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.
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.”