NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk’s Ordinance Committee will be working on updating its statutes to allow for expanding the city’s Enterprise Zone from South Norwalk to the West Avenue-Wall Street area.
Norwalk Chief of Economic and Community Development Jessica Casey presented a look back at how the current Enterprise Zone has worked as well as why they want to expand it.
“We’ve been talking for a long time in this city about different economic development tools and one of those tools is expanding the Enterprise Zone,” Casey said Tuesday.
Casey said State statute defines an Enterprise Zone as “an area in which local tax incentives are offered to encourage business investment and jobs for residents in disadvantaged census tracts.”
The zone allows property owners to receive a level of tax abatement on improvements to their properties over a period of seven years. While the Council can adjust the specifics, Casey gave an example of a project receiving an 100 percent tax abatement for the first year, moving up to just 10 percent by the seventh year.
Casey said that in South Norwalk they’ve seen both the quantitative pieces, such as properties being redeveloped, as well as the qualitative, such people moving into the neighborhood and supporting businesses.
“We see that people are moving into our urban areas,” she said. “Because people are moving into areas with higher density, they’re supporting businesses that we want to see on our Main Street.”
Over the past 10 years, Casey said South Norwalk has seen 10 major developments, which include apartments, mixed-use, commercial, and other residential uses. Five of those projects were Enterprise Zone ones.
Three of those projects, which have been completed, show the success of the program, Casey said, because they’ve been able to bring in more tax revenue than the previous use of the properties. An Ely Avenue housing project showed a 1,000 percent increase in tax revenue from 2010 to 2018, while Ironworks saw an 1,129 percent increase since 2007. The Residence Inn by Marriot was previously assessed at less than $1 million and is assessed at $15.6 million. Casey said that in its the first year of tax abatement, the property generated $48,000 in taxes, much more than the $17,000 the property generated in 2007. From 2010 to 2018, the South Norwalk zone has also seen its population grow by 17 percent, median income increase by 49 percent, reliance on public assistance decrease by nine percent, and unemployment rate drop, Casey said.
Their goal is to bring some of those successes to Wall Street-West Avenue area and “enhance quality of life for residents and visitors to Norwalk,” Casey said.
Compared to the 10 major developments in South Norwalk, there have been just two major projects in the West Avenue-Wall Street area—Waypointe and Head of the Harbor.
“It makes us kind of think what is the potential growth and what’s happening,” she said.
Council members on the Ordinance Committee were supportive of the idea, but wanted to work out some of the language, including adding a sunset clause.
Council member Thomas Keegan (R-District D) said that he wanted to see a clause added.
“(We) say, ‘we’re going to offer this program, you only have a certain amount of time this program is going to be on the table,’” he said. “It’s not going to be in perpetuity. I don’t think that’s fair to the taxpayer.”
Council member Lisa Shanahan (D-District E), who chairs the committee, said that they would work on the language between now and the committee’s June meeting, with the potential to move the proposed Enterprise Zone language to a public hearing in July.