NORWALK, Conn. – Democratic mayoral candidate Harry Rilling took aim at another part of incumbent Richard Moccia’s record Saturday, criticizing the lack of development in the city.
That’s nothing new, Rilling said, holding up a copy of The Hour from Oct. 20, 1955. “Re-developers want to expand program: Hope to include Main, Wall Street areas,” the headline said.
You know how that worked out.
The problem recently, Rilling said as he stood at the long-delayed 95/7 project, is obstructionist government – a developer told him this week, he said, that he had gotten everything in order in eight months in Bridgeport, but in Norwalk the same process took 3½ years. “Our Redevelopment Agency, our Planning and Zoning agencies, they have to work together, not against each other, in order to move things forward,” Rilling said. “… There is nothing happening because nobody is taking charge and making things happen. That has to change. Under a Rilling administration we will make sure that development projects move forward. We will tell developer that if your plan is no longer viable then maybe we need to think in other terms.”
There is a construction trailer and construction equipment at 95/7, where a 232-unit apartment building with about 24,000 feet of retail has been planned, giving the appearance that something might be happening. Although the developer pulled a permit for a foundation in August, there is no sign of any activity even with the window dressing of equipment sitting there. Instead, the Redevelopment Agency is reviewing an application to transfer development rights from 95/7 Enterprises to GGP (General Growth Properties), which builds malls.
RDA Director Tim Sheehan said this week that there is no guarantee that GGP will propose building a mall despite several early newspaper reports.
“There is no proposal from either the current developer or the proposed successor developer made to the agency that suggests any request to modify the development plan as currently approved by the city and contained in the existing LDA (Land Disposition Agreement),” he said in an email. “The range for retail square footage under the existing LDA is capped at 125,000 sq. ft.”
Rilling said the city needs to know what GGP has in mind before the RDA approves the transfer.
“A mall generally does not generate a good revenue stream in taxes,” he said. “They don’t pay taxes on their inventory. They pay taxes on their footprint. They bring in, again, part-time, low paying jobs, and in the Financial Times, there was a report recently that said that 15 percent of the nation’s malls will fail within the next five years. So before we move ahead with transfer of any development rights we really need to sit down, let the public know what the plans are going to be, before we move forward. It’s silly to move forward unless you know what the plans are that are going to be implemented.”
Rilling said the lack of progress in Norwalk’s stalled projects is costing citizens money, as there is no tax revenue. In addition, the grand list has shrunk from $12.8 billion in 2012 to $12.5 billion in 2013.
“We lost $300 million off our grand list because homeowners were fighting their tax assessments and it was found in case after case after case that their homes were assessed too high,” he said. “So they kept winning in case after case after case.”
Moccia did not return a request for comment.
The Rilling campaign put out a press release saying that Rilling will create a streamlined system where citizens and developers can get all the permits they need in one place on a regular basis.
“As mayor I will make sure City Hall has an easy to understand, friendly, and helpful process for obtaining permits for projects large and small,” Rilling said in the statement. “Everywhere I go I hear complaints about a confusing and unhelpful permit process that requires people to go to too many different places at too many different times. Whether building a deck on your house or redoing your bathroom or renovating an entire building, city hall needs to be a partner with the people of Norwalk.”