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DiScala plan sparks parking concerns, while some laud ‘opportunity’ for Wall Street

A panoramic photo shows the standing room only nature of Wednesday's Norwalk Parking Authority meeting in City Hall. Speaking to developers, at right, is Tod Bryant.

A panoramic photo shows the standing room only nature of Wednesday’s Norwalk Parking Authority meeting in City Hall. Speaking to developers, at right, is Tod Bryant.

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.

The entrance to Connecticut Surgical Supplies.

The entrance to Connecticut Surgical Supplies.

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.

Common Council member Steve Serasis (D-District A) speaks in favor of a DiScala plan Wednesday in City Hall.

Common Council member Steve Serasis (D-District A) speaks in favor of a DiScala plan Wednesday in City Hall.

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.”

John DiScala, left, and Jason Etters explain plans for temporary parking in the Wall Street area, Wednesday in City Hall.

John DiScala, left, and Jason Etters explain plans for temporary parking in the Wall Street area, Wednesday in City Hall.

“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.

She said:

“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.”

 

12 comments

Christine M. January 19, 2017 at 9:19 am

And have the city personnel and developers really hung out near these suggested alternate parking areas? The Yankee Doodle garage is right across the street from the off-track betting, where there are all kinds of people just hanging around and drinking, urinating outside, etc. The Mechanic Street lot is tucked away in an abandoned-looking area that looks unsafe to park in.
Honestly, the grade on the Main Street lot really isn’t that bad.

Wondering January 19, 2017 at 9:32 am

May be a good plan but wondering if this is the Jason Enders who lives in Darien, it might explain why he comes across as glib about gentrification and laziness in Norwalk.

David T McCarthy January 19, 2017 at 11:19 am

Even if you consider the plan a great idea…value the lot and put it up for an auction. Capture the value that is being transferred. If we need 91 parking spots, put that in the contract. Open it up to anyone…that is fair. Highest bidder wins. To do anything else is cronyism. Doesn’t matter what party…if you are steering assets to a developer who then throws you fundraising parties, it is flat out corruption. It might be accomplished the Hillary Clinton way, but it is still bribery/pay to play.

Concerned Taxpayer January 19, 2017 at 11:39 am

There isn’t enough parking now to support the local businesses…. adding 10 spots? Really?

They already got away with adding no public spots in the previous head of harbor project…. oh right… the few spots that were added to the School House.

Here we are once again bowing to developers that don’t really the best interest of the community at heart.

These 91 spots actually become potential visitor parking for the new 60 units as well as head of harbor units.

Let’s be sure this doesn’t become another POKO where as the project starts, parking disappears and all the surrounding businesses struggle to stay open.

Nora K King January 19, 2017 at 12:20 pm

This property should not be given away. Has no one ever heard of a land lease? Other towns and cities do it all the time?

The Norwalker January 19, 2017 at 12:42 pm

Hey not upgrade the existing parking garage and put a police substation on top of the parking garage.

Uconn in Stamford has a similar setup for their parking lot.

Andrew January 19, 2017 at 12:52 pm

The parking lot in its current form is fine. I use it all the time and have never had any of the problems described. The argument is weak and dishonest, and they know it.

I also agree with David McCarthy, let the market dictate the price the city is paid. If there is value in the land then Mike will pay for it. If there is not then the whole thing is a scam on the taxpayers.

All that said, based on the company that is proposing this – they will win, we will loose and soon be having a discussion on how to use legals maneuvers to take away private property to accommodate public parking – as we are with the library.

Lisa Thomson January 19, 2017 at 2:42 pm

There you have it folks! Nora King and Dave McCarthy are on the same side of this issue.

Mayor Rilling, Common Council – Do NOT give this taxpayer land away!

I am sure Mr. DiScalia will build something beautiful – but he must pay for his land, just like the rest of us 🙂

Debora Goldstein January 20, 2017 at 2:36 pm

The fact that developers even feel comfortable suggesting this stuff just boggles the mind. One has to wonder if similar offers would be made in a place like Westchester or San Diego.

Think about it. If your neighbor came to you and offered to rebuild your garage for you and maintain your parking on your property in exchange for the right to build another house on top of it, would you consider that fair value for the end result?

I can’t decide which is more egregious…these proposals, or the ones where businesses pitch setting up shop in taxpayer funded parks with minimal or zero rent.

Bill Nightingale Jr January 20, 2017 at 3:32 pm

“Common Council member Steve Serasis (D-District A) endorsed DiScala’s plan,…”

How could a Common Council member possibly endorse this plan when there has been no competitive bidding process, no plan review as to whether it is consistent with master development plans, zoning, etc?

This is perfect example what’s wrong with this city. A developer can walk into Redevelopment office and strike a deal in an unaccountable framework. As I’ve said many times, the Redevelopment Agency needs to be abolished….sooner the better before we have another Poko fiasco.

Robert Hard January 20, 2017 at 7:02 pm

I found the presentation on the proposed parking aspect of the latest DiScala development a bit distressing. The main talker was Jason Enters, pushing the developer’s point of view, and doing so in a tone I found condescending, insolent and misleading.
Many of the attendees wanted to raise points about the larger impact, but Mr. Enters claimed that the sole purpose of the meeting was to discuss his alternative parking plan. But here’s what the invitation from the parking authority actually said:
“At this public information meeting, representatives from the Parking Authority and developer M. F. Discala and Company, Inc. will discuss the temporary parking plan, the structure of the replacement parking and any potential area wide parking impacts associated with the proposed development and construction. There will also be an opportunity for public input.”
But Mr. Enters asserts (incorrectly) that the only legitimate topic is temporary parking during construction. This is simply not so.
Mr Enters also set himself up as a Solomonic authority on the law by telling business owners who have rear entrances on the lot that their use is illegal, that they have no legal right to that use, and that they are lucky to have gotten away with it so far. Out of the bigness of his heart, the developer may accommodate them in the future, but not during construction.
I believe he is misstating the law. To start with, I doubt an appurtenant property owner needs a formal easement to access public property such as a street or street-connected public parking lot as long as the use does not impair the public’s reasonable use. If you don’t need an easement for the front door of your shop, why do you need one for the back?Thus, barring a legal challenge by the City, the current use is legal. Second, even assuming a formal easement for access were required, such an easement has almost certainly been acquired under the legal doctrine of prescription (an historic use that has been open and continuous for fifteen years or more (by the current user or his/her predecessors)).
Access during construction obviously raises practical difficulties regardless of the legalities of access. I suspect that Mr. Enters is taking the line he is to pre-empt a claim for compensation, but the legalities are definitely not as cut and dried as he would have the uninformed believe.
I was also a bit put off by Mr. Enter’s view that the local shop owners’ real problem is not a loss of parking but that the public is lazy. Too lazy to use the Yankee Doodle Garage, for instance, a mere one and a half football fields away from their shopping/dining destinations. I find that sentiment high-handed, snide, and singularly unhelpful.
Some weeks ago the owner of David Harvey Jewelers on Wall Street told the Norwalk Center Task Force how damaging to his business the Isaac Street construction had been, with its elimination of convenient parking. (It is partially resolved now, but it is a lesson to be considered.) The Parking Authority’s suggestion that he and his customers could use the Yankee Doodle spaces proved totally unrealistic. Business was way down–the loss of convenient parking nearly put him under.
In my view, the City of Norwalk needs to support its local small retail businesses better than it has so far–especially by making customer parking as easy and cheap as possible. If they made that the number one priority–and really used some brain power to achieve it–rather than giving away city assets to developers, I think we’d have a more civil society.

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