NORWALK, Conn. – It’s the season of giving, and POKO Partners is hoping the Zoning Commission will be in the mood to give it another six-month extension to get things moving on its proposed Wall Street development.
In a letter to Norwalk’s Department of Planning and Zoning dated Nov. 12, POKO requested six more months “to secure zoning and building permits.” It would be the fifth extension of the performance deadline for the proposed development since the project won approval in 2008.
The Zoning Commission’s Plan Review Committee is scheduled to discuss the status of the project at its meeting tonight (Dec. 5).
According to the letter, written by Elizabeth A.B. Suchy of the Stamford law firm Sandak Hennessey & Greco, POKO is still trying to get its project financing together.
POKO’s last extension came six months ago, in June, and came despite unhappiness expressed by some Zoning commissioners. Joe Santo, now the commission chairman, said at the time, “I’d rather given them three days.”
“It’s always a song and dance. I don’t think this project is going to get built,” said Alternate Commissioner James White
“It’s taken longer than the Afghan war. We’ll be out of Afghanistan before they even break ground on this thing,” Commissioner Mike Mushak said.
On Sept. 9, 2011, then-Mayor Richard Moccia, state Sen. Bob Duff and Emil Albanese, then-chairman of the Redevelopment Authority, joined POKO Partners CEO Ken Olson to celebrate the application for demolition of buildings on Wall Street, swinging shiny shovels over the concrete sidewalk. “This is the end of the beginning,” Moccia said.
The Hour headline said POKO had 36 months (until March 2013) to complete Phase One, which the story said calls for 101 apartments, 236 parking spaces, and 16,182 square feet of retail space. According to the Nov. 12 letter, it also included a 2,424-square-foot restaurant “with automated below-grade parking lot and various public amenities.”
Nothing has happened since.
The three-phase, mixed-use development approved in 2008 includes a total of 370 units, 850 parking spaces and 60,000 square feet of retail, according to the Nov. 12 letter. It was under appeal until 2010, the letter stated.
According the letter, the problem is financing for the affordable housing aspect of the project.
“POKO has Term Sheets for funding in the amount of $19.8 million loan from Citibank for the market rate component of the project and $16.1 million loan for the affordable component of the project (loan expected to close by the end of the first quarter of 2014) and also still has a commitment from the State of Connecticut Department of Economic Development for a $5 million Urban Investment Grant.”
A “Term Sheet” is a non-binding bullet-point outline of terms upon with an investment might be made. Click here to read more: term sheet explained
The letter stated that POKO tried to secure New Market Tax Credits from various sources but could not find enough credits to “close the gap.” POKO is now pursuing low income housing tax credits from the state Housing Finance Authority, the letter said, credits that are usually awarded in January or February.
“Should all of the foregoing occur as anticipated, POKO envisions the commencement of construction in early 2014.”
There was no explanation of how construction would begin in early 2014 if credits are not awarded until February and loan closes at the end of the first quarter, which would be late March. POKO would still have to pull permits and schedule demolition.
Mayor Harry Rilling is at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., for a conference for new mayors and could not be reached for comment. He was quoted in The Hour as saying he was deferring to the Zoning Commission members and that he was sure they would “ask the right questions and get to the bottom of this.”
During his campaign to unseat Moccia, Rilling indicated a reluctance to pull the plug on POKO, saying it would be a major setback for the city.
“The POKO firm has invested $15 million of its own funds in purchasing the key properties on Wall Street,” Rilling said. “It is irresponsible to say ‘pull the plug’ on such a massive private investment in an area of Norwalk that remained without a plan, without an investor and without a vision for decades prior to 2005. Any candidate or incumbent who turns his back today on $15 million worth of private investment in an urban downtown project is plainly foolish. We need the jobs and tax revenue generated by this project. ‘Pulling the plug’ would set back Wall Street’s redevelopment by 10 years.”