NORWALK, Conn. — The Common Council is set to vote on the proposed expansion of Norwalk’s Enterprise Zone into the West Avenue-Wall Street area, as on Tuesday the Ordinance Committee voted 6-1-0 to move it forward.
Council member Tom Livingston (D-District E) took care to make it clear that “POKO,” aka Wall Street Place, would not be eligible to tax abatements under the new ordinance if passed. Developments that are already in the pipeline may benefit, including Pinnacle at Waypointe.
And Head of the Harbor North may benefit. Assistant Corporation Counsel Brian Candela read a letter from M.F. DiScala saying that the project cannot be built without tax relief.
State statute defines an Enterprise Zone as “an area in which local tax incentives are offered to encourage business investment and jobs for residents in disadvantaged census tracts,” Norwalk Chief of Economic and Community Development Jessica Casey explained in May.
The zone allows property owners to receive a level of tax abatement on improvements to their properties over a period of seven years. While the Council can adjust the specifics, Casey gave an example of a project receiving an 100 percent tax abatement for the first year, moving up to just 10 percent by the seventh year.
South Norwalk has seen properties being redeveloped and people moving into the neighborhood and supporting businesses, because of its Enterprise Zone, she said. And the City gets more tax revenue than it was getting from the properties before the redevelopments, even with the tax breaks.
The drafted ordinance would add Census Tract 437 to the existing Enterprise Zone. There’s a sunset clause – on July 1, 2030, the Zone would expire. The Council would get status reports at least every three years, and can ask for an update at any time, Candela said.
“Even if the reports come back that this is an absolute disaster, that there’s nothing can be done until the 11th year,” Council member Thomas Keegan (R-District D) said.
That’s incorrect, Candela said. The Council could repeal the ordinance at any time, by going through the same process it’s using to create it. The sunset provision is there only to make sure the ordinance isn’t forgotten or overlooked by a future Council.
Keegan voted against the proposal.
If the Council approves the ordinance it will need to be cleared by the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD). Livingston worked with Candela to draft new language specifying that it won’t become law until DECD signs off on it, and only then, after 10 days have passed will projects be eligible for a tax abatement.
Tax Assessor William Ford called the new language “excellent.”
Council member David Heuvelman (D-District A) asked if the Garden Cinemas would be eligible for a tax break.
The Garden Cinemas is being incorporated into “POKO;” it will be demolished and a four-story building with apartments and a parking garage built in its place. Director of Business Development & Tourism Sabrina Church explained that it would not be getting tax abatements as it’s governed by the same Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) as the well-established Wall Street Place construction across the street, commonly called The Tyvek Temple.
The mixed-use project Norwalk Hospital is planning at the old YMCA property is probably not eligible because the hospital has a different tax structure and, “I don’t believe they would be able to take advantage of it,” she said.
She couldn’t think of any other existing projects that would be eligible, she said.
“The municipal parking lots were created to support local businesses and residents and were strategically located to support an active and vibrant downtown,” the petition states. “…The City of Norwalk is evaluating selling the Main/High Street municipal parking lot to a private developer to build apartments and a private garage.”
The city would retain the public’s rights to park on the lot, in the draft agreement that was presented in 2017. Construction would take 16 to 18 months, during which time people would be forced to seek alternative parking areas, Jason Enters of M.F. DiScala said at the time.
M.F. DiScala had explained that it would build an 80-apartment building over the lot, work to make the lot more level and replace its 91 public parking spaces with 93 public parking spaces.
DiScala is now interested in moving ahead because the City has advanced POKO, Michael DiScala said in the email read by Candela.
“Unfortunately, we cannot afford to build if the current tax structure in Norwalk is assessed against this property. Without tax relief, we cannot build the project,” DiScala said, according to Candela. “We’re here by asking the City to approve the proposed tax incentives for the area to benefit our project as well as other potential development in the area.”