Norwalk project worth the investment, officials say

The Norwalk Housing Authority is working toward knocking down Washington Village, a Water Street projects that dates back to the 1940s.

By Nancy Guenther Chapman

NORWALK, Conn. – The giveaway of a valuable property owned by the City of Norwalk to a developer is a matter of having “skin in the game,” according to a veteran Common Council member.

Selling the Day Street property, which is reportedly worth about $2 million, to Trinity Financial for a mere $1 will kick start a renewal for South Norwalk, said Doug Hempstead (R, At-Large) and other people at last week’s meeting of the planning committee. Trinity Financial will use the property to help get a federal grant to construct a mixed-residency project to replace the aging Washington Village, a project that is already spurring interest in the area from commercial developers, officials said.

“As part of this project, to get federal funding, the city has to have some skin in the game,” Hempstead said. “That’s why the value of the piece of property. It’s not like we’re giving it away for a $1.”

Carvin Hilliard (D-District B) agreed. “I support this development because it’s an improvement for the area,” he said. “For the property that we’re giving up, there’s going to be revenue for the city, in terms of taxes.”

Eva Erlich of Trinity Financial discusses plans for a housing development to replace Washington Village.

Eva Erlich of Trinity Financial said that nothing has happened yet other than the drawing of plans, but already Spinnaker Real Estate Partners has acquired an option on the L&L Evergreen property at the corner of Raymond and Day streets, adjacent to the proposed redevelopment. Other developers are looking in the area, she said.

“Just as a result, knowing that it might be in the pipeline is already inspiring private developers to come in and do market rate development,” she said.

Plans at present include a new street connecting Day Street to Water Street to increase safety in the area. There will be 3- to 4-story buildings, with larger apartments on the lower levels featuring stoops opening out to front yards. There will be smaller quiet play areas behind buildings for smaller children to play in, as well as a community center and a resource center.

The plans include 136 public housing units, the same number that are in Washington Village now. There will be 137 other apartments; half will be workforce and half will be at market rate.

“Market rate houses, that’s taxes,” Hilliard said. “There’s something for everybody even for the residents there, it’s all thought out. They’re going to have transportation to get jobs, to get education so they can get jobs. All of this is included in this plan.”

David Watts (D, District A) asked about the projects’s effect on the grand list.

Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan replied, “If you took this project and put it out as market rate development you’d be looking at huge windfall for the city in terms of investment. But the issue here is you’re trying to incorporate mixed income. Therefore the yield is less.”

But, the city will get the money back when other developments come in, he said.

“There is no question that if this development does occur it’s transformational for the entire neighborhood,” he said.

Committee members unanimously supported the plan.

“I think it a beautiful thing that we are doing this in our downtown area,” said Warren Peña (D, At Large), adding that he had done research on Trinity and been impressed.

David McCarthy (R, District E) said, “I think it’s a little regrettable that people don’t look at the bigger picture and consider the city is putting in something to something better, and be putting in mixed income housing that will be turning what is right now depressing it into something that people will be happy to live in, excited to live in, be able to learn and grow in there.”


5 responses to “Norwalk project worth the investment, officials say”

  1. Anna Duleep

    My main concern is the transfer of title (and potential subsequent transfer when the Norwalk Housing Authority reportedly cedes management of the new complex to Trinity or another party). From what I understand, other communities have negotiated far more aggressively, and somehow managed to get Hope VI/Choice Neighborhoods projects off the ground WITHOUT giving up the City/Town’s ability to control through (shared?) land ownership. I am just beginning my research on this.

    My other concern is ensuring that any significant investment by the City yields a ripple effect that actually reaches beyond the immediate neighborhood. The “Choice Neighborhood” cuts a fairly wide swath across South Norwalk. But when I hear comments like those of Ms. Epps at the Dec. 4th meeting, I worry. When Second Taxing District Commissioner Mary Geake suggested allowing the public access to the bathrooms in the “Community Center,” Ms. Epps blurted out, “No, that’s private property.”

    Curtis Law told me years ago his original choice for a site was the Webster Lot. Basic principles of Transit Oriented Design would seem to favor a site closer to the South Norwalk Train Station. Yet the bulk of the resources are being steered toward the waterfront property. We’ve got a city engineer working on ways to “flood-proof” the greater Water Street area with no estimates available yet as to the cost the City will bear to implement these infrastructure improvements.

    At a time when we are once again girding ourselves for extremely difficult budget decisions in the short-term, we need to consider long-term investments -such as Hope VI/Choice Neighborhoods- very carefully. I think there is plenty of room for the “private” in a public/private PARTNERSHIP to make a profit without committing the City to an unnecessarily unfavorable deal.

  2. LWitherspoon

    What is the City and the NHA’s involvement in the project after the transfer of the property for $1? Councilman Hempstead’s comment that the City will have “skin in the game” implies an investment, not a giveaway. If in fact that City is simply selling property to a private developer for $1 in hopes that it will spur development and therefore more tax revenue from adjacent parcels, then that’s troubling. But I don’t think that’s the case – it sounds as though the developer won’t be free to do whatever he wants with the property. The developer has to replace the current Washington Village housing.

  3. oldtimer

    In the various stories published about this, I got the impression there as a federal grant involved and a condition that all the units in Washington village have to be replaced. What makes it attractive to other investors is the ability to also include market rate units, but the requirement to replace is a condition.

  4. Diane C2

    If ONLY someone could tell us the terms between the NHA and Trinity, we could do our own research into whether it is “worth it”. Council is not asking even the very basic of questions….

  5. lwitherspoon

    Who is the Norwalk Housing Authority? What is the NHA’s funding source? What is the connection between city government and the NHA?

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