NORWALK, Conn. – Something happened last week that we haven’t gotten to tell you about: bipartisan windmill tilting in Norwalk’s council chambers.
Both Zoning Commissioner Mike Mushak (a Democrat) and Common Councilman Nike Kydes (R-District C) have separate but similar visions for the future of Norwalk, visions that they tried to persuade others to see in two separate meetings.
Mushak sees “Welcome to Norwalk” emblazoned on a prominent (but ugly) landmark. Kydes wants to make Norwalk’s Tree City designation more extreme – wouldn’t it be great, he said, if people came here for something like Fairfield’s Dogwood Festival?
Kydes’ Don Quixote-esque exhibition came first, before the council’s unanimous approval of the West Avenue corridor landscape design master plan. As council members from one end of the spectrum to the other shifted in their seats and fidgeted, the chairman of the Planning Committee wanted it on the record that, “We’re going to try, we’re going to more than try, we’re going to develop a plan that is going to encompass, include more blossoming trees.”
Kydes would like to work with planners to select those trees.
“I think this is an opportunity to really have Norwalk develop into an attraction, for other people in the area to come in on a regular basis, to look at these blossoming trees, to have a vista of beautiful blossoming trees from one end of Norwalk all the way up to West Avenue, down to Wall Street eventually,” he said. “This is a long-term vision that I have. From Wall Street to East Avenue, from East Avenue down to Vets Park, from Vets park over the bridge back to Washington Street, in South Norwalk.”
That glorious long-term vision of Norwalk’s future includes a visit to the past, with trolleys to drop people off at interesting spots on the loop – but it doesn’t look like it will go far.
Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-District D) was the first to shoot his hand up, looking to make sure that the vote didn’t include reworking the tree design.
Then Councilman Matt Miklave (D-District A) went “there.”
“Because I don’t believe that this plan – wait for it – gets down to this level of weeds and bushes, I will vote for it as it’s presented,” he said.
Not to be outdone on a pun, Mayor Richard Moccia followed him with, “We don’t want to bark up the wrong tree, do we Matt?”
Councilman Fred Bondi (R-At Large) reminded people of what happened on Wall Street when the wrong type of trees were selected. “We had to cut them all down and replant them again. We have to leave this to the professionals and not plant the wrong type of tree.”
Kydes said he didn’t want to change the plan, but when it is finalized, he would like to see more flowering trees picked.
“I believe experts need to decide on the types of trees and shrubbery,” Kimmel said in an email. “There are a variety of factors that need to be considered, such as climate, vehicle exhaust, soil, maintenance and height. It’s not that simple. Moreover, I believe the landscape architects have already devised an interesting scheme for tree placement. It’s not the job of the council to micromanage these types of projects.”
Mushak might have more luck with his vision, though First Taxing District Commissioner Attorney Frank Zullo indicated reticence.
Mushak campaigned at Wednesday’s zoning meeting to have “Welcome to Norwalk” painted on the district’s new water tower, part of the plans for 34 Grandview Ave. that were approved unanimously by the commission – although Zullo wasn’t quite sure the district needed their approval.
“We’re a municipality within a municipality,” he said, reminding everyone of the weird government structure that was spawned when the city of Norwalk swallowed its neighbors in 1913. “Some would argue we’re not bound by zoning. We are here for transparency. We are here for cooperation. We are here to get your approval.”
The new water tank will be quite the upgrade, more than twice the width of the existing tank (from 35 feet to 72 feet), sitting on a wide column instead of four legs and 13 feet taller than that old tank that is there now.
Mushak said the existing tank is visible for three miles, and the new “landmark” will be like a “hot air balloon floating over the city at all times.”
“A huge giant water tank up on the hill is going to be a massive structure,” Mushak said. “At least turn it into something that says, ‘Hey, Welcome to Norwalk.’ Millions of people will see it every year as they drive by on the highways. You actually do see it from 95.”
Zullo said the district is already $2 million over budget – the paint job on the water tower alone is $600,000, as it’s an epoxy. Just painting an emblem was going to cost $30,000, so the district dropped that idea.
Besides that, the neighbors probably wouldn’t like living under “Welcome to Norwalk,” he said.
But, the city might pay for it, Mushak said. “I sent email to the Common Council and a lot of public officials, feedback was 80 percent in favor,” he said.
Mushak said he was just saying that he wanted it on the record that the district has an open mind on the topic, he said.
“Open minded to consider it if the city was willing to pay for the whole project,” Zullo said, reminding again that he wasn’t sure the First District actually needed permission.
He wouldn’t quite go “there.” He wasn’t threatening to start a First District zoning commission, he was “just saying it’s an argument.”
This visionary idea might come to fruition.
Kimmel, the only speaker in the public hearing, verified Mushak’s “80 percent” claim.
“While I can’t speak for the council, we have had some informal discussions, just throwing some ideas back and forth, and I believe that the council is open-minded when it comes to this issue,” he said. “We might pursue it down the road. I think that most of us believe it is a good idea.”