Norwalk businessman to RDA: Why didn’t you call me?

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk citizens scrutinized and debated the latest plan for Belden Avenue and Wall Street on Wednesday, making recommendations that will be incorporated into a new plan, Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan said.

This is a normal part of the process, Sheehan said, defending himself as he took flak from a business owner and his wife.
“It’s really very disconcerting that nobody bothered to knock on the door on the other side of Wall Street where you are cutting out all that driveway,” Roseann Fullam said, joining her husband in questioning why there is a “plan” without community input.

Sheehan said “concepts” for the intersection were first developed in 2008. Then-Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord and then-Principal Engineer Dick Linnartz said they would not advance a plan to the Traffic Authority that did not include the back-in parking, he said, a plan that is currently drawing skepticism and objections.

The plan has changed over time – to head-in parking and back to reverse-angle parking, he said.

“There’s been modifications and involvement on the city’s end as to how it wants to deal with the parking. At the end of the day, the call is ultimately DPW’s to make as to what the standard it wants,” Sheehan said.

Redniss & Mead Senior Engineer Bret Holzwarth explained the plan, which includes making Wall Street one lane in each direction to provide space for back-in parking, eliminating the First Taxing District’s island in the center of the intersection to make a “more conventional T-intersection with the four streets.”

The traffic lights will all be redesigned and reinstalled, he said.

POKO Partners is paying to develop the plan as required in the Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) for its Wall Street Place property, in conjunction with the Department of Public Works, Sheehan said. The city would then fund implementing the plan, he said.

The plan, once it is finalized, will go to the Traffic Authority for approval, then to the First Taxing District, then be approved by the Redevelopment Agency, Sheehan said.

“Do your plans ever include talking to business people?” Fullam asked.

Sheehan said that is the process, the reason for the public meeting he was leading.

“Why wouldn’t anybody pick up the phone and ask me?” Peter Fullam asked, explaining that his business, Fullam’s Window Treatments,  has been in the same place on Wall Street for 46 years.

Sheehan said there was a process; Fullam replied, “These (plans) are all drawn up.”

“None of what you are seeing has been approved by any governmental body, so to say that it is all done is just a fallacy and the number of times that the concept plans have changed before we have even brought anything for public review is numerous. So to say that this is fixed and done is wrong,” Sheehan said.

The plan is completely different than what was discussed seven months ago, First Taxing District Board of Directors Chairman Frank Zullo had said earlier.

The intent is to slow people down, DPW Director Bruce Chimento said, adding that’s why there is a “bump-out,” a protuberance of the sidewalk, in the area of the Wall Street Theater; the Fullams pointed out that a state bus parks there, and lingers for a while.

Peter Fullam said the city took out parking spaces in the area of his business seven years ago without asking him about it.

“Nobody said anything … They just did it,” he said.

He talked to Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce President Ed Musante and two of the spaces were put back in, he said.

A parking space is worth more than $50,000 a year to a business, Sheehan said.

Chimento said reverse angle parking spaces work well in Austin, Texas.

There’s no snow there, the Fullams said.

“It seems like we are the Guinea pig on this,” Peter Fullam said. “Why doesn’t New Canaan have it or Darien have it or Westport have it? These are the towns that surround us, not Austin Texas.”

Former Common Councilman Jerry Petrini, owner of My Three Sons on Wall Street, asked about the redesign of the First Taxing District’s (1TD) space.

The square footage the taxing district is losing by the elimination of the traffic island will be replaced by square footage on the other side of the intersection, but both Zullo and Sheehan stressed that the taxing district is not demanding a replacement of its space.

Zullo said 1TD is simply concerned that there be open space there. He indicated that 1TD is open to allowing parking to go in there instead, as Petrini requested.

Of the reverse angle parking, Petrini said, “I am almost willing to give it a try. It’s paint. If we have to, we can change to front-in parking or go back to parallel.”

Landscape architect Mike Mushak shared his perspective as a person who tours the country checking out urban design and ruffled some feathers with one aspect of his comments.

“We have mindset somehow here that somehow Norwalkers are too stupid” to handle back in parking, Mushak said.

Rosanne Fullam said she “really resented” the reference to stupid, but, “I think everything you are saying is positive. I don’t disagree and I will learn back-in parking but all that parking is pretty much in areas that will impact my husband’s business. I am not stupid because I live in Connecticut.”

The new bike lanes on Belden are improving pedestrian safety, even if there aren’t many bike riders out there, Mushak said. There’s less road for walkers to cross because they can begin and end in the bike lanes, and drivers are slowing down.

“People used to fly through there at 40 and 50 miles an hour. I can tell you for sure, people are going a lot slower on Belden Avenue than they used to. It’s made it safer for everyone,” Mushak said.

There’s something creepy about the Yankee Doodle Garage, although it’s better than it was two years ago, Elsa Peterson said.

The city is trying to create a walkway from the garage to Wall Street, Chimento said, comparing the idea to the walkway that goes from the Haviland Street parking lot to Washington Street.

Sheehan said he’s tried for three years to work something out with the Post Office, to no avail.

“Nothing seems to work, but that’s not to say that things haven’t changed relative to the Post Office and that personnel hasn’t changed as well,” Sheehan said. “So we could certainly go back and try to figure out how either at the Post Office site or other ways in which you could make connections at Wall Street.”

The plans for Wall Street will be posted on the city’s website and there should be another discussion in two weeks, Sheehan said.

“Obviously we need to have another public discussion so that we can get to an understanding that the folks that have an interest in the plan and in the area ultimately are satisfied,” Sheehan said. “We have to get all the recommendations that have been brought up and figure out what we can do.”

One comment

Dorothy Mobilia April 7, 2016 at 11:06 am

With due respect to Tim Sheehan, Wall Street businesses deserve so much more than having periodic meetings with Redevelopment and other city offices concerning Wall Street. Theirs should be a full engagement in the planning process. I thought we had all learned a lot during the 2014 Economic Development Plan talks where officials, some business owners and library supporters described their vision for the Wall Street area as well as other areas of the city. Key to the Wall Street discussion were blight and parking.

Remember, in the early days Wall Street was a thriving center with apartments, even a mansion, business and government offices, places for social gatherings, groceries, taxis, a railroad station, department stores, pharmacies, soda stores and so much more. The Flood of 1955 ended all that. Redevelopment removed the residential character, and we have been struggling ever since. It’s as though the heart has gone out of the Heart.

But we always learn by mistakes, and it is wrong for decisions to be made by excluding the merchants who have hung in there for nearly 50 years. Especially, now, when a new residential character is being created with a vengeance. Parking is so key. A parking garage is not helpful to the quick shopper or a visitor to the library, especially a mother with one or two small children in tow in inclement weather, as I saw so often as a former volunteer at the library.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about angled parking. Head-in parking seems to work well on Elm Street in New Canaan. Backing in seems to worry some older drivers. On the other hand, backing in seems safer for children and other passengers, and for access to trunk space for purchases. Maybe it is a good idea, as Jerry Petrini suggests, to do a test first.

Blight also is key, both to adjacent business owners and to visiting prospective customers.
In summary, it may take a little longer in the beginning to welcome the businesses and others to participate. We want to feel a part of our government and our community, and I know the mayor has taken many steps to be inclusive. This is just another important step to be taken in Norwalk Center.

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