NORWALK, Conn. — The Norwalk Redevelopment Agency is expected on Tuesday to consider a proposal to move Wall Street Place phase I – known to many simply as “POKO” – forward.
Citibank, owner of the stalled development, as part of mediation discussions has submitted a written proposal to restart construction, Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola said Wednesday in court, explaining that if the Redevelopment Agency and the Common Council agree to the terms, after discussing them outside of the public eye, then the terms will be released to the public and the official approval process will begin.
Coppola declined to release further details.
Coppola and Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan testified Wednesday in Stamford Superior Court as part of the ongoing hearing in the lawsuit filed by the Redevelopment Agency and the City against ILSR Owners and Wall Street Opportunity Fund, attempting to undo the sale of “POKO” phase II and III properties to WSOF, a Jason Milligan owned LLC.
Milligan is fighting the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary injunction to prevent him from renting, selling or altering the properties, resulting in a lengthy hearing in the complicated ins and outs of Wall Street Place, its Land Disposition Agreement and Zoning approvals, not to mention the machinations of his various LLCs.
Construction on Wall Street Place, which dates to a 2004 redevelopment plan, stopped in mid-2016. The City has recently sued Citibank, which took the properties back from POKO Partners through a deed-in-lieu transfer, to force Citibank, under the LLC Municipal Holdings, to pay the blight citation fines and Zoning violation fines that have accrued. Citibank has also been declared in default of the LDA.
In testimony Tuesday, Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin revealed that the building permit and the zoning approval for Phase I has expired. Attorney David Rubin, representing Milligan, said that the project would in essence be starting from scratch if an attempt were made to have construction resume. Kleppin said a new site plan would likely need to go to a pubic hearing.
Rubin has attempted to show that the project is not viable. The LDA requires 255 parking spaces on the site, but the Zoning approval has been reduced from 215 to 155, putting the two governing documents at odds, he said, also alleging that the project is out of Zoning compliance on its floor-to-area ratio (FAR).
Attorney Andrea Gomes, representing the Redevelopment Agency in a redirect of Kleppin, pointed out that the proposed Wall Street West Avenue Neighborhood Plan changes the parking and FAR requirements in the area, in a manner that would affect Wall Street Place.
The Council Planning Committee is expected to on Thursday consider moving that plan to the full Council for approval.
A class action lawsuit may be pending to challenge the Wall Street West Avenue Neighborhood Plan, Rubin said Wednesday.
Sheehan’s testimony has stretched over several days, resuming this week after being paused in December. On Wednesday, Attorney Joseph Williams, representing the Redevelopment Agency, began redirect on Sheehan and asked him about the ongoing mediation with Citibank.
“A plan has emerged that is slated to come before the public parties in executive session in the next few days,” Sheehan replied, adding, “I remain hopeful” that Wall Street Place will be restarted.
Sheehan’s testimony was again put on pause, so that Rubin could question Coppola, who has other obligations in the coming days. Judge Charles Lee told Coppola that Sheehan had revealed that a plan is on the table.
The Redevelopment Agency is slated for an executive session Tuesday to discuss the plan and the Council may have an executive session on the 26th, Coppola said.
JHM is the proposed developer, he said, referring to a company owned by John and Todd McClutchy, who have been conferring with Citibank for more than a year. This originally involved trying to get state funding while Gov. Dannel Malloy was in office, as the McClutchys have close ties with Malloy.
Rubin asked Coppola if the LDA would need to be modified for the proposal to move forward.
“I don’t know if we have concluded yet that there would have to be an amendment to the LDA but based on what’s been proposed, or whether it would just be modification of the Conceptual Master Site Plan. We have to do that analysis once we confirm what the proposal is, that is acceptable to the public parties,” Coppola said, explaining that it’s been discussed “internally.”
Rubin said, “The position was being taken that no public parking would be made by Citibank and JHM in connection with the proposal.”
The City turned over a municipal parking lot to POKO to make Wall Street Place a viable project, under the condition that 100 public parking spaces be provided in return.
The last Zoning approval was for 155 spaces, “which may barely have been enough to satisfy the parking for the private development,” Rubin said.
Williams objected, ending Rubin’s attempt to get clarification on that issue.
Rubin pressed for details on when the public will find out what the proposal is.
“After we discuss with our clients in executive session the proposal and they ask us to go forward with making it public and starting the official approval process, which won’t take long,” Coppola replied.
Coppola said he didn’t know how much Norwalk taxpayer dollars would be provided in connection to the project.
“Not without reviewing all the relevant documents pertaining to the project,” he said.
“Why does the public not have a right to know what the proposal is at this time, relative to phase one?” Rubin asked.
Williams objected on the grounds that this was argumentative and irrelevant, but Lee told Coppola to answer.
“As you know, it’s a complicated project,” Coppola said. “It’s been further complicated by the change of ownership, phase II and III, so there is a lot of back and forth discussion between Citibank, the City and the Agency to confirm what would potentially be terms that would be acceptable to the city and the agency, as well as to Citibank. So, there’s a lot of back and forth, a lot of complicated issues that require confirmation through various state agencies, etc., without disclosing any further what the discussions are.”
Discussions are continuing with Citibank but without a formal mediation process, he said.
Norwalk Communications Manager Joshua Morgan said in an afternoon email declined to provide further details, explaining, “Nothing is finalized yet and with ongoing negotiations, we cannot comment further.”