NORWALK, Conn. – The state of Connecticut is planning to pave an East Norwalk man’s paradise to put up a parking lot, a Connecticut Department of Transportation spokesman confirmed Thursday.
Michele (Michael) Napoleone, 83, and his son John Napoleone said recently that they had heard the state would use the older man’s home at 220 East Ave. for a parking lot after taking it through the eminent domain process. While Norwalk Department of Public Works personnel said Friday that the property would be used as staging for construction equipment used to rebuild the Metro North bridge and widen East Avenue, CDOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said that when the work is done, the area currently occupied by Napoleone and his two neighbors will be “utilized for Metro North parking at the adjacent train station.”
Nursick confirmed that the three properties between Fort Point Street and the tracks are being taken by eminent domain. The goal is to lower the roadway under the railroad bridge, making it possible for trucks to go through. In addition to making the road four lanes wide, sidewalks will be added on either side and the train platforms lengthened.
The state had originally planned to take the front portions of just two properties, 220 and 222 East Ave., but, “This would have necessitated large retaining walls and created an unsafe condition for residents and the traveling public. The decision was made to acquire the properties in total,” Nursick said.
The offer for Napoleone’s home of some 46 years is described as an “insult” by East Norwalk activist Diane Cece, a longtime friend of the family. It’s “below even the market and assessed values on which the City of Norwalk assesses him for property taxes,” she said in an email.
Norwalk’s 2008 assessment values the land and the building together at $349,400.
The elder Napoleone received a letter from CDOT by certified mail, postmarked Sept. 24. The letter was dated Sept. 16.
“Please be advised that you will not be required to move without at least 90 days advance notice of the earliest date by which he or she may be required to move,” wrote James Mason, CDOT supervising property agent, acquisition/relocation Division of Rights of Way. “You may consider 90 days from the date of this letter to be the earliest date by which you may be required to move.”
The Napoleones say a CDOT representative recommended that the senior Napoleone stay in Norwalk rather than go to Italy for his annual trip to visit his grandchildren, as he had planned. Nursick denied that.
Napoleone “is being devastated by the stress and fear of losing his home,” Cece said in an email sent to state Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) and state representatives Gail Lavielle (R-Wilton/Norwalk/Westport), Larry Cafero (R-Norwalk), Bruce Morris (D-Norwalk), Terrie Wood (R-Darien/Norwalk) and Chris Perone (D-Norwalk), Napoleone’s representative.
“The state has had their property appraisal information for three months now, and only recently shared the information/offer with the homeowner and are putting undue pressure on him to negotiate,” she wrote. “… This is an absolute outrage and unacceptable.”
Duff is the only one who has responded to the Sept. 27 email, which is printed in its entirety below. Duff said Thursday that he needs to hear from Napoleone.
“My information is limited,” he said. “I have asked his family to contact my office so I can get all sides of the story here. I’m also going to contact DOT to see where they are in the process. It could be mixed messages as far as where they are in the project, whether it’s going to happen sooner rather than later or later rather than sooner. … As a matter of practice lots of people are concerned about other people’s affairs, but you have to have the primary person to reach out.”
The elder Napoleone was afraid to share information with a reporter last week. In broken English, the Italian immigrant expressed that he is afraid of making waves.
Nursick shared a January 2011 Common Council resolution authorizing the reconstruction of East Avenue. NancyOnNorwalk has written back to ask if CDOT is aware that council members voted in July 2011 not to authorize the mayor to move ahead with it. Members instead asked that a letter be sent to the state requesting that taking Napoleone’s home be reconsidered, according to minutes, attached below.
Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord said Wednesday that the process is just beginning. CDOT has been kind to people who lose their homes to eminent domain in his experience, he said.
“Our experience with the state people has been they’re pretty generous, they understand sensitivities like this gentleman’s age and the time that he’s been there,” he said. “But at the same time they are trying to get a project done that has huge benefits to the larger population of Norwalk and the people who pass through Norwalk. That is the whole reason eminent domain exists.”
He could not name specific examples of the state being generous with people whose homes are taken by eminent domain, however.
“I’d have to dig some out and quite honestly, I don’t have the time to dig them up at the moment,” he said, before remembering the recent taking of small portions of Rowayton properties for the reconstruction of the Metro North bridge on Rowayton Avenue.
He said, “Small cases, of course, but the numbers that they’re going to give people just to fix their property is kind of out there.”
Here is the email from Diane Cece to Norwalk state legislators:
Dear State Legislators,
As you are all probably aware, the State of Connecticut DOT is using eminent domain to take private properties on East Avenue as part of the Metro North railroad bridge project. This despite a 2011 Norwalk Common Council DPW Committee vote against authorizing the Rights of Way Agreement with the state.
One of the properties is the 40+ year home of an 83-year old widower, whose life is being devastated by the stress and fear of losing his home. He is an Italian immigrant who came to Norwalk to raise his family, and did so. He lost his beloved wife and daughter 16 years and 8 years ago, respectively, and his home is a shrine to them both and also a local example of land use for his vegetable garden and peach/fig trees. He does not want to lose his home, and his sons agree that he should maintain his independence in this home. The compensation offer made by the state is an insult, an embarrassment to me as a taxpayer and a human being, and below even the market & assessed values on which the City of Norwalk assesses him for property taxes.
In addition, the state has had their property appraisal information for 3 months now, and only recently shared the information/offer with the homeowner and are putting undue pressure on him to negotiate. He would normally be leaving this week to visit his grandchildren (the children of his late daughter) in Italy, and apparently has been told by state officials not to go, as they want to finalize the agreement as soon as possible. This is an absolute outrage and unacceptable – I don’t care what statutory or arbitrary time clocks are involved with eminent domain, don’t you agree it is highly unfair for the state to have all the time they need (years, in fact) and then to tell this taxpayer he can’t have more than several weeks to negotiate their offer?
It is my personal observation that it is NOT necessary to widen/lower East Avenue in order for ConnDot to complete their catenary line work, and that the widening/lowering of East Avenue is connected to the project only at the insistence of Norwalk Public Works Director Hal Alvord, in pursuit of several hundred thousand dollars in state grants. Though some support it, hundreds of East Norwalkers opposed this project, and still do. Our neighborhood should not be offered up as the path of least resistance for commercial traffic, especially for the tractor trailers, overnight delivery trucks, garbage/recycling trucks, and contractor trucks that already speed here as a cut-through to and from South Norwalk. They should all be using West Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard instead. And now we are left with private property owners losing their homes for it.
If you are like me and many other Norwalkers who think eminent domain should be used only when absolutely necessary, and not simply to widen/lower a road for tractor trailers and to build a parking lot (per Connecticut Rights of Way official) by forcing out a senior citizen, please help me by at least coming together to engage in an open and respectful conversation about this project; about his home in particular; and what role you may play in either stopping this project, or at the very least, ensuring that the homeowner is compensated fairly so that he may enjoy his golden years in Norwalk in the home he raised his children and mourns his late wife, even to this day.
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