NORWALK, Conn. – The last of Norwalk’s long-delayed developments is weeks away from submitting plans to the Planning and Zoning Department, according to Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan.
The Head of the Harbor development is moving forward as the Smith Street Option Agreement between the city and M.F. Discala was approved Tuesday by the Common Council and by the Planning Commission on Monday. This is an agreement to transfer ownership of part of Smith Street to the Head of the Harbor development once financing for construction is secured, in return for infrastructure improvements as the development is built.
Sheehan told the Planning Commission on Monday that he expected a Head of the Harbor plan to be submitted to zoning within 90 days of the approval.
“He has released his architect and as soon as the council approves, which would hopefully be tomorrow, he will be releasing his engineer to do the engineering work remaining on the plans. I am hopeful that they will be into zoning in early fall,” Sheehan said.
The project has been in the city’s sights for 10 years, Sheehan told the council Planning Committee recently. It now includes plans for 60 residential units, which will be townhouses, on Smith Street and 6,000 square feet of commercial office space, including some that will be used as the home of M.F. Discala, Sheehan said. The back of the development overlooks Head of the Harbor, he said.
The city will convey part of Smith Street to M.F. Discala for $1. In return, the city gets 15 parking spaces that will be dedicated to the Norwalk Historic Commission for use with expected improvements in the vicinity, including that to the old city lockup on Smith Street, Sheehan said. The developer will build a staircase from Smith Street up Mill Hill, he said. The city will repair the existing retaining wall, but Discala will provide the financing, he said. There will be a public plaza.
The land given up by the city is about half an acre, Sheehan said, and Discala promises to spend a minimum of $750,000. The city will spend a maximum of $350,000 for moving utilities, including putting them underground, he said.
The timeline for advancement of the project hinges on a Department of Public Works street abandonment process, Sheehan said. He estimated that to be about 120 days. When that is complete, Discala must show that it has financing to begin vertical construction. The city will not transfer ownership of the street until Discala shows that the financing is set, he said.
There will be no POKO Partners-style fiasco here, multiple people said.
“This is a fully privately transacted financing so we are not in a state similar to POKO where we are having to wait for state assistance,” Sheehan said.
“The timeline we would have is 90 days, they would have, in order to get a plan filed with zoning after this is approved,” Sheehan said. “Then, once the zoning is approved, the city commences the street abandonment process. We’ve given that about 120 days…
“We are not anticipating that there are any issues relative to zoning that aren’t resolvable at this point.”
Planning and Zoning Director Mike Greene agreed.
There have been other comments made a recent meetings:
• “From my perspective, having sat through this and seeing how the details worked out, to me, with the exception with what is happening on West Avenue, which I actually think is more important, this is the gateway to uptown Norwalk. Because you come around the hill there now you’re going to see some activity because, unfortunately, there isn’t much housing activity at that end,” Planning Committee Chairman Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) said.
• “If the project does not come to fruition, everything reverts back to the city, nothing happens. It’s like the closing of a house; everybody signs the papers the day the house is closing,” Hempstead said.
• “I know that a lot of people put in a lot of time trying to move this forward and making agreements in a very cooperative spirit to get this done, Mayor Harry Rilling said, naming Historical Commission Chairman David Westmoreland, Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola and the law department as well as Sheehan and Greene. “I think we have got a home run here, so I want to thank everybody publicly.”
• “The public generally will have no understanding that the street is any different than it is now,” Sheehan said.
• “Once the developer has secured financing for the project – we haven’t had a situation where a developer doesn’t start commencing construction. It’s all the stuff before that is problematic,” Sheehan said.
“The project has been long in coming, for sure. It would actually be beneficial for the Wall Street area, the city and Mill Hill actually to actually see this project go into construction,” Sheehan said.
Planning Commission Chairman Torgny Astrom said he had pulled out the 10-year-old Wall Street master plan, which showed 80 units planned for Head of the Harbor (it’s now 60) and 5,000 square feet of retail (now 6,000).
“Pretty damned close to projection,” he said.
“I won’t take credit,” Sheehan said, with a laugh.