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Norwalk Zoning Commission to P&Z department head: It’s planning, not just zoning

NORWALK, Conn. – A “not my department” rebuttal was given by Planning and Zoning Director Mike Greene last week in reaction to comments made by Nora King, who suggested that Greene should know what is recommended in a city-funded study.

Greene said that the recommendation she was looking for was a Redevelopment Agency issue. King cited a “lack of respect for city-owned plans.”

King asked Greene, during a discussion about the last Waypointe development application, if the “transit plan”-recommended width for sidewalks there was 15 feet. Greene said he didn’t know but the Department of Public Works requirement is 7 feet.

“But there was a study that we did two years ago with, as we continue to be rebuilding, recommendations for making sidewalks,” King said.

“I am not familiar with that,” Greene said.

“We are moving forward as a city to try to go with the planning that we paid for, the studies that we paid for. One of those is a recommendation for these types of districts,” King said.

Greene said the Waypointe application had been referred to the Redevelopment Agency. “They are the ones that did that study, they would be the ones to take that into consideration in their comments,” he said. “They have their own independent powers to require anything they like based on their plans.”

King asked what those comments were. Attorney Liz Suchy, who represents Waypointe, said the design review had not been completed yet.

“We designed for the DPW and in certain instances in this design district development park we have wider sidewalks than exist throughout the city,” Suchy said. “But until those recommendations become requirements we design to what’s required.”

“How far are we away from that?” King asked Greene.

“It’s not my department, I don’t know. The Department of Public Works sets the requirements for sidewalks and the streets,” Greene said.

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Norwalk Zoning Commissioner Nora King.

“Except that we are Zoning. We’re supposed to be planning what our city looks like. I would think that we would to start understanding what are in the recommendations,” King said.

“There’s a lot of things that I would like to do but I don’t have the authority. The only one that has the authority is the Common Council and the DPW. That’s the way life is,” Greene said.

He said the application had been referred to the Redevelopment Agency. “They are the ones that did that study, they would be the ones to take that into consideration in their comments,” Greene said. “They have their own independent powers to require anything they like based on their plans.”

“You’re the director of zoning. … You are responsible for city planning and where we go as a city,” King said.

“I am not responsible for the street standards,” Greene said.

At that point Zoning Commission Vice Chairman Emily Wilson, who was running the meeting in the absence of Chairman Joe Santo, said that the discussion was not on topic, that of the Waypointe application.

King said it was.

“I am kind of concerned because we have this great development going on, I am a supporter of this project and one of the concerns that I have is to make sure that as we are bringing developments that are of this caliber into our city that we are doing the right thing by walkability, putting sidewalks in, putting bike lanes in, so yes, I am going to hold Mike Greene accountable for that,” King said.

“That would be foolish and I don’t think you’re a fool so you shouldn’t do that,” Greene said. “Because I have no authority to adopt standards and you know that so please don’t make stuff up. You keep trying this move. Stop.”

There are nine studies listed on the Redevelopment Agency’s webpage. One is the South Norwalk Railroad Area Transit Oriented Strategy Final Report by The Cecil Group, dated October 2011. It does not include the Waypointe District in its scope.

The other is the Norwalk TOD Pilot Program by CDM Smith, dated July 16, 2013. The Waypointe District is included in the Bicycle Study Design area.

King has been a zoning commissioner since February.

 

Comments

21 responses to “Norwalk Zoning Commission to P&Z department head: It’s planning, not just zoning”

  1. anon

    King was unprofessional. If her goal is widening the sidewalks at Waypointe, a good idea, then have all authorities in charge of that at the meetings and find out the steps needed to get it done. Leave personal vendettas at home and do your job.

  2. Yankee Clipper

    What has Mike Greene been doing all of these decades? If he truly does not have the authority, he should be talking to Norwalk’s political leaders to be given the powers needed to fulfill the scope of his job

  3. Lisa Thomson

    Then whose job is it to plan Norwalk? Perhaps that explains all of our zoning problems. On another note, supposedly,, we have more coastline than any other city in Connecticut, not to mention a river running through the heart of our city. We should be booming! Why are we not accentuating our assets? Because nobody feels they are in charge? Time for our Mayor and Common Council to clearly articulate who is!

  4. Suzanne

    Mr. Greene is so unprofessional. There are many ways to deflect unwanted questions, especially in a public meeting, and calling someone “foolish” and, really let’s face it, by omission, “a fool”, shows a distinct lack of decorum and respect.
    *
    It does not appear that Ms. King has a vendetta so much as a desire to get things right. What a shame that in little ‘ol Norwalk three or four department heads can’t sit down at a table and address all the parts of a plan together. After all, plans of this scope requires ALL of their expertise and authority.
    *
    To say, “Not my Department” in such a small universe with such important developments points to personal animosities rather than doing what is best for Norwalk. It’s actually a ridiculous claim with a simple solution: talk to each other already.

  5. Ethics-Schmethics

    Mr. Greene’s defensive and rude tone towards Ms. King seems way out of line. I’m curious as to when Mayor Rilling is going to start cleaning house in the city’s boards and commissions and departments? These people serve at the pleasure of the Mayor. He has the ability to appoint thoughtful, open-minded, and qualified individuals. It’s beyond time to change the tone of City Government. The Mayor’s office has the ability to make great strides here. It’s time for the Greene’s and the Alvords, and the Santos to go the way of the Dodo Bird.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @Ethics…

      Mr. Santo cannot be removed by the mayor. He was appointed by the former mayor and his term expires next summer. The city charter also says the P&Z director works for the Zoning Commission, which has the sole power to remove him. Given the makeup of the current commission — and the fact that it is a union position, NASA, grade 10 — don’t expect anything to happen there either.

      The mayor does have the authority, as we have reported in the past, to make a change in DPW leadership.

  6. John Hamlin

    It’s interesting that so many disputes related to zoning seem to be divided along party lines, with Mr Greene’s performance and future just the latest thing. It’s hard to read this article and consider the mosque debacle without concluding that our city planning approach and organization need reformation. (It’s not just regs.). And if Mr Greene reports to the Zoning commission, and the exchange is reported accurately (no one has said it isn’t), then this is the best argument yet to disband public employee unions. How dysfunctional! The employees can be rude and disrespectful, they cannot be held accountable, and the public loses out big time.

  7. Mike Mushak

    Mike Greene’s arrogance towards commissioners, the public, applicants, and other city officials who dare to challenge him is well-established, with plenty on the record to ask for his immediate resignation to finally help Norwalk begin to repair its broken planning and zoning process. The city has even been sued for it. Nora King is just one more victim of his unprofessional behavior. The sidewalk issue is minor compared to some of the issues where Mr. Greene has compromised the city legally, ethically, and physically with bad planning and zoning decisions. I was on the receiving end of this for 6 years when I served on the Commission, when, as a licensed landscape architect familiar with planning issues, I witnessed example after example of Mr. Greene’s lack of knowledge and skills in the very subjects he is supposed to be proficient in, planning and zoning.
    .

    I was frequently astonished at Mr. Greene’s lack of knowledge about basic planning principles, and the fact that he routinely ignores the contents of millions of dollars of expert studies (that are mostly commissioned by his well-known rival in City Hall, the Redevelopment Agency, who are acting in good faith in the disturbing professional planning vacuum that Greene has created in the P and Z Department). He also says it’s not his job, as he said to Nora King (one would think $165,000 a year, 8 weeks paid vacation, and a generous pension all paid for by taxpayers would warrant a better understanding of what planning the city actually entails, or at a minimum encourage him to have taken planning courses and become a certified planner over all these years.)
    .
    I say its time Norwalk starts to look for a qualified Planning and Zoning Director who will make it his job to plan the city professionally and effectively. As I have mentioned many times, Mr. Greene has little to no professional qualifications to be Norwalk’s Planning and Zoning Director, a fact confirmed by the American Planning Association, and the many professionals and developers who have had to work with him, and by the fact that he refuses to release his updated credentials to the public. We know for sure he is not a certified planner, or licensed architect or landscape architect, and we have no idea of his continuing education record over the decades he has worked for Norwalk (since 1978.) He also has no performance reviews, a shocking position for any city to be in, where an important department head responsible for planning the entire city has no proper credentials, and no accountability to anyone, and can basically do whatever he wants with no fear of having to answer to anyone for any of his actions. he has basically gone rogue, and no organization, public or private, can survive without any proper accountability of its members.
    .
    Just on stormwater management alone, as one example out of many (which should be a huge part of the planning process to protect the environment and water quality in our precious harbor and Long Island Sound, with huge multi-million dollar oyster and boating industries), Mr. Greene revealed an obsolete 1970’s understanding of the concepts in a public meeting, to the point he advocated for dumping unfiltered polluted water into the Five Mile River in Rowayton from a driveway and rooftop drainage system from a new house that was proposed. He actually said in a meeting that he was right and I was wrong when I challenged his dangerous opinion. It gets worse. He made sure that never made it into the minutes, as the minutes are routinely manipulated by staff (and a couple of long-term zoning commissioners who are still serving) to protect the staff from proper accountability. My attempts to change the minutes were thwarted by Joe Santo, Chair at the time, who told the staff right in front of me and the entire commission to ignore my requests to change the minutes to reflect what was actually said, even though I had every right as every commissioner does to do that. Yes, the Norwalk Planning and Zoning Department is that unethical, and corrupt.
    .
    Every engineer in the room knew I was right after I spoke, and they actually changed the plan to follow my recommendations. Mr. Greene never apologized or even acknowledged his bizarre statements, but he did say in another meeting on another application, that he and he alone has the right to interpret zoning regulations any way he wants. That was when I questioned him on his approval of a parking lot that drained potential toxic materials from a waste transfer station directly into storm drains in the street that connect to Norwalk Harbor. That condition still hasn’t been corrected years after I brought it up, with evidence on the record that this pollution is still occurring. It is a felony for an official to know of a polluting incident and do nothing about it, yet in this case, Mr. Greene actually promoted the continuation of a potentially harmful situation of pollution of our harbor with unkown toxic materials (he refused to have the effluent tested by the Health Department even though I requested it when I was on the commission in the first hearing on AMEC’s expansion request.)
    .
    . Norwalk is one of the last cities on the Sound in both CT and NY to incorporate best practices of stormwater management into its zoning regulations to protect water quality, Our standards are obsolete, and Mike Greene basically makes a joke out of state and federal laws that are in place to protect public health and safety. Mr. Greene got so frustrated at one point with me, that he said on the record in a hearing that if I wanted the standards updates so badly, I should just do it myself. I responded that Norwalk taxpayers were paying him to do it, and it was his job. After that meeting, a prominent developer thanked me for standing up to Greene, and asked why he still worked for the city. I shrugged and said that he had many protectors, who prefer the corruption of process for petty reasons over any real professional planning, and that he has basically built up a protective wall around himself where no one can get rid of him no matter how bad he acts. The developer said something has to be done or Norwalk will never see its full potential to be a truly great place to live and work, which is my position and the position of so many others in Norwalk.
    .

    The most shocking part of last weeks’ zoning hearing was not the sidewalk debate at all which is what this article was about, but it occurred later in the meeting under another application, when Ms. King asked about plans to reopen Crescent St in the context of the AMEC application. The traffic study provided by the applicant assumed a closed street, which of course would provide minimal traffic counts on a dead-end street. . Mr. Green was totally unaware of $430,000 of professional studies, including the Connectivity Study, the NRVT Study, and the TOD Bicycle and Pedestrian Pilot Study that recommend reopening Crescent St and turning it into a major car, bike, and pedestrian route as an alternate to West Ave. It was a major cut-through up until a few years ago when it was closed temporarily, but no matter what happens to 95/7, it was always planned to reopened in various city plans.
    .
    It was shocking that the commission or the applicant were unaware of these plans and studies, as it should have been Mike Greene’s priority to make sure everyone knew about them before the hearing. The flimsy excuse that Greene uses that the only thing that matters is what makes it into our zoning regulations is just plain wrong, as every application should be considered as part and parcel of the context they are in and future plans. That’s what planning is about, and it is Mr. Greene who has, for decades, refused to follow accepted planning standards in his position as Planning and Zoning Director. Enough already. We need to move on and reform our system, and that will not happen as long as the unqualified Mike Greene holds his position, attacking anyone who challenges him as he has been able to do with impunity for years. Anyone who thinks reform will happen with Greene staying in his position is simply promoting a pointless waste of everybody’s time and energy. Mr. Green’e resignation from Norwalk after serving for 36 years should be arranged as soon as possible, with proper decorum and gratitude. Why he even wants to continue in a position he is so clearly mishandling and despised for is beyond comprehension.
    .
    The usual apologists for incompetence and mediocrity in our local government will predictably step forward, as they usually do, but the writing is on the wall, and on the lawn signs, fences, and in auditoriums and meeting rooms all over the city full of angry residents, over one issue after another. Norwalk can not move forward to begin to repair its dysfunctional and corrupt planning process with Mike Greene remaining in his position, especially after completely mishandling the mosque application, which is going to cost the city taxpayers millions no matter what the outcome. In the long run, if Mr. Greene refuses to resign assuming he will be asked, it will cost the city less to just fire him and be sued then to continue making costly mistakes that end up costing the city miliions in lawsuits and lost tax revenues in poor planning decisions and mishandled applications.

  8. jlightfield

    Various xoning commissions have with staff support tried to get DPW to update the sidewalk design standards that were created in the 70s and adopted in the 80s. Those efforts were undermined by the politics of eliminating the budget requests and DPW’s reluctance to give up control.
    .
    By charter it is public works that had “ownership” of design and maintenance of sidewalks. This is why the obstruction ordinance is rarely enforced and we get light poles and other obstacles in the sidewalks.
    .
    The solution, IMHO, is to create an enforcement dept that reports to the Mayor and remove customer service and enforcement from DPW. Then empower enforcement to coordinate all department regulations when it comes to ordinances and aesthetic quality of like issues.
    .
    Under the present system the decisions are being made by Tom Hamilton and DPW.

  9. Gordon Tully

    The root of the problem is the form of government we have in Norwalk, with a strong Council, a weak mayor and no city manager. Lacking direction from the top, each department or agency becomes a fiefdom, which invites corruption. The City Manager form seems to work best and is widely adopted throughout the country, although not in New England. No system of government is perfect, but the one we have, where power is widely distributed, really doesn’t work. The first step is a 4-year mayor.

    Mike Mushak, you are an indispensable citizen, but a long-winded one – you need a copy editor.

  10. John Hamlin

    Planning and Zoning needs to be about planning what the city wishes to become — what do we want the city to be in the future for ourselves and for next generations. Does anyone think the current system and personnel are getting the job done? It would be great to hear from them and understand their vision for the future of the City. Do they just want things to stay the same? Or do they want changes. Hard not to support a strong mayor/city manager form of government as Mr Tully advocates. Is there anyone (whose job doesn’t depend on the current system) who doesn’t support it?

  11. Nora King

    Our P and Z department needs overhaul. We are living in the dark ages with our zoning code. It is complicated and reactive. The attorneys and developers should not be driving our code. We need to hire a top notch city planner that can ensure we have a city built on well thought out planning that encourages developers to want to do business here. We need to rally around our neighborhoods, increase density, increase the ease to how developers can work with us but still maintain neighborhood integrity. Customer Service in a city department should be a good thing and a very attainable goal. Mike Greene hasn’t had a review for over 10 years. The zoning commission is supposed to be reviewing him and managing his goals and performance. This hasn’t been done in years. There should be huge public outcry over this. Especially with the recent debacles as the Mosque, Farm Creek and lack of village districts being created though out Norwalk.

    I love Norwalk! It could be the best city in Connecticut if we start reforming how we do things. We have too many departments in the city, with DPW having too much power and a P and Z leader that isn’t doing the planning that this city needs.

  12. Lisa Thomson

    I will ask again. Who owns city planning? Who feels responsible for making Norwalk a fabulous city on the water?
    If the answer is nobody – then nothing is what we’ll get.

  13. John Hamlin

    The Zoning Commission needs to be held accountable for planning and zoning. And the mayor and the party that appointed commissioners need to be held accountable for their positions and votes on holding the p & z accountable.

  14. Tim D

    You guys are awfully brave taking on Mr Greene. That guy, along with his staff, will make your lives miserable.

  15. Peter Parker

    Mr. Greene is as bad a Alvord. Two incompetents. Well Mr. Mayor when are you going to man up and do something about it? They both should be discharged for incompetence.

  16. Greene Has to Go.

    P and Z Director Mike Greene has to resign or be fired. He is not doing his job.

  17. Nancy

    If even half of Mike Mushak’s allocations can be substantiated, this employee should be replaced by someone with the appropriate background and competence. How difficult can this be?

    When Mike Greene was hired in the 1970s, Norwalk was a different place. Shouldn’t we have a team at City Hall who is capable of guiding Norwalk into the 21st century?

    The taxpayers from the City of Norwalk need to hear from Mike Greene or his direct report. Is he qualified to hold this important position?

  18. Peter Parker

    @ Nancy, you are correct. There are many city management positions where the incumbent should be discharged and replace with a competent candidate, but unless Mayor Rilling is willing to step up and fight the fight and discharge them for incompetence, and in some cases insubordination nothing will change. Mayor Rilling should do the job he was elected to do and keep his campaign promises. This city needs sweeping change to its managements unprofessionalism.

  19. EveT

    I wish people would realize that the mayor does not have the authority to kick appointees off boards & commissions before their terms expire, nor (in most cases) the authority to fire city department heads. It’s pointless to keep blaming everything on Rilling’s supposed weakness or inaction.
    Change will happen only with strong pressure from citizens attending meetings and speaking up, as people have been doing about the mosque. Under that pressure some of the offenders may choose to resign or change their ways.
    Let’s all work constructively to change this city for the better.

  20. Don’t Panic

    You know, no one is ever “fired” from a white house position either. People who serve at the pleasure of the president “resign” or “offer their resignation” when they’ve overstayed their welcome. Mayor Rilling could certainly request resignations and ask these people to do what’s right for the city.

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