NORWALK, Conn. – That South Norwalk flood plain topic bubbled over briefly in the Norwalk Council Chambers this week.
Council members voted 13-1 to approve the plans for rebuilding Washington Village Tuesday, but not before Councilwoman Anna Duleep (D-At Large), the lone dissenting vote, voiced her objections and expressed skepticism that the federal government will help to fund building in an area prone to flooding. In return, Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-District D) said he trusted the experts who had designed the project, and Mayor Richard Moccia said he had indications that federal funding would come Norwalk’s way.
Before the vote, Councilman and Planning Committee Chairman Nick Kydes (R-District C) sang the virtues of the project that is designed to replace the existing 136 sub-standard units with 273 units, half of which will be public housing. The proposed seven buildings, up to five stories tall, would transform the Water Street and Raymond Street area to a “vibrant, diverse neighborhood,” he said.
“Although preliminary in nature, housing development costs are estimated at over $83 million,” he said. “Neighborhood improvements, primarily constructing new infrastructure to mitigate flooding problems, will likely exceed over $10 million. When the three-phase project, which will expand over five to 10 years, is implemented, the total transformation plan will cost well over an estimated $100 million. It’s going to be developed so that flooding is not an issue.”
Duleep referred to the recent tornadoes in Oklahoma when she began her soliloquy.
“State after state has had to deal with issues like we had here with Sandy. … (They’re) not just looking for money to make reparations but to plan differently so that people who live in particular areas aren’t affected by the same issue again and again,” she said.
The current thinking of planners – to raise the entire project so that the parking spaces below the building at what is now grade level – is inadequate, she said.
“Then the idea is that now that we get advanced notice of things like Hurricane Sandy, people will have time to move their cars,” she said. “… I wish more planning had been put into a design that would perhaps be a little more progressive as far as flood mitigation efforts, but also something a little more substantial as far as the types of financing available and the likelihood that that financing will come through.”
Connecticut’s stricter regulations regarding flooding are likely to be replicated by the federal government, not the other way around, given the increasing number of environmental disasters, she said.
“It is asking them to make a special consideration by saying there is no where else in Norwalk that we could put this project that is outside of this floodplain to protect the residents of Washington Village, and then, because there is nowhere else, asking for an exception to be made rather than looking at the assets that we have in that area,” she said. “… I would urge as the process continues that we think a little more about not just rebuilding what we have and adding some bells and whistles to it, but really looking at what are the trends as far as mitigation measures and the way communities are looking at how they take care of and how they fund improvements to their coastal communities.”
Moccia said he had been contacted by Connecticut Department of Housing Commissioner Evonne Klein, former Darien first selectman, who invited him to go to Washington to lobby for more Hurricane Sandy funds, which may be used to help help pay for Washington Village.
“The state of Connecticut wants to get more funds to remediate the flooding problems,” he said.
Moccia said he can’t make it to Washington, and Redevelopment Agency Director Tim Sheehan will go instead.
Kimmel said if Norwalk doesn’t build on the property, someone else will.
“I’ll tell you frankly, if we were to build it in another place, in another decade you’d have luxury waterfront condos there,” he said. “Luxury waterfront condos. C’mon, that’s what would be there. Not Washington Village. Let’s not debate that. That’s what would happen.”
Democracy in action means that anyone can search the Internet and think they have more information than professional engineers, he said, adding that he understood that.
“Listening to the comments for a number of months, one would get the impression that nobody in their right mind would ever again build anything in a flood plain,” he said. “Or near an ocean or a river. Which is not the case. That would be absurd.”
Plans for Washington Village have been changed recently in response to concerns about flooding. Current thinking is to raise the intersection of Day and Raymond Streets.
“The fact of the matter is the design has changed appreciably,” he said. “The government is not saying you can’t build in a flood plain. The government is saying there are ways to build in flood plains. They may be more expensive and that’s what you’ve got to do, you’ve got to do it right.
“The engineers associated with this project, and the architects, everybody involved looked at the history of Water Street – they know it’s the sound, not the Atlantic Ocean, appreciable difference – they came up with a design which not only includes raising the building to the point that it includes old-fashioned stoops,” he said. “They are going to do flood infrastructure improvement designs on Water Street because Washington Village is not the only structure there.”
Expert advice is worth listening to, including the developers who are planning to invest $30 million in the plan, he said.
“I trust the engineers,” he said. “I trust the planners. I trust the architects. I believe they know what they’re doing.”
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