Norwalk P&Z-inspired drama marks beginning of staid Council committee meeting

NORWALK, Conn. – A Republican-Democratic disagreement marked the beginning of Thursday’s Planning Committee meeting, as Planning Commissioner Victor Cavallo reportedly told former Zoning Commissioner Mike Mushak that he is a disgusting human being before heading out the door.

Mushak spoke to the committee to say that a Plan of Conservation and Development, otherwise known as a master plan, is not totally an advisory document, in contrast to assertions made by Planning and Zoning Director Mike Greene. Cavallo followed Mushak and said there are many cases showing the plan is strictly advisory and that the Planning Commission’s role is largely to respond to applications.

“We don’t have the authority to just on our own gratuitously go out and try to influence the decisions of the departments other than what is provided by statute,” Cavallo said.

:isa Thomson
Lisa Thomson expressed amused confusion to the Norwalk Planning Committee on Thursday.

This back and forth caused Lisa Thomson to express confusion.

“I keep hearing nobody thinks it’s their job to plan,” Thomson said, after explaining that she is new to issues of Planning and Zoning. “I keep hearing conflicting reports about what the master plan is and it concerns me as a resident and a taxpayer that there does seem to be a little bit of this within Norwalk. And to look to the Planning Committee within the Common Council, who I do consider to be the supreme law of the land, to finally start maybe reminding people, if perhaps we’ve forgotten over the last couple of decades, what everyone’s role is. Because I just became very concerned to hear Mr. Cavallo, not his disparaging remarks, but he’s on the Planning (Commission) and he goes ‘We don’t plan.’ It’s a bit of a misnomer. I find that odd.”

By disparaging remarks, she meant the personal insult to Mushak.

“Mr. Cavallo just said I was a disgusting human being,” Mushak said after Greene left, a short appearance that might be called a drive-by.

Cavallo told the committee he had come because, “I knew there was going to be some gratuitous bomb that was going to be laid on this committee by certain people.”

Mushak spoke first. His comments echoed many things he has said on this website – the city needs to have certified planners on staff, he said.

“I am very concerned that the Planning Commission is not doing its job,” he said, which is to “promote public interest in the master plan” and “advise officials on elements of the master plan and basically oversee and coordinate the development of the city.”

Cavallo rebutted Mushak’s assertion that the master plan is a controlling document when it comes to municipal improvements. “There are legions of cases that say the POCD is advisory. I am not aware of any statute that says that it is mandatory,” Cavallo said.

Then, “I particularly object to some of the … I urge you not to consider some of the vile, disgusting, odious, defamatory character assassination against Mike Greene,” Cavallo said. “For whatever reason I don’t know, but there are certain people in this town that are just adamant against destroying his character. Do not be influenced by that. … He knows his stuff. I’ve worked with him and there’s no reason to believe any of the defamatory comments that you hear or read.”

Mushak has left many comments on this site saying that Greene needs to be replaced. He did not say that to the Planning Committee.

“The Planning Commission does what it does if there is an application or something that is brought to it that essentially triggers and gives them the authority to act. We don’t have the authority to just act on our own without any request or any application coming before us,” Cavallo said. “ … We don’t have the authority to just on our own gratuitously go out and try to influence the decisions of the departments other than what is provided by statute.”


26 responses to “Norwalk P&Z-inspired drama marks beginning of staid Council committee meeting”

  1. Mike Mushak

    I get that the Master Plan is not a rulebook that needs to be followed in every case. That is common sense. But there are many folks in Norwalk, including our P and Z Director, who have in the past dismissed the Master Plan as a “useless” document, as they have said on the record. Mr. Green also seems confused as to what the responsibilities of the Planning Commission are, and as staff member to that important but mostly neutered commission he should know better. He makes the case for the need for new blood in the dysfunctional P and Z Department at almost every public appearance. But don’t take my word for it, just read Mr. Green’s comments and contrast them to what the law actually says:

    Mr. Greene on the Master Plan and the responsibility of the Planning Commission to coordinate Norwalk’s growth, at the BET meeting : ““Remember, this is not the Planning Commission’s function to just do this,” Greene said, stopping. “It’s all the various departments, so what you could do is pass this around to every city department and have them go through and tell you which things they did implement and which things they haven’t.”

    Here is the actual responsibility and powers of the Planning Commission from the city website and charter:

    “Planning and coordinating the physical, social, and economic development of the city in accordance with the city charter, city code, and state statutes.”

    (Sp. Laws 1947, No. 214, § 9.)

    “The Commission shall have power to promote public interest in and understanding of the plan and may publish copies of any report and may employ other means of publicity. The Commission shall recommend to public officials programs for public improvements and the financing thereof. It shall be part of its duties to consult and advise with public officials and organizations and citizens with relation to the carrying out of the plan. The Commission shall have the right to accept and use gifts of public benefit for the exercise of its functions. All public officials shall, upon request, furnish the Commission, within a reasonable time, such available information as it may require in its work.”

    To continually insist that the Planning Commission has no power that is granted to it by law is absurd, as Mr. Cavallo did yet again last night to justify the inaction of the Planning Commission in actually “planning and coordinating the physical, social, and economic development of the city.” Please show me any shred of evidence that this important function is happening, beyond the budget process which is also corrupted at this point, and I will stop my rants about how dysfunctional the entire planing process is in Norwalk.

    Having Mr. Greene, with no professional planning credentials at all, be staff to the Planning Commission with folks like Mr. Cavallo on it is really like the blind leading the blind. No wonder Norwalk looks the way it does and is still struggling with widespread blight, empty lots, and haphazard development, despite sky-high property taxes and an often business-unfriendly approach to P and Z issues.

    As far as the other big issue of the Master Plan being 100% “advisory”, as Mr. Greene states, all I can do is list the excerpt of the CT General Statutes that deals with Master Plans below:

    “Master plan controlling as to municipal improvements, merely advisory as to zoning. 154 C. 202. Cited. Id., 472. Plan of development is of broader significance than zoning and two terms are not interchangeable. Planning connotes systematic development of municipality to promote general welfare and prosperity of its people, while zoning is concerned primarily with use of property. 155 C. 669. Recommendation in plan of development, pursuant to section, designating appropriate uses for various areas in town is merely advisory and does not bind zoning commission.”

    I am not a lawyer, but I know how to read.

  2. EastNorwalkChick

    Mr. Cavallo should step down as commissioner, argue your case intelligently and as an adult, make your case, enough with the school yard name calling.

    As far as Mike Greene’s character goes, he, himself has done more damage to it with his benign, ambiguous answers to questions, than anyone else has.

    Mike Mushak is right, we need to clean house in P&Z, we need a professional in that department now, not a municipal “lifer” employee. We need to follow a plan and P&Z should “go out and try to influence the decisions of the departments “. Because if the various departments aren’t on the same page planning wise, you get what we have now in Norwalk, a big mish mosh of crap.

  3. Michael McGuire

    Replacing Mike Greene is not the real issue. The real issue is the confusion over what the role is of the P&Z is and who’s planning Norwalk. Clearly Mike Greene is the “buck stops here” kind of guy when it comes to a zoning issue. However, on the planning side we get “it’s not my job”.

    Hence the confusion.

    So essentially, we are leaving planning up to a group of volunteers, the Planning commission, none of whom have backgrounds sufficient to oversee a City planning organization, and advised by a P&Z with no planning confidence. This in turn leads to a lopsided negotiating posture for the City when they deal with developers regarding larger projects. And disuades smaller developers since the process is too convoluted. The results – what Lisa Thomson terms “concert hall crisis mode” where the common sense of the citizenry is required to resolve issues. Not and effective way to govern.

    A strong planner would be looking ahead and advising the City leadership of best practices to maximize the wellbeing and vitality of Norwalk.
    Examples include:
    • Revising the Restricted Indusial zone to unlock the value and job creating capacity of this zone to reflect current market realities, not the 1970s.

    • Guiding CC with oversight of developer selection as in the case of the Wall Street area (the POKO project).

    • Guiding CC to not overload a project with too much extraneous social do-good (POKO project)

    • Proactively revising the LDA for 95/7 to reflect current market conditions (the current LDA reflects the pre-recession marketplace, not today’s marketplace).

    • Hopefully stopping politically motivated choices (cutting the meter heads off on Wall Street) from damaging neighborhoods.

    • Creating policy to deal with blighted (Duleep’s property).

    • Making the POCD relevant and working with all departments to keep it in line.

    • Helping to plan the various neighborhoods the policies that keep us out of the Concert Hall.

    • This sends a strong pro-business message to the marketplace.

    And this is just a short list. Bottom line – we need qualified planning. Therefore, I strongly urge the powers that be (ironic as its confusion to whom this responsibility falls – the major? Common council? Planning commission?…) to put the “P” back in P&Z.

  4. Suzanne

    It would have been helpful if Mr. Cavallo had reinforced his declamations with factual information rather than personal opinion. Mike Greene maybe excellent at what he does with Mr. Cavallo but his lack of cooperation in revealing his qualifications and his “doesn’t play well with others” grade affects his leadership. This is easily verifiable by meeting reviews on this WEB Site.

    I think there is more pro-business messages being sent from Norwalk, albeit very flawed. What I would like to see is a pro-citizens message and respect for taxpayers’ needs and vision for their community.

    Currently, it appears that corporate entities get to tell us how the community is going to be, how it will be developed, what it will look like, no legitimate input at all from the citizens it might affect.

    While there have been some taxpayer “victories” (and, after all, all of these Councils do work for us) such as moving the mosque and stopping BJ’s,there have been many more projects that have affected neighborhoods where citizens simply did not have any more than a pro forma say.

    Developers get all the permits they need and, oh, by the way, the taxpayer needs to spout their nonsense at a meeting before we go ahead and do what we want anyway.

    Clarifying, by statute, would be helpful since this Planning Commission doesn’t seem to know what they are doing or what their role is. Perhaps some legal evaluation at this point would be helpful. It does not preclude the DIRE need for Norwalk to get a qualified municipal planner for oversight and “outward action” which apparently the Planning Commission does not do, according to Mr. Cavallo. They are a response team only.

  5. Oldtimer

    Mr Cavallo is a lawyer and arguably well educated in the law, if not in good manners. Why Mr Cavallo felt a need to call Mr Mushak names is beyond my understanding. There was a time when Planning and Zoning was all one agency in Norwalk. For some reason, years ago, planning was separated from zoning. If planning does not plan and zoning clearly does plan and change zoning regulations to conform with their plans, why is there a planning commission ? Do they have a serious function totally unrelated to land use ?

    Mr Green has been in his job a long time and, although he has never been certified as a planner, he is very skilled at enforcing whatever regulations have come down from Zoning. This is what he understands his responsibility is, not planning. Criticism for lack of planning credentials, when his job does not require, or authorize, land use planning, is not fair. Complaining that the City does not have a certified planning expert on staff may be justified, but, until land use planning, now focused on zoning, gets a staff planner, or even recognizes a need, that will not happen.

    Mr Mushak has a valid point. If studies are done and plans developed, at considerable cost, why are those plans not adopted and then become binding ? Is there some compulsion to spend money for studies with no intent to take any value from them ?

  6. Suzanne

    To Mr. Cavallo’s point that the Planning Commission reacts to permits or plans put before them and does not go out into the community as an “activist” group to actually Plan in the Community: the end is the same. However the Commission chooses to react to a given permit DOES plan the community, does say “out there” what will be PLANNED for that piece of property or dwelling. They are not passive receptors to the wiles of developers or citizens.

    It would be nice to know, however, that their reactions are based upon real guidelines pertinent to an overall vision of the City of Norwalk and not the scattered willy-nilly responses we have now. City planning creates connective tissue for an organism not separated limbs with no heart to keep them healthy.

  7. John Hamlin

    @MichaelMcGuire: I agree completely.

    The attack on Michael Mushak is pathetic and unwarranted. Focus on the issues and act like adults.

  8. EDR

    Good points Mike but most of what you cite is the purview of the Redevelopment Authority is it not? Isn’t Tim Sheehan a professional planner? What about his credentials?
    Aren’t they charged with overseeing urban renewal in Norwalk?

    If I am mistaken please tell me but the fact is we have two planning groups in town. Urban renewal in Norwalk has been going on for years. The CBD is changing before our eyes. Norwalk rising is happening. Right or wrong much that has gone on reflects the POCD, the market and the RDA. Tim has done a great job.

    Certainly we can make things less complicated in town but in my opinion change is far more complicated than the change agents make it out to be. The late Walter Briggs found that out 10 years ago when he was Chairman of the Planning Commission- the last time folks tried to revamp planning and zoning. It’s like a pulled thread, watch what happens.

    Mike Greene is one of the hardest working conscientious employees in City Hall. Unfortunately he is to much the gentleman to respond to the continuous personal attacks launched against him. He is a class act which is more than I can say about other folks. But I expect nothing less anymore. You cannot win a debate on facts so you personally attack someone. (That is rule no. 5 by the way).

    We unfortunately are living in a new McCarthyism era. If we do not agree we attack and smear. “Have you no shame”?

  9. Lisa Thomson

    And to think that I nearly stayed home last night to settle in on the sofa and watch TV. All joking aside, last night did present itself with an ‘aha moment’ as Mr. Greene, Mr. Mushak and Mr. Cavallo all gave differing accounts of Norwalk’s planning process to the Common Council Planning Committee. As long serving council members, not to mention past city affiliations, both Mssrs. Hempstead and Kimmel ‘got it’ as I am sure did other attending CC members.

    Whether the CC ultimately needs to remind or redefine the process by which the different Norwalk agencies, boards and staffs work with one another on P&Z mattersor or whether we need to hire a certified planner or whether Norwalk has outgrown its 1913 City Charter remains to be seen. But the issue of P&Z is sitting squarely on the table of the Common Council and that is a good thing.

  10. Carol

    time for everyone to act like adults,including victor-not the time or place for this.

  11. John Hamlin

    The Council now should see the problem, as you point out, Lisa. We can’t get agreement on who’s responsible for what. And the fact that no one can point to any credentialed, trained, experienced expert city planner anywhere in city hall tells much of the story. The questions are where do we want to go and what’s the best way to get there. If the Council does nothing, they have answered those questions — they want to stay where we are and no need to figure out how to get nowhere — the status quo wins yet again. And yes, we clearly need charter reform! Since they aren’t doing any planning, perhaps we cut P&Z’s budget in half and address the threshold issue that way?

  12. Don’t Panic

    The POCD (“master plan”) for the city is required by state statute, every ten years. It requires that it contain certain elements, but it is up to the city as it goes through the process whether the organization and contents can be practically useful and consistent throughout. Once adopted, it is up to all of the departments of the City to incorporate it into their operations as planning and funding permit.
    Redevelopment only handles the areas that are qualified for redevelopment funds–they do not perform those functions for the entire city, which is why somebody has to take ownership of Planning for other areas–like Cranbury, East Norwalk, Spring Hill, etc.

  13. Mike Mushak

    EDR, aka Ernie Des Rochers, please stop the stupid and embarrassing melodrama. You are part of the old-boys corruption that has ruined this city. You totally ignored the law recently when you recruited Mr Greene illegally to help work on that fiasco of a master plan process for Oak Hills (the lease required Oak Hills to reimburse the city for any staff time, and when I revealed that little fact publicly, we were told Mr. Greene was “donating” his time and his staff’s time to Oak Hills, something he has no power to do and should have been investigated as a theft of services from city taxpayers.) Oh well, its just a minor breaking of laws by Mike Greene. He is such a gentleman!

    Mike Greene has clearly, and on the record, abused his authority on many occasions, lied to the Zoning Commission and threatened them with a lawsuit if they even discuss a performance review of him (in an attempt to eliminate ALL oversight or accountability from anyone in City Hall over his job or performance), retaliated against businesses and developers he decides are challenging him, refused to release his professional credentials to the public who pays his salary by saying they are a secret, and has declared that HE and HE ALONE can interpret zoning codes anyway he wants when confronted with evidence he broke city and state laws, for instance when approving a parking lot that drains potential toxic effluent into Norwalk Harbor every time it rains (AMEC). This is a potential felony by a city employee and no one cares. Oh, but he is such a gentleman! Give me a break.

    I am not the only one to hold that very low opinion of Mike Greene in Norwalk, so stop pretending like this is my personal vendetta against Mike Greene. My vendetta is against taxpayer waste and abuse, and incompetence and corruption. . Why don’t you address the facts I just presented, instead of attacking me like Victor Cavallo did last night. I have plenty of witnesses and evidence, which is why Mr. Greene has never countered any of my statements. Many prominent developers and investors have thanked me for exposing Greene’s arrogance and corruption, , and the long-term damage he has done to the city over his decades of employment since 1978. Prove to me he is worth $165,000 a year and 2 full months paid vacation with a life-long pension, costing Norwalk taxpayers milliions as he constantly makes excuses as to why he cant do his job, , and I will be amazed.

    The apologists for Mike Greene are revealing their own ignorance of what planning is all about, and about what professional planning looks like. We really don’t know what that is, as we don’t have it in Norwalk. No planning, no vision, no professionalism. Oh, but move a flower pot in your driveway, and the GOP thugs and the corrupt staff will be all over it.

    What a shame for all of us.

  14. Nora King

    Michael McGuire has hit it on the head! Also, Norwalk should be very thankful for Mike Mushak. He gets it. He works hard for our city. We need to invest in an experienced city planner. We need someone who has had SUCCESSFUL experience growing a city like ours. Enough of this hiring someone who knows someone as well. As Mike Greene states over and over and over again he isn’t a planner. Mike thinks his role is that of managing the code. We need to bring someone in much more senior level to get the P and Z department fixed. It is broken. The commissioners on both Planning and Zoning are volunteers. For that matter the Common Council members are volunteers. We need qualified city paid officials to manage this city. Our city charter needs to be rewritten. Our form of government and management is not working. The planning and zoning commissioners -they should be guided by full time employees that welcome a master plan, help create it and help follow it. Reform and change are not bad words. We are a growing city, which is awesome. Let’s embrace that and now start building a city government that can manage this change. We need to start with Planning and Zoning.

  15. Taxpayer Fatigue

    Does anyone know the real reason why the Planning and Zoning Commissions were split? The only thing I’ve ever heard is that Mayor Esposito didn’t like some of the people on the combined P&Z Commission, so he split the Commission into two and put all new appointments on the two new commissions, leaving out the former commissioners he didn’t like.

  16. Sara Sikes

    It’s encouraging to see all this debate about the planning process in Norwalk. It’s discouraging that some public officials do not communicate with civility. So many members of the public say they are disgusted with this political atmosphere and it makes it difficult to get good candidates to run for office.

    Here’s a challenge for Nancy and Mark-how about writing a story on recent history of Planning and Zoning, why was the department split in two and what resulted?

    My recollections are that Mayor Bill Collins’ administration managed to reform the zoning regulations with a “mixed use” requirement for commercial development. This meant that the buildings were required to have affordable housing and parking spaces within the building. Then Frank Esposito was elected Mayor in 1977 with a Republican sweep of the Common Council, winning the majority of the seats. They immediately reversed the zoning laws, and then split the commission into two parts. I never really understood why this was done, but suspected it favored developers. Soon after, the “Big Box” retail stores with huge parking lots started appearing, to replace the exodus of businesses and corporate HQ’s. But this is only my memory.

    I’ll bet the former mayors since that time have some worthwhile opinions on this, especially Mayor Collins.

  17. Victor Cavallo

    Drawing everyone’s attention to the post above dated November 7, 2014 at 11:06 am, I rest my case.

  18. cc-rider

    Victor you might as well be the captain of the Hindenburg or Titanic clinging to the status quo and/or current dysfunction found here in Norwalk. People are not going to stand for it any longer.

  19. Suzanne

    Mr. Cavallo, your case does not “rest” with anyone. Rather than being the purveyor of emotional outbursts about your loyalty to Mr. Greene, why don’t you check out some of the facts Mr. Mushak has mentioned AND supported for months. This self-righteous response is as useless as your claim against Mr. Mushak.

    Whenever I see Mike speak of these matters, I see the paperwork, I see the supporting documents. Your deluge of inappropriate comments only reinforced the idea that this is personal. It is not – it is about competency and creating the best Norwalk that can be mustered.

    If someone who is integral to the process is not appropriately educated (if we were only allowed to know) or prepared, stand up and get out of the way.

    Mr. Cavallo, I would not doubt the strength of the constituency this time around. I think taxpayers have had it and are more ready than ever to see positive change, your diatribe notwithstanding.

  20. Guardrail

    Endless babbling, finger-pointing, and perpetual confusion rolls out like toilet paper all year long, meanwhile NOTHING gets done about the problems facing Norwalk.

  21. Norewalk Lifer

    Mike Mushak explained a problem, Cavallo spent less than a minute discussing statutes, then launched into a defense of Mike Greene, I don’t pay for the lighting, heating, security of city hall so a person like Victor Cavallo can get up and defend someone from the horrors of the internets.

    There is nothing “gratuitous” about citizens questioning the machinations of a city organization that clearly shows signs of confusion and lack of understanding of roles and responsibilities, and insofar as a Mike Greene being a master planner, I would advocate a 360 of his performance by an advisory group “outside” the city walls. There are certainly enough organizations that can do this, and insofar as Victor Cavallo being an expert in interpretation, let another judiciary entity decide what the interpretation should be. Mike Green and Victor Cavallo, as well as Mike Mushak, would benefit from an independent and non political expert opinion on the interpretative value of the state statutes, versus the perceived value by Norwalk’s planning and zoning, to me it’s that simple.

    And yes, the vitriol of a personal nature should be removed, this is about compentency and what Norwalk needs in the coming decades, no one is talking about that.

    Norwalk Lifer

  22. John Hamlin

    The issue of the dysfunction of Norwalk’s planning and zoning function (director, department, Commission, and Council) seems to have become a partisan issue, with Republicans generally defending the status quo and Democrats generally questioning the status quo and advocating reform. The Republicans generally seem to have taken the position that individual property owners have the right to do anything they want with their property and that government should step out of the way and not impede individual property owners no matter what the impact on neighboring property owners or on neighborhoods and communities (until someone wants to build a mosque). If that’s not true, it would be interesting to hear from Republican Council members and Commisioners to the contrary. If it is true, it sounds like an important distinction to keep in mind in coming elections.

  23. Casey Smith

    @ John Hamlin,

    I don’t think it was quite so simple in that it falls along party lines. Norwalk is not the only town that has this problem. There’s lots of moving parts in the Master Plan equation. One major factor is that the current process is so convoluted and a project or resolution hits so many different committees for “transparency”, things take forever.

    One example of this is It took almost two years to get the blight ordinance passed and at the last moment, a couple of people tried to derail it. And that came nowhere near having the scope of the Master Plan. I also think that’s one reason why the mini-Master Plans were done, simply to try and get some kind of plan in place for a specific area because it took something like four years to get the last Master Plan completed and approved.

    I’d also like to point out that when Jackie Lightfield made the suggestion about the Master Plan and Planning and Zoning to the Planning Committee a few months ago, Doug Hempstead listened, asked questions, and started working on it right away.

    Jackie Lightfield also recently made a very good suggestion that the Planning Committee start working on the budget for the next one and start thinking about what they would like to see in the next Master Plan now. Since the Master Plan is now six years old, this Committee can lay the ground work for the new one, but no one knows what the next election will bring. The completion of the new Master Plan will be the charge of the new Planning Committee and they may or may not agree with this Committee’s goals and objectives. So, as I said earlier, it’s not quite as partisan as you may think.

  24. Lisa Thomson

    John Hamlin – I totally agree! The GOP political grandstanding that took place with the mosque ‘overdevelopment’ versus the silence on all other neighborhood overdevelopment issues strikes a sharp contrast. Having said that, I see moderates Doug Hempstead (R) and Bruce Kimmel (D) beginning to take up the unenviable task of sorting things out. How many of their fellow Common Council members will go on the record and step up before they start campaigning for re-election next spring-summer?

  25. Michael McGuire

    Sara Sikes – great point! NoN, an article that goes back to the inception of this planning mess would be very helpful to start the process of repairing it. I would love to know who’s responsible for what regarding planning, how it gets implemented etc. and any significant changes in the past 3-4 decades.

    Also, as a taxpayer I would really like to see the job description of the head of P&Z That’s a good starting point to see if Mike Greene is doing his job or not – because I really don’t know and its a fair question to ask.

    I would assume the head of P&Z would be responsible for planning as well as zoning but I could be wrong. Clearly, planning is lacking here, and the costs are real and measurable as I’ve noted in numerous posts.

  26. Oyster

    Where the heck is Mario? It would seem like a quick read of the statutes, charter and Mr. Greene’s job description would take him less than an hour.

    I can’t believe that the council cannot get the most basic of all service out of staff on this issue.

    Instead of letting legions of citizen researchers educate the council in 3 minute chunks, can we not let the people being paid to interpret the law reduce the learning curve to something less than an entire council term?

Leave a Reply

Recent Comments