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Norwalk looks to fund school security upgrades, infrastructure improvements in annual borrowing fest

A rendering of the plan for a Spinnaker development that would rehabilitate two Monroe Street buildings and add 150 apartments, retail and restaurant space to SoNo. The 2022-23 Norwalk capital budget includes a proposed $3 million for work in the area, which will be added to a $6 million State grant and $3 million from Spinnaker. “By investing in infrastructure and streetscape, such as enhancing traffic safety through new sidewalks, mitigating stormwater runoff to prevent flooding, and planting more trees, this critical infrastructure project will increase livability and add to the vibrancy of our City,” Mayor Harry Rilling said in a news release. “This initiative also allocates funds towards the preservation of existing affordable housing, supporting our vision of making the City a more accessible and equitable place to work and live.”

NORWALK, Conn. — Common Council members are poised to approve the $41 million 2022-23 capital budget Tuesday.

Two highlights:

  • The Board of Education would upgrade school security, in response to December’s threats, with $600,000 put into the budget by Mayor Harry Rilling.
  • SoNo Branch library renovations are back in the budget although Norwalk Chief Financial Officer Henry Dachowitz recommended skipping that expenditure

 

Supply chain challenges peppered the commentary as the Council Economic and Community Development Committee tweaked the budget Thursday, when it was revealed that:

  • Norwalk’s been approved for a $6 million grant to fund infrastructure improvements around the South Norwalk train station
  • The rising cost of paving means fewer streets will be upgraded
  • It looks like an expected state of $425,000 grant for one area will free up money for sidewalk repairs elsewhere
  • The Broad River sports complex has been pushed back for yet another year – so it can be reconsidered

Chairman John Kydes (D-District C), the only announced 2023 Mayoral candidate, got approval for an amendment that would move the a $100,000 public art inventory and moving the money to fund design of improvements for Gregory Boulevard.

Council member Greg Burnett (D-At Large) unsuccessfully attempted to rejigger commitments to provide funding for two unmarked police vehicles, as Kydes told him he’d have to wait until Tuesday. Burnett is not on the Committee and could not say where the needed $110,000 would come from.

Capital budget requests totaled $55.2 million. Dachowitz recommended that $38.7 million of expenses be authorized.

Dachowitz has issued stern warnings regarding the “formidable financial challenge” Norwalk faces in financing its previously approved expenditures in addition to the requested 25-year $450 million school building program and the estimated at $35 million a year in typical capital budget items. In January, he quoted Bill Lindsay of Munistat Services, the City’s financial advisor, as predicting Norwalk will lose its Triple A bond rating within three years.

More than $1 million will be financed from grants and other sources, leaving $39,983,540 to be bonded, Rilling’s March 14 letter said.

 

School security

NPS formed a Safety and Security Task Force late last year and made it public after Norwalk High School was hit with three hoax threats in December. Board of Education members subsequently added $500,000 to their capital budget requests in hopes of funding security upgrades. It’s now in the budget as $600,000.

NPS is considering security cameras, Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Lunda Asmani said Thursday.

The district’s infrastructure is old and some schools, like West Rocks Middle School, have classroom doors that open to the outside, he said. If approved, the district will put alarms on the doors and the locks will be replaced to ensure uniformity throughout the district.

“What this will do is basically revamp the security system through all the 20 schools and other buildings at the ‘Board of Ed,’” Asmani said.

 

Norwalk Public Library Director Sherelle Harris presents ideas for a SoNo Branch Library renovation, during a November Library Board of Trustees meeting.

SoNo Library

“I just want to thank everyone for putting (the SoNo Branch repurposing) back into the budget,” Norwalk Public Library Director Sherelle Harris said. “…We think the community deserves a modern facility, you know, but more than that, we’re seeing a change in the way the facility is being used, particularly since COVID.”

It used to be that people would just come in to get books and leave, but now “quite a few of our senior citizens” want to sit and read, but the furniture isn’t conducive to that, she said.

This is a proposed $207,949 expense. It would include upgraded WiFi and “the expanded and diverse use of technology,” Harris said. “And basically, having rooms that can be readily repurposed really helps with our demand for meeting space. The branch is obviously smaller than the main library, and there’s not a lot of meeting space outside of our community room.”

The project is also supported by $91,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding and will include “hygienic” furniture, she said.

 

Infrastructure improvements at SoNo train station, in Waypointe area

“The next one is actually very exciting. We just found out yesterday, we were awarded the DECD Community Challenge grant to the tune of $6 million for infrastructure improvements around the South Norwalk train station,” Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Brian Bidolli said. “This will actually enable a $12 million total project.”

The Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) “allocates up to 50% of the funds to eligible and competitive projects in distressed municipalities,” the State’s website reports. Transit-oriented development is high on the list of qualifying factors for a grant.

Nearly $12 million in work is planned, with the City funding $3 million via the coming capital budget and Spinnaker Real Estate Partners coming up with the balance, according to the capital budget document.

Spinnaker expects to build 150 residential apartments in a mixed-use development at 10 Monroe St., according to the City’s website.

Norwalk is one of 12 communities to get a DECD Community Challenge grant and the $6 million is the second-highest one, Bidolli said Thursday. The work will “primarily” be along Martin Luther King Drive, Chestnut Street, Henry Street and Monroe Street; it includes rehabilitating existing affording housing stock and underground utility work.

The work “will enable the development of vacant and underutilized sites for a mixed-use/transit-oriented development adjacent to the train station,” including a minimum of 200 mixed-income residential, 10,000 square feet of commercial, a public plaza, and 60 off-street public parking spaces,” a news release from Gov. Ned Lamont said. “The infrastructure upgrades will help support the potential development of an additional 500 new residential units in the area.”

“More housing near train stations means more jobs, plain and simple. This funding is a win for Norwalk and the entire state,” State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) is quoted as saying.

Another state grant, this one for $3 million, will be used for streetscape and roadway improvements around the expected Pinnacle mixed-use development in the old Loehman’s Plaza, he said.

“That’s West Avenue, Quincy, Orchard and Butler,” Bidolli said. “…We actually expect to go out to bid soon, but there is a city contract contributing share of $1.1 million that we need to resolve as part of the capital budget process.”

 

Paving and sidewalks

The Department of Public Works asked for $7 million to fund the pavement management program this year because “material has gotten more expensive, construction has gotten more expensive,” Principal Engineer Vanessa Valadares said.

DPW asked for and received $6 million last year; it will likely receive the same amount this year.

DPW asked for $2.8 million for sidewalks last year and was approved for $2 million. This year, DPW sought $3.5 million and is penciled in for $2 million.

Valadares asked the Committee to remove the $425,000 originally planned for the Wall Street Area Sidewalk and Historic Street Lighting Project and put the money toward sidewalks. She said the department is confident it’s getting a Local Transportation Capital Improvement Program (LOTCIP) grant for the Wall Street work. DPW would use the money to fill in sidewalk gaps it finds while paving streets, while its equipment is in the area.

Kydes proposed the amendment and it passed unanimously.

 

East Norwalk traffic awkwardness in ‘artery to the beach’

If Norwalk had a redesign prepared for the Gregory Boulevard intersection with Marvin and Fifth Streets, it would be much more likely to get State grant funding to do the work, said Director of Transportation, Mobility, and Parking James Travers.

Roundabout grant applications are usually “well received,” and this intersection gets heavy use in summer, when tourism peaks and it’s especially important that visitors come away with a good impression of Norwalk, he said. “We can’t complain about traffic if we don’t offer people a solution other than getting in your car and getting there,” and the old intersection could be made much more pedestrian friendly. It’s a “narrative to get funding.”

Travers estimates it would cost $1.5 million to build the new design. Given construction costs typically account for 10% of the total, $150,000 would be optimal, but even $100,000 “would get me into semifinal design” and “show a funder a commitment to make it happen.”

The semifinal design would include a community survey and provide the reliable cost estimate necessary to get the grants.

By postponing a public art inventory, Kyles found room in the budget. The roundabout redesign passed unanimously.

 

Unmarked police cars

For the second year in a row, a request by the police department for three unmarked cars was not approved. Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik said it was the only expenditure unapproved.

Prices “have gone up like everything else” and more so in the upfit than in the vehicles themselves, he said. Plus, Ford predicts a 30-week wait for the cars and “we’re looking at probably two and a half years before we’ll see an unmarked vehicle back in our fleet, which would put our vehicles at around 200,000 miles at that point, or 180,000 miles.”

He said it was really two cars needed as he wouldn’t mind driving an old one.

As the meeting came to a close, Burnett said he knew he wasn’t a committee member but asked what the process would be for adding something to the capital budget. Kydes said he could propose the Committee consider it.

Burnett said he wanted to add two unmarked vehicles to the list and Kydes took him to school.

“The trick here is to find where it’s going to come from without putting anyone out else out. So if you maybe want to make some phone calls between now and the council meeting, find out if anyone’s got $110,000 that they could, you know separate from, then I’ve got no issue with it come Tuesday,” Kydes said.

He continued, “I’ve been doing this 10 years. Every time you the budget cycle comes around I call the department heads and try to see who needs what and what goes where and I can tell you this make those phone calls this year, there was very little, there was a lot of reluctancy to give up anything because things were tight.”

“I just brought it forward here for the Committee to consider,” Burnett said. “If the Committee members do not have resolution, then I’ll bring it up on Tuesday at the Council floor.”

 

Baseball

A 2018 capital budget hearing featured plaintive commentaries about Broad River Baseball Complex. It’s Norwalk Little League’s primary baseball field but there are no restrooms and no concession stands, then-Little League President Dan Balliett said, adding that there are only two porta potties for the 400 players who use the facility during the season.

“It’s embarrassing, really, that our city has a field in such bad shape,” then-Planning Commissioner Mike Mushak said.

The Recreation and Parks Department requested $80,000 that year and $2 million in the 2019-20 capital budget for a new facility. The project was greenlighted for $95,000 in 2019-20 but the larger amount is yet to be funded, with the request now at $2.5 million.

Norwalk Recreation and Parks Director Robert Stowers said Thursday that it’s being pushed back another year. The $2.5 million is “not enough” and “we need to reassess this project.”

NAYORS RECOMMENDATIOM pages aligned (mispelling is City Hall’s) 2022-23

8 comments

DryAsABone April 11, 2022 at 6:47 am

As bad as he might seem, Bob Duff brings home the bacon once again.
Next door in Stamford?
Not so much…
Considering what FF County sends to Hartford very little gets sent back while the failing
communities up north continue to rake in the big money.
The madness of Connecticut never ceases to amaze me.

David Muccigrosso April 11, 2022 at 7:34 am

I’m just wondering, why can’t this Monroe development be, say, 5 different buildings, instead of one big monster that worms around its neighbors like The Blob?

You don’t HAVE to build huge buildings just to get density.

DrewT April 11, 2022 at 8:41 am

Whole they still sit on dumb and not needed Zoom Meetings Still the Kids in the City gets screwed over again by not approving the Broad River Complex! How sad and down right disgusting! You all should be ashamed! The waste of money in this City goes on but the kids gets screwed again!

Lynnelle Jones April 11, 2022 at 9:47 am

Chair Kydes says “The trick here is to find where it’s going to come from without putting anyone out else out. So…” So why not vote in a Stormwater Authority?

The following is from UCONN CT Institute for Resilience & Climate Adaptation:
“What is a Stormwater Authority? In 2021 acting on recommendations of the Governor’s Council on Climate Change the Connecticut legislature passed PA 21 115 enabling municipalities to create a stormwater authority to help manage stormwater and improve resilience to climate change by assessing a scaled user fee based on the amount of stormwater runoff a property generates. Funding generated from the user fee can be used to maintain and enhance stormwater treatment measures and resilient infrastructure and provide matching funds for state and federal grants.

There are over 1800 stormwater authorities in the US in 45 states serving communities both large (Los Angeles) and small (under 1000 residents) Under a pilot program, New London, Connecticut created a stormwater authority in 2018 that generates over 1 M annually for stormwater system improvements. Revenue generated by a stormwater fee can be used only for specific purposes related to improving stormwater management and allows municipalities to have a dedicated funding stream to pay for capital improvements to improve stormwater treatment and resilience and aid in Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System compliance.”

For more information visit UCONN NEMO or UCONN CLEAR or call New London P&Z, who will share many other unintended positive consequences from their Stormwater Authority.

Piberman April 11, 2022 at 10:59 am

Will these new capital outlays bring good new jobs to Norwalk ? Improve student achievement in our failing public schools ? Attract “more renters bringing growth to our renter’s paradise” ?

Or mostly just raise property taxes and bring out more homes for sale ?

John O'Neill April 11, 2022 at 12:31 pm

A few things to ponder:
1) In my opinion when Bob Duff talks about economic impact he should also discuss the crushing misappropriation of State tax money, and the real ECONOMIC IMPACT of his failures to address our school funding. ANYTHING else is window
dressing. ANYONE who thinks otherwise doesn’t understand basic economics.
2) Regarding the Broad River Baseball Fields. Here’s a trivia question for local fans: Veterans Park Little League fields were built 15 years ago at a cost of millions and much fanfare. Can anyone guess how many Little league games have been played there in the last 5 years or so…………….
IF you answer is -0-, you win the prize. Just think about that for a second.
While I certainly agree with the above that Broad River is an embarrassment, it should also be understood that whoever pushed and managed the Vets Park embarrassment should NOT be in charge of Broad River. I fear that’s not the case. IT should also be pointed out that Little League in Broad River only has 2 teams at the 11-12 year old level. TWO!! Do those much younger kids really need $2,500,000 for fields. HOLY COW!!
Maybe a little elbow grease and a people who know what they’re doing would be more effective. I say hand the field over to the League and let them do it right. It will be cheaper and better run than Vets Park debacle. Can’t anyone from City Hall think out of the box? OR is that not allowed?
3) Delaying Road paving is an incredibly short sighted decision. Are the people who put Little League fields at Vets Park now in charge of paving?
There must’ve been surpluses in paving account over the past few years as asphalt is oil based. I guess that’s another thing we can thank Joe Biden for. Crappy roads because oil based asphalt is too expensive to get done.
All one needs to do is drive in Stamford to understand the consequences of delaying paving. AND by the way, once city goes down that rabbit hole it will keep happening and next thing you know Norwalkers will have tires to replace.
4) REVALUATION is right around the corner. Dachowitz is the ONLY one paying attention. So, on top of a drop in Norwalk’s credit rating RESIDENTAIL Taxpayers will get clobbered in just a year or so.
5) Just a reminder — July 24th is quickly approaching. National Spitting which I think began in Norwalk 2 years ago will be celebrated. Start working out now.

Patrick Cooper April 11, 2022 at 1:56 pm

What a coincidence. All this infrastructure improvement – and surprise-surprise – it is always designated for areas where Harry’s campaign doner-developers have projects they intend to flip – for generational wealth – million and millions – just like the article below, “South Norwalk luxury apartment complex Harbourside SoNo’s sale” – which is tragic because they displaced low income housing to put it in.

Amazing – it’s planned for the Glover Avenue area (2000+ apartments), it’s planned for the Waypoint (for sale? Or already sold?) – it going to the Pinnacle area – where the dirty dirt remains waiting for all the ducks to align so the max profit can be achieved – before – that’s right – selling it.

Meanwhile in Danbury, developers are required to contribute to infrastructure. Must be a different form of government.

Also – our local politician’s continue to roll out the biggest canards known to generally smart people – but not Norwalk taxpayers.

“More housing near train stations means more jobs, plain and simple. This funding is a win for Norwalk and the entire state,” State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) is quoted as saying.

Apartments bring jobs. Explain how, Bob? Union Construction? Sure. But if density (more people) leads to more jobs – Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford, and Waterbury would be just like Stamford. But – they are not – not even close. You are full of it Bob – but as long as you wear a Scarlett letter D – no one cares.

Norwalk has added 35,000 people in the last 10 years – 25,000 that don’t want to be counted. Name a single major employer to move INTO Norwalk since Bob was elected state senator and Harry was mayor? The mall? Really? Maybe I should list those that have left town? Anyone fill the space Diageo
left on main? 400 jobs? Remember Bob – “we can’t compete”?????

Bob – apartments bring people. Transient people. Companies look for talent (Norwalk schools?), they look for amenities, and they look for business friendly governments – none of which we have in any way – thanks largely to your policies. Gee – thanks – says the 22 year old who leaves the state forever.

Norwalk is lucky to be in proximity to other areas with long democratic party control (Westchester, etc.) – because purgatory looks like paradise when you’ve been living in hell.

Steve Mann April 12, 2022 at 10:13 am

A “Spinnaker” massive development where they put up 25% of the total cost but have their name on the project. Nothing revealed about revenue sharing. Wow, what a sweeet deal for them. Patience is paying off.

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