like,” Schulman said. “And then there’s the question of whether each individual project should be treated as a special permit or simply a typical review as we did for all of the Merritt 7 buildings.  … I think developing design standards for this project makes a lot of sense, particularly if we’re not going to do each project by special permit.”

Commissioner Richard Roina warned of “a bifurcated application on traffic studies,” where “the first one would say ‘It’s not going to add appreciably to Route 7 Connector or Route 7,’ and then the second one would say ‘Well it’s already crowded so it’s not going to make much difference.’”

“There’s almost no point in doing traffic counts,” Kleppin said. “I don’t think that’s something we even need to think about, because it’s going to show that everything’s hunky dory.”

Traffic input should concern the overall master plan, he continued. “Should we expect something more, we can only rely on the older data which will show that at certain points of the day there’s absolute gridlock on the Merritt Parkway.   So how is this going to affect that?  We don’t have any mitigation measures in place right now that would alleviate that.”

“The tax base of the City would go way up with these buildings,” Wells said. “It would be great for our Grand List, but we have to be sure that it wouldn’t be offset by additional school costs and offset by additional attempts to mitigate traffic.”

 

 

Consultants: ‘It probably could be better’

“The challenge for you is that this is a big project,” Grzywacz said. “There’s great opportunity with a big project.  I think that the general organizing principle is not terribly creative.  It’s a series of semi-towers sitting on parking garages, and the streetscape may not be that much improved over the three buildings on the other side of the street.  It probably could be better.”

“A few of these things would be outside our scope,” he said.  “The traffic would not be something that we’d talk about.  School children we would not talk about.”

P&Z’s traffic consultant has a conflict of interest, as, “He’s either done or is doing work for this developer,” Schulman said.

“DeCarlo and Doll does have in house traffic analysis capability…  It just wasn’t the services that we were first talking about,” Grzywacz replied.

“We have a group of people in town who just don’t want to see any more apartments. That’s their point of view and that’s fine,” Schulman said. “But I believe what the community is going to be concerned about here and what they’re going to hang their hat on if they oppose the project will be traffic… go back to your folks and see whether you have the expertise in house to answer the technical traffic issues.”

“Another issue that needs to be looked at is that this is being called a TOD project,” he said. “And that’s OK, there’s a rail station there, there’s bus service there.  But the problem is that this is just branch line rail service, and many people who live in that area actually drive to the South Norwalk station so they can get thru trains to New York City.  There are a few thru trains on the branch line, but most of them end at South Norwalk which is 10 minutes away, where you need to transfer to another train to get into Manhattan.”

D&D can probably do a standard traffic consultant’s analysis, Grzywacz replied.

“I’m trying to be fair to them (BLT),” he said, “and it’s not very far along. But it certainly doesn’t give you the feeling that, if the vocabulary of a little tiny walkable city center is what you’re looking for, that you will get anything close to that.”

“This is a proposal that could be a lot better,” Plattus agreed.  It’s very schematic.  It doesn’t really meet its own stated goals.  It’s not unreasonable of you to compare it to the Newton  project, which is both more complete and a lot more sophisticated.  Not having talked to the developer, there may be constraints that we don’t know about that are constraining their ability to do a more elaborate kind of project and we would need to know that.”

“They (BLT) have done a lot of work that I’ve seen in Stamford, and I know that the company is capable of making it special and making it real nice,” Sumpter said.  “So I think that’s probably where you would come in with some of what you feel would make it a nice project… sometimes folks feel that if you don’t push them,  then they’ll just give you a run of the mill kind of project.   But if you really press them, they’re capable of doing nice work.”

Glover Avenue. (Google Maps)

23 comments

John ONeill June 9, 2020 at 8:15 am

Note to the Norwalk Zoning Commission: Before dealing with BLT you may want to talk to your peers in Stamford. Find out how much Stford has paid lawyers to “resolve” misunderstandings.

Eleanor Lx. June 9, 2020 at 8:37 am

Norwalk is fast tracking to become “Bridgeport South.” More density . . more density . . . more density. The existing city amenities have become diluted to a point of nonexistence with the overcrowding.

The city needs new leadership to say the least. Time to vote out these clowns who are promoting their own self-interests and not representing the best interests of the citizens.

Patrick Cooper June 9, 2020 at 12:52 pm

I say – YES, let it happen. Surprised? Well, wait for it – with the following caveats:

Only if:

1. The PowerBall winners who own Building & Land Technology make Norwalk a silent (non-voting) partner in the LLC – no money down – and a full 20% owner – getting 20% of the profits.
2. Further – BLT will agree to pay to extend the Merit 7 connector all the way to Wlton at Route 7 & Wolfpit (Rt. #106) avenue. Say bye to Orems Diner.
3. Further – BLT will contribute every dollar needed to upgrade the Norwalk sewage treatment facility to accommodate these residents. Capacity should be calculated at 140% of residential space – meaning 1 bedrooms will have an average of 3 people – 2 bedrooms will have an average of 6.
4. BLT will build a new K-8 magnet school – on the property – and will pay the annual bussing charges – as needed – related to filling that school with children from other neighborhoods.
5. BLT will pay 100% towards the widening of Glover avenue to 4 lanes both ways.
6. They will pay the salary of the officers who currently – routinely – sit at the lights, altering the flow of traffic from signal based to volume based – 2hrs at night and 3 hours in the morning. 365 days a year.
7. BLT will publish 2x annually the number of school children living in the facilities – and beyond building the magnet school – the city will have a “relief clause” whereby if the number of school aged children exceed an agreed number – they will contribute 100% of the cost of educating those children. Including specials and ELL.
8. BLT will provide the city with the funds needed (annually), for all surrounding infrastructure repair. Includes roads, sidewalks, train, parking, utilities.

As a 20% owner – Norwalk would be on the hook for 20% of these expenses.

Another option is to follow this same logic – and “build housing where the jobs are”. And – who is Norwalk’s largest employer? That’s right – the bloated city of Norwalk is our largest – best paying employer. So – why not build another 50 Washington St. monolith right on City Hall Drive – right where the Eric Malmquist field is situated. Already have parking, right? It’s technically TOD – because it’s right on top of I95 – and certainly you could walk to the East Norwalk Train station every day (we would just have to tolerate the 100 fatalities each year – but let’s not let that stand in the way of progress).

Or – we can do what we need to – as a city – and put a stop to this in it’s tracks. We can vote this mayor and the spineless common council members into oblivion next fall – and purge every city agency and committee of his appointee’s. Then – we can take back this city from the predatory developers, and return it to the wishes of the long time city residents – who value quality of life – over campaign contributions. We could do that.

John B. June 9, 2020 at 5:52 pm

What can we do as Norwalk citizens to make sure this doesn’t happen here? Please let me know, I’m in to assist.

Peter June 9, 2020 at 7:16 pm

I have listened for years from various city leaders how broadening the tax base (euphemism for rubber stamping construction projects) would save the property owners in the form of reduced real estate taxes. I have watched as several developments have gone up, putting a strain on our schools, roads, sanitation, police, fire and EMS services over the last 21 years. Reality is that our costs have not gone down, but have actually increased. When will we say enough and select an admiistration that will not be owned by the real estate developers?

CT-Patriot June 9, 2020 at 8:47 pm

So let me get this straight…

You want MORE apartments/buildings in Norwalk…

But the local government cannot enforce current illegal apartments/rooms littered all over this city?

First, clean your house…get people in to enforce the current mess first.

Second, put people on boards/committees to get this addressed. Professionals who have no political agenda.

Third, evaluate all commercial and residential taxes of properties. Those not paying a fare rate will get adjusted and those overtaxed get relief.

Once you accomplish this, then you may start evaluating future development that fits the history and aesthetics of the city.

No more new developments until your house is in order.

To accomplish that, go to the polls and vote Republicans all down ballot. That is unless you want more of the same and worse.

Vote them out, get qualified professionals and take back this city!

Norwalk parent June 10, 2020 at 5:42 am

Norwalk will no longer resemble Norwalk anymore.
We are Bridgeport.
Congrats, Dems.

Joe June 10, 2020 at 1:36 pm

I vote against any more apartments until Norwalk’s foreign sanctuary status has ended and our illegal population is gone.

Then we can accurately determine our apartment needs.

But our sanctuary status won’t end until we get patriotic American leadership in our city.

Mimi Chang June 10, 2020 at 4:58 pm

Norwalk is currently being governed like a Communist state, so it’s a natural transition to resort to Communist block housing, the more the better… Because they said so.

CT-Patriot June 10, 2020 at 6:04 pm

Norwalk residents please agree with Joe and myself….

It’s time to end the tyranny in our local government.

Enough is enough… vote Republican all down ballot. What else do you have to lose?

Let’s end all sanctuaries costing taxpayers. They can go somewhere else.

If you liberals for sanctuary, please be my guest to house and pay for each and everyone you care to support. Otherwise, your all hypocrites.

Also, if government is your answer to all problems, feel free to give more of your money to state and federal government on your tax returns.

I’ll keep my money as I can and know that I spend it better than government.

Cosmo Morabito June 10, 2020 at 6:58 pm

No more apartments!!
Born and raised in Norwalk and raised my kids here. The elected officials have ruined Norwalk and continue to make it worse!
Nothing like it used to be, maybe the mayor can remember back also.

Norwalkian June 10, 2020 at 8:40 pm

Just what norwalk doesnt need…another greedy developer from elseware getting rich quick and leaving the disaster behind for the community to fix later…apartments sure as heck arent going to raise our property values any…nobody’s going to live there and take the train…all its going to do is add more traffic…low income families subsidized by the govt…but im sure our city officials will do it anyway….whether we need it or not…

Diane Lauricella June 11, 2020 at 9:28 am

@john levin
Love NON but “Bold proposals”?
Why does NancyOnNorwalk still insist upon allowing anonymous posts? You as past Board Chair are in a position of influence as is Claire Schoen yet no changes.

As we approach what will be a very divisive election season, why does NON allow anonymous posters to hide under a rock while slinging hatespeech…often in violation of your own policies? This is not a new issue…but why keep kicking the can down the road?

Why won’t critics embrace their opinion accompanied by their name? Why won’t they be asked to “own it” by the NON Board?

Without either additional (especially morning) editors helping Nancy cull out the “anonymous mudslingers” many will not post here out of fear from anonymous nasties that are emboldened by your policy.

Respectfully, Please advise why this continues?

Peter Franz June 11, 2020 at 2:30 pm

I hope this doesn’t shock too many people, but this is what the free market looks like. You know, capitalism.

If people wanted more Cape Cods with white picket fences, then that’s what developers would be building.

It’s time to think a bit harder about the forces driving the changes to Norwalk. It’s not like one administration woke up one day and decided how people should live.

Not saying we should throw the doors open to unlimited apartments, but another thing: do all the critics have a plan of how to substitute all the lost revenue from commercial real estate? Between the continuing collapse of retail, and the inevitable reduction in people working exclusively in offices, there’s going to be a very large downturn on Norwalk’s tax revenues. What’s going to take the place of these revenue sources?

KD McDermott June 14, 2020 at 11:41 am

The City of Norwalk needs to resolve this half-completed “POKO” apartment building eyesore on Wall Street first.

anthony guiliani June 19, 2020 at 10:03 pm

i live in stamford. it does not matter if its republicans or democrats. once you sign a contract with BLT you are dancing with the devil.

Kenneth Werner June 24, 2020 at 10:25 am

Let’s see. The Merritt7 area is a bucolic Vermont village that will be ruined by apartment buildings? Really?

Bryan Meek June 25, 2020 at 4:05 pm

@Peter, it’s not free market capitalism when taxpayer funded freebies are given away like $25 million for a train station we don’t need expanded and $10 million plus in roadwork needed t make it happen and we haven’t even seen the tax abatements yet. 1300 units might generate $4 million a year in property taxes, which would be completely washed away by a mere 200 students in the school system. The 1 BR/ Studio apartments at the bottom of Glover have a bus stop when no kids were supposed to be there, so don’t tell me the kids won’t come.

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