NORWALK, Conn. – Shipping trailers are likely to be seen soon in the Wall Street area under a plan approved by the Norwalk Common Council on Tuesday.
The leased containers will be part of a Norwalk 2.0 three-week art exhibit, described in a positive way as “edgy” by Council President Doug Hempstead (R-At Large). The approval was contingent upon Department of Public Works approval because Norwalk 2.0 has been planning to use part of Smith Street, which is closed. But Norwalk 2.0 co-founder Jackie Lightfield said Thursday that the project will go ahead with or without Smith Street.
Two things: documentation of why Smith Street is closed is apparently hard to come by; and Lightfield can’t say yet what the trailers will be used for.
An estimated four trailers will be part of an artists village in Freese Park and at Mill Hill from Thursdays to Sundays from May 23 to June 29, thereby activating the area with visitors, Lightfield said. Two other trailers would be on Smith Street. The permit includes set-up time.
Norwalk 2.0 was waiting to put out a call for artists until it got approval from city government, she said. Therefore, Lightfield did not know yet what artists might use the trailers for, but did not expect anyone to actually be in the trailers. They will be locked when the artists are not on site, she said.
Majority Leader Jerry Petrini (R-District D), a Wall Street businessman, told Lightfield he was on board.
“I mean, I’m not quite sure about some of the trailers and the storage, but you know what, Jackie? You’re 2.0, whatever you do it’s usually a great thing for the area. You bring people into an otherwise quiet location, especially after hours, with the concerts that are going there. Something new, I’m not quite sure what’s going on but then again I’ve come to trust you. I know that you’ve got your heart in the right place and whatever you do there is going to definitely improve it.”
The conditions on the permit stem from the plan to use Smith Street. Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E), chairman of the Public Works Committee, said Lightfield had promised the Parks and Recreation Committee that she would obtain permission to use the street from DPW Director Hal Alvord. There was no such permission obtained.
“I was really kind of confused about that,” Lightfield said. “Because generally when we do an event we go to DPW to pull a permit to close the road.”
“Well, you know, what permit are we going to pull? To open the road?” Lightfield continued. “I mean, we don’t really want it open. We kind of want it closed so the pedestrians can have access. So I went back and tried to figure this out.”
She looked to see if DPW had held a public hearing or gone to the Traffic Commission or “even had an engineering report that said why this road is closed,” she said.
“The funny thing is Dave, I didn’t find anything. So I put it back to you – why is the road closed?”
“Good question. I’m not the director of Public Works,” he said. “We made the condition, you know, based on that. And I was just asking if it got approved by DPW. Have you approached him?”
“Approved for what?” she asked, continuing to press about what she was asking DPW to approve.
Petrini read the condition drafted by Parks and Rec: “Usage contingent upon roadway access by Public Works.”
“I’m just confused by that,” Lightfield said.
McCarthy said the road was “closed by the appropriate authority.”
“If you could provide me some documentation that showed that the road was closed by the appropriate authority I would be then happy to apply for a permit to do whatever I need to do to have access to it. But I am not finding that, Dave,” Lightfield said.
Petrini suggested approving the permit contingent upon to talking to Alvord.
Mayor Harry Rilling piped up with an explanation.
“I believe, if I recall, the road is closed because the retaining wall is deemed a public safety hazard,” he said. “When Head of the Harbor South and the Historical Society start working on this project, part of the project is repairing the wall, making it safe so people aren’t walking by and it falls in on them.”
Lightfield said she would love to see the engineering report for Smith Street but she had asked for it and it hadn’t been provided.
“Obviously we would be concerned if there was a danger there,” she said.
Rilling said he could talk to Alvord.
Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said Rilling could resolve the issue.
“If you’re involved I am sure it will work out to everyone’s satisfaction,” he said to Rilling.
Although McCarthy suggested tabling the item to get questions answered (the motion failed 14-1), the permit was eventually approved unanimously with the condition that Alvord be consulted.
Council members expected that to happen Wednesday, but there is no indication that it has happened yet.
“I have told Hal to get in touch with Jackie Lightfield or her to get in touch with him,” Rilling said in an email Thursday. “There are safety issues on Smith Street and I’m not certain we could be comfortable re-opening the road for pedestrian traffic.”
Lightfield said it doesn’t matter.
“Whatever the City determines is fine by us,” she wrote in an email. “The road, Smith Street, is currently open to pedestrians.”
There are barricades on Smith Street and signs that pronounce the road closed, but the barricades do not physically prevent anyone from walking through.
“We were seeking to install two shipping containers on the former parking area on the hillside there for the three-week period,” Lightfield wrote. “If the city chooses not to grant the permit for us to install a portion of our project on Smith Street, we would simply not install any shipping containers there. Since the street is barricaded, we definitely would require the city’s help in temporarily removing the barricade on the southern portion in order to gain access for the installation and removal. Similar to how we have been granted access to remove trash and debris in the past.”
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