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Letter: City should take action to mask Main Avenue blight

(The following are two open letters to Mayor Richard Moccia sent to NancyOnNorwalk by Mike Mushak.)

Mayor Moccia,

In response to my letter below dated September 23rd about the current unscreened and blighted condition on the former Elinco property on Main Avenue (where the BJ’s was proposed), including the transparent fence and huge piles of weed-covered and eroding dirt, I received a prompt response from Corporation Counsel Maslan on the same day, which you were copied on, stating Norwalk does NOT have the power to regulate commercial or industrial blight because of state law. A response from the State of CT Office of Legislative Research on October 2nd, after a request I had made through Senator Duff on Sept. 24th, concluded the following which confirmed my own opinion (since we already have many ordinances dealing with “blight” issues on commercial and industrial properties in Chapters 94 and 95):

“State law gives municipalities broad authority to regulate commercial and industrial blight under the municipal powers statute (CGS § 7-148).”

It is a shame Norwalk did not include commercial blight in its recent blight ordinance, which was desperately needed as members of the public and several Common Council members stated, and which state law WOULD have allowed, according to the highly respected Office of Legislative Research. However, my letter below addresses other specific issues beyond whether a blight ordinance should have addressed commercial blight on abandoned properties all over the city, including at many major gateways off of highway exits, which establishes a bad first impression.

The other issues included specifically whether any other ordinances were being violated on the former Elinco property, including “dust control, erosion and sedimentation control, storm water runoff, height or steepness of storage piles, or health code violations.” No responses from any city officials regarding these matters have been received as of today.

I also requested that the city look into requiring the owner to add a dark green fabric screen to the fence (I attached a photo to that email) to screen the blight, so it was not such an obvious eyesore in the community. The fence appears to be on public property, and I asked if the city can simply add the screen itself as an option if the owner would not do it. We should not be forced to look at this eyesore, which many members of the public stated was a reason they were for any development of this site regardless of its real impacts. Our decisions for the future of this property should NOT be based on the current deplorable visual condition, which is easily corrected, as I am sure you would agree. A couple of days with an excavator to reduce the piles of dirt, and a fabric screen on the fence costing less than $1,000, is not a lot to ask for especially considering the many public economic and quality of life benefits.

Please let me know if any action is being taken by city officials or the property owner in addressing this serious situation, which has huge negative impacts on local businesses, residents, and visitors, including negative economic impacts on surrounding property values.

 

Thank you,

 

Mike Mushak

 

(The following is the letter to which Mr. Muhak referred in his above letter)

 

Mayor Moccia,

A letter to the editor on Saturday in The Hour about the BJ’s subject mentioned a common complaint about the Elinco site, that it is blighted, and that anything that would fix that should happen including a new BJ’s. I heard many folks say publicly that the BJ’s should be approved because of the current sad condition of the property. It seems some folks are more desperate for something to happen there based on the current blight than on the other potential impacts of any proposed project here. If the strategy of the owner was to create an intentional eyesore to gain support for their project, it is clearly working.

If the towering, eroding, weed-covered piles of dirt, dumpsters and transparent fence that allows a full view of this mess were addressed, this property would not be the annoying eyesore that it currently is until a viable project gets built there someday. The same could be said for many other properties around town, including the old Howard Johnson’s site at Exit 16, the water tank property next to Swanky Frank’s at Exit 14, the deplorable state of the Riverview Office Building on Belden next to Avalon (the last three mentioned are all at major gateways to the city where “first impressions” of our city are made) and the numerous weed-choked and trash-covered abandoned and neglected properties (often old service stations and banks on prime corners) along our main commercial strips of Westport and CT Avenues.

What is the city’s strategy, if any, to deal with these numerous eyesores, including the Elinco site, that negatively impact surrounding property values, quality of life, and the city’s image to visitors, residents, and potential investors alike?

Are there currently any violations of state or city regulations at the Elinco site, in terms of dust control, erosion and sedimentation control, storm water runoff, height or steepness of storage piles, health code violations, or blight? I understand the recent blight ordinance you supported excluded commercial properties, but this is currently just a vacant piece of land. Would our new blight ordinance apply here?

Also, … a woven green fabric … can be attached to the existing cyclone fence to screen the site, which a property survey I have indicates may actually be on public property, as the property line may be several feet or more back from the sidewalk edge where the fence is positioned.

This product is available online for $1.32 a linear foot, 6 feet high, and would cost $792 for the approximately 600 feet of fencing along the length of the property on Main Avenue. This is less than the cost of just one of the new large flower pots on West Avenue.

If the fence is on public property, can the owner be required to install this green fabric, or can public officials just install it themselves? For such a minimal investment with huge public benefit, especially to the residents and businesses that use Main Avenue or live nearby, doesn’t it make sense to make this happen as soon as possible?

Thank you for your time and attention in addressing this serious issue.

 

Mike Mushak

 

Comments

10 responses to “Letter: City should take action to mask Main Avenue blight”

  1. Don’t Panic

    Mike,
    This should be brought before the common council asap.

  2. EveT

    Why are none of our other zoning & planning commissioners and Common Council members co-signing these excellent letters? As Mr. Mushak states, it’s not a lot to ask to put up one of those green fences and level the piles of dirt/weeds.

  3. Mike Mushak

    I received notice from the mayor just yesterday (on Saturday) that a letter has been sent to the property owner via his lawyer, asking for screening. I thanked him for that effort.
    .
    The nature of the responses I was getting before that to my email from city officials were to the effect that this somehow was solely related to what “I wanted”, ignoring my careful explanation of the huge public benefits to be gained by regulating the deplorable visual conditions of this eyesore, as well as so many others around town, that is strongly supported by numerous studies that indicate lower retail sales and property values (including in the nearby condo complexes on Aiken) in visually unattractive environments.
    .
    In other words, this is about helping EVERYBODY in Norwalk, not just me. It is interesting that I am apparently the only one in or associated with City Hall who looked at this site and thought it could be cleaned up and made less of an eyesore until something is built there, which is just plain old common sense as far as I am concerned.

  4. Suzanne

    So would Mr. Mushak now have to recuse himself from any discussions re: regulation of commercial properties and blight because he has expressed an opinion in writing about this subject? Would he now have to be informed by Corporate Counsel of a conflict of interest that would preclude him from being in the room while this topic was discussed at P and Z meetings? If not, then a double standard applies to Mr. Rilling and his “big box” opinions and, once again, shows that City of Norwalk governance process is skewed.

  5. Tim T

    Last I checked there was a resolution of the blight issue. It was called BJ’s.. However a few cry baby loudmouth put that on hold. Hopefully BJ’s will reconsider and reapply after Moccia gets re-elected.

  6. Mike Mushak

    Tim T, the BJs potentially had a huge price tag associated with it to Norwalk taxpayers, in “undefined improvements” that the state might require but which the Zoning Commission knew nothing about, because we were being told we should approve the project first, then let the state determine the scope of the improvements.
    .
    What if the state came back after we approved it and said we needed perhaps $30 million of road widening including eminent domain of existing commercial properties, for the road (which SWRPA described as one of the most dangerous in the region in a 2011 study) to properly handle the new traffic load increases up to 500/cars per peak hour? And then what if the state DOT said they didn’t have the funding for it, which is likely considering the current financial condition of the state, and they said the city had to fully of partially pay for the improvements since we were the ones that never followed the zoning changes recommended in the 2006 study by a top transportation planning firm to limit the huge traffic impacts of big box retail on this stretch? Taxpayers would then have been left subsidizing the property owner, since they were only offering revamped traffic signals and a short 6 car left turn lane as their contribution to road improvements, but no widening anywhere else.
    .
    That is exactly what is happening on CT Ave, after the city refined the area in the 80’s to encourage big box retail to the exclusion of taller office buildings that generate much less traffic. We are now in the process of seeing taxpayers fund $60-80 million of improvements eventually to widen CT Ave to accommodate all the traffic, which the developers who are long gone never had to pay for but which existing businesses and residents will have to pay for for years in disruptions and higher taxes, offsetting the jobs and taxes the original big box explosion brought in. Notice the extra lane in front of the new Fire Headquarters to see what’s coming. Decades of disruption are coming, with takings of private property including existing businesses that pre-dated the big box explosion under Esposito because of a bad planning decision. It’s basically a huge public subsidy for a bad planning mistake the city made. We shouldn’t make the same mistake twice.
    .
    These bad decisions cost taxpayers hundreds of millions to rectify in the long run if not planned carefully and with a balance of uses to offset the traffic impacts, just as all the experts have told us in taxpayer funded studies that we routinely ignore.
    .
    Good planning takes this into account, and should not be described as “cry baby loudmouthing”, but as responsible action in the face of so much evidence including a Master Plan that recommended retail at only 10,000 square feet on this site, not 109,908 which was over ten times the size experts recommended.

  7. Mike Rotch

    Tim T must not believe in speaking up for what you believe in…I would love to see what he would do when the tables are turned and he is the cry baby.

  8. Tim T

    Mike Rotch
    you say
    “I would love to see what he would do when the tables are turned and he is the cry baby.”
    Let me explain how I would feel. If I purchased a home in a Commercial/retail area I would expect Commercial/retail. Unlike the cry babies who think they live in Easton. I hope that answers your question.

  9. Suzanne

    Really, anybody, I want to know. Mr. Mushak has just expressed his opinion about commercial blight and ways in which it can be mitigated by the City of Norwalk. If this becomes a topic of P and Z discussion, will he have to recuse himself per Corporate Counsel?

  10. Mike Mushak

    Suzanne, I know this is confusing, but I would not have to recuse myself from a discussion of blight on the ZC because it would not involve a specific application. There is no application pending for the Elinco site where BJ’s was proposed, after they withdrew the application, so there is no issue. During the BJ’s process, I always stated I had no opinion of the project, and it was up to the applicant to prove it could work. As you indicated from your careful reading and observations, I only stated facts about process and studies, and made comments about these issues.
    .
    I appreciate your point of view on these important matters and am glad you care so much. Sometimes it gets lonely out here fighting entrenched bureaucratic inertia and a broken system. Thank you for your concern!

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