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Norwalk political notes: ECS futility, NHA ‘lying,’ petition zipping along

Norwalk Bike/Walk Task Force Co-Chairman Mike Mushak waits on Wednesday for

Mike Mushak waits Wednesday in City Hall for the Common Council Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs Committee meeting to begin.

Norwalk Republican Registrar Karen Doyle Lyons is likely to be all smiles come Election Day.

Norwalk Republican Registrar Karen Doyle Lyons is likely to be all smiles come Election Day.

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

  • Adamowski: Political numbers don’t support ECS fight
  • Brenda Penn-Williams ‘suspicious’ of NHA
  • Zoning confirms it: mall traffic goes up at Christmas
  • Passports at the library
  • Karen Lyons unopposed
  • Mushak seeks to prove it: There are Norwalkers in favor of ‘zip-line’

BET battles on ECS

Norwalk Public Schools are shorted about $7 million a year through the state’s Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) formula, Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said to the Board of Estimate and Taxation last week, responding to a question from BET member James Feigenbaum.

“How much would it help us if we somehow, somehow, we talked about this for years, got a handle on ECS funding where we are getting screwed?” Feigenbaum said.

There would be a tremendous impact, Adamowski said.

The Board of Education recently voted to approve a resolution supporting the effort being made by State Rep. Fred Wilms (R-142) to get the state Education Committee to consider changing the formula. Feigenbaum suggested that if there was going to be parental outcry over anything, it should be the ECS formula.

In 2012, a bus was chartered to take people to the statehouse, in a push to change the formula. The bus was far from full.

“We are getting hosed,” Feigenbaum said Thursday. “We have been for years and we go blithely along and say, ‘OK, OK,’ and we don’t do anything. That funding would solve half or three-quarters of the problem.”

“I think somebody ought to sue the state,” BET member Ed Camacho said, drawing some laughs.

The lawsuit filed by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Educational Funding is finally in court. It’s in recess, after the plaintiffs spent weeks making their case, former Mayor Alex Knopp said.

“I think you ought to have somebody up there talking about it, in front of the state,” Feigenbaum replied to Camacho.

Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton explained the familiar facts on ECS: it’s weighted on grand list, not on income, thereby shorting Norwalk even though the median income here is in line with the state median income.

“There have been ongoing efforts in this area, from our mayor, from several of our legislators and so on,” Adamowski said. “The problem with this is there are only two cities in the state that are impacted, to this degree by the current formula, and that’s Norwalk and Stamford. You know, the rest of the state, if you are a city you are very happy because your income level is much lower, your grand list is lower, you are winning on both counts. So the political numbers on this, in terms of who is representing who in the legislature, are really all stacked toward the status quo.”

“Every mayor that I know of since the ECS formula has been in place has been fighting to try to get more and so have the legislators, but unfortunately in Fairfield County we are looked upon as the Gold Coast,” Mayor Harry Rilling said.

Hopefully, Norwalk will prevail in the CCJEF suit, he said, mentioning, as he often does, that former Mayor Richard Moccia had pulled Norwalk out of participating for a while.

Years ago, Moccia told this reporter that he felt it inappropriate for a Republican mayor to participate in a lawsuit against a Republican governor, Jodi Rell. Rilling, a Democrat, apparently has no such reservations despite having a Democratic governor.

When Dannel Malloy was mayor of Stamford, he joined the suit. Since becoming governor, he has joined the state in fighting it.

 

Get your passport on Belden Avenue

It would be a win/win, as described by Norwalk Public Library Director Christine Bradley: The library is looking to offer a passport service in the next fiscal year.

“The passport service is looking beyond the post offices and that should be revenue producer for us,” Bradley told the BET on Thursday.

The Milford Library does it, Finance Director Bob Barron said, citing recent personal experience.

He had paid $32 for a half an hour, so the library was taking in $64 for an hour’s work, he said.

Bradley called it a nice revenue stream and said, “The passport people are much happier with the way libraries do it.”

This would be at the Belden Avenue library, where there is more space, but perhaps special times could be arranged for the SoNo branch, Bradley said. Part-time staff members would do the work, and training is provided, she said.

“Even if it’s just break-even, it’s a wonderful service to provide the community,” Barron said. “I didn’t have to drive 20 miles and wait in line three hours, I just showed up at my appointed time and was done.”

 

Doyle Lyons: Two more years

Republican Registrar Karen Doyle Lyons, who had to battle for re-election two years ago, is expecting to cruise to a victory this fall.

“I am thrilled to announce that I will be seeking re-election to the Republican Registrar of Voters. I look forward to serving Norwalk with smooth, trouble-free elections,” Lyons said in an email.

Last week in her office, Lyons said the Republican Party is getting along very well now, and she didn’t expect a challenge.

Republican Town Committee Treasurer Brian Smith, sitting across from Lyons as a part-time helper, gave the thumbs up on that comment.

“I know of no one other than Karen seeking the office – she is unopposed,” RTC Chairman Andy Conroy said in an email.

Lyons has been Republican registrar since 2001.

 

NHA Commissioners publicly voice distrust

Norwalk Housing Authority Commissioners Deidre Davis and Brenda Penn-Williams recently refused to approve the minutes for the Jan. 4 Board meeting, because they were inaccurate, they said.

“The minutes should reflect what happened in the meeting, which is that the commissioners in attendance …  discussed proceeding with the Community Action Agency,” NHA Attorney Donna Lattarulo said at the Feb. 17 Board meeting. “That they were in agreement that they should go forward.”

The item shouldn’t have been on the agenda for the Board meeting but on the agenda for the Norwalk Housing Foundation, commissioners said. It had been voted on in the Foundation meeting, Lattarulo said, but Davis and Penn-Williams said otherwise.

This was a matter of two commissioners versus one, as the Rev. Jeffrey Ingraham, the only other commissioner present at the meeting with Davis and Penn-Williams, agreed with Lattarulo that there had been a discussion in public but a vote in secret.

The minutes are “like lying to me and I’m not going to do it,” Davis said.

“I am so suspicious of you guys. I’ve got to tell you, I am just very suspicious,” Penn-Williams said.

The matter was tabled after 10 minutes of contentious conversation. NHA board Chairman Cesar Ramirez then had a meeting in the hall with Ingraham, away from the public. He called Penn-Williams into the hall, but made it clear that Ingraham wasn’t with them and there was no quorum, and therefore no violation of the Freedom of Information Act.

Back in public, Ramirez expressed “concerns about remarks that have been made.”

NancyOnNorwalk contacted Penn-Williams after the meeting and asked why she is suspicious.

“I can’t disclose that information,” she said.

 

Wilson: That’s why we hired our own traffic consultant for mall project

A traffic study of a nearby mall during holiday season shows that you can, indeed, expect more traffic for Christmas.

Norwalk Zoners, in their preliminary work on General Growth Properties’ application to build a mall at the intersection of Interstate 95 and West Avenue, requested a traffic comparison to a nearby mall during holiday season, Norwalk Senior Planner Dori Wilson said recently. A study was done from Dec. 17 to Dec. 21 by GGP traffic consultant Langan CT Inc. at all five entrances to the Waterbury Brass Mill Center Mall.

The Brass Mill Center, which is operated by GGP, is visible from Interstate 84 and close to an interchange with State Road 84, making it similar to The SoNo Collection in its traffic-generating aspects, Langan reports in its memo to Zoning.

The Friday evening traffic was 17 percent higher than would be expected on a non-holiday Friday, Langan wrote. The Saturday afternoon traffic was 9 percent lower than would be expected on a non-holiday Saturday, Langan wrote.

Langan thought the results balanced each other out, but “maybe, maybe not,” Wilson said.

“That is why we are hiring traffic consultants to represent the city,” Wilson said. “We want to make sure that our consultants agree with the analysis that has been prepared and that it takes into account those examples and says are these the right volumes to be plugging into the city’s system, because that’s what we need to see. That is why we are hiring traffic consultants to represent the city. We want to make sure that our consultants agree with the analysis that has been prepared and that it takes into account those examples and says are these the right volumes to be plugging into the city’s system, because that’s what we need to see.”

There are two traffic studies being done for the proposed project, in addition to the one done by Langan for GGP; one for Planning and Zoning and one for the Redevelopment Agency. GGP is paying for all of them.

Mall traffic study 16-0307

 

In favor of the ‘zip-line’? See Mike Mushak

Cranbury residents angrily opposed to the proposal for a treetop adventure course in Cranbury Park have said no one is in favor of the proposal, but Democratic Town Committee member Mike Mushak has set out to prove otherwise.

As of 2 a.m. Tuesday there were 106 signatures on a petition that Mushak has started online. Most are from Norwalk residents.

“This project will benefit the park,” Celia Maddox wrote.

“I think this will be a benefit to Norwalk, just like the beach, soccer fields, baseball fields, golf course, etc.,” Jud Aley wrote.

“I initially wasn’t crazy about encroaching in natural space, but after reviewing the information and videos and how minimally the trees are impacted, I have to say that it would be nice to have a positive activity like this in Norwalk, and it’s just a small part of the park,” Lisa Grant wrote. “Better than just using it for partying like people did in the ’70s.”

Mushak was the only person in support present at the Common Council Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs Committee meeting last week, surrounded by angry Cranbury residents. He was threatened after the meeting, he said.

Mushak, former Bike/Walk Task Force co-chairman, left the Council chambers in close proximity to a zip-line opponent who said, “Great, great job on Strawberry Hill, too.”

Mushak and others have said that they agree that the bike lanes on Strawberry Hill Road are poorly done, attributing that to the previous administration.

Norwalk Deputy Democratic Registrar Bob Sodaro responds to a NancyOnNorwalk taunt about "no photos" last week in City Hall. The "no photos" rule will soon be moot, he said, because he is moving to Virginia within weeks. Sodaro has been in the post for seven years and will be replaced by Ron Banks, Democratic Registrar Stuart Wells said.

Norwalk Deputy Democratic Registrar Bob Sodaro responds to a NancyOnNorwalk taunt about “no photos” last week in City Hall. The “no photos” rule will soon be moot, he said, because he is moving to Virginia within weeks. Sodaro has been in the post for seven years and will be replaced by Ron Banks, Democratic Registrar Stuart Wells said.

16 comments

Mike Mushak March 15, 2016 at 9:38 am

Many of the signers of the petition (that includes links to the actual treetop adventure course proposal and not the overblown false “amusement park” version being promoted by opponents), are long-time community leaders, educators, environmentalists, parents, healthcare professionals, and parks advocates. They understand that this is a win/win for Norwalk, generating a fun, educational, and environmentally-sensitive experience for families and youth groups and corporate groups.

Another win is the revenue between $50,000 and $150,000 per year based as a percentage of gross revenue that will spin off to help mitigate taxpayer expenses for much-needed park maintenance and improvements, including a guard at the gate who will check resident passes and charge folks from out of town to enter just like at other city parks. .

The idea of 14 people every half hour by reservation only, generating at most about 5 cars every half hour, with an average of 10-15 cars in the main parking lot most of the time this is open, will not create the “crushing traffic, noise, and pollution” that the opponents have been declaring will happen. In fact, there is no music or lighting, and the course will close 3 hours before sunset and be closed from November to April. It is also built by hand and completely reversible, with no damage to existing trees or the park. It will be at least 500 feet away from the nearest home and the school, deep in the woods, and avoiding the wetlands.

Here is the link to the video describing what this project is about and how it is constructed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TsmQgzkpDx8

Here is the petition (please sign and share):

https://www.change.org/p/support-the-educational-and-fun-treetop-adventure-course-for-norwalk-s-cranbury-park?recruiter=10852539&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink

Adam Beausoleil March 15, 2016 at 9:56 am

Something I don’t understand about the pro zip line petition. How many of the wonderful citizen’s that are in favor of the zip line live in Cranbury? I would think this is a great idea too if I lived in Sono or East Norwalk.

Mike Mushak March 15, 2016 at 10:38 am

Adam, I am convinced that once the treetop course is installed, the neighbors wont even know its there. The impacts have been grossly exaggerated. Their early concerns with parking at the new lot near Live Oak were already dealt with by the city, who moved the parking to the main lot.

Related indirectly to this proposal, based on the potential increased funding from the treetop course, is a new guard at the front gate who will start in July and check resident passes and charge out of town visitors. This will greatly reduce traffic into the park and reduce illicit behavior from unregulated entry that has bothered the neighbors and park visitors for years.

EveT March 15, 2016 at 12:46 pm

Is there a petition opposing the zip line? If so, is it online or who can people contact if they want to sign?

Bryan Meek March 15, 2016 at 12:55 pm

I’m indifferent to the zip line, but it is in the wrong spot. They should have picked the eastern edge of the park for this. More slope and more isolated. The park would be greatly enhanced by a boardwalk placed around the perimeter for joggers, strollers, handicap, etc… and a kennel for dogs on the southern edge like the one in New Canaan AND A LEASH LAW for over 40 pound dogs. Maybe some of the revenue could be poured into feature enhancements that all the neighbors can enjoy and not just a few visitors.

Adam Beausoleil March 15, 2016 at 2:08 pm

EveT – Yes there is one out there at this link:

http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/no-cranbury-park-zip-line.html

There’s also FB group “Say NO to Cranbury Park Zip Line” if you want to request to join.

Mike – I’m truthfully for it if it’s done in the manner proposed. I am curious though. You seemed to not answer my original question. How many of the people who signed the PRO petition are living in Cranbury?

Also – Mr. Meek and a couple of others have asked why the southern parcel of the park for placement and not the eastern, far less traveled area of the park? Is that all wetlands, protected in some form, etc? Thanks for some answers.

Patrick Cooper March 15, 2016 at 3:12 pm

Hate to copy from the Hour to post to NoN – but here goes.

Bike Path Mike – I wonder if you can debate the findings of the current Norwalk Inland Wetland Agency Senior Environmental Officer Alexis Cherichetti. Apparently, he just served P&R with a cease & desist order for the work they are doing in Cranbury to prepare for this course – which I find ironic because it hasn’t received approval from the common council yet – but P&R is doing an end run around the process because that’s how they operate.

According to Mr. Cherichetti (lifted directly from the Hour article) – –
The activities include the clearing of deciduous woodland, removal of vegetation, deposition of fill material, alteration of a slope and “otherwise changing the natural and indigenous character of the land within and adjacent to a wetland and watercourse.” “Specifically, a deciduous wooded area in close proximity to wetland and watercourse, located in the southernmost portion of the property, has been cleared of its indigenous vegetation and repurposed as a fill area,” wrote Cherichetti in a letter city’s parks director Monday. “Fill material has been placed on a slope adjacent to the wetland and watercourse and the grade adjacent to the watercourse has been altered.”

The activities, Cherichetti continued, were “conducted without the installation of proper soil and erosion controls” and have resulted in “diminishing the natural capacity of the wetland and watercourse system to perform its functions.”

Of course Mr. Moccaie floated the canard that this was just “clean-up” in that part of the park. What baloney!

So we are screwing up the ecosystem – and that’s before the installation. Seriously – WHY do we need this?

And Mr. Meek – my real citizen’s communication on this would go much higher. This is a pure overreach by our municipal government – specifically related to privatizing public lands that are part of the commons. I know republicans are a bit lost these days, but surely you understand that slippery slope.

Editor’s note: While we would normally not allow copying anything from The Hour — we do our own reporting, and, like any news organization, do not typically trust another outlet’s information — we are also aware of the intense interest in the White Barn, tree top adventure, and Cranbury Park issues, and that we have one reporter and editor, leaving us with some tough choices. We will be following up on this, and caution readers to remember Recreation & Parks has several weeks to appeal the order and to make its case that the information supplied in the complaint is false or misleading. It can then be investigated properly. The cease and desist does not judge guilt, but instead protects the property and the neighbors in case there is, indeed, something illegal going on, and insists on safeguards to mitigate potential damage from work already done.

As an aside, Alexis Cherichetti is a she, not a he.

Tony P March 15, 2016 at 3:13 pm

Thanks Mike for setting this petition up. I gladly signed it, and saw quite a few other positive comments from other fellow Norwalkers

@Adam – I live in East Norwalk, and I think that this zip line is a great idea. I also pay my taxes like everyone in Cranbury does, so I should get an equal say, just like them. I live a few blocks from the beaches that the folks in Cranbury and Silvermine and West Norwalk come down to enjoy, and all the summer traffic and crowd issues that events like the fireworks, car shows, and Oyster fest brings. Are you suggesting that I should have more of a say than everyone else? It doesn’t work that way.

Cant wait to book my treetop adventure when this opens up!

Mike Mushak March 15, 2016 at 4:47 pm

Patrick Cooper, let me correct your false statement here. I wont respond to your childish name-calling however. Although I find it amusing that you have to go there at all.

The parking lot work that has been cited has NOTHING to do with the treetop adventure course, which has parking in the main parking lot north of this area and will only have a 200 square foot cabin (20 X 10) near this area where the course will start.

The parking lot, which is on a decades-old dump that is being cleaned up as the Rec and Parks Director has stated, is needed for the new pavilion and renovated bunkhouse that was blighted and abandoned for years. This parking lot is in the master plan and it is a coincidence that the renovations of the buildings happened concurrently with the treetop course proposal. Originally the parking for the course was going to be shared with the new buildings here but neighbors on Live Oak Lane objected, so it was moved to the main parking lot.

The Conservation office confirmed that that there are no wetlands in the parking lot area. Apparently work was done beyond the parking lot area to help clean up the old dump site, work which I am not familiar with. I am sure the Conservation Commission will review the situation and make recommendations.

However, you are wrong to say that this work was related to the treetop adventure course. It was not.

Adam Beausoleil March 15, 2016 at 5:02 pm

No Tony, I’m not suggesting anything of the sort. I was just inquiring to the make up of the folks signing the pro zip line as opposed to the anti zip line measures. I wasn’t being antagonistic, I was genuine.

My comment was to suggest that many of us chose Cranbury for the quiet nature of the neighborhood and others pick Sono or the East Norwalk for the ease to transit or walking distance to such amenities, etc. The way this was brought into the Cranbury neighborhood seemed that the residents don’t seem to have a say.

What are your thoughts Tony on the wildlife factor that has also been brought up? For me, I would want to ensure all items that are affected are checked off before proceeding. Like I said previously, I’m all for the zip line if done in the manner proposed.

Patrick Cooper March 15, 2016 at 5:47 pm

My apologies – to Ms. Cherichetti. My thanks – to Mark. I once employed a strikingly beautiful and talented Californian named Christine, who went by “Chris”, and simultaneously I was called “Pat”. When the two of us would meet with prospective clients – they would ask – which one of you is which? Thus the androgynous twins were born.

Norwalk Parent March 16, 2016 at 10:27 am

Mike Mushak:

Thanks for being so active on this and conveying your thoughts. I do have a few questions for you. I like the thought of and affordable zip line for the right reasons. However I do have some concerns. I visited the Discovery Museum Zipline park in Bridgeport with my three kids and it was awesome. However I have never gone back, frankly I cannot afford it even though I am considered middle class. The total cost for my family of 4 was $197. I am not sure how many families in Norwalk can really afford this. Will there be a substantial discount for Norwalk residents? I seem that we are giving away space in one of our best parks for a small amount of revenue that will be affordable for the towns surrounding Norwalk.

Thoughts?

Ryan Wiedmann March 16, 2016 at 6:27 pm

This just gets more confusing to me every day. Why is Mike Mushak speaking on behalf of the city council and answering questions on behalf of the zip line organization? Am I the only one who finds his level of involvement odd?

Mike, I get it. You have done a lot for this city and when you showed up to express your opinions you were treated poorly, even disrespected. Now this is personal for you, and though I wish you would look in the mirror to determine if you like what this process has brought out in you, I do get your personal frustration. I can honestly say that while I disagree with both the development of this park in Cranbury and the the way Travis and the committee have handled themselves on this topic through disrespectful comments and actions towards the people of Norwalk opposing this plan, I choose not to get carried away with this. Our goal should be for a civil meeting on the 22nd where everyone present has a respected voice and vote. It’s been pretty obvious for a while that the council is moving this forward. Not very democratic, but these are elected officials so their behavior should be taken into consideration on Election Day.

Mike Mushak March 16, 2016 at 10:47 pm

Ryan, I have not “spoken on behalf of the council” as you put it. I am following this issue closely because it involves a lot of deliberate and accidental misinformation about a proposal that will actually help the park and not ruin it as many are claiming, without any evidence offered except histrionic generalities. One woman in a meeting even said this proposal will “crush her family and her life”. How?

I just feel it’s my duty as a citizen and parks advocate to keep the truth out there, from someone who thinks this a great win/win proposal for our city (just as 12 other cities with GoApe courses in their public parks have discovered) in a debate where emotion, fear, and old-fashioned thuggery and mob mentality have predominated the discussion.

As I said, no one will even know this is there once it’s installed. I know that as a landscape architect and life ling parks advocate. I have been donating my time and energy to making parks better my entire life, most recently by designing and installing landscapes at no cost to taxpayers at Mathews Park, Mill Hill Historic Park, and the new Historical Society Museum next to City Hall. I have also donated my time and resources to the restoration of 7 historic city-owned cemeteries including Pine Island Cemetery.

I feel as though I have proven over decades that I love and support our parks, and I know in my head and my heart that this proposal for an educational and fun treetop adventure course that is hand built and will not disturb the woods or the park is not the apocalypse opponents are depicting with exaggerated claims of gloom and doom. It has become an emotional issue disassociated from reality, and some shady unscrupulous people are preying on that.

And to answer your concern, I am not associated with the company in any way, and am not benefitting financially in any way from this now or in the future.

I just think this is an awesome proposal along with a lot of other folks I know and a lot of strangers I never met, who are stepping forward now that they are hearing about it. And this support is based on facts, not on fear and ignorance. Think about it.

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