NORWALK, Conn. – A “parking lot that has been a detriment for 40 years” prompted concerned Norwalkers to pack a City Hall room Wednesday, only to be a little disappointed that they weren’t learning all that much.
“We want to keep it very simple, we are only here to talk about temporary parking,” Jason Enters of EDG Properties said at the beginning of the Parking Authority’s public meeting on the Main Street Parking Lot, coveted by developer M. F. DiScala and Company, Inc. for its Head of the Harbor North project.
About 40 people packed into a relatively small room for this hearing; Common Council member Steve Serasis (D-District A) endorsed DiScala’s plan, saying the safety improvements are much needed in the “lot that has been a detriment for 40 years,” while a Danna DiElsi of The Silk Touch said her customers would not use the Yankee Doodle Garage and then walk to her store, only to hear Enters, representing DiScala, reply, “As a society, we are unfortunately lazy.”
DiScala is looking to build its 80-apartment building over the city-owned lot, and is proposing to make the lot more level and replace its 91 public parking spaces with 93 spaces, in exchange for being allowed to build above the lot.
This was described recently by Norwalk Center Task Force Chairwoman Jackie Lightfield as an “insane plan to turn a central business district parking lot over to a developer for more residential housing.”
The city has not agreed to this plan, but the Parking Authority felt it wanted to hold a public meeting to find out how neighbors felt about it, Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan said, explaining that the proposal would work its way through the Common Council.
Construction would take 16 to 18 months, in which people would be forced to seek alternative parking areas, Enters said.
The construction would be quicker but the property is “all ledge,” which is why it has such a weird shape, Enters said.
There aren’t many people using the lot during the day, Enters said, calling it “under-utilized,” but explained that its absence would be more of a problem at night.
The Mechanic Street lot is only 250 feet away and offers 90 spaces, which are largely unused, and the Yankee Doodle Garage is 550 feet away, is very underused and offers 410 spaces, he said.
Jim Tucciarone said he owned two buildings at the Mechanic Street lot and did not agree with Enters description of the lot as “under-utilized.”
“Nobody wants to park way in the back, under the bridge, and there’s always spaces available back there,” Enter said, after asserting that the spaces are too narrow for today’s standards.
“I don’t have one customer who comes to my store that doesn’t complains that there is no place to park,” DiElsi said, explaining that many of them are carrying containers and, “I just don’t see them parking way down in that (Yankee Doodle) garage and then walking all the way down the street.”
“As much as I really want to see some foot traffic and this building go up, and everything, I do see a problem for the businesses there,” she said.
“As a society we are unfortunately lazy,” Enters said.
Todd Zubrinsky of Connecticut Surgical Supplies, a Main Street business, asked how people would be able to get in and out of his store.
The store is benefitting from an illegal, non-conforming condition, as the building is on the property line and customers are egressing onto a city lot, Enters said, explaining that DiScala is willing to write in the use as an easement, but not during the construction period.
Zubrinsky asked how elderly people would get to his front door. The Parking Authority is looking at it, Enters said.
“You’ve been lucky to have the condition that you have there now because the city could sell this lot to anyone,” Enters said. “Forget us. You could be blocked off permanently; it’s just not your right to use that. We’re making it so you can continue using it, through an easement that is legal and on file with the city.
Sophia Maragos had the same problem as the owner of the Main and Wall plaza; delivery trucks will not be able to use the Yankee Doodle Garage to bring supplies to the plaza’s tenants, she said.
It’s an illegal condition as deliveries are supposed to come to the front door, Enters said.
“Should the city decide to move forward with this there are going to be issues like that and the city needs to address them effectively,” Sheehan said. “If there needs to be consideration of loading spaces then we’re going to have to consider that.”
Ursula Corbutt asked about the stairs in the corner of the parking lot.
The stairs are illegal, Enters said, explaining that DiScala is planning to keep them but the property owner will have to agree.
“I am all for density in the urban area. I think it’s a good plan and I support it,” David Westmoreland said, calling it a “good opportunity.”
“They are going to build a building, they already going to have management staff on the site, I think this is an opportunity to privatize that parking. You can make it a condition of the permit, that they have 91 spaces available to the public. But I think they can operate it more efficiently, effectively and less expensively than the city can,” Westmoreland said. “Then if you can make a clean sale of the parking lot you don’t have to argue for years over the tax value, the assessment and all that stuff that we know will happen if we do an arrangement like that.”
City officials smiled and thanked him for the suggestion.
Serasis said people get mugged in the lot.
“There’s a lot of people that are not United States citizens, and nothing against them, but they like going and hanging out and having a beer after work at El Mexicano and a couple of places there, and the reason there is a lot of crime there is because those people are the ones being targeted because they are afraid to report their crime to the police,” Serasis said.
“It makes it unsafe for all of us,” Serasis said. “The other detriment to that parking lot is people go there and drink on a regular basis, I literally see Parking Authority guys in their white pickup truck come and talk to the guys who are hanging out and talking to people who are drinking there.”
DiScala goes to great lengths to make its properties safe, with cameras and lights, and will do the same thing on the Main Street lot, he said.
“These people say they are going to build something and they do, and they are done ahead of schedule,” Serasis said.
“We are only looking to help gentrify the area and fix what we see are issues. We agree that the parking lot is not safe,” Enters said. “…If we could build this in six months and have less parking issues it would be better for us, but we can’t. So, we are trying to be honest and truthful. It’s going to take 16 to 18 months. We will do whatever we can to address the parking issues.”
“We have just spent $16 or $17 million to building 60 units on the street,” John DiScala said, referring to Head of the Harbor South, on Smith Street.
“It’s ultimately for the greater good of the area, for the long term, that there will be some inconvenience but people will learn to deal with the inconvenience on a short-term basis for the long term greater good of the entire area,” DiScala said.
“I feel fully that these guys are really going to pull up what is falling apart there,” Lori Kydes said.
Lightfield did not attend the meeting but later said she got regular updates via text messages from people who were there.
“It is telling that a developer would suggest that business owners and their customers are ‘lazy’ because they prefer parking near business destinations.
“The Main Street parking lot is open, well lit and accessible to both Main Street and Wall Street businesses.
“Restaurant employees work hard and long hours. Deliveries happen throughout the day.
“Customers come to the area to buy things here. They come from all over and range from elderly to young families with small children. People value their time and support the businesses that are here because they value the downtown.
“While I am grateful that the City had a preliminary informational meeting, it is not enough to capture the dynamic ecosystem of the area when things are scheduled during operating hours.
“Laziness is a developer who thinks that a parking lot is their’s for the taking at the expense of the businesses who invested in the area long before anyone else.”