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Norwalk nonprofits greenlighted to use resurgent Fodor Farm

The Fodor Farm main house, on Tuesday evening.
The Fodor Farm main house, on Tuesday evening.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk’s Fodor Farm was lauded as a model for the nation Tuesday as Common Council members unanimously approved arrangements for three non-profit organizations to use the city facility, where renovations are nearly complete.

It was the culmination of a process that began two decades ago with a divisive issue, the resolution of which changed Norwalk, Council President Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said.

The Norwalk Land Trust, the Norwalk Preservation Trust and Norwalk Grows each got the same deal: a 5-year agreement with a 2-year option to use space in the main house at Fodor Farm for $150 a month. The city will be responsible for building-operation expenses, and the non-profits will cover their own expenses and organize fundraisers annually to generate support for the preservation of Fodor Farm House.

Having the nonprofits in the same place will create unprecedented synergies, Norwalk Preservation Trust President Tod Bryant said.

“My entire organization is really excited about this,” Bryant said. “… We were the second group of people that worked really hard to preserve Fodor Farm. We were active for years in that endeavor. Thanks to (Recreation and Parks Department Director) Mike Mocciae’s vision, it has turned into something even better than we could have ever imagined.

“The way that the whole place works,” he continued, “with the city keeping the main house, selling off the property with preservation restrictions, the community garden, the greenhouses, all of those things are a model that I think has been recognized in other places in the country as being an exceptional way to bring together horticulture, conservation, health education and preservation all in the same place.”

Norwalk Land Trust President John Moeling pointed out that all of the trust’s 28 properties have people living around them.

“Suddenly we have the opportunity to draw them together, to be able to reach out to them and come together to a central location, where they can talk about the value of open space to them, to raise any concerns that they have and to maybe feel a little bit more they are a part of the city they live in,” Moehling said. “It’s a real opportunity for us after 42 years to be able to do something significant in addition to what we have been able to contribute to the community.”

The issue of what to do with Fodor Farm tore Norwalk apart in 1997, Kimmel said. A developer had proposed to build about 85 homes “in a relatively small space,” and it was a really divisive issue, he said.

“It was not just Democrat or Republican; both parties were divided because we had a mind set at the time: I mean, ‘Open space, give me a break, we have more important issues,’” Kimmel said.

The idea of putting gardens on the Flax Hill Road property, a working farm for 350 years, was “pooh-poohed as a joke,” because no one thought it could be done, Kimmel said.

But the city eventually purchased the property and that “led to a whole string of discussions” and the creation of an open space fund, he said.

“A whole new mindset exists in the city right now, and I believe it started when we had that fight over Fodor Farm,” Kimmel said. “… Having gone this far and to see what is there now, it’s just amazing, we have come so far in about 20 years, basically, when it comes to these environmental issues, open space issues. The kind of discussions we have now are just a world apart from what was going on 20 years ago and we really ought to be proud of the city.”

Other Council members also lauded the project. Thomas Livingston (D-District E) said he drives by almost every day and is amazed at the number of people gardening, and impressed by the restoration of the house. Steve Serasis (D-District A) cited Mocciae’s “great vision” and Majority Leader John Kydes (D-District C) called it “great.”

“The property is being utilized in a great way. We’ve got a lot of nonprofits in there that have been active in the community for a long time,” Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs Committee Chairman Travis Simms (D-District B) said.

Simms arrived at the meeting 38 minutes late, about five minutes before the item, a product of his committee, was brought to the floor for a vote.

Mayor Harry Rilling commended the committee for its work.

“A lot of things happening in Norwalk are happening for recreation spaces as well,” Rilling said, citing work on the Roodner Court basketball court and work expected soon on Norwalk Grassroots Tennis courts. “I think we are moving forward in the right direction.”

Mocciae said Monday that Fodor Farm’s main farmhouse will be finished on the inside by Feb. 15. The exterior, the front porch, will be finished in early spring.

“We have room for one more group In the facility. The main floor is also going to be used by the community for meetings as well as the Department.  We will be starting the caretakers apartment this summer with occupancy by this November.”

Carpenter Steve Green, a Recreation and Parks Department employee, said a in June 2014 that the house was “basically rebuilt.”

Former Zoning Commissioner Mike Mushak also spoke at Tuesday’s Council meeting, lauding the work of Green and Matt Dejoseph, also a city employee, as having done an “amazing job.”

“This is a model that is happening around the country and it is amazing that Norwalk is at the forefront of this, because this is really what this is, a public-private partnership,” Mushak said.

The property was “almost a subdivision,” Mushak said.

“It was saved by a bunch of people that are often thought of as the radical element in Norwalk,” Mushak said. “You could just say people that show up and make noise.”

 

Comments

5 responses to “Norwalk nonprofits greenlighted to use resurgent Fodor Farm”

  1. John Levin

    Our family has lived in Norwalk since 1991. The preservation of Fodor Farm is one of the great success stories for this small city since then. When my wife, Diane Keefe, joined with other residents working to preserve it, I thought she was wasting her time. But after seeing the property and envisioning what was possible (now reality), I was won over and joined the effort to find a reasonable alternative to inexorable development and more paved streets. As I recall, it was then state senator Larry Cafero who ‘found’ state money to facilitate the purchase, and brokered a deal that led to the preservation. An amazing success!

    Fast forward to 2016 (starts next week!) – perhaps Norwalk could find a way to repeat the Fodor Farm success by preserving the White Barn property in Cranbury and the historic White Barn Theater?

  2. Lisa Lenskold

    Recreation and Parks has been a supportive partner to Norwalk Grows for years. We’re thrilled to be moving into Fodor Farm!

  3. Amanda

    Fodor Farm is certainly one of Norwalk’s greatest assets, however… My opinion may be somewhat unpopular. I’ve leased a plot for the last 5 years. The resurrection of the barn and the ability for folks to rent it out as an event space, particularly this past year, has led to the decline of what was once a peaceful place for those of us who like to garden in this amazing spot. There needs to be some rules in place when the space is rented out. There is often no parking for the gardeners when parties are being thrown. I arrived one time over the summer and there was a DJ with music blaring out of loud speakers and people just everywhere around the gazebo. In the fall, I nearly backed my car over 2 small children who darted out into the over-crowded parking lot during a pumpkin painting party. I would urge Mr. Mocciae to examine the parking situation and also implement rules for events. This is one of Norwalk’s greatest assets, don’t abuse it.

  4. Bryan Meek

    This is good and all. But how many gardeners do we have as opposed to golfers who don’t get to live nearly rent free?

  5. Rob

    Bryan,
    I golf and I have a plot there. What do you mean?

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