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Letter: Norwalk needs to accept reality regarding development

To the Editors:

Norwalk citizens may be excused for wondering if our city has become ground zero for the nation’s developers. We have: Avalon, POKO, GGP, Ironworks, Waypointe, “new” and expanded Washington Village and who knows what else is “in the works” that we haven’t heard much about.

One of these clearly has not produced housing for the moderate income people it was planned to accommodate, another looks more and more like a boondoggle of delayed starts, another is a misstep headed for failure as a means of gentrifying Norwalk, one is a great and costly expanse of bare acreage never to be filled with “mixed use,” and another is a huge addition to low cost housing that has not served the needs of its residents.

Has no one ever thought of something called city planning? It could be too late for Norwalk, but a coordinated effort early on to move forward in prudent, monitored steps toward a unified, predetermined goal might still lead us back to being a livable middle-income city rather than continuing the nearly unstoppable helter-skelter slide into becoming the Discount Heaven of Fairfield County.

One might wonder how we got on this downward spiral. We seem to have been suckers (or worse) to the songs of any peddler of easy solutions that knocked on our door. We appear to be going off in many different directions: do we need affordable housing for middle-income people? Do we need “luxury” housing, mimicking our neighbors? Will “mixed use” combining housing, businesses and recreation all on one lot give us the “city center” Norwalk has lacked for many years? Is all of this builder activity the way to lower the tax burden for those of us homeowners who remain?

Can we blame our elected officials? Not entirely, when they are burdened by our starkly inefficient two-year election cycle in which a good portion of a politician’s hugely limited time in office must be spent on preparations for re-election, when the emphasis is on disruptive and dividing political party control and domination, when there’s precious little time taken away from the business of guiding the city toward a workable goal. However — and I do not mean to raise another ruckus — one has to consider that 10 years of one administration did much to start us on this road of helter-skelter indecision as to our true identity. We are a middle- to lower-income community, and we have much to offer as such.

Dorothy Mobilia gave an accounting in an earlier posting when she pointed out that we have a shoreline. “Just go down to Calf Pasture on any night or weekend and be impressed by the activity on the ball fields, the volleyball courts, the skateboard area and the walkers on the walks and the beach, to say nothing of the bathers during the day. Ball fields, tennis courts, parks, boating facilities everywhere in our city are busy because they meet a need.”

Let’s accept who we are and let’s give the builders a rest until a trained city planner can oversee their activities and guide them all in a unified direction toward a predetermined objective that complements our identity.

Rod Lopez-Fabrega

Comments

5 responses to “Letter: Norwalk needs to accept reality regarding development”

  1. srb

    Is Norwalk really a “low to moderate” income city? Are all those projects really failures? Ironworks and Waypointe have millions of private dollars invested and one would hope they did some economic analysis beforehand. Washington Village will hopefully get a lot of $$$ kicked in from the fed. govt., and Southwood Square in Stamford is an already existing similar project that has had net positives. Waiting and waiting suffers from the paralysis of analysis

  2. “…and one would hope they did some economic analysis beforehand. ”
    One would hope so but don’t count on it.
    For once, I agree with RFL, and that this city is exploding with rentals that I can’t imagine to fill at 100%. What is these renters have kids? What happens to our already overcrowded schools?
    Yup, looks like someone was profiting off of the developer’s plans with no fore thought about the future.

  3. Suzanne

    Maybe one of the task forces being formed by the Mayor could be an overall vision of a city plan, i.e., gather people with expertise to make sense and give a cohesive vision to what seems to be piece meal at best City development. Has there ever been a study on this? Or have the studies been a “little bit of this, a little bit of that” as well? A town vision and identity is what makes great Cities, even small ones and poor ones. Norwalk could be a part of a healthy, well-established, identifiable town. So far, it’s beginning to look a lot like a miniature Houston, a City with no Zoning for most of its life.

  4. piberman

    Even the tooth fairy woudn’t advocate a “City Planner” to make Norwalk more attractive given the difficulties the City has with promulgating effective planning and zonning rgulations and managing its budgets in line with affordable/income measues of its residents. Why expect savy businessmen to invest in a City whose spending is out of control – up 55% over past 2 decades despite just a 10% rise in income. That continuing disparity leads to a Bridgeport solution. Stagnant property values for years and years amidst a national expansion and housing boom ought to be a wake up call. Not for a “City Planner”. But for elected officials who understand Finance 101. Don’t hold your breadth.

  5. Suzanne

    Mr. Berman, I read every comment you write so I know what you are talking about. Getting financial ducks in a row, evaluating spending and making a plan to reduce spending with knowledge of what is exactly going on would be a huge step. In that regard, a City Planner would be premature. Or, it could be the catalyst for accountability. Planning can’t be done in a vacuum – there must be a program to follow that allies with an overall vision for the City. Not only a lack of “Finance 101” is curtailing the City’s success: it is also the fact that money is being spent, developments going up, huge projects being planned without one iota of awareness as to how this will all fit into the overall urban fabric of Norwalk. Norwalk does not need another layer of bureaucracy but it does need an idea of where it is going with how much. That is planning AND finance. In fact, I think a plan could save money in the long run instead of throwing money at random developments as though it will magically save Norwalk from its own demise.

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