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Rilling reiterates: He doesn’t want to bisect Ryan Park

Mayor Harry Rilling

Mayor Harry Rilling, right, talks to Diane Cece Monday in the South Norwalk Community Center as State Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140) listens, during a break in the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) public hearing regarding Washington Village.

NORWALK, Conn. – A letter regarded as a smoking gun by some opponents of the plan to rebuild Washington Village is now available on a state website for anyone to see.

The city’s response to Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) questions includes the plans to raise Day and Raymond Streets, as well as the letter from Mayor Harry Rilling suggesting that Ryan Park could be the location of a raised walkway, which Diane Cece and Ganga Duleep have protested.

“He virtually gives carte blanche approval that that park is going to be used some means or another for dry egress for this project,” Cece said at Monday’s DEEP public hearing regarding an exemption to flood management regulations.

Rilling said in an email that he does not favor bisecting the park.

“I have been working with Tim Sheehan and my position is the dry egress should be on the perimeter of the park, not bisecting it. I do not support any dry egress that will cut the park in half or render it useless,” he said.

In the letter, dated July 21, Rilling writes that the path would go from the east and continue to the west, but does not specify a straight path.

“A component piece of that dry egress has always been a newly constructed walkway through Ryan Park at elevation 12. As advanced in the preliminary design, the walkway would enter into the park to the east at Day and Raymond Streets and continue to the most western edge of the park, exiting in the parking lot located outside the flood plain and less than a block from South Main Street.

The concept design of the proposed dry egress components as previously represented to the Department of Housing will be incorporated into the city’s master plan for Ryan Park. Further, the dry egress improvements to Ryan Park will be completed prior to the Certificates of Occupancy being issued for the Phase 1 improvements to Washington Village,” the letter states.

Cece confronted Rilling about the letter at Monday’s public hearing. She went on to announce to everyone present, as she spoke at the microphone, that, “He has since realized he did not have enough information to have made those statements. I asked him on behalf of the taxpayers of Norwalk to rescind the letter and to do it in public.”

She went on to state that DEEP doesn’t have the right information, and referred to the “impact of coming through a public park which our mayor is not actually authorized to give away.”

Former Zoning Commissioner Mike Mushak spoke next, and defended Rilling.

“I do think that the mayor has the best interest of the community and the city in mind so what was just said, that the mayor gave away a park, is completely inaccurate,” Mushak said.

Rilling has appointed an advisory committee to come up with a master plan for Ryan Park, he said.

“I don’t think that’s fair,” Mushak said. “The mayor was police chief for many years. He knows people in this community. He has worked closely with them. There is nothing sneaky or anything going on. I find that a pretty shocking charge to make.”

Away from the microphone, Cece said, “As a matter of public record right now that letter still stands, where he virtually guarantees that that park would be used for dry egress.”

While Duleep recently cited her status as an intervener in the DEEP matter as the reason she had access to state documents, state officials said they are subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

The documents related to the Washington Village project have since been posted on the Connecticut Department of Housing’s website. NoN has downloaded the PDF in question and attached it below. The letter is on page 40 of the PDF.

5-response_to_deep_additional_questions

Examples of dry egress.

Examples of dry egress are provided in this display from Tighe and Bond, an engineering firm.

9 comments

Mike Mushak December 19, 2014 at 8:01 am

The park is being redesigned under the supervision of an advisory committee made up of key stakeholders in the community, following the established public park master plan guidelines. That process has just started an a firm hasn’t even been selected yet.

This same process was followed for master plans for Vets Park, which I served on, and Cranbuy Park.( It was not followed for Oak Hills Park strange enough, which is another story.)

In the meeting examples of dry egress were shown that were not even visible across turf fields. That is, INVISIBLE. That us why it seemed like a tempest in a teapot, when no design exists yet of the park at all. It was a concept needed to obtain the HUD grant , which included redesigning the entire park to make it both more functional and more beautiful for the community, as it has had major flaws since it opened.

It has been established that raising the entire grade in the park by a few feet is possible, as it is in the 100 year flood plain. This last fact is why it was so strange that a lot of commenters at the hearing thought the 7 acre Washington Village Choice Neigjbohoods project with 136 subsidized and 137 market or near market rate units, including open space and playgrounds, should be “flipped” into the 2-acre Ryan Park, which was the context of my comment in the article.

It makes absolutely no sense and is physically impossible to squeeze 7 acres of dense parking and buildings and playgrounds into 2 acres, and it would have still needed a waiver from DEEP as it it still in the flood plain.

The effect of “flipping” would be to cut the size of Washington Village by two thirds, losing the HUD grant and the market rate units that are there to help dilute the concentrated poverty that promotes the cycle of poverty and crime as decades of social research proves (that is what the HUD program is based on, which has been successfully implemented in many other cities across the country including close to us in Stamford, specifically to replace obsolete housing projects that were built to warehouse and segregate low income folks only which is what the existing Washington Village does.) in essence, the “flip” that was being pushed would remove most of the residents out of the neighborhood in return for a new 7-acre park on existing city owned land (taken off the tax roles and needing millions of taxpayer dollars to build, something the city cannot afford) that no one would be around to use as there would be little housing in the area at that point. An absurd idea all around.

The existing park is also conveniently next to the busy Community Center, and moving it a block away would remove that important connection.

Last, the 33-acre Vets Park with multiple ball fields and other amenities is a 5 minute walk away. That park needs millions of dollars of improvements as spelled out in the master plan for that park, including replacing crumbling parking lots and sidewalks and building a new fishing pier and kayak rental facility. Again, it makes no sense to take 7 acres of city owned land in South Norwalk to build yet another park that we don’t have the funds to do, remove most of the housing in the area that would use such a park, and create a huge maintenance and security nightmare for the city that would quickly become an eyesore and drag SoNo down even further, instead of building it up with beautiful new buildings and new residents that the community needs desperately to allow its existing residents to live in a well-designed, healthy, and safe environment.

If all this is based on the simple need for a dry egress route that will likely be invisible and not interfere with the functionality and aesthetics of the newly-designed Ryan Park, then the concerns of some have been satisfied. If not, then we have to wonder if this is still about killing the project as there are no viable alternative 7 acre sites on city owned land in the area outside of the flood plain (despite claims that there are, which a quick look at a map will prove). The entire SoNo area is in a flood plain, including the Webster Lot which has been mentioned as an alternative (HUD would not fund such a project anyway as it would be too far away from the neighborhood needing improvement which is the goal of the program.)

I offer this up as just more information for the community as there has been a real lack of that recently. That is why I support this project 100% and everyone in Norwalk should too. We all benefit, including the many struggling folks of Washingtom Village who are currently living in substandard and unhealthy housing. Please don’t forget about them!

Bill Dunne December 19, 2014 at 8:50 am

What the hell is “dry egress”?

A pathway between, in this case, the residences and higher ground that is raised above the flooding area.

Haley December 19, 2014 at 9:18 am

Bill asks a good question. I guessed when I read the story, but Nancy, is really is your job to translate bureaucratese for us. The Hour is often incomprehensible because it also fails to translate gobblygook for us. One time I called up an Hour reporter to ask him to please explain what “Sixth-Degree Larceny” was. He had written the story that mentioned it, but could not tell me because he didn’t know. Mayor Rilling, maybe you can help us here?

concerned student December 19, 2014 at 9:50 am

Egress is another way of saying exit- the plan is to create a roadway through the park, which is not needed.
This may prove to be dangerous, god forbid the police chase someone in that direction and they use that roadway while the playground is full of people!

Mike Mushak December 19, 2014 at 11:30 am

Wow, the misinformation here is stunning! Dry egress is NOT a roadway. It is simply a technique to get emergency evacuation out of a flood plain to higher ground and can be integrated easily into lawns and parks without even knowing its’s there.

Watch this video I linked here and watch it for one minute on the timer from 1.00 to 2.00 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_4YzKRdGX_8, to see how this simple invisible technique being proposed can support everything from cars to firetrucks to airliners for emergency grass runways. Please stop repeating the untrue fact that this will be a roadway.

Also, the photos NON published in the article above are from the meeting, and show what “dry egress” can be. The photo with the firetruck is not intended to show the road in the picture but the fact that the truck can travel on the grass on the left without sinking, which is done all the time for emergency access and fore lanes around condos and schools and lots of other buildings, including in parks without being noticeable if that is what the designer wants it to be. It may also be a “roadway” or look like a walkway if there is a need for that as well, but it is not necessary that it be delineated that way.

Ryan Park is mostly within the 100 year flood plain below elevation 12 except for the playground and parking lot, with an average elevation about 9 to 10 feet. The dry egress will need to be at 12. The idea that this needs to be a huge raised berm dividing the park is not accurate. The intersection at Day and Raymond Street is being raised 4 feet from elevation 8 to 12, and the plans are likely to include raising most or all of the grade in Ryan Park which which help keep the park out of the flood plain, protecting the park and its structures as well as provide the dry egress that might be invisible if thats what the community and the designers decide.

These changes will have no effect on Mt. Zion Church which is uphill from Ryan Park and out of the 100 year flood plain as can be seen on the flood plain maps. One corner of their lower parking (which is perhaps 3 or 4 feet lower than their building and upper parking area) along Raymond is in the flood plain but they can fix that by filling that corner if they choose, the same way that property owners all over the city in the flood plain are doing to protect their properties.

The licensed engineers working on this project will make sure any actions taken will not increase flooding potential for the Mt. Zion property or any other property for that matter, as they are required by law to do. Raising a relatively tiny portion of a huge expansive flood plain that covers a third of South Norwalk and is contiguous to Long Island Sound will in no way make flooding worse anywhere else in that flood plain.

Water seeks its level always by the laws of nature and does not stay in one place when displaced, affecting one property over
another, unless it is in a self-contained bowl and the water collecting on the raised property is directed towards the lower property, which no engineer would ever approve nor would the city in this case (this has occurred in the city among residential neighbors but that is because of our lack of zoning regulations in those cases, a wholly separate issue that would not apply on this location and with public property and HUD financing involved.)

Kay Anderson December 19, 2014 at 2:23 pm

Touché , Dorothy! And thanks Mike for the sometimes novel approach many bloggers and some meeting participants shy away from: a factual explanation of what is otherwise incomprehensible to those of us unfamiliar with the world of zoning.

concerned student December 20, 2014 at 5:54 pm

At Mike I didn’t print an untruth I merely did what you guys were doing and just basically wrote anything which prompted you to actually right something factual and stop beating around the bush, you even went so far as to supply a video, nice touch.
Stop bull jiving the community say what you mean and start meaning what you say!!!

concerned student December 20, 2014 at 6:03 pm

@ DOROTHY and Kay too bad you feel your always right other wise you would have taken the time to actually respond to the person who didn’t understand what egress meant of course I knew, but also figured Mike couldn’t resist, and he would be very so anyone with a doubt could understand.
Again I say thanks Mike!!!

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