Hey Norwalk, pay attention: They’re giving away $2 million property

NORWALK, Conn. – How many people were paying attention last year as our Common Council Planning Committee voted to approve the giveaway of approximately $2 million worth of our property on Day Street to the Norwalk Housing Authority for $1, who will in turn own the land but lease the property to a private developer?

The item recently made its way to the full council, only to be tabled and sent back to committee for further review, thanks to the outcry of several concerned citizens. This week they will vote again, and will surely move it on to the council. All without even one public hearing. Not even one public meeting (meetings were held with Washington Village tenants, but no public information sessions have ever been scheduled). The other meetings are task force strategy meetings held during the middle of the workday, and are not noticed in the newspaper, other local media, or on the city website.

The Day Street parcels will be used in the conjunction with the much-anticipated and highly sought after federally-funded HUD (Housing and Urban Development) Choice Neighborhoods grant to redevelop the Washington Village public housing project. Essentially, our tax dollars and credits will be footing the bill for the plan, but a private developer will reap the benefits of market-rate rental incomes as a part of the mixed-income development. Estimates for required public improvements (infrastructure, roads, flood mitigation) are as high as $10 million, and you can bet that money will be coming out of your wallets, just like for the Waypointe and 95/7 project (how’s that working out folks?)

What part of “Gee, wouldn’t it make more sense for a private developer to pay us full value and build the mixed rate housing” don’t our elected officials grasp? Why aren’t we at least considering a 50-year lease to the Norwalk Housing Authority, so that we retain ownership but they still comply with site control?

The footprint of the existing Washington Village can accommodate a new, mixed-rate multi-use development with stunning water views. Hmmm. Perhaps therein lies the problem – how to preserve the current location for future luxury waterfront development! I believe the scope or design of the current plan is likely to change over time to better suit the housing authority, redevelopment agency and private developer. Applications get approved all the time only to have major changes approved after the fact, usually once demolition of existing buildings has been completed. In fact, the option to purchase agreement says this project can be changed in scope by as much as 19 percent of any component without ever coming back before the Common Council! At that late stage of development, surely no future council will have the political will or courage to call a halt to the project. I call it “holding them hostage.”

One councilor explained his position as a “reasonable return on our investment” in the area. I have to disagree. A reasonable return would be selling the land for at least a $2 million cash infusion, especially since no one is willing to estimate future potential tax revenue for the city.

The item is on the agenda of Wednesday’s Planning Committee (Feb. 6) and presumably advances to the full council on the 12th. If you think our elected officials should not be giving away city-owned land without a public hearing, contact your Common Council members and tell them. Conversely, if you think this is a prudent and fiscally responsible decision, tell them that. A group email link is provided on the city website on the Common Council page. Click this link, scroll to the bottom and then click the link “Email All Council Members”.


12 responses to “Hey Norwalk, pay attention: They’re giving away $2 million property”

  1. Oldtimer

    Isn’t the housing authority a legal construct of the City ? Selling to it for a dollar is not really giving it away, anymore than turning property over to the BOE, another part of the City, is loosing the property. The Housing Authority deal with a private developer seems pretty generous, but it all comes back to the City when the lease expires. It seems they could have worked out a better deal with the developer, but there is a limited number of people interested in building public housing. The City will get tax income over the period of the lease to the developer, more than it gets now.

  2. Oldtimer

    Selling it, at any price, is a one-shot deal. This way the City gets an income stream and still, in fact, owns the property and should get more out of it than it would get in a sale.

  3. Joe Espo

    That’s right, Diane: we need more and more more and more more and more more and more more and more more and more more and more more and more more and more more and more more and more more and more more and more more and more information and more and more more and more more and more more and more more and more more and more more and more more and more more and more more and more more and more more and more more and more more and more more and more public hearings.

  4. Diane C2

    Oldtimer: To be clear, the Norwalk Housing Auhority operates under State Statutes and its only connection to the city that I can find is in the appointment of Board members. Can you point out where it reads that the property and buildings come back to the city when the lease expires, because it goes back to Housing Authority, which is not a part of the City.
    I’ve asked the Planning Committee and Redevelopment to provide projected tax revenues. They cannot. For all we know it could take as long as 20 or 30 years to recoup the lost sale revenue in property tax? Finally, if you think the donation of the property to spur development is a good idea, then why not just lease the property for $1 a year to NHA so we always own it?

    Joe, there has not been one public hearing or meeting regarding the giveaway of this land for private development – don’t you think there should be? Three minutes at the Common Council without a full presentation of the Choice Neighborhoods Plan does not constitute public engagement. There also hasn’t been any PUBLIC information sessions on the Choice Neighborhood Plan, and won’t be until the NHA is required to solicit public feedbck on the Grant Application…..

  5. BARIN

    Again, no tranparency, if everything is above board have a public meeting to explain how this is good for the city residents. What’s the problem if you have nothing to hide. Thank you Diane.

  6. Diane C2

    Thank YOU, BARIN.
    I do believe that the consultants and developer think they have been transparent, but that is because the NHA has identified only a select group of stakeholders, who on the surface represent a mix of commnity organizations and services. But NONE include residents-at-large.
    I bet we could survey Norwalk taxpayers and find that 99.99% know nothing about Choice Neighborhoods Plan, the sale of the property, or the proposed outcome.
    I don’t really care if people support the sale or the plan or not; I care if they KNOW about it and can be engaged if they wish to be…..

  7. Suzanne

    This is getting curiouser and curiouser. It seems that under this administration, the constituency is simply the group-at-large that provides the revenue for all of these projects that keep sailing along without input or advice. This is, more and more, feeling like a fiefdom for a few. It seems as though all of us as the foolish donators to this tax regulated adventure, get to watch as this administration and cohorts, spend, spend, spend. I am wondering if it behooves taxpayers to yell more loudly or guarantee the ouster of this king, princes, and princesses come election time? They are certainly not a benevolent lot and an overall examination of public housing, some well sited as with Washington Village, seems in order to establish integrated communities in places that are advantageous for the entirety of Norwalk. Uh, Choice Neighborhoods Plan? What’s that?

  8. Suzanne

    Joe Espo, you are just silly. Did you singly type all of those “more”‘s or did you cut and paste?

  9. Tim T

    Joe Espo
    Your post is a waste of bandwidth.

  10. Tim T

    Odd isn’t it how the very same type of behavior that I have critiqued of this administration from its first term is now what has everyone in an uproar. I was considered to just be a loud mouth and even had many attempt to get me banned from different sites unsuccessfully I would add. However now it looks like I was right all along.
    I also have been one that critiqued a failed police department for years with one again considered to just be a loud mouth by many and also many tried unsuccessfully to get me banned from sites. With this said unfortunately I was right once again as we are now seeing weekly if not daily shootings, stabbings and robberies, not to mention numerous murders. ALMOST ALL UNSOLVED BY THE NPD.
    Hopefully going forward those who can’t handle the truth will see what I post is the dirty reality of what Norwalk has become.
    On a bright side it can change if we all vote this horrid administration out of office and vote in ones that are not part of the old boys club that has destroyed Norwalk.

  11. oldtimer

    On their website the housing authority offers a PDA download that may better explain how they operate.(too big for me on this connection) They do claim ownership of a surprising number of properties which may refute my argument that all this is the city’s, held in the name of the housing authority, which is part of the city.

  12. Diane C2

    I think the NHA owns the properties, in perpetuity, as long as they are utilized as public housing under HUD guidelines.

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