Norwalk Zoning Dept. hands off sidewalk project, Harbor Loop Trail

Norwalk sunset 060313 037
In this view from the Norwalk Harbor Loop Trail, the sun sets Monday over the Norwalk River. Trail walkers can choose to cross the Stroffolino Bridge, where this shot was taken, or the Yankee Doodle Bridge if they want a shorter route.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk’s building boom has resulted in a change in management for the Harbor Loop Trail and other projects.

The Board of Estimate and Taxation on Monday night approved a plan to transfer capital budget funds allocated to the Waterfront Public Access project and the bikeway plans from the Planning and Zoning Department to the Redevelopment Agency. It also approved sending P&Z traffic management and sidewalk work to the Department of Public Works – all because zoning has too much to do.

Planning and Zoning Director Mike Greene explained it in a letter to Mayor Richard Moccia.

“As you are aware, permitting activity has exceeded the 21-year average for each month in the past year and a half,” he wrote. “In fact, the first quarter of 2013 exceeds any quarter on record! We issued 386 permits, which surpasses the first quarter of 2005 (our busiest year) by 30 percent and our first quarter of 2005 (our busiest quarter) by 11 percent.”

Greene wrote that with the “dramatically increased caseload,” which includes the “complicated requirements of the Federal Flood Regulations,” it would be best to reassign the capital budget funds allocated to his department, and move the projects forward.

Finance Director Thomas Hamilton said that, in the case of sidewalk repair, transferring the $154,095 to the DPW might have “sort of a wrinkle to it,” as P&Z was working on filling in the gaps on Westport Avenue and the DPW typically repairs sidewalks where it happens to be repairing streets.

“Ultimately, it really will be up to the council to decide,” he said. “They have to approve whatever plan the public works director brings forward.”

Transferring the $100,000 meant for a P&Z traffic management plan to the DPW was a natural, he said, as DPW has already completed a traffic management plan.

He said the Waterfront Public Access project (an expenditure of $673,500) is basically the Norwalk Harbor Loop Trail, a project that began more than 30 years ago and is zoned into all new construction. The walkway has not been completed, with several notable gaps (such as at 130 and 148 East Avenues), keeping pedestrians from walking the entire planned loop around the Norwalk River waterfront.

Moccia said Norwalk Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan was happy to take it on.

“I believe there are some studies already for filling in the gaps for the Norwalk Harbor Loop Trail,” he said. “One of the things we are concerned with, when you try to deal with the Maritime Aquarium, we’d like to have the connectivity from North Water and Washington Street, behind the Maritime, to tie in to Oyster Shell Park, although we have to do some work there with the Maritime to protect their integrity.”

The aquarium was allowed to build up to the waterfront some years ago, Zoning Commissioner Mike Mushak said recently, in spite of plans for the Harbor Loop Trail. Anyone trying to use the trail has to walk on city streets to reach a sidewalk running along the Norwalk River to Oyster Shell Park.

The bikeway plan was allocated $301,902 in capital budget funds. Moccia said the city is looking at where it can put bike lanes and sharrows, which involve painting the road to indicate that motorists must share it with bike riders.

P&Z and RDA will begin meeting together to transfer reports on the topics, he said.

“I think Redevelopment does have the ability to act on things pretty fast in some ways, because they’re a separate authority,” he said. “I think the hardest negotiation is going to be with the Maritime Aquarium, how we can protect them and some of their exhibits.”

Greene’s offer to transfer projects was unusual, Moccia said.

“Not too many departments want to give up money,” he said, “but he realized the limitations.”


One response to “Norwalk Zoning Dept. hands off sidewalk project, Harbor Loop Trail”

  1. Mike Mushak

    I applaud the city officials who made this decision, whoever they were, and I am highly skeptical of the P and Z Director’s reasons for requesting the transfer.

    First of all, when city taxpayers pay an official more than the governor of the entire state, about $150k a year, we should expect that the official would know how to multi-task, and conduct day-to-day business of the department as well as manage projects that move the city forward. Good leadership includes delegating responsibility and making things happen, as well as taking responsibility for conducting the people’s business as a civil servant.

    For many years, decades even, including when few permits were being issued at the height of the recession from 09-12, when staff had plenty of time to do their jobs taxpayers expected of them, there were also inexcusable delays in implementing projects with appropriated public funds.

    Now, we can all look forward to progress on the Loop Trail after 33 years of delays. Hooray!!

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