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Norwalk sidewalk redo angers homeowner

This Dry Hill Road sidewalk is considered offensive by a Norwalk homeowner, Council members David Watts and Eloisa Melendez said.

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.”

Comments

27 responses to “Norwalk sidewalk redo angers homeowner”

  1. jlightfield

    This looks like crap. There is no economic sense in sending away the cement truck and calling in the asphalt truck for a few feet of sidewalk during a paving project. The asphalt patch should be removed and replaced with cement to the end of the property line. Then debate the budget for next year.

  2. Independent Voter

    Wonder how McCarthy would feel if that asphalt sidewalk was in front of his million dollar Rowayton home?

  3. anonymous

    Norwalk leaders, Watts included, quit giving raises and dynamite benefits to Norwalk’s public employee unions. This is what happens otherwise. New 2.5% increase went in public employees pockets, instead of to the benefit of taxpayers and improvements like sidewalks!

  4. John Hamlin

    This is an example of public administration without a lick of common sense. Pave the whole thing in cement.

  5. Suzanne

    Mr. McCarthy, once again, showing his lighter, more compassionate side. This is the “penny wise, pound foolish” solution that the DPW seems to take on many issues in Norwalk. It is an issue that people can easily get their heads around and, thus, even more annoying. It also devalues a neighborhood if the principles of community policing and broken windows bear out and they do:

    http://cops.usdoj.gov/html/dispatch/January_2009/nugget.htm

    This small patch may seem like nothing, trite, a minor inconvenience. But, if Norwalk continues to treat such details so sloppily all around town, the value and safety of neighborhoods are compromised. Yes, you say, it is just one patch of asphalt – but extrapolate from this and stay with these shabby values and then wonder why crime and lower housing values is a problem in the City.

  6. Andrea Light

    There are folks who do “everything by the book” – it’s safer sometimes in a bureaucracy than using common sense. This looks like a good example of a bad move made in the name of blindly following the rules.

  7. Taxpayer Fatigue

    I agree that the sidewalk doesn’t look good, but I am sympathetic to Mr. Alvord here. Go online a take a look at the budget he requested vs what Finance recommended. Every year for the past several years, Mr. Alvord has requested funds for two information technology projects that will streamline workflow in his department, including a full mapping of the sewer systems in Norwalk and every year it isn’t funded. Go look at DPWs staffing levels ten years ago and then look at it today. We whine and complain that he makes poor decisions, cut his budget requests and don’t give him the tools to do his job. Kimmel is right, if we want better sidewalks, we are going to have to fund them.

  8. the donut hole

    sittin’ on the dock of the bay…..

  9. LWitherspoon

    According to a recent comment by BoE chair Mike Lyons, collective bargaining laws in Hartford leave us no choice but to give public employees raises every year, because if we don’t we are taken to arbitration and the arbitrators award raises based on what public employee unions in other towns are getting. A more fair way to do it would be to consider what raises taxpayers in the private sector are receiving.
    .
    This year I believe raises for Norwalk’s public employees are costing near $8 million dollars. Imagine how far that money would go towards fixing sidewalks? I believe Mr. Alvord said the current allocation to repairing sidewalks is $350,000. We could spend ten times as much and have a smaller tax increase if it weren’t for the restrictions dictated by Hartford.
    .
    In spite of this, Mr. Watts always seems determined to give more tax dollars to public employee unions. Raises for municipal employees, new sidewalks for everybody, but will he ever make a serious proposal for how to pay for any of it?

  10. Mike Mushak

    I sympathize with the owner, having watched irrational decisions being made many times by our DPW, who work hard no doubt but often can’t see the forest for the trees because of bureaucratic inefficiencies as Andrea Light points out.
    .
    The city needs to fix ALL the old cracked sidewalks on the small remaining unlucky and totally random portion of Dry Hill, with ASPHALT, not concrete as required in the ridiculous “urban core” area. Of course we want concrete in our downtown commercial areas, but elsewhere including in all residential areas the “concrete only” rule is beyond absurd. Concrete is three times as expensive and harder to repair, and lifts in big slabs from tree roots instead of flexing over them.
    We saw this at the Norwalk Inn where the city was demanding Chris Handrinos replace all his sidewalks at his own expense even though only a couple portions were cracked, and in one location by a city contractor, just as in this case on Dry Hill it was heavy construction and utility trucks parking on the sidewalk that helped destroy it with cracks. And now the city doesn’t want to fix it! Mr Handrinos got some relief when he shared his story with others including me, who were appalled by the city’s position and who made it known to other officials how ridiculous, unfair, and wasteful this was. It is the same in this case on Dry Hill. Mr. McCarthy is in a leadership position as Chair of the Public Works Committee and can help find a solution here if he wants to. Stonewalling with excuses is not an option and will only anger the public even more.
    .
    It would be relatively inexpensive to replace the small remaining crumbling sections of Dry Hill with new asphalt to complete the street project and get a safer consistency for kids and elderly and everyone on a well traveled sidewalk system, and to help property values of properties that pay very high taxes. Why should a stupid rule that everyone agrees is absurd penalize just a few homeowners? Why should they be responsible for their own sidewalks when the rest of the neighborhood has new sidewalks installed by the city ? It is unfair and unacceptable and needs to be rectified as soon as possible.
    .
    The absurdity of our sidewalk policy actually works against folks who want to fix their own sidewalks, as evidenced with any examples in our urban neighborhood of Golden Hill filled with asphalt sidewalks. If you fill a pothole on the existing asphalt sidewalk without a permit, the city fines you. I have actually heard DPW staff boast in meetings about how many unauthorized sidewalk repairs they “caught” and how many fines they levied. However, if you go for a permit, they insist you install a complete new concrete sidewalk even if most of your asphalt is fine. If there are nearby street or front lawn trees with roots in the sidewalk zone where asphalt would be better as it is more flexible and can follow the grade easier, the city insists you cut down the trees to get the concrete in! This actually just happened on Couch St, where the owner just have up and we have an unrepaired dangerous sidewalk where the owner was motivated to fix it at his own expense but the city made it impossible with it’s ridiculous concrete rule.
    .
    Bottom line is we have a failed sidewalk policy and no apparent motivation to fix it by DPW or Dave McCarthy. Anyone who suggests reform in the face of such bad policies are often ridiculed as “troublemakers” and ignored as politics trumps common sense in Norwalk. Just like our obsolete and dysfunctional zoning code, those of us who want to update and improve these leftovers of decades of bad decisions are often singled out and bullied by a staff and a hardcore group of stubborn folks who resist smart change at all costs. We need to work together but after years of observation, it seems the only remedy is to replace key staff and the politicians who protect them with those who truly want to make our city better and more efficient.
    .
    Good luck Dry Hill residents! Welcome to the club of frustrated taxpayers who are fed up with the nonsense. What a shame we have to witness this absurdity yet again. Just look at the petty retaliation orchestrated by staff and a nasty old school zoning commissioner against me last week with a cease and desist order for moving a flower pot in my driveway, while a blighted property across the street goes unenforced with a hole in the roof, collapsing porch and garage, and an abandoned car in the driveway which attracts prostitutes and crackheads to the neighborhood. Yes, your hard earned taxes at work!
    .
    Mayor Rilling is also fed up and is trying hard to tackle the much needed reform, but the circling of the wagons and resistance he is getting is as strong and relentless as ever, and it will take public pressure to finally get the entrenched old guard to respond. Or they will be replaced which may be the only real long term solution. Let’s hope that happens sooner rather than later!
    .
    The more folks who speak up and demand reform and change, the better off we all are in the long run, but do not expect it to be easy or without a high personal cost as I have found out so well. It may just be a sidewalk replacement in this case on Dry Hill, but to the residents there it is a very big deal indeed as it would be to anyone in their shoes, but it is also a metaphor for a lot of other things that are so dysfunctional in City Hall. Just look at the Strawberry Hill bike lanes to see a clueless bureaucracy at work. Hal Alvord does not see anything wrong with them. I rest my case.

  11. EveT

    Extracted from @Mike Mushak: “If you fill a pothole on the existing asphalt sidewalk without a permit, the city fines you. …However, if you go for a permit, they insist you install a complete new concrete sidewalk even if most of your asphalt is fine. If there are… trees…the city insists you cut down the trees to get the concrete in!”

    If this isn’t an absurd policy, I don’t know what is.

  12. has anyone taken a look at each of the driveways along Dry Hill Road? Each driveway looks as though the city repaved a quarter of the driveway from the street end. This may be the four feet that the city owns of your property. However, there are more than several driveways that seemed to be repaved almost entirely at the cost of the DPW. How does that factor into repaving costs?

  13. LWitherspoon

    @Mike Mushak
    .
    In more suburban parts of Norwalk there appears to be little rhyme or reason to where sidewalks exist. Is there anything to stop a frustrated homeowner in suburban Norwalk from replacing an asphalt sidewalk with grass? I wonder if the City’s policies encourage some homeowners to not have any sidewalks at all.

  14. rburnett

    @LWitherspoon; That 8 million dollars going towards raises was the result of negotiations from two years ago. Now coming home to roost.

  15. LWitherspoon

    @rburnett
    I believe you’re referring to the BoE negotiations two years ago. In a historic move, the City took the teacher unions to arbitration and the arbitrator awarded a one-year pay freeze followed by a pay raise the next year. The teachers howled as though it was the end of the world that they should receive the same salary for two years in a row. In the meantime, private sector workers did not see pay hikes, and many lost their jobs, but in Norwalk their taxes went up anyway to fund raises for other municipal employees.
    .
    I’m not sure how much of the $8 million is for teacher raises. There are probably raises for other unions in that figure as well. Mayor Rilling is quick to note that most of the increased spending in his budget consists of contractual increases negotiated before he took office. Fair enough, but the point he conveniently neglects to mention was that this was the best result the City could achieve given the laws in Hartford regarding collective bargaining and arbitration. The question on everyone’s mind, especially after Rilling was endorsed by ALL city unions, is what will he do when it’s time to negotiate the next union contract?

  16. The teachers contract cost increase this year is $3 million, so the remaining $5 million must be from other union agreements.

  17. EastNorwalkChick

    This half-asses sidewalk is a perfect example of how things have been done for the last 20 yrs. here in Norwalk that has contributed to the decay of the city….I’m appalled at Mr. McCarthy’s response, instead of blaming the homeowner for a dirty sidewalk, maybe he should have shown a little empathy, (if he is capable of it), and suggest they take a look at our absurd and outdated sidewalk policies.

  18. Oldtimer

    For once, I agree with Jackie, this is a move by Alvord to put a little pressure on the council and others to fully fund his budget. This is his cute way of telling this administration they should have given him more. It is way past time to find a honest replacement for Alvord who won’t play these tricks.

  19. Kathleen Montgomery

    Thanks to all posters for the big-picture information given and NON for pointing out this single example of abject stupidity. First an errant flower pot and now this. It speaks volumes for CHANGE.

  20. anonymous

    Connecticut Avenue area, East Avenue by the Marvin, Dry Hill, Rowayton, go check out the sidewalks, all are part asphalt, part concrete, or non-existent. Dry Hill is not exceptional or new practice.

    All 6 Norwalk districts saw a DECREASE in property values yet three of these districts saw an INCREASE in property taxes.

    Norwalk can’t pay $8 Million dollars in raises/benefits to its public employees unions year after year, AND do resident friendly things like concrete sidewalks, without killing taxpayers.

  21. Peter Parker

    Gee, I’m confused. You mean if this person on Dry Hill Road now wanted to fix his own sidewalk he would be required to put in concrete? OK, so I guess my question is why was the city allowed to break its on policy and repair the existing sidewalk with blacktop and not concrete? Hmm sounds like a lawsuit in the making the city disregarded its own policy they should be fined and forced to make the homeowner whole.

  22. Gordon Tully

    I spent 35 years in the Boston area. One of its many delights is the continuous system of mostly concrete sidewalks (with quite a few brick ones) that extend in a ten mile radius around the center of the city. This system extends into and connects many towns and cities – Cambridge, Somerville, Arlington, Belmont, Newton, Watertown, Waltham, Lexington, Woburn, Winchester, Malden, Melrose, Stoneham, Everett, Chelsea, Revere etc. They all have sidewalks.

    One reason for this system of sidewalks is that these cities were developed during the “trolley suburb” days around the turn of the 20th Century, when land speculators bought up land, built trolleys and sidewalks from the city center, and then profited by the increased property values.

    The parts of Norwalk that were served by trolleys benefited from the same development pattern, so that for example you can walk on sidewalks from the Green well into South and East Norwalk as well as other areas to the north and west of Wall Street.

    The rest of the “city” (which is really a collection of little villages) was filled in by development after WWII, when suburbs were served by automobile, and sidewalks were an afterthought or non-existent. In these areas (the majority of the city’s area) the density is low and the distance to shopping is too far to encourage pedestrians.

    I do not know how the “urban core” is defined, but if it is not defined logically it is self-defeating. For example, in my neighborhood near the Green it makes great sense to create sidewalks along George St. but little sense to do so on the many low-density side streets with minimal traffic, where you can walk in the street with relative safety (and you have to walk in the streets in the winter because the city is too poor to clear the sidewalks).

    In general, there should be continuous and safe sidewalks on all the major thoroughfares like Dry Hill, West Rocks, George and the like, and areas near schools. Little five-foot wide strips of asphalt adjacent to the road are hardly safe.

    Mike’s suggestion to give up on concrete makes a lot of sense, assuming the savings could be applied to creating new sidewalks on some of these heavily traveled streets. Perhaps the DPW does not want to face the outcry that would result when owners who have landscaped the city-owned property in front of their yards would have to give up their trees and fences (and in some cases, indented parking spaces).

    I think the notion that property owners must build their own sidewalks is ridiculous, but reflects an underlying problem: so much of the city is low-density that there is not enough property tax revenue to improve the streets.

    I’d love to be better informed about all this, so comments and corrections are welcome.

  23. “Mayor Rilling is also fed up…”
    Gee Mike, we didn’t know you spoke for the mayor…

  24. Suzanne

    Love the context and history, Mr. Tully. Thank you.

  25. Don’t Panic

    You could double Mr. Alvord’s budget tomorrow and he’d still do things like this. While the City may be strapped, Mr. Alvord’s department seems to be expert at courting state and federal money for “pilot projects” and giant boondoggles like the road lowering in Rowayton, even as basic services like trash removal are outsourced. The requests put before the BET are not the whole story. Mr. Alvord has never met a taxpayer request that he couldn’t refuse.

  26. anonymous

    Sidewalks like this typical in Norwalk. All 6 Norwalk districts saw a DECREASE in property values yet three of these districts saw an INCREASE in property taxes.

    Norwalk can’t pay $8 Million dollars in raises/benefits to its public employees unions year after year, MOST EMPLOYEES DON’T LIVE IN NORWALK, and do Norwalk resident friendly things like putting in concrete sidewalks, without killing taxpayers.

    $8Million in raises this year alone, not counting insurance, retirement $$, etc.

    Rilling got the endorsements of all unions, who are looking forward to new contract negotiations to get even more money.

  27. Dennis DiManis

    Fire everyone in city government and start over.

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