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Letter: Give South Norwalk flood plain to private developer, build sensibly

By Scott Kimmich

To the Editor:

NORWALK, Conn. – I was heartened to see HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) Secretary Donovan, Sen. Blumenthal, Gov. Malloy, and Congressman Himes standing in the Community Room of Washington Village and pledging millions to support “smart” redevelopment of Washington Village as part of HUD’s Choice Neighborhood plan to transform South Norwalk. What does smart redevelopment mean? And what does it mean when you are rebuilding in a flood plain?

The Choice Neighborhood program specifies that such a transformation would “create the conditions necessary for public and private reinvestment in distressed neighborhoods to offer the kinds of amenities and assets, including safety, good schools, and commercial activity, that are important to families’ choices about their community.”

Any program to achieve such conditions must come to grips with the fact of frequent flooding. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has just issued new guidelines that raises possible storm sea level from 8 feet to 12 feet and the flood plain extends almost all the way to Main Street. In order to satisfy the Choice Neighborhood specifications, Norwalk must invest in flood control, which it has avoided for years,  but which is necessary for the transformation to take place.

We can’t expect to have a choice neighborhood that is constantly flooding from lunar high tides, let alone storm surges. The current plan is to build living quarters 15 to 18.5 feet above sea level and park cars at street level, moving them when flooding threatens. Is this one of the amenities of a choice neighborhood?  Remember, much flooding in the area is caused by back-up of storm sewers at high tides.

Unlike Norwalk, some communities develop and execute plans to control coastal flooding. Annapolis, Md. is planning to put valves on storm sewers to prevent tidal and storm back-up. The resultant dry streets and parking places will be an amenity of the kind we need on Water Street and other streets along our waterfront.

Annapolis also studied other means of mitigating the effect of tidal and storm surges, including temporary, easily installed flood walls with flood gates for side streets. These measures would greatly reduce flood damage during a significant storm like Sandy. (Water-filled berms might attenuate the effect of storms on the residences in Harbor View, and Shore Front Park.) Such mitigation costs money and right now Annapolis is hesitating to make the total investment, even though its exposure to coastal flooding is worse than ours.

Taxpayers in Norwalk have similar worries.

It would be a far better plan, without the need to worry about flood protection and mitigation, to move the whole project to the undeveloped 95/7 site. The problem, as one of the redevelopment planners told me, is that the land there is so much more expensive than the site in South Norwalk. But maybe that pricey land is cheaper than trying to mitigate flooding in South Norwalk. And maybe the project would kick-start the rest of 95/7 development. It’s worth looking at.

Some people, like Councilman Kimmel, warn that if Norwalk doesn’t build on the Housing Authority property, someone else will. “I’ll tell you frankly, if we were to build it in another place, in another decade you’d have luxury waterfront condos there. That’s what would happen,” he said. Right now, the  waterfront is currently hundreds of yards away, but Mother Nature has been telling us that she agrees with Mr. Kimmel. Washington Village will soon be waterfront property, smart-built or not.

Using Mr. Kimmel’s argument, why wait? Let the Housing Authority sell its newly acquired land to those developers who are dying to build luxury waterfront condos, and use the proceeds to buy the land on which to rebuild Washington Village in the 95/7 area and everyone will be happy. Especially us taxpayers and the long-suffering residents of Washington Village.

Scott Kimmich

Comments

10 responses to “Letter: Give South Norwalk flood plain to private developer, build sensibly”

  1. EveT

    How about putting the proposed Fillow St. mosque on the Water Street site, moving Washington Village to the BJ’s proposed site on Main Avenue, and moving BJ’s to Wilton or Darien? Planning Commission, are you listening?

  2. M Allen

    How about we put Washington Village in your backyard, the Mosque in the middle of Veteran’s Park and BJ’s in the wooded area behind the restaurant at Oak Hills. Eve, are you and Tim T related?

  3. Living Rent Free

    Annapolis is the state capitol of Maryland, another fiscally challenged state government. Like Hartford, they never seem to run out of money for pet projects at the expense of the rest of the state. The writer has a history of displaying his contempt for real taxpayers who work for their money and has no problem giving it to those who do next to nothing for theirs.

  4. M Allen

    Well something needs to be done about Washington Village, if for no other reason than to protect the investment, or the future expense of repairs. But reading this letter by Mr. Kimmich, you would think he was talking about New Orleans. And the comment aout the 95/7 development area? And people are worried about big box stores coming to Norwalk and not generating sufficient tax revenue. Yes, let’s put a project into a prime piece of commercial real estate. That sounds like a smart decision.

  5. cc-rider

    Yea, 95/7 is so “prime” that it has sat as a vacant dirt pile for the last ten years.

  6. M Allen

    Bad economic times and uncertainty lead to slow downs in economic development. Better to leave the land vacant than spend the money and have a fully financed building sit vacant. At least 95/7 now seems to be moving forward. POKO, not so much.

  7. cc-rider

    As far I know, there is zero happening at 95/7. I drive by it every day.

  8. Suzanne

    How does anyone know how to build anything in this town? There is no apparent Master Plan to which anyone is aspiring, no apparent consideration for how an urban area, in all of its interdependent elements, works. A tax base is not a plan for urbanization unless, and, yes, I will say it, you want to build Detroit. And building in a floodplain is just stupid, really, really stupid. It is asking for a begging relationship with the Federal Government so long as there are surges and so long as there is housing sitting in the direct path of those surges. Floods debilitate an area irreparably requiring rebuilding – so putting pretty places where it floods is like saying, “How pretty! Now let’s take a bulldozer and rip it down and then ask for the money to rebuild because by golly our town can’t afford it,” because that is what water does. Considering a new location should be a consideration of context to other elements of the town like grocery shopping, education and transportation (just a few examples.) Not considering these elements in light of public housing is sequestering a neighborhood behind a high bar to entry into the life of the town and seems like gambling with the lives of those who will live there.

  9. Piberman

    Why would anyone expect a city government that pays the highest municipal salaries of any city in the state take storm flooding seriously. Or a city that ignores NEON’s bewildering management problems to build public housing away from flood prone areas. Or even to consider replicating Stamford’s successful hurricane gate in its main harbor. This is Norwalk where City government always makes the best decisions. Does anyone in City government really care if rebuilt public housing stands high on pilings above the flood waters ? Who ?

  10. scott kimmich

    Perhaps Living Rent Free would be interested to know that I took the trouble to talk with an engineer working to save Annapolis from flooding. Contrary to what LRF speculated, the Annapolis municipal government, with pressure from its business community, has decided to put off most of the measures that would prevent flooding. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

    As for my alleged contempt for real taxpayers, I would like to remind LRF that the Washington Village transformation calls for at least 80 luxury condos and apartments very similar to what Spinnaker and our own Municipal government is proposing to put in 95/7. The Spinnaker development will be residences, not the high rise office buildings originally contemplated, so maybe LRF should vent his spleen about that issue.

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