NORWALK, Conn. – A “sneaky” transfer of public property to a private developer was sent back to committee for further study Tuesday after Norwalk citizens took time to express their disappointment with the proposal.
The intended Smith Street Option Agreement between the city and M. F. DiScala Co. regarding the long-delayed Head of the Harbor development did not draw any discussion at last week’s Planning Committee meeting. There was little discussion about it at the full council meeting, either, and no push back to comments made by citizens opposed to the proposal.
Those comments began with Norwalk Historical Society President David Westmoreland.
“I am very disturbed at both the contents of the proposed agreement to give away the publicly owned Smith Street, the Mill Hill land that is cleverly contained in this agreement as well as the way with which it is being handled to sneak the agreement through the council without full disclosure to the Planning Committee members, the full council, the Historical Commission, the DPW and the tax assessor’s office in terms of the commitments and potential cost to city taxpayers,” he said.
The city would be giving away Mill Hill historic parkland so that DiScala could meet his required parking for zoning, Westmoreland said. The agreement does not take into consideration that the parkland is used on weekends, he said, and the city’s charter mandate that the Historical Commission be consulted had been ignored, he said
“The commission has not been consulted on this agreement even though we have bent over backwards in the last couple of years to be forthright with our concerns, even allowing environmental testing on the land in question with the expectation that the redevelopment agency would be forthcoming with us. Clearly that has not been the case,” he said.
The tax assessor had not been consulted, and neither had Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord, he said.
“We’ve given away the southern end of Crescent Street, Liberty Street and Putnam Avenue with no strings attached and what do we have? A big empty hole in the ground with no plans for development,” he said. “…. We gave away the Isaac Street parking lot with no strings attached and not only do we have no development going on there, but the developer has the audacity to post signs saying you have to call a phone number and give them a credit card number so they can charge you to park there.”
Keep Norwalk Beautiful coordinator Jim DelGreco also spoke against the option.
“Development and progress are important, but not to the detriment of our environmental treasures,” he said. “… Just as the Maritime Center anchors South Norwalk, Mill Hill anchors the head of the harbor. We should not weaken historic Mill Hill treasure by giving away our resources.”
Todd Bryant of the Norwalk Preservation Trust said the Mill Hill property is in the National Historic Register, and any alteration of it would have to be reviewed by the state.
Sending the item back to committee was on the consent agenda, meaning it was unanimous.
Mayor Richard Moccia said he could understand the concerns about Mill Hill.
“We’ve made tremendous improvement to Mill Hill and the historic society working with the Historical Commission has certainly advanced the culture and the history of this city,” he said.
Development and progress can be difficult to achieve, he said, making it important to talk to the developers. He said, “I feel with some reassessment of the situation, continued dialogue, we know that eventually Mr. DiScala wants to develop Head of the Harbor, but I think we need more discussion on it.”
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