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Rilling fires back at GOP chief’s slam over commission absences

Norwalk Zoning Commissioner Harry Rilling considers the Brightview at Norwalk application in May.

 

NORWALK – Norwalk Republican Town Committee Chairman Art Scialabba called out Democratic mayoral candidate Harry Rilling Thursday for missing “nearly half his scheduled meetings” of the Zoning Commission in the past year.

The attack, which came in the form of a press release, drew a pointed response from Rilling, who said many of the meetings primarily focused on the BJ’s Wholesale Club application. He pointed out that Norwalk Corporation Counsel Robert Maslan had told him he had to recuse himself after making public remarks against the application and big box stores.

“Art Scialabba is trying to pull the wool over the public’s eyes again, as he always does,” Rilling said.

In the release, Scialabba said, “Harry Rilling failed to attend nearly half his scheduled meetings in the last year and should explain to Norwalk citizens his lack of commitment to the Zoning Commission. … If you or I didn’t show up for our job almost half the time, we’d be fired on the spot. But Harry Rilling thinks his attendance record – which includes ten missed meetings and five tardy arrivals, is deserving of a promotion.

“I call on Harry to explain to the residents of Norwalk what he has been doing that was more important than fulfilling his obligation to the people, on the commission he had requested to be appointed to, and is serving on. I look forward to his answer. It’s clear that Harry may have strong opinions on certain zoning issues, his lack of attendance calls in question if that is just ‘talk’. Clearly you can’t turn opinions into action if you fail to attend meetings and vote.”

“I never, ever asked to be appointed to the Zoning Commission,” Rilling said. “The mayor approached me and said he thought I’d be good on the Zoning Commission. I told him I’d have to think about it. The reason is because I was thinking about running for mayor.”

Rilling said he was told by Maslan he had to recuse himself from the BJ’s discussions, leaving him no choice but absent himself from those talks. He also agreed his statements about big box stores in general likely meant he would not be allowed to participate in discussions that would have an impact on any future such applications.

“I think the public will see this for what it is,” Rilling said. “Art Scialabba is dead wrong. Again.”

Rilling said he is spending his time “for the greater good,” challenging four-time incumbent Republican Richard Moccia in the November election.

Comments

31 responses to “Rilling fires back at GOP chief’s slam over commission absences”

  1. EDR

    I remember a day when zoning commissioners would attend all of the meetings no matter what. When an application came up in which they were to recuse themselves, they would stand in the hallway to “look at the apples”. When that portion of a meeting or a hearing was finished that commissioner would return to the meeting. Just saying

  2. Joe Espo

    When council members find themselves in conflict with an agenda item, they leave the chambers during the discussion and the vote; they don’t skip the entire meeting. Same with Zoning. I’m sure the Corporation Counsel didn’t advise him to recuse himself from entire meetings. BJ’s wasn’t always on the agenda and wasn’t the only item. But Harry chose to blow off entire meetings and count potholes.

  3. Mike Mushak

    GOP Chairman Scialabba should heed the smart advice in Mathew 7:3, “”Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”
    .
    Before Mr. Scialabba starts attacking Democratic Mayoral Candidate Harry Rilling for missing zoning meetings that spent so many hours on the BJ’s application (now withdrawn) that GOP Corp. Counsel Maslan told Rilling he should recuse himself from, perhaps he should be reminded of the behavior of a few of the GOP members of both the Planning and Zoning Commissions, which the public could certainly benefit from knowing more about.
    .
    1) GOP Planning Commissioner Victor Cavallo, who is a good friend of Mr. Scialabba, attacked Harry Rilling by stating the 2008 Master Plan said NOTHING about big box stores, completely ignoring a $75,000 study done in 2006 that is PART of the 2008 Master Plan, which states clearly that the city should rezone Main Avenue where the BJ’s site was located to a 10,000 square foot maximum retail footprint primarily because of traffic concerns. BJ’s was 109,908 square feet, over TEN TIMES what the Master Plan recommended. Mr. Cavallo is charged with implementing the Master Plan, yet he didn’t even know what was in it until I sent him the link on the city website. What was all that about?
    .

    2) GOP Councilman Dave McCarthy, who is also a good friend of Mr. Scialabba and Victor Cavallo, once was a Zoning Commissioner, admitted he never read the by-laws of the ZC when he was sworn in to uphold those laws, and then said they by-laws don’t matter anyway. Laws don’t matter? Really? Mr. McCarthy also wrote editorials about zoning issues while he was running for Council, the same situation that Scialabba and Cavallo attacked Rilling for. Clearly a double standard here. Dave “by-laws don’t matter” McCarthy is running for Council again.
    .

    3) GOP Zoning Chair Emily Wilson, who is also a good friend of Mr. Scialabba, Mr. Cavallo, and Mr. McCarthy, has ignored the by-laws of the Zoning Commission repeatedly, by not enforcing the requirement for monthly financial statements of staff since the ZC has fiduciary responsibility over staff, and for not requiring staff to answer questions dealing with applications, which staff routinely ignores, interfering with the ability of the ZC to make informed decisions. Ms. Wilson stated “if you want the answers, they are in the minutes”, yet the answers were not there and she knew that. It was a disappointing response to a serious attempt by me to get information needed by the entire commission to understand process, regulations, and details relating to protecting public health and safety which is the main responsibility of the Zoning Commission. Most recently Ms. Wilson refused to allow a discussion of an expanded traffic study and independent peer review on the BJ’s application, by denying to put it on agenda after I requested it, stating it “wasn’t in the regulations” (ignoring state law and the right of the ZC to request more info at any time during an application). This was to correct decisions that were made secretly behind closed doors for months before the commission or the public was aware of the application, at which point we were told “it was too late” to change the traffic studies even though the ZC has the right to set the parameters of of that and request more information at any time. Emily “not in the regulations” Wilson is now running for Council in District E alongside her good friend Dave McCarthy.
    .

    4) GOP Zoning Commissioner Joe Santo, when he was Chair last year, told staff to ignore my requests for changes to the minutes to reflect actual conversations. This was a potential ethical violation as it was interference with public records. I didn’t pursue it because the ethics system has been gutted by Moccia and I was unlikely going to get a fair hearing. He also refused to enforce Commission by-laws requiring staff to answer Commissioners’ questions, denying crucial information the Commission needed on high-profile applications and potentially jeopardizing the city’s position in appeals, not to mention potential costs to city taxpayers who might be liable for damages.
    .

    Notice a pattern here? I suggest if Mr. Scialabba wants to attack Harry Rilling for missing meetings he should take a long hard look at the entrenched corruption of process within the ranks of his own GOP membership serving on both the Planning and Zoning Commissions, that have created a general mistrust among the public of both Commissions to make fair and informed decisions, and which the basic requirement of these commissions to protect public health and safety has been greatly compromised, most evident in the mishandled and secretive approach to the BJ’s application (which Mayor Moccia strongly supported) that would have had huge impacts on neighborhoods far beyond the immediate vicinity of the site, the only area the traffic study covered and that GOP Chair Wilson thought was “good enough”.
    .
    When I asked in August’s meeting why the Master Plan recommendation to rezone main Avenue was not followed 5 years after it was recommended, I was told by staff it “was too expensive” (it costs nothing actually), or “we had too much to do”. Really? I asked who made that determination, and was told by Commissioners Santo and Wilson that if I wanted the zone change so much (ignoring the fact that the Master Plan recommends it, and has nothing to do with what “I want”), I should just request it.
    .
    Which is exactly what I did, two weeks ago. I have submitted a zone change request for the Main Avenue stretch between New Canaan Avenue and Linden Street (just beyond Perry where the CVS is), as recommended in the $75k 2006 Westport-North-Main Study conducted by one of the top planning firms in the country, which is part of our Master Plan, and which the Master Plan recommends on page 37 under 3.1.11 to implement.
    .
    As I have said before, I look forward to a healthy debate with my fellow commissioners on this important topic. If we are to restore trust again in the land use commissions in Norwalk to follow expert plans and protect public health and safety, stay tuned. The first discussion on this subject is next week, Thursday, Oct 10th, at 7:30, City Hall.

  4. Another Harry

    I just looked through the agendas on the city’s website and there was never a meeting that was just on BJ’s. There were generally 7 or 8 items, of which BJ’s was just one. So, I have to agree.

    I notice there is no statement that he didn’t miss the meetings, just that Scialabba is mean for pointing it out.

  5. Suzanne

    If this reads correctly, Mr. Rilling did not attend meetings where his opinion was contrary to that of the Republican majority regarding a controversial application. A contrary opinion at the point of a “slam dunk” by the Commission for a project so reviled by the community would seem to be exactly what was needed at the time. If Mr. Rilling did not want the appointment, he could not have accepted it. If the sting of a contrary opinion created so much retribution by Commission members, then Truman’s “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen” would seem apt. That is, don’t accept a commission appointment you can’t keep. No question, though, that Mr. Scialabba is the worst kind of opportunist and just a nasty politician if past actions are anything to go by but it is a good point: where was Mr. Rilling? Explain why a contrary opinion is such a terrible thing in a commission, a member cannot attend meetings at all to stand by his opinion/objections? This article represents either a very incomplete picture of Mr. Rilling’s behavior as to why or, as they say, a “dereliction of duty” to an important commission appointment.

  6. Suzanne

    I guess, Mike, that is the point: when process seems so completely befuddled and incomplete, you want the good guys participating who will call all of this nonsense onto the carpet (just like you did.) Just because you don’t like what is going on does not excuse you from participation. Rather, Mr. Rilling would have been needed more than ever to call out the GOP’s wrong-headedness and expose those inadequacies to the public. That is what Commission members are for: to serve, as you so eloquently say, the health, welfare and safety of the citizens of Norwalk. Why wasn’t Mr. Rilling there to do that, to take the mud in the eye? You did and it helped tremendously. This sounds like Mr. Rilling chose, instead, to protect his political reputation rather than to be of service. I hate to say, but he sounds busted when it comes to the lack of attendance to a Commission to which he was nominated and accepted for appointment.

  7. Don’t Panic

    Correct me if I am wrong but doesn’t Mr. Rilling ( like all Commissioners appointed) serve at the pleasure of the Mayor? Wouldn’t Mr. Moccia dismiss a commissioner who was clearly derelict in his or her duties?
    .
    Of course a dismissal would open him up to charges of acting politically against an opponent, but if Mr. Moccia truly thought that it was the right thing for the city of Norwalk, then he would do it, wouldn’t he? He always insists that Norwalk comes before politics.
    .
    So, Mr. Moccia. The citizens of Norwalk call upon you to either renounce the accusations by the RTC chair as politically motivated and reaffirm your confidence in your appointee or else stand by his statement as accurate and dismiss Mr. Rilling. Which will it be?

  8. Mike Mushak

    Suzanne, just for the record, Harry Rilling was asked by Corporation Counsel to recuse himself from the BJ’s applicaion because of public statements he had made about the project. Rilling respected that request. In the past, GOP commissioners had also made public statements about pending applications but were not asked to recuse themselves, so there was a double standard at play here.
    .
    A recusal means leaving the room. Since the BJ’s discussions took hours,and was on the agenda every month since June, why should Rilling have had to wait around in the hallway all that time and on all those evenings? I don’t think any commissioner would have wasted that much time, myself included. I don’t fault him for that. When Rilling has been in meetings since he was appointed, which has been quite often until BJ’s showed up, he has contributed a lot and asked good questions and made good points. Your portrayal of Rilling being able to add to the BJ’s discussion would have been impossible since he was required to be out of the room and not be a part of the discussion.

  9. M Allen

    Does recusal require a commissioner to leave the meeting during discussions, or simply recuse themselves from voting?

  10. Suzanne

    The whole question of Corporate Counsel having the right to dismiss a Commissioner based on a conflict of interest is, well, questionable. I am sure if Rilling had the wherewithal to prove it, he could show that many, many commissioners in the past have expressed opinions about an ongoing application, either pro or con, in writing and verbally and still been allowed to attend meetings. What could that Corporate Counsel have done to him? Arrest him? I think it is too easy to step back when the going gets tough and enter a room. Mr. Rilling is not of service to be liked but to do the right thing.

  11. Oldtimer

    Never let it be said Art Sciallaba missed a chance to try to make anybody from the other party look bad. Maslan’s opinion that Rilling should recuse himself from anything to do with the BJ’s application is suspect, at best. Just because a commissioner has expressed an opinion that does not agree with Moccia’s, outside of a commission meeting, he needs to recuse himself ? Rilling has been very busy and Zoning Commission meetings where his opinion is not welcome/allowed are a waste of time.

  12. M Allen

    From a NON article dated 07/16/13 – Zoning Commissioner Harry Rilling, a mayoral candidate who wrote an op-ed piece opposing favoring big box stores over other developments, said at last week’s Zoning Committee meeting that he had been instructed by Corporation Counsel Robert Maslan to recuse himself from the BJ’s hearings and decision.

    “Based on this advice — even though I may disagree with it because I’ve heard public comments from other people on this board — but based on this advice I have decided to recuse myself from participation in any review or action in this particular development to make sure that my previously stated opinion is not either a political distraction or a legal excuse that could conceivably harm the interest of the Norwalk community,” Rilling said at the meeting.
    .
    I would be keen to see the advice and exactly what words were used. Was it advice or was it an order? If Mr. Rilling had not accepted the advice, what would have happened? I’m sorry, but I view this more as Rilling was given an out, which he accepted, rather than he had a conflict of interest that required complete recusal. I just get the feeling that he didn’t really fight to stay involved. There is nothing wrong with having an opinion on a broad category of business types, as long as one votes within the context of the regulations. His opinion was not specific to BJ’s. It it was, and he then voted in favor of a Sam’s Club in the same location, then that is where a conflict may have existed.
    .
    If I am correct, the BJ’s application was a special request because it fell outside of the regulations. At that point, does a commissioner need to deny a special permit with an exact answer other than “I vote no”?

  13. Adam Blank

    I periodically had to recuse myself on matters that came before the Zoning Commission. While there were often many agenda items for every meeting staff and the commission always tried not to put more than one substantial or controversial item on the agenda. If I had to recuse myself on an item that was going to represent 90% of the commission’s time that evening I rarely would attend the meeting at all.

    A zoning commissioner can completely ignore corporation counsel’s advice on recusal; however, if the application is later denied and an appeal is filed, the applicant will have an easy time getting the denial overturned on the grounds of bias when the City’s own attorney has said so.

  14. Don’t Panic

    Will Mr. Moccia take responsibility for the statement made by Mr. Scialabba? Either he stands by his appointee and owes Mr. Rilling an apology or he should put Norwalk ahead of politics.
    .
    Mr. Moccia’s silence is deafening

  15. M Allen

    @ Don’t Panic – I doubt you would get an apology out of Mayor Moccia. I’m sorry, but why should he? He didn’t instruct Mr. Rilling to scribe a public letter outlining his views against big box stores. That was Mr. Rilling’s choice and it ultimately led to the view by corporation counsel that it could lead to an appeal. Perhaps Mr. Rilling should apologize for making public comments that have effectively made him a non-entity on the commission he was appointed to serve on. Or perhaps he should have stepped down as a commissioner once it was determind he wouldn’t be showing up to any meetings if BJ’s was on the docket.

  16. Joe Espo

    “I never, ever asked to be appointed to the Zoning Commission,” Rilling said. “The mayor approached me and said he thought I’d be good on the Zoning Commission. I told him I’d have to think about it. The reason is because I was thinking about running for mayor.”
    .
    Well, Harry, then why did you accept the appointment if you had misgivings? Was it a raw political trick to accept it and then sandbag the Mayor with your announcement? At the time he made the offer, did you reveal to Mayor Moccia the “reason” why you had to think about the appointment? Sounds like you purposely concealed your intention to run against him. There’s no way in hell that an experienced politician like Dick Moccia would EVER knowingly appoint a potential opponent to a high profile commission like Zoning and give that opponent a campaign platform to criticize and undercut his administration.
    .
    And if you’re complaining about having to serve on the Commission, then RESIGN! You should have resigned on the very day you announced. Are you trying to play a political dirty trick by hording your seat on the commission to preserve for yourself the opportunity to appoint your own replacement?
    .
    Finally, you knew that BJ’s application was pending at the time you wrote and published your opinion letter criticizing the Moccia administration about big box stores. Did it ever occur to you that the letter would disqualify you from acting on the application? If it didn’t occur to you, then that speaks volumes about your sense of propriety and ethics.

  17. Vincent Grillo

    Back in October 2011 I made the Oak Hills Park Authority aware I would be stepping down at the end of the year. The response from the chairman to me was “the mayor wants your resignation letter after the election.” Does Moccia really put Norwalk ahead of politics?

  18. Suzanne

    First, writing an opinion letter while you are a commissioner should not disqualify you from acting on that commission. If there was a financial conflict, that is, if the given commissioner would benefit one way or the other in a material way by taking a side, that is conflict. If he disagrees with the direction the commission is going, that is negotiation, conflict resolution, democracy. This is the opportunity I think was missed and the erroneous basis for the Corporate Counsel to ask Mr. Rilling to recuse himself. Is that how it works in Norwalk? Everytime someone disagrees with the majority, they are asked to leave? Where is the conflict of interest in that unless it is with the reigning political party insisting on the dismissal because everyone isn’t singing, as Joe Espo likes to put it, kumbaya?

  19. Tim T

    Seems like Rilling puts the same effort into being a zoning commissioner as he did as Norwalk Police consultant . Amazing and he wants to be mayor…What a joke.

  20. Don’t Panic

    @M Allen,
    .
    Mr. Moccia may not control Mr. Rilling’s actions (or Mr. Maslan’s) but he now knows that an issue has been raised about a Commissioner who serves at his discretion.
    .
    He has taken pains to defend his appointment in Mr. Dunne and the questionable extension of an appointment to Oak Hills. He has defended his decision not to reappoint Mr. Blank, suggesting that no more qualification or justification was needed other than “new blood”.
    .
    Here, his appointee stands accused of failing to perform, and he feels no need to speak out.
    .
    Mr. Moccia is still Mayor and has a responsibilty to act in the best interests of Norwalk. Any political considerations should be put aside. His silence implicates him more with each passing day.

  21. here we go

    Got your aligator skin on Harry?
    Great, now return fire.

  22. M Allen

    Silly politics at work. The Mayor speaks and it is instantly nothing but political fodder. Nothing worthwhile can come of it. Rilling was appointed by the Mayor and approved by the council. He then scribed a public missive that called into question his own impartiality. I don’t know if that is enough to call for his recusal or not. Apparently he felt it was enough of a reason since he accepted to Corp Counsel’s recommendation. I suppose, erring on the side of caution, it may have been. With no Rilling involved, BJ’s couldn’t come back and say any rejection was because of a biased commissioner. Of course, I’m not sure why Mike Mushak wasn’t given the same level of advice considering he has generally expressed his own bias. Perhaps not in an OpEd, but in bits and bites across his many, long diatribes.
    .
    But again, nothing the Mayor can or would say here would matter. Some folks just want the fodder for their own use. Harry wasn’t his guy. Harry was appointed for whatever reason, then made it clear he was running for Mayor and started writing his opinions out there for all to see. It got in the way of his role as a commissioner. Once he accepted the recusal, which I presume would apply not only to BJ’s, but any big box national retailer, he probably should have resigned from the commission. Because by recusing himself, he basically has left an empty chair at the table and thus one less person to speak on behalf of Norwalkers from a position that matters. Or should matter. Why didn’t he resign? Was the role that important to him? If so, he probably should know that once in a position like that, his words could come back to haunt him and the city.

  23. RU4REEL

    Oops Art, you opened up a can of worms that will put some heat on your guy.
    You should have thought this one out, if all you can say about Harry is this, you guys are desperate.
    It is obvious you should mention ALL the same things Mushak brought up.
    This why we need Harry as mayor, all repubs have blinders on when it comes to their folks screwing up.

  24. M Allen

    @RUANONYMOUS – who screwed up here? Other than Harry for compromising his impartiality? Should all commissioners write OpEd pieces on potential issues that may come before them? Mayor Moccia appointed Mr. Rilling to be a commissioner. Not as a Mayoral candidate who then decided it was time to compromise his position on the commission. No heat on the Mayor for this one. Sorry to disappoint you. The people who should be unahppy are those who thought Mr. Rilling might be a good addition to the commission and because of his shortsighted remarks, have lost whatever he was going to bring to the table.

  25. Joe Espo

    Mr. Mushak’s well-scribed antipathy and accusations of incompetence leveled at any P&Z staff action, the republican majority, and the Mayor would make any application denial a legal minefield and a litigation treasure trove for lawyers.
    .
    What is not realized is that the Rilling-Mushak opinion conspiracy would likely have had the opposite effect on BJ’s application- it would have forced the Commission to approve the application by way of disproving and rebutting accusations of bias, at the risk of protracted and costly litigation.

  26. Suzanne

    This is nuts. Since when are opinions bias? Since when would a sitting commissioner be sued for such an opinion? Is there any oath a commissioner must take that says they cannot have a verbal or written opinion about a given issue while it is in process? I can think of people sitting on the Council who have made their opinions widely known on a partisan level against/for any given issue. Wide do they not have to recuse themselves when the issue comes to a vote? Something was going on here with Moccia, Corporate Counsel and the Commission that allowed this so-called “conflict of interest” to prevent a standing commissioner to discuss a project with which he disagreed. This is not democracy. This is politicking in the worst possible way because those in service to the people of Norwalk are not allowed to be of service to contrary opinions. That’s just ridiculous and incompetent.

  27. Mike Mushak

    Joe Espo has become another person! The old Joe Espo with the simplistic but consistent world view is missing in action. Someone should tell him his alias has been stolen by a city official with an ax to grind against me! Interesting we have two Joe Espo’s now. One was enough, and I miss the old Joe!
    .
    I stated numerous times on the record and even recorded here on NON that I had no opinion about the BJs application, and that I would support it if the applicant could prove without a doubt their bold claim that re-timing light cycles was going to not only absorb the average increase from BJs of 300-500/cars an hour at peak times, but also improve the traffic conditions that already exist now.
    .
    They were going to do all this while ignoring the 21 per day at-grade train crossings on the 3 busy roads that connect to Main, and by ignoring the 80 or so uncontrolled curb cuts that service 140 businesses in the one mile stretch from the Merritt to New Canaan Ave. that all experts agree make this one of the most dangerous stretches of state highway in the region (2011 SWRPA study). This is all on the record.
    .
    Their contribution to the public was to pay for revamped traffic signals and a single left turn lane that was 125 feet long, or 6 car lengths, in front of their project, that would have had to handle double that number of cars in peak hours, which somehow the miraculous timing was going to solve to prevent stacking into travel lanes and causing gridlock at a point where cars now stack into the street to get gas at Citgo and the car wash.
    .
    This is why I fought so hard unsuccessfully to get an independent peer review traffic study paid for by the city, as well as an expanded applicant traffic study that would have included all intersections impacted by the project, not just the 6 nearest the project. Both of these concepts were recommended in the brand new $500k Transportation Plan that city taxpayers had paid for that was in effect since September 2012, yet no one in City Hall had put the recommendations into regulations, or so I was told. I got blank stares when I asked why, as if the $500k we paid for was totally wasted. That was my comment on NON in a weak moment that I could have bought toilet paper at Costco and saved taxpayers $500k, as that was about the worth of the paper that study was printed on. It was an honest appraisal, albeit not polite.
    .
    However, I still believe the $500k Study could have been used as a “guideline” for the ZC, as we ultimately have the power to set the geographic limit of a traffic study as well hire a peer review consultant (the latter is right given by the state). In both cases I was told it was either too late (the staff had neen working secretly with the applicant without the commission or the public involved for almost a year before we saw the application), or that it “wasn’t in our regs”, which was not true as it turned out.
    .
    It seemed the GOP leadership of the ZC was not the least concerned about the city doing its due diligence to protect public health and safety, nor did they think the crazy claims that changing light timing was going to solve everything sounded just too good to be true. I am still shocked by the applicant’s claim that our state traffic signals can be fixed directly from Hartford electronically, when our own city engineers in DPW are continually frustrated by months-long delays in getting responses from the state DOT to fix timing cycles that break down frequently, enough so that they discussed it in a Traffic Authority meeting in May. The CT Ave timing changes have been promised for years yet we still see backups all the time, and DPW says they get little response and that their hands are tied by the state. And we are expected to believe none of this will happen on Main Ave, as promised by the BJs traffic engineer? If you do believe this, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you in Brooklyn!
    .
    Here’s the kicker: the applicant wanted their approval before we knew what the state was going to require in the way of actual improvements to the road. So, what if we theoretically had approved it, and the state came back and said oops, we need let’s say $30 million worth of road and intersection widening including eminent domain of valuable commercial properties and their required parking spaces to actually make this work.
    .
    What recourse would city residents and taxpayers have had at that point, after the BJs was already approved with the only condition that they pay for a few traffic signals and crosswalks? What if the state then told us they didn’t have all the money for these improvements, and if the city wanted them (because WE were the ones who approved a project ten times larger than an expert traffic and urban planning firm has recommended in 2006 which was part of our Master Plan), then city taxpayers would have to fund a portion of it?
    .
    Basically, and this is all theoretical but quite plausible, if we had approved BJs under those conditions, taxpayers could have been left subsidizing the applicant to the tune of tens of millions, perhaps $30 million, worth of road improvements necessitated by their project. That would be a public subsidy we cannot afford. It cracks me up how the GOP tells us how fiscally conservative they are, yet when it comes to planning and zoning issues in Norwalk, they seem clueless as to how much taxpayers have had to pay to subsidize bad planning decisions. The traffic nightmare that has occurred on CT Ave will take decades and probably $60-80 million to fix (notice the extra lane in front of the new Fire Headquarters, which someday will occur along the entire length of Rt. 1), all because of a single bad zoning decision
    under Esposito in the 80’s to turn this corridor into traffic generating low tax-assessed big box heaven instead of the mixed use zone it was previously.
    .
    This is what happens when you have no certified professional planners running your Planning and Zoning Department, and a GOP machine hellbent on ignoring professional studies and even our own Master Plan that incorporated millions if dollars of taxpayer-funded studies. This mess needs to be cleaned up, and that will happen under Mayor Rilling.

  28. Joe Espo (2.0)

    Suzanne: When zoning commissioners consider an application such as BJ’s they act as judges/ jurors. When commissioners consider changes in zoning regulations, they act as legislators, similar to our state reps or council members. Legislators act as representatives or proxies of the political views of their constituents, and their deliberations and actions can be biased accordingly. Take David Watts, for example when he wore the bright green pro-union tee-shirts to council meetings when the garbage collection outsourcing was being considered. As long as he didn’t have a financial stake in the outsourcing he need not have recused himself. Some with a different sense of ethics might disagree.
    .
    Judges/ jurors, on the other hand, must take care to suppress their bias when considering such issues as the guilt or innocence of a criminal defendant, the guilt or innocence of a defendant in a car accident, as well as the merits or detriments -approval or denial- of a zoning application. They should not harbor hostile bias, and certainly they should not publish it. (See Adam Blank’s post above to assess the consequences of same.) The application must be considered based upon the evidence presented and the deliberations should not incorporate the preconceptions of the individual commissioners.
    .
    Problem was that with the BJ’s application, Harry Rilling and Mike Mushak – what with their published presumptions , pre-judged the merits of the application. That attitude cause expensive appeals. In their opinion, based substantially on prejudices and political bias, BJ’s was guilty of the equivalent of zoning homicide, no matter what evidence to the contrary was presented.

  29. Joe Espo

    I agree with Joe Espo 2.0, in part

  30. Tim T

    Don’t Panic
    You make a good point. Moccia has failed of get rid of Rilling as zoning commissioner and he also failed to get rid of Rilling as Police Consultant. In my opinion Moccia’s biggest mistake as mayor was Rilling.

  31. Suzanne

    In reference to commission members as judges/jurors in the application process from above: “They should not harbor hostile bias, and certainly they should not publish it. (See Adam Blank’s post above to assess the consequences of same.) The application must be considered based upon the evidence presented and the deliberations should not incorporate the preconceptions of the individual commissioners.” Adam Blank is in a profession that could very well be representing application parties and, thus, would potentially benefit from the outcome of an application. If what you say is true about the judge/juror status of commissioners, then absolutely not one bit of ink or bandwidth could be presented by any commissioner on an ongoing application, pro or con. You are also saying that the opinions expressed re: BJ application were based on “preconceptions” when what I read as did many others was factual information about the impacts of economy, traffic and neighborhood blight the BJ’s application would result in if approved. How is that “preconception” if based on studies, other than that represented by BJ’s own expert, a clear conflict of interest? While I appreciate your differentiation between the duties of the various elected/appointed officials, I still believe this recusal standard was applied in a prejudicial manner and if not extended to all who had done as Mr. Rilling did in publishing information on Big Box development, including Mike Mushak, then the recusal was about a mayoral election and not appeals and preconceptions.

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