NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Common Council members on Thursday considered unconventional or new solutions to problems facing the city:
- Perhaps declaring the city’s flooding problems a public health crisis
- Fixing sidewalks based on health considerations, rather than their connection to paving projects
- Cracking down on Code violators by maybe widening the ability of police to issue tickets
As part of these discussions at the Health, Welfare and Public Safety Committee meeting, two things were revealed:
- Planning and Zoning is trying out a different approach to regulation violators
- There’s a ‘pedestrian audit’ underway; who knew?
“When it rains, it causes the biggest headache and it’s also a major, major health hazard,” Matt Scully said at the outset of the meeting.
Scully said he’d bought his home on County Street 10 years ago, knowing that it had never had flooding problems since it was built in 1951, but for the last four years it’s been “absolutely awful” as water from a nearby pond overflows into his driveway and then his basement, and he has to spend two or three hours getting the water out. Then he has to treat it with bleach the next day.
A neighbor told a similar story.
“In the last year it went from not being a problem to it being overflowing,” he said, describing water up to his ankles in the basement. He blamed the flooding on a nearby storm drain that he believes is 90 percent clogged.
“The driveway has a wellspring in the middle of it, shooting up water,” Tomasino said. “Even if it has not rained in days, there’s puddles in my driveway that come from the water, from underneath. There’s too much water in there now and frankly when I have talked to DPW so far it’s been a runaround.”
A neighbor is moving out due to black mold in the neighbor’s basement. “My property value is going to take a hit for this and I am not going to stand for it,” he said.
A “two-pole approach” might be in order to tackle the “environmental health as well as the health of the residents,” Sacchinelli said, explaining that he’s discussed the widespread flooding complaints with Public Works Committee Chairman John Igneri (D-District E).
“Are we going to identify the flooding, not just as a nuisance but a public health issue, and specifically circumstances like this?” Sacchinelli said. ”…It would be availing a different set of resources within the city outside of the DPW Department. Ultimately, we would be putting additional urgency on certain areas.”
City resources could be used more discriminately, as when there’s an area with a long-term engineering study, lights and signs could be posted to warn people off instead of a police officer, he said.
“This is the issue we’ve heard of the most and it seems to be getting bigger and bigger and bigger,” Council member Eloisa Melendez (D-District A), a Public Works Committee member, said. Melendez requested detailed information about where complaints are originating.
Health, Welfare and Public Safety Committee members are invited to attend Tuesday’s Public Works Committee meeting to learn about efforts to address flooding, Sacchinelli said.
Council member George Tsiranides (D-District D) commented that Norwalk Chief of Operations and Public Works Anthony Robert Carr, who just began on the job, was hired largely for his expertise in flooding issues. “Hopefully he’ll be a good addition and help dramatically with what’s going on right now,” Tsiranides said.
These things take time, Council member Doug Hempstead (R-District D) said to Tomasino, warning him that studies and a lengthy process are involved.
Norwalk Chief of Staff Laoise King will be invited to deliver an update on flooding concerns at a future meeting, Sacchinelli said.
Dust control and air quality
Council members also considered citizen complaints regarding dust from contractor yards or illegal rock crushing.
“It’s a cat and mouse game out there. People are smart, you’ve got landlords who know how to play the system,” Assistant Planning and Zoning Director Mike Wrinn said. “We’ll take away their (Zoning) violation for a month or two, then gradually it will creep back and we’ll have them do the same thing. … You’re very hard-pressed to have the magic wand to make it go away after one or two times.”
Residents complain but the offended closes up shop after two or three days as the process of Zoning enforcement has just started, Wrinn said.
“That creates stress, there’s no controls in place,” he said.
Hempstead wondered if there could be a way for a police officer to hand out tickets, and Tsiranides suggested maybe a line on a permit application that asked if there would be rock crushing onsite.
Sacchinelli speculated that another body might be needed in customer service, and Melendez got teased regarding the possibility that her Ordinance Committee might have to tackle another weighty issue.
“The whole point with ordinance is how it will be enforced,” Melendez said.
During the meeting there was significant discussion between Council members and two interested citizens sitting in the audience. Diane Lauricella said she’d advocated better regulation enforcement during a Mayor’s Night Out some time ago, and “never heard back” from City Clerk Donna King, whom she’d been told to follow up with.
Planning and Zoning is chasing people all over town and Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin has a pilot program for another approach, Wrinn said.
Enforcement officers are concentrating on a small area rather than waiting for complaints to come in, he said. P&Z has targeted Lubrano Place and Lexington Street for two weeks and issued 16-17 violations.
“It is very difficult with a town the size of Norwalk to keep going out to the outlying areas trying to find a time to see a truck and take photos of it,” Wrinn said.
For years, Norwalk has been fixing sidewalks in conjunction with its paving program, on the theory that the equipment is in the area and the two projects go together.
Identifying dangerous sidewalks would fall under the Health, Welfare and Public Safety Committee’s purview, Sacchinelli said.
Kathryn Hebert, former Administrative Services Manager, has a new title due to Mayor Harry Rilling’s recent reorganization of City administration – she’s now Director of Transportation, Mobility and Parking (TMP). Hebert said Thursday that the new department is working with the Bike/Walk Commission on pedestrian safety.
“We are breaking away from what has been done,” she said. “We are going to continue to do sidewalks connected to the paving project but in the spirit of what this economic and community development and TMP is supposed to accomplish, is to look at these intersections and safe crosswalks sidewalks because walking is big part of mobility and a big part of connectivity.”
TMP is under the economic development component of the new City government structure. The sidewalk program isn’t developed yet, but TMP is working collaboratively with the Commission and the Health Department to create a plan, she said.
There have been 60 response to a pedestrian audit posted on the Health Department’s website, Director of Health Deanne D’Amore said.
Council members expressed surprise, as they hadn’t known there was a survey. D’Amore said it’s been pushed on social media. Committee members decided to ask Norwalk Communications Manager Joshua Morgan to attend a future meeting and discuss outreach efforts, including an effort to publicize the customer service department.