Norwalk political notes: A home for A.J. Penna, Washington Village update

Architect Bruce Beinfield's latest rendering of "The Village," a plan for 272-280 Main Ave.
Architect Bruce Beinfield’s latest rendering of “The Village,” a plan for 272-280 Main Ave.
Vincent Penna.
Vincent Penna.

Update, 4:14 p.m., Nov. 9: Tonight’s meeting on the Walk Bridge is a joint meeting of several Norwalk Boards and Commissions. 

NORWALK, Conn. – Here’s what we have for you in political notes this Tuesday:

  • Pennas poised to take over old National Guard Armory
  • ‘BJ’s’ on agenda for Wednesday
  • Democrats at the Norwalk Inn? (Seriously, Democrats??)
  • Washington Village construction; plan to spend $30M grant on the quick
  • Walk Bridge meeting Wednesday
  • McQuaid: Mail ‘stinks’
  • Lavielle endorsement
  • Website for Merritt/Route 7 work


Pennas hope for New Canaan Avenue digs

The beleaguered A.J. Penna & Son contracting business appears headed for 284 New Canaan Ave., just off the Merritt Parkway.

Vincent and Robin Penna’s business is being displaced by the Connecticut Department of Transportation in its effort to rebuild the aged railroad bridge over the Norwalk River, a.k.a. the Walk Bridge. A.J. Penna & Son is located at 4 Goldstein Place, immediately adjacent to the railroad tracks, and ConnDOT is taking the property through the eminent domain process.

All appeared gloom and doom until September when some ConnDOT employees came up with a piece of Connecticut surplus property that might work for the family. Robin Penna declined to comment on where it might be, but the secret’s out: on Wednesday, the Zoning Commission is considering a Zoning regulation change that would allow Penna to use the old National Guard Armory, at 284 New Canaan Ave.

Penna would use the existing buildings on the 11-acre site, according to the application on file in Planning and Zoning. No construction or paving is expected.

In addition to general contracting, A.J. Penna & Son is an emergency on call contractor for Aquarion Water, Eversource Energy, Frontier Communications, the City of Norwalk (OMl), and the Town of Westport. Vincent Penna has said that access to a highway is key.

Mission accomplished, if all goes well.


Application for 272-280 Main Ave. also on docket

A plan for the property once sized up for a BJ’s Wholesale Club is also being considered by the Zoning Commission on Wednesday, a version of big box that has been prettied up by architect Bruce Beinfield.

“The Village” would hide a 85,000 square foot building, with 63,900 square feet of active retail, behind a 11,900 square foot building fronting Main Avenue with small-scale retail and full-service, sit down restaurant space.

As previously advertised, Beinfield is looking to make the development pedestrian friendly.

“The 2 story scale of the buildings is comfortable with the neighbors, and the traditional pitched roofs of the liner buildings enhance the character of the building. The landscaped sidewalk will invite people to walk, and shop, while dramatically enhancing the neighborhood,” the application for a special permit states.

Noise control enclosures are planned for the utilities on the building’s roof, to protect Rolling Ridge Condominium residents as well as nearby single family homes. This would put the project into compliance with noise codes, Mark Reber of JaffeHolden, an acoustics company, wrote to the Commission.

The big box component would create 75 full- and part-time jobs, the application states.


The world is upside down

This is not a typographical error: Norwalk Democrats are holding their Election Night gathering at the Norwalk Inn.

That’s right, the Norwalk Inn, the place we all know we can find Norwalk Republicans.

State Sen. Bob Duff (D-25), et al, will be at the Inn, while Duff’s Republican challenger Greg Ehlers and assorted other Republicans will be at Blackstones Steakhouse on Main Street.

Democrats have traditionally waited out election results at the Hilton Garden Inn, on Main Avenue, up the same stretch of pavement from Blackstones. So things are kind of topsy turvy.

Democratic Town Committee Chairman Ed Camacho said Democrats thought a change of venue might be good. Republican Town Committee Chairman Andy Conroy did not reply to a last Monday email asking about the change.

The DTC had its traditional pre-election Sunday brunch at the Norwalk Inn and it was “just wonderful, very nicely catered,” Camacho said.

“I think it’s a great venue and we look forward to hopefully celebrating the outcome of the election tomorrow,” Camacho said.

Ehlers will be at Blackstones, located at 181 Main St.,  until about 9:15 p.m., campaign manager Rick Joslyn said. Then he’ll head for the Goose in Darien.


Washington Village percolates

Construction on Washington Village will hopefully begin in December, Norwalk Housing Authority Executive Director Curtis Law said in a Monday email.

“There is always a lot of work to get to a closing,” Law said, when asked what the holdup is.

The project was held up for two years by a legal challenge to the approval granted to it by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).

That was a topic at Monday’s Board of Estimate and Taxation meeting, where a $4 million request for capital funding got a nod of approval.

BET member Anne Yang-Dwyer asked Finance Director Bob Barron if the request had been on last year’s capital budget.

Well, not entirely.

It was impossible to put the work out to bid with the legal challenge hanging over the city’s head, Barron said. There was $1.3 million appropriated last year and $250,000 appropriated this year, Barron said.

“The initial numbers were only estimates… Now we have hard numbers in today’s dollars, because of the delay,” he said.

The $4 million helps fund the raising the intersection of Day and Raymond Streets.

The project was awarded a $30 million United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Choice Neighborhoods Initiative grant; the grant includes a five-year timeline, which also got held up by the lawsuit.

The city is going to frontload the money, on the recommendation of HUD, Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan told the BET Monday.

In other words, those funds will be used in advance of other funding for the project, so that the funds will be spent in advance of the deadline.

“I think we’re on target to do the spenddown with the remaining three years,” Barron said.


Walk Bridge powwow expected Wednesday

The Common Council is meeting Wednesday to hear commentary about ConnDOT’s Walk Bridge project, in advance of a Nov. 17 public hearing.

Every Board or Commission is being asked to make a two-minute statement to the Council, regarding any concerns, Sheehan said.

The Redevelopment Agency’s statement:

“The Redevelopment Agency supports the Walk Bridge being replaced, but based on its review of the EA (Environmental Assessment) and EIE (Environmental Impact Evaluation) it believes that there are clearly significant impacts associated with this project which will be detrimental to the quality of the human environment immediately surrounding the project. These impacts are potentially negative to the existing natural, physical, social and economic conditions of the City of Norwalk and particularly to the South Norwalk neighborhood. Given these potential  negative impacts, the Redevelopment Agency recommends that an Environmental Impact Statement be undertaken on the project which will review the impacts of this project in proportion to their significance and rigorously evaluate different alternatives that could have a lessor impact to our City’s urban quality, its businesses and our historic and collateral resources.”

On Wednesday, NancyOnNorwalk obtained a copy of the agenda:

“The Norwalk Common Council, Conservation Commission, Harbor Management Commission, Historical Commission, Planning Commission and Recreation,  Parks and Cultural Affairs  will  hold  a Joint  Special  Meeting  on Wednesday,  November 9, 2016 at 6:30 p.m. in the Community Room, First Floor, City Hall, 125  East Avenue,  Norwalk, CT.”


Absentee ballots expected soon….

The Town Clerk’s office staff has been working late, processing an unprecedented number of absentee ballots.

From left, Carmen Hernandez, Karen Kelsey and Jona Marquez, tired employees of the Town Clerk’s Office.

One thing out of staff members’ control: getting the ballots delivered through the U.S. Postal Service.

“The mail service stinks,” Town Clerk Rick McQuaid said. “I probably can walk a ballot across the town quicker than the mail get it over there.”

Ballots will certainly be delivered to the Town Clerk’s office after the election, McQuaid said.

The office “got a funny” in October: a ballot for April’s primary was delivered, McQuaid said, adding that there’s no telling when it was mailed.



Lavielle rakes in another endorsement

State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143), who is unopposed for re-election, has been endorsed by the bipartisan Connecticut League of Conservation Voters (CTLCV).

The endorsement came shortly after CTLCV’s announcement that, for the fifth consecutive year, it had named Lavielle one of its 14 designated “Legislative Champions,” with special recognition for her leadership during the 2016 legislative session in the area of public water supply.

“Connecticut’s economic and environmental quality of life has always depended on our natural resources,” said Ken Bernhard, CTLCV Co-Chair in a press release. “We are counting on our endorsed candidates to champion smart environmental policies that will protect these irreplaceable assets. The candidates we endorse are reliable in their environmental values, and pledge to prioritize environmental matters important to their constituents. We urge people in their districts to support them at the polls on Nov. 8.”


Connecticut unveils 7/15 website

The state of Connecticut has created a website to promote its developing plans for the Merritt Parkway/Route 7 interchange.

The state is collecting data and identifying design alternatives, the website states. Public information meetings will be held in 2017.

This information comes to you from the Mayor’s Bike/Walk Task Force, which discussed the project Monday.


9 responses to “Norwalk political notes: A home for A.J. Penna, Washington Village update”

  1. Lee Levey

    The introduction of a contractor’s construction yard on the former National Guard Armory site on New Canaan Avenue is a very bad idea. Two words: Traffic and Noise. The intersection of the Merritt and New Canaan Avenue is bad enough without the introduction of truck and equipment traffic. Typically, the diesel engines are started about 5AM to move them to construction sites in the area. The noise and fumes will become a detriment to the adjacent homes.

  2. Save Norwalk

    Great for Penna, but what about everyone else? There are several businesses being kicked to the curb. Is DOT doing anything to help them find a location? Does each business need to stage its own rally to get their attention? Does DOT even care (clearly not, they are on record as not caring).

  3. Nonpartisan

    Is this the best use for 11 acres of land at a major intersection?

  4. Lisa Thomson

    What is the zoning in that area, or with it be a special permit?

  5. Lisa Thomson

    What is the zoning in that area or will it be changed via a special permit?

    1. They’re considering an amendment to the zoning regulations to allow a special permit. From the agenda:
      “Proposed amendments to Section 118-100 to revise the definition for Public utility supply or storage facility and to Article 30 to amend special permit criteria for such uses when located in AAA Residence zones and special permit to reuse former Armory Building for a public utility storage facility owned by an independent entity – Preliminary review”

  6. Isabelle Hargrove

    Well, it did not take long for the next conversation about Norwalk and zoning to start. Again, a major zoning application at the doorstep of West Norwalk with enormous traffic and noise pollution.

  7. I can’t believe this. An ideally situated contractor on the river is being displaced to on of the least safe places for his business in the city — and it’s a deal that was done behind closed doors, and payed for by the state to boot. Oh, and it gets announced the day after the elections. Where were our city leaders in all of this.

  8. Debora

    Just curious. In what form did that invitation to “all boards and commissions” go out?

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