NORWALK, Conn. – Progress is set to be made in the area that Norwalk Common Council members reluctantly agreed to designate as a “slum” on Tuesday – construction is imminent at the Globe Theater, Frank Farricker said.
While a source speculated that Farricker was delayed by a Norwalk Redevelopment Agency oversight in letting Wall Street Redevelopment Area’s blight designation with the United States Housing and Urban Development (HUD) lapse, Farricker said there were other factors. Common Council members restored that designation, a bitter pill for some as it includes the description “slum.”
“No one is saying it’s necessarily a slum; it’s just deteriorated,” RDA Director of Community Development Planning Tami Strauss said.
Farricker said he is closing on the construction loan for the Globe Theater this week. As soon as that happens, construction will commence, he said.
“The designation expired in the summer, but HUD also made an entirely different request of Norwalk regarding an environmental waiver. Between (U.S. Rep.) Jim Himes’ office, Redevelopment and our attorney, we got it sorted out. But it did delay the project,” Farricker said.
The Common Council in June 2004 determined that the Wall Street Redevelopment Area met the definition of a slum, blighted, deteriorated or deteriorating area, which is a HUD designation, Strauss said. That expired 10 years later, RDA Executive Director Tim Sheehan said, specifying it was a HUD time frame. The Council needed to renew it so the Globe Theater could qualify for the more than $1.5 million Section 108 HUD financing that the Council authorized, Sheehan said.
To get the designation, at least 25 percent of the buildings in the area had to exhibit one of these characteristics:
- Extensive exterior defects
- Lease signs as a sign of vacancy
- Structural age (for suspected environmental contamination)
- Brownfields inventory
RDA did a survey and concluded that 85 percent of the 243 buildings met at least one of the criteria.
The 2004 designation featured a “long debate,” which became “a bit heated because of the issue of eminent domain was very much associated with the word blight at the time,” Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said.
Sheehan, at last week’s Planning Committee meeting, said the 2004 plan included eminent domain. Specific properties were identified and then removed. The Council later removed the Redevelopment Agency’s power to use eminent domain from the plan in reaction to a court case.
Kimmel asked if voting to designate the area as blighted would preclude the Council from using eminent domain. Sheehan said no.
“The city always has the right to take property by eminent domain provided that there’s an underlying plan for the area and that that plan is in effect,” Sheehan said. “A previous Council cannot hold the Council exempt from taking future action. In other words if you wanted to reinstate into the plan authorizations relative to eminent domain you certainly could do that. Again, that power is on a case by case basis, it should be fully understood that that is never the first course of action. It’s always the last course of action.”
Councilman Jerry Petrini (R-District D), a Wall Street businessman, said he wasn’t surprised to hear that 85 percent of the buildings in his neighborhood meet the definition for blight. “I don’t know what grants are out there. I think we should all sit together and find out how they all get jump–started down there,” Petrini said. “There could be very simple ways.”