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Norwalk council members: Washington Village flooding can be dealt with

Washington Village Norwalk plan 008-20130415
An artist’s rendering of the current state of plans to transform the Norwalk Housing Authority’s Washington Village.

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.”

Washington Village Norwalk plan 002-20130415
This diagram shows plans to raise the Norwalk Housing Authority’s Washington Village above the 100-year flood plain.

Comments

7 responses to “Norwalk council members: Washington Village flooding can be dealt with”

  1. Suzanne

    People who build in flood plains are destined to have floods in the plain in which they build. Duh.

    Mr. Kimmel has fallen, once again, for the pretty pictures and “experts” while leaving his brains behind. Duleep is correct in saying to mitigate the millions that would be required to build in an area destined to become “floating with car boats” next time the Sound surges by finding another solution – like, uh, building somewhere NOT in a flood plain.

    Yes, other municipalities build in flood plains but that does not make it a judicious use of federal funds – rather, Mr. Moccia who is depending upon federal support is falling for a construct that is untenable UNLESS losing all of one’s worldly goods, being isolated in mud and filthy water, watching your transportation literally float away, all that pretty landscaping clogging storm drains, UNLESS that is a good idea, not, so Norwalk repeatedly must ask for more federal funds to repair this proposed 100 million dollar project.

    Where are the brains and fortitude and solid planning fortitude on this City Council? No one ever has to build in a flood plain – you, Mr. Kimmel, as a member of the Council, could say along with the rest of the Council, “No building in this flood plain” and no condos would ever be built there. It could be swapped as earlier suggested and become passive recreation while the buildings could be placed at a higher elevation, thereby not necessitating the endless begging bowl to the Federal Government this development project suggests.

    Nearly a third of the City’s budget is going to this project over the course of its development if this article is at all accurate: I would like to believe this would make Mr. Kydes a little less excited and more circumspect about what is wise for this community and for all of Norwalk. But, that is clearly expecting too much. By the way, flooding doesn’t stop being an issue just because you want it to be and some engineers tell you so. It is called “weather.”

    Bravo for Ms. Duleep for making sense, again, and “Brickbats” as The Hour would say to the rest of you.

  2. Bruce Kimmel

    The Duleeps, mother and daughter, prefer to expand Ryan Park into the area now occupied by Washington Village. They have said as much on various occasions. And they have urged the city to rebuild the housing in the Webster Street parking lot, which is not only too small, but would wreak havoc to that particular commercial sector.
    .
    All of the very few folks who have opposed the project are associated with Friends of Ryan Park, of which Ms. Ganga Duleep leads; none of them has cited a single engineering study and none of them has a background in engineering or architecture. And none of them lives anywhere near South Norwalk.
    .
    Council members have listened to engineers, architecs, housing experts, etc., and we are confident that the revised plans will address the flooding issues. Whatever future modifications need to be made will be made.
    .
    It should also be noted that the city has long planned to address flooding on Water Street; that will ultimately happen irrespective of the Washington Village plan. Thus, should the remediation take place so that a park can be expanded? Should it take place so that luxury condos can be built? Or should it happen in conjunction with the rebuilding of Washington Village? The Council, except for one member who was put in a very difficult situation by her family, chose the latter.

  3. Bruce Kimmel

    One last point, a question for Suzanne, whoever you truly are: We obviously disagree on this issue, but why such personal and nasty language — that I once again left my brains behind, and other rather sarcastic remarks? Using a fake name, for whatever reason, should not free anyone from basic civility.

  4. Suzanne

    Please, Mr. Kimmel, you are a council person last time I checked. If “leaving your brains behind” is offensive to you that is pretty thin-skinned and, further, this City Council DOES NOT LISTEN. If provocative language gets you to read a comment, I will use it. Would you prefer I call you a derogatory name? I will not do that.

    I bet people on the City Council for New Orleans listened very closely to the Army Corps about their flooding issues and everyone nodded wisely at the levee solution. Why can’t Norwalk be the wiser for this and other flooding experiences (like along the practical whole of the Mississippi) and just build somewhere else? How is counting on Federal funds to build in a flood plain wise planning with, excellent idea, cars parked beneath directly in water’s path?

    If you cannot take that kind of criticism, Mr. Kimmel, or answer these questions with some kind of common sense, well, I guess this is what I have grown to expect from all of you save Ms. Duleep (and I am not a friend of Ryan Park.)

  5. Tim T

    Bruce Kimmel
    Where do you get off attacking Suzanne for using a fake names as the only name that she needs to use is “taxpayer” and that is the only name you should be concerned with. You seem to be taking a play from your leader the great Oz’s aka Moccia’a play book. Tell us Bruce are you a Republican or Democrat today. it’s hard to keep up with your party affiliation.

  6. dc2

    In regards to flood mitigation, Mr. Kimmel states: “Whatever future modifications need to be made will be made.”

    At what cost Mr. Kimmel? Doesn’t the Public Improvements estimate of $10 million dollars concern you in the least? And if there is such a commitment to flood mitigation, then why have the Norwalk Housing Authority and the City of Norwalk allowed Washington Village residents to live with flooding all these years and only now make it a priority because of private mixed-rate development? Do a little homework and you’ll learn the truth about flooding at Washington Village.

    In regards to us residents asking tough questions and making construction suggestions, you state that none “live any where near South Norwalk”. Why do you think it’s relevant as to where others and I live when it comes to spending my tax dollars on what amounts to private development? Residents from every corner of Norwalk should be outraged at this boondoggle, especially since the expenditure of local, state and federal money is being dangled as a carrot at the expense of the current residents of WV – if the Housing Authority cared even one iota about them, they would have implemented all the “new” Choice Neighborhoods benefits LONG before any talk of Hope VI or Choice neighborhoods. Did you even bother to look at the Memorandum of Understanding between the Housing Authority and Trinity Financial? Have you read Trinity’s initial proposal? And are you aware that current regulations in Norwalk will allow for Trinity to move some or all of the workforce and public housing units offsite? Do you know that residents have been told they can all return as long as they are tenants in “good standing”, but that NHA can change those terms after tenants temporarily relocate? Did you know that Section 8 vouchers are held up like gold before residents, with promises of “paid moving costs”, but that no one speaks of the enormous financial burden on the residents to come up with first and last month rents and utility deposits (well, actually, former Councilwoman Kelly Straniti did begin to ask some of the tough questions while she still served.) Are you blind to the reality of what the new Choice Neighborhood will be? As I’ve told residents of Washington Village now for 4 years: yes, you’ll be moving to a “new neighborhood”..yes, it’s just up the road from where you live now…..it’s called Bridgeport. This is what you voted for, Mr. Kimmel.

    Here is what is more important for you to consider – why don’t you tell us where the vocal supporters live? Starting with those whose institutions have short and long-term financial interest in making sure this project happens: Dr. David Levinson of Norwalk Community College – where does HE live? And how about Larry Cross, CEO of the Community Health Center? And Rhonda Keist, Executive Director of Stepping Stones Museum? How about Ed Musante of the Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce – does he live in SONO? And let’s not forget Norwalk Housing Authority’s Curtis Law and Candice Mayer – do they have a home in SONO? Where do these supporters live? How much do they or their institutions pay in local property tax; and how much in taxpayer money will they receive in conjunction with Choice Neighborhoods Transformation? With the possible exception of The Chamber, all of them will be raking in the dough with this project. No wonder they enthusiastically support it.

    It takes a lot of nerve on your part, Mr. Kimmel, to question my right as a Norwalk resident and tax payer to have and express legitimate reservations on the validity and viability of the Housing Authority & Trinity Financial Plan. What difference does it make if I live in SONO? In fact, where do YOU live, because using your logic, only two council members should have had a vote on this, because you and the rest don’t live “anywhere near South Norwalk”.

    Finally, let me say that if I did live in SONO, and if I were a resident of Washington Village, you would know it by my call to fellow residents to file a Class Action lawsuit against the Housing Authority and the City of Norwalk for failure to provide safe and decent housing; failure to provide adequate economic, educational, employment, and health services; and failure to properly mitigate flooding and flood damages.

  7. 0ldtimer

    Flooding in Water St is old news. Building in the area that floods regularly is stupid. Getting a bit further away from Water St also gets to higher ground. The idea of building on that higher ground seems like a no-brainer. Flooding, in my long memory, does not go above Day St. Building on the West Side of Day St, even if some filling is required, should solve the flooding problem, and could probably be done in a way that would eliminate the risk of parking garages underneath the building flooding. The present Ryan Park would be used for building and the site of the present Washington Village would make a wonderful, if flood prone, place for a park.

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