NORWALK, Conn. – A Norwalk man can now look out his front window and see the demarcation between Norwalk’s urban zone and Norwalk’s suburban zone – it’s as plain as the colors of the sidewalk.
A black and white issue. With gray.
Council members Eloisa Melendez (D-District A) and David Watts (D-District A) say a Dry Hill Road resident is unhappy that, following a road paving job, the sidewalk in front of his house is now asphalt in one spot and concrete in another. Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord says he knows about the resident’s unhappiness but DPW has used up most of its sidewalk money and there was no legal obligation to continue paving the sidewalk in concrete past the end of the urban area, into the suburban area.
The discussion at Tuesday’s Public Works Committee meeting began with Watts saying that the city had in effect picked winners and losers by putting in concrete sidewalks to a certain point and asphalt beyond that.
“He feels he got a raw deal,” Watts said of the unnamed property owner. “I have to agree with him.”
“We have what we call the urban zone. We follow land use classifications and our sidewalks are done differently in the urban zone,” Alvord replied. Inside, concrete; outside, asphalt. And,“We are trying to conserve the very little sidewalk money that we have available to us and do as many sidewalks as we can,” he said.
There wasn’t anything unsafe about the asphalt sidewalk, the sidewalk money is almost used up this year and there are more repairs that need to be made, he said.
Most of the sidewalks are new along the newly paved Dry Hill Road. Much of the new sidewalk is asphalt. But the sidewalk in front of the complaining resident’s house appears to be old asphalt sidewalk, in a photo provided by Watts.
Norwalk has backed itself into a corner, Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said.
“It seems a little bit silly, ‘well that’s a urban zone’ and so we stop,” Kimmel said. “Well, we’re really stopping because we don’t have the funds to do what would be the logical thing. … David’s right. Urban zone – what’s the difference? A guy looks out his window he doesn’t know from an urban zone. He says this is my sidewalk, it wasn’t done. It doesn’t make sense to him.”
Alvord had said it would cost $91 million to do all of the sidewalks in Norwalk. Kimmel asked how long concrete lasts – a long time, Alvord said – and Kimmel said it should be approached the same way as the road paving program. Thirty years, you’ve done all the sidewalks, he said.
Kimmel attended Monday night Board of Estimate and Taxation meeting, where Director of Management and Budgets Bob Barron said the Norwalk Housing Authority was going to offer year-round early childhood education programs for $11,000 per student per year. Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) was doing that for $13,000 a year, Barron said.
A lot of money was wasted, Kimmel said. There ought to be money for sidewalks.
“I don’t disagree,” Alvord said. “It’s a money issue, even the staffing is a money issue. So, I have requested money in the past, I have requested staff in the past. It never gets approved. The guy you’ve got to get past is the finance director. Nobody knows what I requested in my operating budget. Everybody knows what the recommendation is. The minute he makes his recommendation that becomes the budget. Nobody goes back and looks at the department’s request. You never get what you ask for.”
The budget cycle is over but next year council members should make it clear that they want money in the capital budget for sidewalks, Kimmel said.
“We own the capital budget,” Kimmel said. “You’ve got to admit sometimes these arguments we do feel like we are spinning our wheels.”
Committee Chairman David McCarthy (R-District E) looked at Watts’ photo and did not express sympathy for the complaining Norwalker.
“He’s just ticked off because it got replaced up there and then it stopped,” he said. “I am thinking that’s a pretty good sidewalk. … there’s got to be a line somewhere.”
After the meeting, McCarthy said, “The gentleman might look into cleaning his sidewalk. Other than that it didn’t look like a bad sidewalk to me but it was just a picture on a phone.”
Watts also brought up the Dry Hill situation at last week’s Ordinance Committee meeting. Council President Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) told him there was a “bigger picture.”
“I’m not necessarily disagreeing because I looked at Dry Hill, I looked at what they did on Strawberry Hill,” he said. “If you got a road project going on you get free sidewalks. … it doesn’t seem like it’s fair and balanced.”
Watts said they needed to get a handle around what kind of ordinance they could write.
“When we have cracked sidewalks I think it takes away from the value of the city,” Watts said. “I think we could craft something put our heads together and see what we can come up with.”