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Moccia, Rilling discuss eminent domain in East Norwalk

NORWALK, Conn. – Something needs to be done to improve East Avenue, both Mayor Richard Moccia and former Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling said, in reference to the state’s efforts to take at least two Norwalk properties through the eminent domain process.

The thoughts were expressed at the recent candidates forum held in the East Norwalk Library. Diane Cece of the Eastern Norwalk Neighborhood Association asked the two men what they thought of eminent domain, as Michael Napoleone, whose house at 220 East Ave., is one of the properties to be taken in the East Avenue widening project, sat next to her.

It took Cece a little while to get to the point.

Norwalk 092713 007
Michele (Michael) Napoleone, 83, has been contacted by the Connecticut Department of Transportation regarding his home at 220 East Ave.

“One of the most controversial projects that has come up of late in our neck of the woods here is the looming widening and lowering of East Avenue,” she said. “… As you guys know, the primary purpose of the widening is to lower the road and widen it so that more traffic can come through and trucks can come through the overpass, etc. Initially in the project there were just slivers of land that might be taken to try to accommodate it when they improved the overall design, but then suddenly it became an eminent domain situation with the state to take property.”

She went on to ask their opinion, and said, “What you would do to fight eminent domain of private property within the city of Norwalk?”

The candidates had one minute to reply.

Rilling spoke of the process, and said, “I’m not personally in favor of eminent domain.”

But his daughter was involved in a serious accident on the “nightmare” of East Avenue, he said. “Something needs to be done there,” he said.

Moccia refuted some of the premise of the question.

“Metro-North is going to change that bridge and they’re Metro-North so there’s nothing we can do about that,” Moccia said.

Moccia said the state doesn’t have the money for the project. In spite of that assertion, however, the Connecticut Department of Transportation is moving ahead with the property-taking process.

Moccia also defended the project against critics, saying, “I don’t know why more traffic would drive on East Avenue because we have a wider road.”

Comments

13 responses to “Moccia, Rilling discuss eminent domain in East Norwalk”

  1. Mike Mushak

    I agree with both candidates that improvements to East Avenue MUST be made for safety and improving traffic flow. However, just as I stated in a public hearing in 2009, this project MUST follow new state guidelines under the 2009 CT “Complete Streets” Law, (which GOP Governor Jodi Rell signed into law over the odd objection of most Republicans, which mandates that all state-funded road improvements be designed for ALL users in mind, including bicycles and pedestrians, not just cars and trucks.
    .
    There is no doubt the train bridge on East Avenue needs widening, but why lowering? Trucks get around it now, and lowering it will only encourage East Avenue to become a truck route as a shortcut to South Norwalk, instead of West Avenue/MLK which is already designed as a major truck route between 95 and teh industry and warehouses of South Norwalk, where I live.
    .
    What we should all be concerned about is that the East Avenue widening not turn that busy street into a speeding truck route and major “highway”, which would kill nearby commercial and residential property values and any chance of East Norwalk becoming a more walkable and livable community. We should be installing infrastructure that encourages walking and bicycling to the train station, and to encourage small business and enhance property values along that crucial corridor. Although the bridge must be widened, it is proven that 3-lane road diets move a higher volume of cars at slower speeds, and work well on roads up to 20,000 cars per day. The light timing is much faster on a 3-lane road, so the long lights that hold up traffic are streamlined, and all of the left turns into the numerous curb cuts and side streets occur in the shared middle turn lane, eliminating the dangerous “weave” of traffic between lanes. This option MUST be explored here. If it won’t work, fine, at least we can say we explored it and tested it.
    .
    I encourage our city and state engineers and city leaders to open their minds and explore ALL options including a modern “Complete Streets” solution (http://www.smartgrowthamerica.org/documents/cs/cs-brochure-features.pdf)
    as state law requires for East Avenue, that will have positive impacts for generations to come on, instead of a typical engineer-designed obsolete widening project that will be for cars and trucks only and help destroy what little street life and “small town feel” that stretch now has.

  2. Herb Eaversmels

    The Mayor doesn’t know why more traffic would drive on East Ave because of a wider road? I can’t believe my eyes. I also can’t believe I voted for this guy either. Here is the answer, people avoid East Ave now because it is a disaster. You need to change lanes 3 times just to go straight. So, if you fix it, traffic will flow and less people will avoid it. That’s why more traffic will use East Ave. Can’t wait until November…

  3. Mike Mushak

    Coincidentally, I am on my way this morning with my partner David Westmoreland, who is also a licensed professional landscape architect, to a one day seminar called “Designing Complete Streets, Benefits, Barriers, and Best Practices”, at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, sponsored by the CT Chapter of the ASLA which we belong to.
    .
    We attend these professional planning seminars frequently, and run into Planning and Zoning officials from most cities in CT who are interested in keeping up with new planning concepts. We rarely run into anyone from Norwalk’s P and Z Department, which is odd.

  4. Suzanne

    Crazy question: what is better about more traffic? Is there such dire economic impact in East Norwalk for lack of traffic that a man’s home must be destroyed to improve it? Moccia has a lot of non-answers: we cannot market Norwalk and now we have no say in what can be done to remediate the situation on East Avenue. He is a great “throw up your hands” guy with no real answers these days – I guess actually answering a question would be too controversial to a non-existing mayoral platform. Moccia says the state doesn’t have the money anyway to complete the project but is going ahead with eminent domain process: everyone should take a look at the “progress” made in New London since eminent domain was made famous. Or, we can look at our own non-existent 95/7 project here in Norwalk to see what happens when funding is not in place for a project, supposedly for the public good, that cannot be built. Holes in the ground, people, holes. And, for this, Mr. Napoleone must be displaced, all of his hard work on his personal property destroyed for a staging area which Moccia claims is not project funded. This speaks to a giant lack of creative thinking: if the situation on East Avenue is so dire, improve it but try something more creative than destroying personal homes without funding for follow through. (Is this claim by Moccia even accurate?)

  5. M Allen

    A lot of story over what took 30 seconds in real life, after Cece preambled her question well beyond the length of time that any other questioner was allowed.
    .
    But is Harry saying he is against Eminent Domain in general or just in this circumstance? A circumstance that will happen whether or not he is Mayor since it is the state taking the action. But the broader question is whether Harry would be for or against the use of eminent domain in order to facilitate the rehabilitation of a blighted area (like downtown Norwalk) or some other part of town. Here we have a case of common use, but how does he feel about common good?

  6. Oldtimer

    Forcing an old man out of his home is not an attractive idea. Buying his house at a reasonable market price and helping him relocate nearby should not be rocket science. There are plenty of comparable properties listed for sale near his house. He might even end up with money in his pocket. If they approached him with a proposal that included a nice place nearby, relocation expenses, and a few dollars for the inconvenience, this would not be a newsworthy conflict.

  7. Oldtimer

    Eminent domain should be an absolute last resort after all reasonable alternatives have been exhausted. It sounds like the state is jumping the gun in this case.

  8. EveT

    How many times have we heard Mayor Moccia say we have no control over so-and-so? Metro-North is improving the railroad bridge, so we have no control over it. What kind of leadership is this?

  9. M Allen

    @Oltimer – how would eminent domain be a last resort if the state is taking land for improvements to nearby state property? Isn’t that the method whereby a government entity acquires privately held land for public purposes? I suppose they could make a private offer first. But if rejected, then what? Stop the project?

  10. Oldtimer

    Matt
    With the right negotiator approaching the property owner, a deal can generally be worked out without evicting an 83 year old man from his home with no place to go. When negotiations fail, the state must post a bond high enough to buy the property at a fair price, and cover relocation expense. In this case, it doesn’t sound like a reasonable effort to negotiate has been completed or the state is working against a strict deadline to own this property. Why the rush ? It is a lot more than just buying a property from an old man not eager to sell a home with so many memories. If all else fails, then, and only then, should eminent domain be a last resort.

  11. Diane C2

    Moccia refuted some of the premise of the question.
    “Metro-North is going to change that bridge and they’re Metro-North so there’s nothing we can do about that,” Moccia said.

    Seriously?

    Moccia said the state doesn’t have the money for the project. In spite of that assertion, however, the Connecticut Department of Transportation is moving ahead with the property-taking process.

    Doesn’t the Mayor communicate with anyone in the state regarding local projects?? Does Mr. Alvord, who repeated tells Council members that the project is years away…. DOT says within the next 10 months.

    Moccia also defended the project against critics, saying, “I don’t know why more traffic would drive on East Avenue because we have a wider road.”

    The entire point of the project is to increase capacity and flow – duh. Plus, not only more traffic, but at faster rate of speed than congestion allows, ESPECIALLY trucks…..

  12. Mike Mushak

    Since Nancy has 2 articles today on the important subject of the East Avenue widening and eminent domain, I am copying my comments into both articles, so please pardon the redundancy!
    .

    I hope the owner of teh property in question finds agreement with the state. It looked like I ignored his concerns in my post earlier, in my passion to discuss the much larger implications of this project to the city. There is no question the dangerous narrow 19th century bridge needs updating and widening, and unfortunately the gentleman’s home is in the way. Somehow a resolution to that will be found.
    .
    The much bigger questions for the East Norwalk community, Norwalk at large, and Mayor Moccia are: What is the final vision for East Avenue after the bridge is widened? Will it be heightened to allow big trucks? Will East Avenue become an inhospitable speedway of cars and trucks, or a vision of smart multi-modal bike and pedestrian friendly design that enhances property values and the small town feel East Norwalk deserves?
    .
    For the record, I just spent the day at a seminar in Hartford listening to DOT officials and top transportation engineers and landscape architects discuss these very issues, showing failures and successes of design. The plan currently put forward by Moccia and DPW is clearly an obsolete failure of design, that will ruin the quality of life of East Norwalk for generations. We need a reboot in City Hall badly. No one wants to live in a city full of textbook examples of how NOT to improve our roads.

  13. Diane C2

    @ M. Allen,
    If the goal is really to create a parking lot, why not first look to other available government-owned land, such as the government-owned property of the Third Taxing District, right next to the train station??? Or within walking distance of the station, why not make an offer to the owners of the former Howard Johnson at exit 16? Perhaps the combination of what the state is offering the 2 residential owners and 1 commercial owner at the tracks would comprise the bulk of the FMV for that currently-empty lot.
    Please keep in mind that property takings are not necessarily evil when you have a willing seller. This was not the case here. This 83-year old man did not and does not want to sell his home. Period. His fear of retribution from the city and state is forcing him to even consider it, and the offer they have made to him is laughable. I honestly thought it was a freakin’ typo

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