NORWALK, Conn. – A possible $200,000 investment in Norwalk’s future will be considered at Tuesday’s Common Council meeting, although one member protests the idea of subsidizing a private developer yet again.
The proposed Academy Street extension would allow pedestrians and cyclist to get from the Lockwood Mathews Mansion area to Wall Street without using a West Avenue that is just going to get busier, developer Paxton Kinol said at Thursday’s Planning Committee meeting. Common Councilman Matt Miklave (D-District A) said he thought it was a good idea, but with so many other desperate needs in Norwalk he couldn’t see why this would be a priority.
Committee members had planned to pick one of two resolutions to send to the full council, but only three members were present for the meeting. With no quorum, Chairman Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) said he would send both resolutions – one supporting the expenditure and the other basically expressing Miklave’s sentiment – to the full council, a move that onlooker Diane Cece said was unprecedented.
Not present for the meeting were Warren Peña (D-At Large) and David McCarthy (R-District E), who are both running for re-election, along with lame ducks Nick Kydes (R-District C) and Carvin Hilliard (D-District B). Present with Miklave and Hempstead was Michael Geake (D-District B), although he remained quiet throughout the meeting.
The $200,000 would be a recommended expenditure in the next capital budget to fund design plans. The actual price tag would be much higher, as properties along the corridor would need to be purchased.
Kinol is part of Belpointe Capital, the funder of the Waypointe development now under construction on West Avenue.
“The building we are building is basically the size of a traditional city block,” he said. “The only problem is when you get to the back of the building there is no road. I think as the city grows, and if you can imagine other buildings of that size being built in the neighborhood, eventually you’re going to want a cut-through between Orchard and Merwin, near Academy or near Quincy, to continue the path through.”
As the project grows – the striking building now being built is only Phase 1, and only 50 percent complete, he said – just getting around the block will become difficult, he said.
Miklave said he supported the idea, but didn’t think the city could pay for it.
“I think we have a lot of other priorities that come first,” said the councilman, who strived unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination to become Norwalk’s next mayor. “We have 21 neighborhoods in Norwalk that flood every time there’s a heavy rain, some with raw sewage. Our roads are in a desperate state of repair. Our roads and our sidewalk infrastructure is falling apart. We don’t have sufficient housing opportunities for working families. We haven’t sufficiently supported the implementation of Common Core and the testing for Common Core is done on a computer based network that will really expose the great digital divide between the wealthy and the poor in our community. We haven’t even talked about making new technologies available to City Hall, bringing the city up to the 21st century. These are all huge priorities. Candidly, I think they come before the transportation and supporting private developers through another subsidy.”
Kinol was allowed the chance to speak in the loosely structured committee meeting, and suggested that the taxes on the building would be $1 million a year when it is done.
Put up or shut up, Miklave said.
“With all due respect, I have been in town 22 years, listening to developer after developer after developer say precisely that to me and it hasn’t happened,” he said. “So don’t come with a song and dance about how if we build this we’re going to generate another million dollars in income because I’ve been down that road too many times. If you believe that then this is my deal: you put up the money and I’ll give you a tax subsidy to pay it back. Put up an extra $3 million to build this extension and then we’ll give you back $3 million in taxes.”
Jackie Lightfield spoke up to advocate for the plan.
“One of the impediments to Norwalk getting state and federal grants is the lack of shovel ready plans that indicate what Norwalk would spend state and federal infrastructure grants on,” she said. “If you don’t have the plan, when the grant funds become available you cannot apply.”
Hempstead appeared to be in favor of the expenditure.
“When you’ve been around long enough you see some of the things that we didn’t think we could afford to do, that we wish we could have afforded to do,” he said.
The biggest example was Manresa Island, he said.
The last word on the topic went to Miklave.
“I just want to ask a sarcastic question,” he said. “When is this council ever going to say no to an expenditure of funds?”