NORWALK, Conn. – The Yankee Doodle Garage was mentioned over and over again Monday — along with the words “parking” and “POKO” — by the energized members of the Norwalk Center Task Force.
The task force’s second meeting was a brainstorming and information-sharing session, where the “long shot” idea of a Wall Street train station was pursued and Councilman Jerry Petrini (R-District D) offered an “off the wall” suggestion to “kill two birds with one stone,” maybe saving Ken Olsen of POKO Partners a huge sum of money and getting rid of a vacant building.
“You might want to try working something out to get him over to the Yankee Doodle Garage to satisfy his parking requirements,” Petrini said, suggesting that maybe 68 Wall St. could be knocked down to create an esplanade between Olsen’s proposed Wall Street Place development and the garage he said everyone avoids.
Petrini, who leads the parking/transportation subcommittee, first offered statistics about area parking — 802 spaces available, 410 of them in the Yankee Doodle Garage — and advocated front-in angled parking. Members discussed the coming construction-related Wall Street hassles, saying the road will become a one-way street for four months as Metro-North works on the tunnel, and state Rep. Chris Perone (D-137) was pushed to get information from the Connecticut Department of Transportation, as he attended the meeting via telephone between votes in the statehouse.
“I’m just going to go get everything,” Perone said, after task force Chairwoman Jackie Lightfield asked for an update on the East Avenue/Route 1 intersection reconstruction project out of concern that it would overlap with the Wall Street alteration.
Petrini wanted Perone to talk to CDOT about a train station, which would be “perfect” on Mechanic Street, just before the tunnel.
“I know it’s a long shot but you know what? It shouldn’t be that long. Because it’s there,” Petrini said.
“It’s worth going for,” Perone said.
“It definitely is because that could be the impetus and the shot that we could really use down there. And everything is there, so I’m not going to just discount it. Well, the train tracks are there,” Petrini said.
Most of the parking on Wall Street is being used by people who work in the area, members said.
“That is not the intent for on-street parking,” Petrini said. “I mean, I’m not suggesting we put meters in there yet.”
“I think that our first step, rather than immediately going to the enforcement side,” Lightfield said, “is to reach out to our fellow office workers and businesses and talk about what we would like to see from a parking standpoint and gain the cooperation of the business owners, talking to their employees about the fact that it’s not that difficult to park in the Mechanic Street lot or it’s not that difficult to park in Yankee Doodle Garage or the Main/High Street lot. If that fails, then talk about how we want to address it.”
The trick is to balance the needs of the residents and the business owners in the mixed use area, she said.
In response, Town Clerk Rick McQuaid suggested discount passes for people to park in the Yankee Doodle Garage.
Olson and his POKO project were dissed several times.
Former Councilman Nick Kydes responded with sarcasm when Phase III of the long-delayed project was mentioned.
“I don’t think any of us are going to be here for that. We’ll be all six feet under before that gets started,” he said.
Mike McGuire, a commercial real estate specialist, said he had looked at a proposal for the long-delayed project four years ago and had come to the conclusion that Olsen’s plan for an automated underground parking garage is the hold-up.
“The reason he can’t get the financing and the thing closed is this parking garage is too expensive,” he said. “If you have an in-fill downtown urban multi-residential development that you can’t get financed in the United States at this point, something is drastically wrong. Red flags flying all over the place. Something wrong here.”
State Sen. Bob Duff (D-25) recently announced that POKO has its financial house in order, but Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan said he hadn’t heard that the construction loan had closed.
Petrini said he had talked to Olson, who hadn’t said anything about the garage, but had heard “on the street” that it was an issue.
The vacant building at 68 Wall is anything but historic, he said, suggesting that it could be knocked down.
“That would make a tremendous access point to get into Yankee Doodle Garage with kiosks on the outside,” he said. “That opens up that whole thing, you won’t feel like you’re going down through a tunnel. It would be a lot cheaper to buy that building than it would be to build a 207-space automatic garage. That’s just something way off the wall to throw at you because then you could have all the farmers markets, you could have all these little retail kiosks and things with an esplanade that leads you right from him, going right to the Yankee Doodle Garage. It’s wide enough to have real retail on each side. This is probably somewhere outside of our task force, but kind of kills two birds with one stone.”