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Norwalk developer chided for ‘song and dance’

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Council members Matt Miklave, Michael Geake and Doug Hempstead try to conduct city business Thursday in the absence of four other council members, meaning there was no quorum at the Planning Committee meeting.

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?”

Comments

12 responses to “Norwalk developer chided for ‘song and dance’”

  1. Don’t Panic

    Sending resolutions to the full council without a vote of the committee? At the discretion of the Chair? That IS counter to the way things were designed to run. Why the rush?

  2. EveT

    Mr. Miklave’s comments make a lot of sense. It’s going to be a major loss not to have him on the Common Council next term. Thank you for this report of what went on in the meeting.

  3. Mike Mushak

    I support this concept as it is part of the $200k 2011 Connectivity Study to create a more walkable and livable environment in downtown. Smaller blocks are an essential part of this equation, as the developer pointed out.
    .
    This project could easily be paid for with savings from the more expensive West Avenue improvements that Mayor Moccia and DPW selected over the cheaper and smarter “Complete Streets” solution (http://www.smartgrowthamerica.org/complete-streets) for West Ave. recommended on page 34 in the $200k Connectivity Study (http://www.connectnorwalk.com/wp-content/uploads/ConnectivityMasterplan.pdf) completed by Fitzgerald and Halliday, a nationally respected planning firm.
    .

    The recommended Complete Streets solution is a 3-lane layout with bike lanes and a shared turning lane, which cities all over the country are doing on roads up to 20,000 cars a day, including here in CT (CT passed the 2009 Complete Streets Bill requiring all state roads to include bike and ped improvements, and the DOT has changed it’s policies addressing these issues, unlike Norwalk’s DPW run by enginners with tired old ideas about traffic and road design).
    .
    A 3 lane road diet moves a HIGHER volume of traffic at SLOWER SPEEDS, and allows room for bike lanes and shorter crossing distance for pedestrians, exactly what you want in a modern downtown instead of a 4 lane speedway like we have now, which Moccia’s plan keeps but adds expensive and useless landscaped traffic islands that will need constant maintenance which the city will probably not do just like elsewhere on West Ave. and around the city. Moccia’s plan COSTS MORE and creates MAJOR MAINTENANCE HEADACHES for the future.
    .
    The solution Moccia and DPW selected requires expensive traffic islands with new curbing, landscaping, and utilities including irrigation, while the Complete Streets solution requires NO expensive modifications, just paint. The savings could easily pay for Academy Street. Yet again, Moccia and DPW rejected experts’ advice and chose an inferior and ill-advised solution that taxpayers will have to pay for for years. Even the developer of the $350 million Waypointe supports the more modern Complete Streets solution over the city’s obsolete solution, but that hasn’t stopped the the Moccia Administration from pursuing the WRONG and OBSOLETE solution for West Avenue.

    What a shame it has come to this. When will the city ever listen to experts and do the right thing? Hopefully after November.

  4. LWitherspoon

    Mr. Miklave’s proposal seems appealing to this layman. Let the developer pay for the design. When the proposed development materializes, the city can give the developer his design money back – plus actual financing costs for that design money – in the form of a tax credit.
    .
    I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know much about real estate development, so maybe there’s a reason why Miklave’s proposal can’t work. Whatever the case, if Council votes to fund the infrastructure improvement up front, there should be a clear explanation of why Mr. Miklave’s proposal is not possible.
    .
    Real estate development is by its nature speculative. It’s still not clear to me from this article why the City must be the one who assumes the risk of spending money without a guaranteed return on investment.

  5. Ray J

    After a long and hard campaign matt’s still working. As usual he provides a reasoned alternative. Thanks Matt

  6. Tim T

    “without using a Wall Street that is just going to get busier”
    Thanks for the laugh…

  7. Tim T

    Mike Mushak
    What is it with you and your obsession with bike lanes. It seems that you just don’t get it. NO ONE USES THEM. A complete and total waste of money and roadway. Why not put the bike lane issue on the ballot in November so we can really see what the taxpayers want and not just a few that feel entitled considering this nonsense is destroying out town..

  8. Suzanne

    Actually, Tim T, I use bike lanes quite often. I know quite a few others that do. It is a culture. That is, it is a group of people who decide to use a bike instead of polluting the world with their car. Or, recreationally, choose to ride a bike to the beach instead of driving a car only to search for a parking spot, for example. If our roads were made safe for all those who SHARE it, vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians, perhaps more people would use less polluting alternatives for short trips and errands (my personal favorites are Home Depot, the Vet and Trader Joe’s.)

  9. Don’t Panic

    You can’t use something if it doesn’t yet exist, and the hostility of drivers towards bikers here in Norwalk means taking your life in your hands if you try to ride without them.

  10. Suzanne

    Don’t Panic, This hostile attitude is really weird to me. You would think that saving on gas, lowering the carbon foot print, staying healthy on your own dime would be appreciated. It feels positively Medieval here, this attitude. I am from California where one must be very safe when one rides but, still, there is accommodation for riders everywhere. Several of my family members commute to work by bicycle, yes in the sunshine and sometimes in the rain and no one has fired them yet for being somehow inappropriate as has been written on these threads. Entire countries, particularly in Northern Europe, use bicycles as a preferred form of transport. Norwalk is WAY behind in accommodating this kind of transport: putting it off only denies what must become an inevitable improvement to our roadways.

  11. NorwalkVoter

    “Kinol was allowed the chance to speak”
    What a relief that Matt actually stopped talking so that someone else could speak. This is his greatest problem – how he communicates his good or interesting ideas. Very hard to listen to him delivering his monologues.

  12. Don’t Panic

    Suzanne, it IS weird. You don’t see this kind of hostility in nearby NYC either. Drivers mostly complain about losing parking to bike lanes, but they don’t take it out on the bikers by cursing at them, telling them to “get off the road” or purposely crowding them into curbs with their cars, as I have personally witnessed here in Norwalk.
    .
    I can only assume that the poorly designed and potholed roadways combined with lack of parking puts people in a constant state of low-level road rage that makes them unwilling to share the road. This is something that can be fixed over time, with some vision and some leadership.
    .
    Here’s hoping that the election brings a little bit of both.

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