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Norwalk political notes: Green on red, Mosby rescheduled

Fun times at the intersection of Flax Hill Road and Fairfield Avenue.
Fun times at the intersection of Flax Hill Road and Fairfield Avenue.

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

  • Chimento tackling problem Alvord said was impossible to fix
  • Harbor Management Commission members are not feeling the love
  • DEEP’s not as powerful a Lauricella thinks
  • FOI hearing on Mosby complaints rescheduled to the week before election

Chimento green lights DPW focus on traffic signals

Anyone who routinely goes through the intersection of Fairfield Avenue, Flax Hill Road and Couch Street knows how frustrating it can be, but there was nothing to be done, former Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord said some while back.

New DPW Director Bruce Chimento is taking a shot.

The department is tinkering with the timing of the lights, Chimento said, shaking his head and calling the intersection a “nightmare.”

DPW also has, under Chimento’s command, changed the timing at the intersection of Commerce Street and Wall Street. Now you can make a left turn from Commerce onto Wall, he said.

“There’s an ongoing program that we have, especially looking at our older lights that don’t respond as well,” Chimento said.

“People don’t realize that when we do something with a light we have to get state approval. … It’s not a difficult thing, it just takes time. The state people are responsive to us, but don’t forget they’ve got the entire state,” he said.

You also need state approve to change center lines, he said.

People have been talking to him about the Fairfield/Flax Hill intersection, he said, about how the light makes drivers sit and wait to cross MLK from Fairfield when there is no one on MLK, backing the traffic up.

Another fun moment at the corner of Flax Hill Road and Fairfield Avenue.
Another fun moment at the corner of Flax Hill Road and Fairfield Avenue.

Drivers routinely block Flax Hill, and by the time they clear the intersection the light has turned red again. No problem, usually – taking a right onto Fairfield is easy at that point, unless some unfortunate soul wants to go left and is stuck there. You can’t go around.

Chimento said that is changing. DPW is making Flax Hill into two lanes there.

“We are going to try to do something about that,” Chimento said.

 

A Commission without a country

Harbor Management Commission members have spent a lot of time updating mooring rules and regulations, they say. But getting them to the Common Council for approval is not as easy as you would think.

“We have to figure out which department we are going to go through,” Tony Mobilia said at their recent meeting, prompting a rant from John Pinto.

“We are a bona fide commission of the city of Norwalk,” Pinto said. “We should have direct contact with the Common Council members. If we want to get something done by that Common Council, we go directly to that Common Council as a Commission of the city of Norwalk. Why do we have to go to another Commission? Why do we have to wait for Mr. Mocciae? Why do we have to wait for Mr. Greene? I don’t understand it.”

“I don’t know if I’m walking a plank here and I am going to say this with a smile on my face, but not being totally versed in governing procedure, how is it that, over all of these years, a great amount of things that we do deal with we deal with through Planning and Zoning? How are those two things able to co-exist? We have to do this through them, we have to do that through them, they give us support on this, support on that. When it comes to a thing like this, we are a man without a country,” Harbor Master Mike Griffin said.

Coastal Area Planning Consultant Geoff Steadman said five previous mooring regulation updates had gone through the Parks and Recs Committee without a problem. “Now for whatever reason it’s not moving forward,” Steadman said.

“Why do we need Parks and Rec?” Pinto asked.

It’s up to Planning and Zoning to provide staff support, Steadman said.

“Is this a trick dictionary that we are talking about: ‘provide staff support’? How do we define staff support?” Griffin asked.

 

Can DEEP pull Norwalk’s ‘privilege’?

Democratic activist Diane Lauricella is not alone in saying that Norwalk does not respect the state’s opinion on Coastal Management Act applications, but she does appear to be out on a limb with a recent statement regarding the state’s power.

At a recent meeting of the Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations (CNNA), Lauricella  asserted:

“The city has been given the privilege of administering the Coastal Area Management Act. That is a sacred privilege. It can be taken away if they continuously forget that they have to look at the balance of environment with development. If they don’t want to do it, that sacred trust should be given to a different department and a different commission.”

But a Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection official’s statement seemed to blow Lauricella’s assertion out of the water.

DEEP Communications Director Dennis Schain said this in an email:

“DEEP does not have the power to withdraw a municipality’s authority to conduct coastal site plan reviews….or to determine which local authority should do such reviews. The roles of DEEP and cities and towns on this are spelled out by statute.

“Given the above, we have never withdrawn authority for a municipality to conduct coastal site plan reviews…statutes do not allow for that.”

 

FOI hearing rescheduled

Norwalk Board of Education member Shirley Mosby’s battle against Freedom of Information requests may finally resume on Oct. 26.

That’s a full month since Mosby requested that the two Freedom of Information Commission hearings scheduled for Sept. 28 be postponed, claiming that she was on bed rest that week. That would have been Parent Teacher Organization Council President Michael Byrne’s first bite at the apple, his chance to make an argument that the organization should have access to the “evidence” collected by Mosby to support her year-old accusation of “disparate treatment” on the BoE.

That would have been followed with another hearing with NancyOnNorwalk and Republican Town Committee Chairman Pete Torrano.

The NoN and RTC cases were consolidated by the Commission. That case is scheduled to continue at 1 p.m. Oct. 26. Byrne’s case is scheduled be heard at 2:30 p.m.

Don’t expect a revelation. Hearing Officer Valencia Harmon will make a recommendation to the full Commission. Then, provided that Mosby hasn’t decided to turn over what she has to the public, there will be more waiting while a final hearing is scheduled.

Comments

4 responses to “Norwalk political notes: Green on red, Mosby rescheduled”

  1. John Hamlin

    This article focuses on several issues that demonstrate just how dysfunctional and ineffective Norwalk’s government is in addressing basic responsibilities of local government — some of the problems are wounds inflicted by the state (itself a paragon of dysfunction) but some of them are self-inflicted wounds. What’s astonishing is when the structure of government itself is so confusing that smart people can’t figure out who’s in charge of what — or ultimately conclude that no one is in charge and no one is therefore accountable. It’s sad that Norwalk has so much potential but its political leaders revel in the mire of a dysfunctional status quo, which they prefer over a government that works — or at least works better. And Norwalk is prone to elect Common Council members for whom there’s always a problem for every potential solution.

  2. Joanna Cooper

    As Mr. Hamilton’s comment states we have some dysfunction for sure. If I could wave a magic wand and get three wishes I’d wish for a highly qualified town planner, Charter reform and a better school system. We are being sold out to developers by “Planning and Zoning” and we lack proper functioning organizational structures (a well written Charter). These problems are seriously stressing the schools which will educate the next generation to become better.

    Yes, it is sad it seems the status quo fights to keep the dysfunction. It benefits so few… to what end? What happened to government “for the people”? I hope we can elect those who truly want to serve the people not themselves this election and that things will improve because we do have so much potential.

    Thank you to Nancy for your reporting on our local government. No one does it better. Without NoN we would not know much of what’s going on in our local government and it could get worse with fewer people watching. We can’t improve it if are uninformed and uninvolved. Support Nancy on Norwalk with a monthly donation, cast an informed vote and get involved before it’s too late.

  3. PKN

    The Couch st intersection, not only light timing should be looked at, but also red light runners are another problem. I wonder what is the purpose of the cameras above the lights?

  4. Diane Lauricella

    Upon waking, I was quite surprised to see the article mention the CNNA meeting, but the context reported is in need of clarification. Let me try to fill in some of the gaps as I am travelling today.

    The article topic, whether the City Zoning Commission and its Planning and Zoning Department are doing what is expected of them when administering CAM, is an excellent one and I am very happy that NON brought it up.

    By the way, I was at the CNNA meeting representing my neighborhood, Save Cranbury, and not there as a “democratic activist”. For consistency, NON should then also identify Ms. Hargrove as a “republican activist” or Ms. Cece as a “Conservative activist” to be fair.

    First of all, I was directing my comment about the way the Planning and Zoning Department and the Zoning Commission historically and presently handle their responsibility under the Coastal Area Management Act (CAM), not the whole City. The Harbor Management folks seem to have issues also. I think I discussed how understaffed the DEEP was in the context of their problems enforcing their own laws.

    Mr. Schain is partly correct about whether CTDEEP can force a particular city commission to take responsibility for administering a particular regulation. BUT they can make suggestions and review the agency’s effectiveness if they want to. They can and do find ways to ensure that a municipality adheres to particular state and federal law, using tools such as the power of the Notice of Violation,State Civil Orders, or outright Criminal investigation if need be.

    Here is where “political will” comes in on both a state and local level.

    The CTDEEP’s spin doctor, Mr. Schain, gave a politically correct answer, but my point at the CNNA meeting was that the State rarely checks to see if a City like Norwalk is functionally handling their coastal land use matters in the balanced way that the state and federal laws expect. This means that a City such as Norwalk who is privileged enough to be located on the coast should be balancing BOTH the developer’s interests as well as the environment’s needs and public safety. CTDEEP assumes that unless they get complaints and occasional official requests for opinions that things are hunky dory….far from it.

    Time for a statewide regulatory review about how municipalities handle their CAM obligations, especially in a time of scientifically-documented sea level rise. In addition, we citizens can seek out our state legislators (remember, next year is another state election cycle!) and file concerns with the Governor and beyond.

    Reviewing the local Zoning Commission’s CAM history, I think the time has come for us to consider how to improve this Commission’s handling of CAM applications (in addition to many other things that I am happy that the Mayor’s Zoning Task Force is trying to help with), whether we train staff and commissioners better, reorganize staff or place CAM administration with a different Commission or Board. Again, the “political will” thing.

    There are many ways that a state agency can encourage or force a municipal agency to do a better job. Mr. Schain knows this. Much of it takes political will.

    Some examples:
    Adding technical and financial conditions to state and federal permits needed by a municipality, such as CTDEEP does.

    Withholding certain state monies if, for example, the Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) is not updated every 10 years, such as CT OPM does. We talked about that years ago at CNNA.

    While I was not privy to the question(s) Mr. Schain was asked, I hope that Mr. Schain told NON the many other ways that the state can influence adherence to state laws. Some of it is pure “squeaky wheel gets the grease” mentality.

    I would love them to get a fair budget from the legislature so that they can properly enforce the myriad of important regulations that keep us safe and healthy. CT DEEP has one of the tiniest budgets in the nation compared to the work they are expected to do properly.

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