Norwalk Common Council approves Eagles parking for library

No comments on Milligan’s lot

Then-Norwalk Public Library Board of Trustees Chairman Alex Knopp explains a rendering of a potential library option, in 2019.

NORWALK, Conn. — The plan to rent 30 parking spaces in the Eagles lot at 6 Mott Ave., just down the street from the Norwalk Public Library main branch, was unanimously approved by Common Council members Tuesday. Nothing was said about the option to buy real estate broker Jason Milligan’s lot, between the two properties, and no comments were made about the rental.

Activist Diane Lauricella spoke at the beginning of the meeting. The spaces themselves make sense but, “The reason that you’re doing it is what worries me,” she said. “I have been asking for several years as to why we haven’t begun the renovation plans for our Main Library. Our option with Mr. Milligan is coming to a close, and I think the public deserves to know what are the plans of this administration and the Council, today or tomorrow. We need to get moving on this.”

In 2017, the City paid Milligan $460,000 for a six-year purchase option for his property at 11 Belden Ave., where he had planned to build apartments. The deal included a fixed purchase price of $4,885,000 for the entire property, should the City decide to buy it by Aug. 31, 2023.

Former Mayor Alex Knopp, then Norwalk Public Library Board of Trustees Chairman, negotiated the option deal with Milligan.

“Unless City officials act quickly, the parking we’ve been able to offer for the past six years in the lot adjacent to the library accessible from Mott Avenue is likely to be shut down, resulting in the suffocation of the library’s recent rebound, the drastic curtailment of its expansion plans and its probable stagnation in the years ahead,” Knopp wrote in an editorial Monday.

Knopp spoke to the Council on Tuesday, advising that the Eagles spaces “should not be viewed, in my opinion, as a substitute for requiring the lot behind the library to give us permanent, accessible on site, free parking for library patrons.”

He said, “If we don’t exercise the option, there’s no doubt that Mr. Milligan we will try to build at least 69 units, maybe more, on the site, and how are seniors and moms going to get around that building conveniently in the rain or snow?”

Mayor Harry Rilling told Knopp that he “truly appreciated” the remarks and offered no further comment.

Milligan told NancyOnNorwalk Tuesday that he’s been thinking about what he might do with the 1.25-acre lot and said, “I cannot think of any benefit to anyone by sharing my potential plans with you at this point in time.”

Milligan, who owns about 40 properties in the Wall Street area, said, “In my opinion, long term plans for the area should include parking for the library, but I have not been asked for my opinion about long term plans for the area.”

Milligan has been embroiled in an intense legal battle with the City and the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency for five years. A tentative settlement has been agreed to and will either go forward next month or a trial will begin.

Moina Noor, current Norwalk Public Library Board of Trustees Chairwoman, said at Thursday’s Library Board meeting that she thought the Eagles lots is a “really was a great opportunity for us to expand our parking.”

She said, “Whether or not the city exercises the option, I’ve been to library several times when both lots are full so it’s nice to have the extra 30 spaces.”

The rental agreement is a two-year contract with an annual rent of $12,600, to be paid from the Library’s budget, and can be extended for up to an additional three years.

‘Inspiration’ for improving the library

Also at Thursday’s Library Board meeting, Trustees said they’d been to visit the New Canaan Library to see its new building.

“I thought it could be really inspirational for us as we look forward to making improvements to the Main Library building,” Patsy Brescia said. “…My biggest takeaway was the focus, that they designed the library around their community needs; every community has different needs and different focuses and different cultures.”

Janine Williams said she loved the library’s spirit and the layout. She and Ralph Bloom agreed that the automatic book deposit is impressive.

“I found it very interesting to see what it’s like when one organization has the direction of where to go, and they don’t have to go back to the town for permission. We’ve got a challenge ahead of us,” Bloom said. “We’ve got two district libraries that somehow have to work into the total plan. It’s gonna be interesting to see how we develop.”

Knopp remarked on the “very well-integrated planning approach in which the facilities, the technology, the customer service” were brought together “in a very attractive, holistic approach.” He was “impressed,” but, “I also understand that it’s not a municipal library, and therefore the process they go through for bidding and planning is different.”

Noor said she’d learned architects “had a collective group of 40 people from different parts of their town. It wasn’t just like a one and done type of engagement, which I think happens a lot with architects, with design firms and stuff, it was a continual engagement with these 40 people with a broad range of viewpoints.”

“As other people have said, I really loved that they planned and stuck all the way through to their values,” Laurel Peterson said. “They thought a lot about that at the very beginning and made sure that whatever they did was aligned with that.”


3 responses to “Norwalk Common Council approves Eagles parking for library”

  1. Scott Vetare

    As one of the 3 Trustees for the Eagles we’re happy to help the city in this capacity.
    It helps the city and helps the Eagles Club which is a win win situation.
    The Eagles are a great asset to the country. We are a national club who donates too all types of different organizations.

  2. Bette Bono

    I would love to see a public discussion about the parking situation at the library. Norwalkers deserve to be consulted given the importance of the library to our residents.

    Usage statistics from 2019 (from the library’s Building Plan, prepared in May 2019) indicated that more than 42% of Norwalkers held library cards, well over 400,000 print and digital items were borrowed, more than 40,000 attended and/or participated in library programs, and library visits were in the hundreds of thousands. The pandemic, of course, disrupted the library as it did so much else, but now that the pandemic has eased, use of the library is once again on the rise.

    I’m surprised that there hasn’t yet been an effort to solicit public input and seek out the opinions, stories, and experiences of the many library users who walk in the doors of the main branch every month. This effort is particularly urgent because the clock is ticking with regard to exercising the option to purchase the current on-site lot.

    As to the leased spaces at the Eagles Social Club: The spaces are farther away and more inconvenient for parents with strollers and everyone with a mobility challenge. If Mr. Milligan puts up a building on that lot, the problem is compounded.

    Also, leases expire. Property owned by an entity other than the library may be sold. If the Eagles’ property changes hands at some point in the future, the library is left with no good option. I know the library’s wonderful staff is working on excellent, exciting programs and events, events that could attract well over a hundred attendees (like the Jim Clarke concerts have done). But if people can’t park nearby, they just won’t attend. The library’s own 2019 plan envisioned “ample parking for 125 cars and 4 handicapped accessible parking spaces close to the entrance.” I believe the city shouldn’t abandon its once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to at least get a start on this goal by securing permanent, owned, public parking.

    As a longtime Norwalk resident, I remember times in the past when the nearby parking was blocked off by that ugly orange chain. I would drive by the Norwalk Library, see that there was no parking spot available, and just give up and head for the Westport Library. I don’t want to see that chain go back up. I don’t want to give up on my library and head for Westport’s. To lose the chance for nearby parking would, in my opinion, be disastrous for the long-term viability and relevance of our library.

  3. Tysen Canevari

    Of course the mayor has no comment. Why would he? Isn’t he the darn mayor? Oh wait, he has to ask his chief of staff what to do! Milligan runs Harry like a rag doll!

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