Recreation & Parks finds use for South Norwalk land taken via eminent domain

Screenshot from the Dec. 7 Common Council Land Use Committee meeting online. At right is 10 Tito Court.

NORWALK, Conn. — The City plans to use South Norwalk property taken from the Cocchia family to create what Norwalk Superintendent of Parks and Public Property Ken Hughes called “a perfect secondary parks garage.”

Situated at 10 Tito Court, the land was obtained via eminent domain to overcome legal hurdles blocking plans for a new school behind Springwood Ely Park, plans that collapsed when the City failed to get State and Federal approval for a needed land swap.

It’s been vacant since the City acquired it in 2018, Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo told the Common Council Land Use Committee in December. That said, the proposal didn’t develop because the City was looking for a way to use the building. Hughes asked for it.

Recreation and Parks’ South Smith Street facility, built in the mid-70s, is too small for the department’s increased staff and equipment, according to  Director Robert Stowers, who said, “In fact, we have to delay the purchase of some of our vehicles and equipment due to space needs.”

The department has been searching for a satellite location, Stowers and Hughes said. Although there’s an available commercial property at 9 Reynolds St., right behind the maintenance garage, damage from two fires necessitates work beyond the $900,000 asking price; moreover, there’s no parking, and a steep grade change between the two properties makes it impossible to link them.

The City paid Arthur Cocchia’s estate $750,000 for 10 Tito Court, land records online show. Information for 4 Tito Court, acquired simultaneously through eminent domain, does not show a price tag.

In February, Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo said $1.7 million was spent to acquire the two properties. On Monday, Lo said the estate won an additional $200,000 in court for 10 Tito. The neighboring 4 Tito was bought through a normal real estate transaction and the total was indeed $1.7 million.

“It’s very hard to find industrial commercial property that’s setup for a maintenance garage. So this works out well in terms of an adaptive use of this building,” Lo said in December.

Staff plumbers and electricians will do whatever work is needed on the building, which is already a garage, Hughes said. Additionally, the second facility will allow the staff tradesmen to create workspace where they can efficiently collaborate, either on South Smith or Tito Court.

The Council has funded additional staff and ballfield equipment and the already overstuffed South Smith facility is bursting, plus employees park their cars in rows, sometimes resulting in a Jenga game-like situation, Hughes said. Recreation and Parks has equipment stored all over the city, at various parks and City Hall, and “that’s relatively inefficient.”

There could be additional costs down the road but for now, the immediate space needs will be met and “I don’t think it’s going to be a huge investment,” Stowers said. Yes, sometime in the future there will likely be an ask but “It won’t be as much as going out near as much as going out and purchasing another property and then retrofitting that property.”

Council member Barbara Smyth (D-At Large) said she was “well aware” of how “cramped” Recreation and Parks is in their current building, and “I’ve often wondered how you manage.”

Activist Diane Lauricella questioned the environmental integrity of the site, characterizing it as likely contaminated with solvents, gasoline and oil, in addition to likely underground tanks.

“Why is the city not selling the parcel? Even back to the original owners I know that had been contemplated,” she said.

An environmental report was done during the eminent domain process and an environmental company removed waste oil, Lo said. There’s a concrete slab under the building and while there’s potentially oil or gasoline under the asphalt, it’s “minimal in terms of environmental concerns.”

“It’s not like we’re acquiring a building. Whatever’s there is there,” Land Use and Building Management Committee Chairman Thomas Livingston (D-District E) said.

The use doesn’t require Council approval. On Jan. 18, the Planning and Zoning Commission gave a unanimous nod to the application.

Big trucks won’t be coming and going, just lawnmowers, small equipment and pickup trucks, Hughes said. Landscaping will screen the property on the north side, the only side abutting a residential use. Employees arrive at 7 a.m., go out to City properties and return at about 3 p.m.

Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Lou Schulman said, “It sounds to me as if you’re taking a building and improving both the building and the surroundings of the building so that it’s going to be less of, if you will, an attractive nuisance to the community than it currently is.”

Updated, 10:51 a.m.: More information.

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Excerpt from a memo written by Norwalk Recreation and Parks Director Robert Stowers.


Becca Stoll January 30, 2023 at 12:20 pm

NoN does a great job using gender neutral titles and descriptions a lot of the time, such as calling everyone “Council PERSON” but it would be great if this could be carried through as a consistent policy by you editors. In this article, that would mean changing “staff tradesmen” to “staff tradespeople” and multiple uses of “chairman” to “chairperson” or even just “chair.” While both chairpeople cited in this article present as men, calling them both “chairMAN” helps subtly perpetuate the belief that leading a committee is a job for men only, as was the case for so many years before our laws and votes slowly began to catch up with the truth of gender equality. Thanks.

Johnny cardamone January 30, 2023 at 4:20 pm

So the city basically stole the property from Cocchias long time, Italian owners, and then didn’t use it for what they intend it so now it’s a bait and switch?!
And I prefer the old name Parks and Recreation.

Lisa Brinton January 31, 2023 at 11:33 am

No school. No open space. No park. And a lot of taxpayer money spent to store city trucks. 🤣
Well done Norwalk. South Norwalk residents screwed again.

Jeff Cocchia February 1, 2023 at 11:29 am

They were heartless in there dealings with us especially Alan Lo quote”who said he might be able to scale back there plans to save the building”.Then looked me in the eye and said quote “ don’t count on it.They had us sign a document if we didn’t they would not pay the extra money we sued for.If I new there plans fell through I would never have signed.This is what happens when you let people play with other peoples tax dollars wasteful never wanted to loose that building.

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