Norwalk Center Task Force considers parking, business needs

Sentiments about why Norwalk Center is not a place to visit are expressed in a collection gathered by Norwalk 2.0, posted on the wall at the first Norwalk Center Task Force meeting.

NORWALK, Conn. – The target zone is set for Norwalk’s latest task force, which, like its SoNo counterpart, is considering parking issues.

The Norwalk Center Task Force has selected Jackie Lightfield as its chairwoman, identified issues and zeroed in on the area Lightfield defined as “New Canaan Avenue to 95 from the connector to East Avenue.” Goals established in the first meeting, held Friday, include rounding up any and all studies that are relevant to the area and researching the process potential new businesses face when trying to establish themselves.

Thoughts expressed in response to a Norwalk 2.0 prompt: “I would spend more time (and $$$) in Norwalk Center if…”

The roots of the area’s problems were also discussed. Councilman Jerry Petrini (R-District D), owner of My Three Sons on Wall Street, said Wall Street did not die with the 1955 flood, as it was still thriving in the late ’60’s and early ’70’s. More recently, people have been kept in limbo waiting for POKO Partners to go ahead with Wall Street Place.

Petrini said he and Mayor Harry Rilling are meeting with Ken Olsen of POKO Partners this week. “I want to work together with him, find out what is the stopping point,” he said. “Do we need to make some kind of adjustment or I just want a straight answer … Every year things get delayed and delayed, there’s got to be a reason for it. I don’t know.”

Petrini said it might be worth dropping the monthly parking permit fee at the Yankee Doodle Garage.

“I’ll watch people drive around, U-turns on River Street, back and forth to find any available parking. Last resort, if they have to, they’ll pull into the Yankee Doodle Garage,” he said.

Parking on the street is free, but there is a two-hour limit, which is enforced, Petrini said. But people who work on Wall Street are “playing two-hour roulette,” he said. “You can see them all come out, like lemmings, get into their cars, and just before their two hours is up they’ll move it to another space. Up and down, so it’s a game they play. That’s not the purpose. So maybe we need to back off on the monthly permits on the Yankee Doodle Garage so we can free up – just do it in volume. If you’ve got a few paying $70 and you can get a few hundred paying $35, it’s almost a wash and then it frees up those (street) spaces for people.”

The Norwalk Parking Authority’s website lists $36 as the fee for a monthly permit.

“Yankee Doodle Garage is so underutilized,” Petrini said. “Let’s cut it by a third and get the volume in there. Right now there is more cars for McMahon Ford in there than there is people.”

Small business owners need people to be able to park on the street near their stores, he said.

“I think what we have to talk about a streetscape design. Every major downtown – I’m not saying it’s going to be a one-way, but if you ever saw these people parallel park, that’s daunting enough for people,” he said, explaining that in the space two cars fit now with parallel parking it would probably be possible to park four cars angled in.

Maribeth Becker said that would slow cars down as well.

The task force formed subcommittees: Petrini is chairman of a parking committee, with Lightfield as the only current member.

State Rep. Chris Perone (D-137) will lead a policy committee, with Councilman David Watts (D-District A) as the only current member.

Watts suggested putting together “one little cheat sheet” for new business owners so they know how to work their way through the City Hall process, which he and Perone agreed needs reforming.

“I totally agree with David,” said Perone, attending the meeting via telephone. “You want to set up where a person can pick up the phone once.”

Lightfield said the group needs to get together a process checklist and hold a public meeting to get feedback from business owners.

Watts said he had seen television commercials advertising tax-free deals in New York state.

“We need to find out what is out there,” he said.

“New York advertising is great and it’s horrifying at the same time,” Perone said. “They are going after places with five employees in Norwalk.” He said he was working on letting small business owners know what programs they are benefiting from in Connecticut.

Other committees are the development/marketing committee, with Becker as chairwoman and Petrini as a member, a land use/planning committee with Lightfield as chairwoman and Perone as a member, a streetscape/beautification committee with Town Clerk Rick McQuaid as chairman and Becker and former Councilman Nick Kydes as members and a steering committee led by Lightfield with Perone, Watts, McQuaid, Becker, Kydes and Petrini as members.

Lightfield used Petrini’s comments about the 1955 flood as fodder for thought.

“I want to make you guys stop and think about that for a moment,” she said. “As a city, we develop policy and plans and things like that. For some of us policy wonks, we talk about that nothing has happened since the flood. The city stopped investing and stopped planning and creating programs and stuff about the time that the flood happened. The flood caused many things to happen. They knocked down a lot of buildings, they put in Freese Park, they made buildings go down to a suburban level of two stories when the buildings on Wall Street, if you look at the old pictures, were three, four and five stories. That was the policy the city enacted and then stopped. Stopped making the investment. The investment dollars went to South Norwalk and to other areas of Norwalk.”

When people talk about Wall Street dying after the flood, she said, they don’t mean that Wall street was dead right after the flood, “but the city stopped doing things the city should do. Of course, you could argue that the city is not doing the things it should do in SoNo now,” she said. “That is a whole different issue. … Part of the task of the task force is to separate the policy end what government can do and what resources are available, and the other half is what can we do to help businesses now from a programming end.”


8 responses to “Norwalk Center Task Force considers parking, business needs”

  1. John Hamlin

    Sounds like this task force is off to a
    Productive start. It’s great to see some focus on and discussion about these problems. No easy answers, but where there are problems there should be some possible solutions.

  2. EveT

    Beautification? How about taking down the brown wilted Christmas decorations that were still up on the lampposts last time I checked? Someone invested money and effort to buy the fresh greenery and put it up, but no follow-through, it just stayed there all winter. Same thing with the big concrete planters along the sidewalks that were filled with spring flowers last year, if I remember correctly, but then nobody watered them so the flowers died.

  3. Benthere Donethat

    Coming soon, A NEW BAR! I can’t stop laughing. What a JOKE!

  4. Carol

    so glad jackie is heading the group,maybe now something will get down with wall street.
    the task force is in good hands.

  5. Norwalk Voter

    I have lived in Norwalk since 1965 and the downtown Wall Street area was never thriving. It had more going on then but never thriving. The question has always been: ‘what is the anchor?’ It lacks both a commercial anchor and an attractive atmosphere. It has not been a drawing point for years. The businesses that have been succeeding need their storefronts spruced up and attractive surroundings to draw in more customers and more businesses to join them. We all have faith that this can be done; now let’s do it.

  6. Silence Dogood

    The riff raff from pathmark is gone, now get rid of the half used courthouse.

  7. Suzanne

    Repurpose the courthouse, from an objective viewpoint a nice classical building, and re-use it as a restaurant? A gym? A small business? There is no need to destroy everything to upgrade an urban area. In fact, keeping landmark buildings contributes to a sense of place that is unique and not the big box, franchise generic places we see across the US.

  8. LWitherspoon

    Good luck to the task force. There are already multiple reasons to visit Norwalk center. Let’s hope the task force can strengthen those and add others. People moving in to a completed Waypointe would also help the area.
    Will the task force have influence over the outdoor mall project in the works for 95/7?

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