Norwalk political notes: Common Council (Frayer named to open seat)

Then-Board of Estimate and Taxation member James Frayer, March 22 in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. — Some Norwalk political notes for you:

  • Frayer named to open Council seat
  • Council set to approve 3 Belden purchase
  • Open space fund support for West Norwalk purchase advances as activist questions equity

A new District E Council member

James Frayer, a Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) member since December 2017, has been appointed to fill the District E Common Council seat vacated when Tom Livingston resigned to become interim Chief of Staff.

Open seats are filled by political committee votes, in accordance with State law. Democratic Town Committee member Kevin Tepas nominated Frayer at Monday’s DTC meeting.

“I’ve known Jim for 25 years, as a friend, as a neighbor, and as a fellow Board member on numerous local Boards and Committees. All I can say is, he is one of our more solid citizens…. He’s dedicated to the community. He has a significant real-world background, that it would be exceptionally handy to have on this on the Board. And his background in community affairs is flawless.”

Frayer retired from his position as Citigroup senior vice president in 2015, his LinkedIn page states. He was responsible for managing the allocation of a global $8 billion budget of shared services expenses to internal Citigroup businesses globally, and managed monthly performance analyses, quarterly forecasts, and presentation of results to senior bank management.

He’s now an independent consultant for small and mid-cap companies, helping them to develop financial infrastructure to sustain growth and build solid foundation for the long term, his LinkedIn page states. As a volunteer, he’s on the Hill Top Homes Board of Directors and was a Rowayton Library trustee from 2004 to 2010.

The vote to approve Frayer was unanimous.

“I’m really looking forward to working with the Council,” Frayer said. “And I promise that I will just do my best to uphold that wonderful introduction that Kevin gave me.”

Frayer said he’ll be running for the seat. Town Committees make endorsements in late July.

Expanding the Norwalk Public Library

Last week, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved the possible $1.4 million purchase of the First Taxing District’s half-acre property next to the Norwalk Public Library, at 3 Belden Ave.

Now the Common Council looks ready to seal the deal at Tuesday’s meeting.

“This will be a key movement forward with developing the renovation and expansion plan for the library,” Council President Greg Burnett (D-At Large) said at Monday’s Democratic Town Committee meeting.

The Council recently declined to buy Jason Milligan’s property at 11 Belden Ave., under a purchase agreement negotiated in 2017. The City could still buy a portion of Milligan’s property, which is also adjacent to the library.

Milligan said Monday that while he currently has a “good relationship with City Hall that allows for two-way communication, right now there is nothing worth sharing about 11 Belden.”

If the transaction with the First Taxing District proceeds, the library’s strategic plan will be updated and an architect will be hired, Norwalk Chief of Economic and Community Development Jessica Vonashek told P&Z Commissioners Wednesday.

Planning and Zoning Commission member Richard Roina pressed for clarification regarding library parking. Vonashek said the strategic plan would define a library footprint in balance with the available land and parking needs.

“We will be hiring a third-party consultant to be able to help us with this,” Vonashek said. “But the library, as it currently stands now, is 47,000 square feet. So, if we have the ability to renovate the existing library, and be able to understand what for current day amenities, and future amenities can be included in that very large footprint, then I do believe that the expansion, you know, might not be as great as what we once thought…. I’m hopeful that that will meet a great deal of the need that is here in the city of Norwalk for library services.”

Queried further by Roina, Vonashek said the City has no plan for the current building, but the business development center may be incorporated into the new library. Library patrons will be able to use the property’s 30 parking spaces.

She indicated that it’s likely the building will be demolished and replaced with another structure, therefore providing a “potential slight footprint increase.”

$200,000 to the Norwalk Land Trust

P&Z also approved a potential $200,000 expenditure from the Open Space Fund to help the Norwalk Land Trust purchase three parcels totaling 6.73 acres on Stephen Mather Road, in West Norwalk, for just over $1 million.

The Council could have voted to approve spending the money without getting P&Z’s approval under State Statute 8-24, with a two-thirds majority vote. Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola advised a conservative approach on June 13 and the Council tabled the item.

It got unanimous P&Z approval.

The Open Space Fund has a fund balance of $461,686, with an additional $50,000 to be added at the beginning of the next fiscal year in July, said Alexis Cherichetti, Assistant Planning and Zoning Director.

Besides being a fairly large combination of lots, the land is close to other open space and while it’s mostly wooded with deciduous trees, consultants feel its meadow habitats are valuable to a wide range of species, she said. The Land Trust will work to remove invasive plants.

Activist Diane Lauricella stresses that Open Space Fund has been spent only in Districts D and E, usually in AAA Zones, and “the urban core has been bypassed even though there are several parcels in Districts A and B that could qualify for these funds.”

Lauricella wrote to the Council on Monday: “The Conservation Commission and its staff, its designees, and the City were supposed to keep active track of which public and private parcels on their current list are under threat, which parcels may be added, and whether any new requests were more important than those on the list.  This did NOT occur, and the Conservation only asked this question: ‘Did anyone else request the money?’  That is not the only question that should have been asked.  Therefore, the Commission did NOT meet its due diligence expectation.”

She asks that the Council award a lesser amount, perhaps $75,000, as a “token of appreciation” to the Land Trust.

Cherichetti, in a memo, said the Open Space Fund “was established as a land acquisition fund, with a primary goal to ‘preserve or create Norwalk’s open space and to protect its natural resources.’ Use of the fund has focused on the acquisition of vacant land with natural resource value (Crossland Property on Blake Street in 2002 and 2009, Easement at White Barn on Cranbury Road in 2008, and NLT’s acquisition of the Hart Property at Sammis Street in 2011). Urban open space, due to the lack of undeveloped land and pressures to retain housing opportunities, is typically less focused on acquisition and involves leveraging development and using utilizing existing City land & ROW to provide green space and park space.”


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