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Proposed Norwalk Innovation District criticized and defended

Common Council Ordinance Committee members, from left, Chris Yerinides (D-District A), Chairwoman Eloisa Melendez (D-District A), Tom Livingston (D-District E), Beth Siegelbaum (D-District C), Doug Stern (D-At Large) and Doug Hempstead (R-District D), conduct their meeting Tuesday in Concert Hall. The meeting had been originally scheduled for the much smaller Room 231. (Harold Cobin)

The boundaries of the proposed Norwalk Innovation District.

Updated, 8:16 a.m.: Copy edits, new headline

NORWALK, Conn. – A proposed Innovation District, which would enable tax incentives for Central Norwalk of up to $15 million over five years, has Norwalkers talking in the midst of a sleepy summer.

Mayor Harry Rilling sought to clarify and defend the proposal, intended to encourage development, in a Tuesday e-mail to critic Jackie Lightfield.  Then Tuesday evening, other critics panned the plan at a Common Council ordinance committee meeting.  Norwalk Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan responded to some of the criticisms.

 

Video by Harold Cobin at end of story

Lightfield wrote Monday to her Norwalk Center Discussion List, stating that the Innovation District “proposes to eliminate property taxes for favored development projects according to the discretion of the Redevelopment Agency.  It is another poorly written and ill conceived work product by the Redevelopment Agency.”

Rilling replied that Lightfield’s e-mail contained misinformation.  The proposal would allow property owners to improve their properties and have taxes remain at existing levels for a fixed period of time, until taxes must be paid on the full value of the improvements, he wrote.  He noted that each project must be approved by the Common Council, not the Redevelopment Agency.  Last, the idea originated in the Mayor’s office, not the Redevelopment Agency.  More of Rilling’s reply is below.

Aspiring developer Jason Milligan, who provided the exchange to NancyOnNorwalk, answered Rilling’s reply with some criticisms of his own.  “I own more individual properties in the proposed Innovation District than anyone else. Do you think it might be a good idea to get my opinion?” Milligan wrote to Rilling. “I hate almost everything about it!”

“The proposed Innovation District rules & process seems deliberately vague. There is no clear process that if followed would ensure approval. What recourse would applicants that get denied have?” Milligan wrote. “People might suggest it is so those of you in power have discretion to dole out goodies to your cronies. This smells like a scheme cooked up in some back room, and the timing of late August seems suspect. Is there an effort to slip it behind the taxpayers backs in the sleepy vacation days of summer?”

City officials are at odds with Milligan over his purchase of several parcels which were part of the stalled Wall Street Place Redevelopment Project known as POKO.  The City and Redevelopment Agency have filed a lawsuit against Milligan, claiming the purchase was done without required city approvals.

 

Public hearing rescheduled to Sept. 4

Later Tuesday, the Common Council Ordinance Committee, chaired by Eloisa Melendez (D-District A), was scheduled to hold a public hearing on the Innovation District.  The meeting began with an announcement from Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola explaining, from the Concert Hall stage, why Tuesday’s meeting would not be an official public hearing.

A Council member had objected to the legal notices that had been posted for the hearing, Coppola said.  Coppola believed the notices complied with city charter but recommended that the hearing be postponed, out of an abundance of caution.  The legal notice hadn’t included the full text of the proposed ordinances, as the 1980s-era City Charter segment mandated, but neither did two-thirds of the legal notices published in the last 11-12 years, Coppola said.  He noted that the proposals are available online.

Doug Hempstead (R-District D) later identified himself as the council member who objected.

The Committee unanimously voted to hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. Sept. 4 in City Hall.  Next the meeting proceeded to public comment from individuals who showed up expecting a public hearing.

 

Ten citizens speak, oppose Innovation District

Ten citizens spoke against the proposal.  Several asked why tax incentives to encourage development would be instituted before the new Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) is complete.

Third Taxing District Commissioner Deb Goldstein, speaking to the Council, noted that many of her constituents don’t have access to the internet and said the citizenry objects to the many apartments that are being built.  The Innovation District tax incentives add insult to injury by asking taxpayers to contribute to tax breaks, she said.

Republican District D Chairman John Romano said he owns many properties in Norwalk, all of them built without incentives.  He asked why the Council would consider encouraging shoddy construction that will be taken over by Real Estate Investment Trusts, who will let the buildings fall apart.

Republican District 140 State Representative candidate John Flynn said, “To accept another project with the way the deals are given, you must be smoking crack, that’s what I say.”

“I’m not, but thank you,” Melendez replied.

 

Sheehan: more people needed to support businesses

When members of the public finished speaking, Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan spoke.  Most of the comments had been good, he said.

Sheehan explained that there are “statistical issues that went behind the consideration of the incentive in this particular geography.”

The Norwalk Center census tract is the second least-populated tract in Norwalk, “and this is your urban corridor,” he said.  “You can’t have a successful urban environment without people living in that environment,” Sheehan said.  “There needs to be an appreciation that in order for businesses to be successful there needs to be ongoing demand.”

“However we deal with the housing issues we have to recognize that there’s a need to have people populate the census tract,” he said.

The initiative for development incentives came from Rilling but the Council Planning Committee had different ideas, taking ownership of the idea and advancing it forward after a year of discussion, Sheehan said.

Sheehan has previously said that an Enterprise Zone had been suggested, but Council members objected to the blanket tax benefits it would provide. An Innovation District would allow Council members to award tax incentives on a case-by-case basis.

“There is a little bit of confusion,” Sheehan said.  Property owners would never see a reduction in their original tax bills.  Rather, they could improve their properties while having their tax bills remain constant for a fixed period of time.  Eventually the tax bills would increase to reflect the value of the improvements, he said.

 

Rilling’s exchange with Lightfield

Sheehan’s comments echoed Rilling’s e-mail to Lightfield earlier Tuesday.

“Advancing public engagement regarding a public policy initiative is a good thing.  Except when in so doing it results in misinformation,” Rilling wrote to Lightfield.  He explained:

“I. The proposed ordinance is primarily based on CGS 12-65B which allows municipalities to fix real property tax assessments for a range of development projects for a specific period of time.  Other municipalities in Connecticut have taken similar action as part of their respective economic development programs.  A fixed assessment is a type of property tax break for a limited period of time. Naturally, when a property is improved its value increases, as does the portion subject to local taxation.  Fixing an assessment based on a percentage of the underlying improvement allows the property owner to improve their property without immediately paying all of the taxable value resulting from the improvement.  If the property owner had not been inclined to make the improvement the City would not have realized any increased taxable value.  Neither the proposed ordinance nor the enabling statute authorize the elimination of the property taxes currently being paid on the property for any development project as your email states. Only the increased assessment resulting from the property improvement is allowed to be considered in a tax agreement for a fixed period of time, before 100% of the taxable value of the improvement is ultimately paid by the property owner.

“II.  Your email states that should the proposed ordinance be enacted future tax agreements, if any, will be at the discretion of the Redevelopment Agency.  However, both the proposed ordinance and the enabling statute specifically state that the authority regarding any tax agreement rest solely with the Common Council.

“III. Finally, your email states that the proposed ordinance is the work product of the Redevelopment Agency.  It is important to note that the issue of tax incentives for this geography originated with my office.  Ultimately, several concepts were brought to the Planning Committee for its review.  The Planning Committee had differing thoughts as to how best to structure any proposed tax incentive and worked on reaching an acceptable model over the course of a year, before advancing their work product to the Ordinance Committee.  The Ordinance Committee and Corporation Counsel have worked over the past few months to further refine the Planning Committee’s referral into the proposed ordinance now being considered.  The proposed ordinance is the work product advanced by two Common Council Sub-Committees with ongoing input and direction coming from my office.”

Lightfield replied: “Given that the Redevelopment Agency staffs and advises the planning committee, there appears no checks and balance in relation to the goals of the Redevelopment Agency and the goals of the City.”  Milligan has made similar criticisms.

“If your proposal has documented the impact of tax revenue on current properties and the anticipated growth in assessed values over time after a hypothetical project qualifies for a tax abatement, then you should have included it as background material supplied prior to a public hearing,” Lightfield wrote. “As it stands the committee review of this proposal has been to wordsmith, rather than review its economic impact to the health of the city.”

It looks like applications will go through the Redevelopment Agency and then to the Council, Milligan wrote, asking, “Do you really want to entrust more responsibility to an Agency that you have been very publicly blasting for incompetence?”  In July, Rilling questioned the judgement of Agency leadership and criticized its attorney selection process, which he said allowed the hiring of an attorney with a conflict of interest.

 

Innovation District 18-0821

Innovation District brochure 18-0301

32 comments

Rem August 22, 2018 at 8:44 am

So… How does this encourage innovation? If the intention here is to encourage start-ups to move in, limited time period tax breaks are useful but it hardly matters that much when CT is the 43rd WORST state for business (taxes/fees, bureaucracy, cost of living/ doing business, transportation, high cost of labor, or a labor pool that doesn’t have matched skills). On the other hand, if the scheme is only intended to improve the grand list what would really “incentivize” property owners in this district to “make improvements in value” knowing that the tax break they are receiving is temporary? I don’t know – is there a vast amount of property owners of hair salons, mom & pop restaurants (very generalized impression of business make up in this area) who always wanted to redecorate their establishments but were hesitant of the increased tax obligations??

David Mapley August 22, 2018 at 8:53 am

I met with Mr Sheehan to introduce our green technology, City Windmills – small wind turbines for rooftop use to generate electricity. I want to build jobs and the company here in Norwalk, and what better way than to start with pilot sites at City Hall and redevelopment projects. A big “no interest”. Manufacturing agreement now signed with a Houston company, they want to do business!!!

Lisa Brinton Thomson August 22, 2018 at 10:20 am

I am against the Innovation District because:
1. The governor already nominated three zones in Norwalk for federal funds – there is no need for a conflicting local tax program.
2. This ‘tool’ is open to incompetence or corruption, as inexperienced council members are expected to pick winners and losers, instead of the market.
3. Giving money to some developers while suing others smacks of cronyism.
4. Instead, fix the permitting processes and become easier to do business with as a city.
5. We’re in a budget crisis both as a state and city and have no business giving away money when we can’t fund our school system.

If the ReDevelopment or the Common Council could explain that the $15M in tax credits would yield X dollars in x years – then maybe I would listen, but this Innovation District is based on hope and hope is not a valid economic strategy.
If council members can’t explain the economics of this ordinance to residents – then they must vote no. Have we learned nothing from POKO?

Michael McGuire August 22, 2018 at 10:42 am

The Innovation District is poorly conceived – there are no measurable results or metrics to gauge its success.

Consider the objectives of the Innovation District, as stated in the Innovation District document:

“The District’s objectives include; leveraging area advantages, improving local industry research, growing, attracting and retaining new technology companies, securing a sufficient workforce and ensuring that those who work in the district; can live in the district”.

Note – there is on other area of the document that has any performance metrics.

Nothing is measurable! Come on Common Council get some spine – ask some questions for the good of Norwalk. It’s unbelievable that we are giving RDA $15M of incentives to dole out, yet RDA can’t answer a single question such as:

How many more tech companies will be attracted/retained (how many are here now)? Who will do the “attracting”? Using what resources? And in what time frame?

What area advantages will be levered and by who? And for who?

How do they propose to “improve local industry research”?

How do they propose to “secure a sufficient workforce”?

Sorry I missed the meeting but where any of these obvious questions asked by any Council members?

Suggestion – Vote NO until RDA can put together a cogent plan which: A) clearly spells out well-defined performance metrics, and B)clearly demonstrates, with facts and figures, how Norwalk will benefit.

Anything less is a disservice to the taxpayer.

Rick August 22, 2018 at 11:12 am

This is simply another attack on the Norwalk community.

Lets be serious who does anyone trust any more.You have members sitting there that was involved in Firetree thought it was a good idea, yes for operatives of the Democratic party .

This mall was carefully thought out while GGP was heading for bankruptcy , now the new owner specializes in taking Malls and creatively changing them into money benders.

This is the problem Sheehan knows once things are done at the mall , Norwalk has no say we will be told whats next.

Why not not step back look whats going on in Ct even in Norwalk when it comes to business leaving.

WARN Act is a federal law requiring employers of 100 or more full-time workers to give 60 days advance notice of a plant closing or mass layoff, which is defined as 50 or more people. Has this been used in Norwalk recently? You bet it has we are filling up the city with renters who could care less what happens to Norwalk they are just passing thru.

We are not hearing much about the housing market in Ct , but we are planning on innovation the Redevelopment Agency is destroying the city one street at a time.

We all been wondering where the republicans have been , we see the Democrats are fighting among themselves the city is running out of time.

Mistakes are not if corrected, but if you another mistake to correct the first one well time has run out.

Not for nothing the city grew noise has become a problem and got worse once the city worked on fixing it so inner city living could be bearable.

The Mall its not even done where is Sheehans report card , it looks so good yet you have to ask or check who owns it this week? You don’t think GGP made sure deals were made that didn’t cost the city money?

Piberman August 22, 2018 at 11:26 am

Innovation centers have been successful in well managed Cities where there’s competency in a Business Development,function and use of oldside consultants. Neither Norwalk nor the Mayor’s senior staff have experience/competency in business development. No Business Development officer has been hired since the departure of the “Economic Director” from tiny Newtown where there is no development. Without real Professionals – not soft hires – at City Hall an Innovation District will just give scarce tax dollars away with very limited chances of positive redemption.

There’s a large professional literature on funding Innovation Districts. City Hall officials need to become familiar with that literature and the firms that have track records assisting Cities.
Not shooting from the hip hoping for something positive. Norwalk’s “record” of attracting business and offering subsides to same is hardly inspiring. As is the Mayor’s advocacy of subsidizing Developers to bring in more rentals without perceptible change in our Grand List.

Paul Lanning August 22, 2018 at 11:54 am

Our tax dollars should never have been used to subsidize rental apartments. Not only did we get no benefit from these developments, we incurred new liabilities caused by the need for increased infrastructure and services. I say NO MORE TAX BREAKS FOR RESIDENTIAL DEVELOPERS, and I’ll vote accordingly.

Elsa Peterson Obuchowski August 22, 2018 at 12:03 pm

I’m still trying to understand exactly what “Innovation District” means. Is it that a certain footprint in District A is designated for tax incentives on a case-by-case basis, to be decided by the Common Council, such that property owners can make improvements to their properties but have the benefit (for a limited period of time) of continuing to pay the lower amount of tax as if the property was unimproved?

I am not sure what is “innovative” about this. If Norwalk wants to encourage innovation, wouldn’t the Common Council need to start by defining what they mean by innovation? Maybe it’s a communication problem, but I don’t see that the public has been given a clear definition or explanation.

I think @Michael McGuire is on the right track in asking for “a cogent plan which: A) clearly spells out well-defined performance metrics, and B)clearly demonstrates, with facts and figures, how Norwalk will benefit.”

Al Bore August 22, 2018 at 12:43 pm

I strongly agree Paul Lanning stop the apartment madness in Norwalk it cost a lot of money to us home owning taxpayers while the developers making money from out of town get tax breaks. I too will vote accordingly.

cc-rider August 22, 2018 at 12:57 pm

I know it has been said in a roundabout way, but no one has said what a reasonable outcome would be from this nonsense. It is impossible and likely arbitrary to point to what would success for the program would look like.

Mike Mushak August 22, 2018 at 6:11 pm

I can’t help but notice that the same frequent commenters here opposed to the Innovation District, are also the same folks who usually demand we bring more high-paying jobs to the city, but never offer a way to do that! I say let’s try the Innovation District to lure new investment, and use metrics once it’s in place. If it’s not working after a couple of years, re-visit it then. That’s what smart cities do. There is no tried and true formula for any of this, but sitting still and doing nothing is not an option in my opinion. Cities that don’t try different ways to grow and lure companies and new investment are the ones left behind in our new economy, where competition is fierce.

Just ask GE why they moved to Boston (clue: it wasn’t taxes as everyone including their old CEO have now admitted. The truth was their younger employees wanted to be in a vibrant urban setting instead of that suburban corporate ghost town they nicknamed the “morgue” , and they went to the highest bidder giving the biggest tax incentives which was Boston.) Yet there are those who will insist tax incentives don’t work, lol. Say that to whoever gets the new Amazon headquarters!

And the abundance of comments by the same 5 or 6 folks here on this site who are opposed to new apartments is based on the usual misinformation I’ve been reading for years but is never proven. The apartment buildings don’t add a lot of kids or infrastructure costs. We know that. What they do add is a guaranteed customer base to the hundreds of small businesses who are the backbone of our economy, just as Linda McMahon declared in her last run for Senate and as the current director of the Federal Small Business Administration. . On that point I agree with her, as a small business owner myself and member of the Norwalk Chamber of Commerce. We are the backbone of Norwalk’s economy, including all the contractor yards in South Norwalk who employ thousands, yet seem to be the latest target of the naysayers. Yes they need better enforcement, we all know that, but with limited staff and funding of course. But they are not the pariah some want you to think they are. They happen to be one of the biggest sources of minority employment and upward mobility we have in the city.

A big problem we do have in Norwalk is a serious housing shortage which is why housing costs are so high and out of reach for so many. Major corporations always look at the affordability of an area to locate to, so building both market rate and affordable housing is a strong investment in our future economy and our ability to attract top corporations. It’s not rocket science.

And let’s not forget that most young folks and many retirees don’t want the burden of home ownership anymore, including mowing the grass and cleaning gutters.We are in the middle of one of the biggest demographic shifts in the last century, as suburbs empty out and cities enjoy a renaissance after decades of decline.

Norwalk is actually planning well for this future, despite the naysayers who are opposed to everything it seems no matter what it is. The times there are a changing, not just in Norwalk but all over the country.

On the contrary to what we often read here, it is smart planning to increase housing supply in this extremely costly housing market (one of the highest in the country) which will stabilize costs, making the city more affordable for everyone. If there was no pent-up demand for quality housing then the buildings wouldn’t fill up as fast as they are built. Head of the Harbor was fully leased before it even opened.

Studies have shown the buying power of new residents ($50-80k per housing unit depending on size) far outweigh any costs, and our thriving restaurant scene and many thriving locally-owned businesses rely on this growing customer base that keep thousands employed here at all income levels. Our strength has always been our diversity, and that includes economic diversity as well as ethnicity, race, religion, age, and physical ability. We have always welcomed everyone to Norwalk, as our rich history proves.

And, despite what the naysayers often declare ad nauseum, our corporations located here are expanding with new hires and a decreasing commercial vacancy rate, as businesses want to be in cities that are both vibrant and affordable, which the Innovation District can only add to.

It’s all good. The sky isn’t falling, and Norwalk isn’t being destroyed as so many would want you to believe (often for dubious political reasons or their own personal vendettas).

I say let’s support the Innovation District, to lure investment into the still-struggling Wall Street and West Ave areas where we want more businesses and housing in thriving and vibrant walkable and bikable neighborhoods, with many housing and employment options for everyone. That is the vision of the future, and we are doing it here in Norwalk despite the usual pushback to change that is as old as the world itself.

I like to see the bigger picture as much as I can, and I love what I see happening around Norwalk now. Compared to just ten years ago, Norwalk has better schools, better infrastructure, is more safe and less dirty and blighted, and is more exciting, fun, affordable, and just as beautiful and diverse as it ever was. And I have been paying close attention to be able to say that.

And that traffic armegeddon the naysayers predicted on West Ave after Waypointe was built, well guess what, it never materialized. And East Norwalk won’t get ruined by the new building at the train station in an empty factory, and the bike lanes on Beach Rd didn’t destroy people’s lives like the stupid petition that floated around said they would. I can go on but if we listened to the naysayers none of this ever would have happened, and the truth is Norwalk is getting better every year, which is why I am committed to staying here for the rest of my life and helping it get better.

Let the bitter nasty personal attacks commence, lol! I’ll just be riding my bike on the bike lanes to the beach, to have a beer and oysters at Ripkas.

Debora Goldstein August 22, 2018 at 7:30 pm

Innovation districts tend to be used in cities with much larger populations than Norwalk – Boston, Miami, St Louis, etc Even Brooklyn, a borough of NYC has over 2 million person in it.

And IDs are usually designed around a major research institution or in response to a particular sector. It is about more than just mixing together all of the ingredients to form a district, but to do “place-making” in a way that fosters a lot of networking and socializing in VERY inviting social spaces. Norwalk has yet to hold the line on any project to ensure there are REAL public amenities that translate to these types of mixed uses.

https://www.pps.org/article/eight-placemaking-principles-for-innovation-districts

https://www.fastcompany.com/3047888/can-you-design-innovation#6

And for the City, who seems to think that we citizens don’t get the differential between tax abatements on incremental improvements vs the whole value, we GET IT. We still don’t think the program is designed to produce results worth paying for.

Economic Development is not easy. It’s a hard job of selling and you have to know your product. If it was simply a matter of designing the right incentives, this would be done already.

Instead of mucking about with a reorg, which is holding up the hiring of a new Economic Development director, we are doing this. Shameful.

Rick August 22, 2018 at 11:35 pm

@ Mike with respect there was a time misinformed residents didn’t think trucks hitting bridges was a problem. Now Norwalk is planning a half a million dollar “Over-Height Vehicle Detection System on the Washington st bridge that honestly wont work. The system in Bethel, CT fails all the time 6 days ago was the last time it failed.

Im opposed to the system , simply buy 4 $300 dollar signs banning trucks from going under the Washingtom st bridge will stop more than the system they want.

Back to your thoughts on building more units corporations are still leaving workforce is not a problem with most the company Edibles is leaving and offering jobs for their employees in Georgia where families will be better off.

The usual water main break on Meadow st happened over the weekend , spinnaker and his 1500 a month don’t lose water just those in Meadow Gardens a fair trade off.

Once the water is restored the pressure is poor for those in Meadow Gardens spinnakers building pressure is fine its all new pipes and systems. Why is the pressure bad on Meadow its said its the worst main in the city been promised a new one for years.They can’t turn the pressure up the main will break more often.

Some of us old timers think outside the box , cant fix what you have and cant provide for those who have paid water bills for 40 years , then don’t build anything new until what you have works.

And that traffic armegeddon the naysayers predicted on West Ave after Waypointe was built,

I have to say some traffic at Waypointe has been cut back its one of the highest count of repos in the city. Just look at the police log .

Not for nothing where the police dept has run traffic enforcment heavily on West ave avoiding it at all costs for some is my defense.

Wont argue most of what you said but thriving city is not what most of us are seeing, A lot of hands are changing some places they move and gone before the name is dry.

If your trying to tell us our city hall rookies know what they are doing and running the city to our expectations Id say your wrong on that one.

The city is now run based on who you know not what you know.

South Norwalk doesn’t need enforcement it needed restrictions and common sense planning please dont go there with us.

Im sure your not aware of the health issues and obvious clusters we have found respiratory issues as well

Not opposed to the Innovation not as much as we are opposed to those running the city with no respect or credible outcome for those who have been here for years.

Smart planning with smart people is what the city is counting on.Its not happening.

Mike Mushak August 23, 2018 at 12:28 am

@Deb Goldstein: Thank you for your helpful links. I know Project for Public Spaces well, and actually met Holly Whyte who founded it when I was a student at Rutgers studying urban planning and landscape architecture. Norwalk has lucked out as all the elements of good ”placemaking” as described in the first link are already there in the proposed Innovation District. I suggest you go back and read it carefully as it is amazing how it describes central Norwalk quite accurately. We have Norwalk Hospital as the generator of a whole new healthcare sector including biomedical research in the proposed Innovation District. We have King Industries as the existing generator of chemical engineering research and development in the heart of the Innovation District.. We have Mathews Park and Oystershell Park and Mill Hill and the Norwalk Library as the major cultural and open space amenities that anchor both ends of the proposed Innovation District, that also include Stepping Stones children’s museum and the Maritime Aquarium and the historic Lockwood Mathews Mansion as well as the Center for Contemporary Printmaking as our major elements of “placemaking”. We have the Norwalk River as the major natural feature, and we have the expanding Norwalk River Valley Trail and existing bus Pulse Point and potential new rail connection at Wall Street as the transit options.

In other words, we already have the “placemaking” component of this proposed Innovation District completed. It’s called “Central Norwalk.” NOW is the time to incentivize new investment in this walkable dense district that has so much unrealized potential. NOW is the time to make that leap that we have been patiently waiting for since the great flood of 1955 that devastated this district and that it never fully recovered from, combined with the typical suburban flight that doomed so many downtowns across the country in the last century but that is now reversing itself.

We can help that process along by supporting the proposed Innovation District to attract new investment, or we can sit back and wait for it to come to us just as we’ve been waiting for decades as the area has suffered a major decline. My choice is support the proposed Innovation District as it is simply smart planning for a vibrant future for central Norwalk that is long overdue.

Jlightfield August 23, 2018 at 8:31 am

@mushak does really care about Norwalk but Im not sure that what his defense of the proposed innovation district achieves. As far as policy and regulations, there are many things that would actually work to achieve goals that he identifies as things vibrant cities need, but they are not in the proposal.

Project for Public Spaces is one of many organizations that help municipalities plan for improvements to neighborhoods, plazas, and parks. Almost all of them advocate for funding programming and investing more in lighter, quicker, cheaper infrastructure improvements. Thx @debgoldstein for mentioning them, and I do enjoy sharing ideas with them when we appear on panels at conferences. Yes that means that I share what Norwalk 2.0 does for peacemaking projects and as a result projects that we’ve initiated are replicated in other communities.

Giveaways to developers are not a new thing in Norwalk. It’s like the proverbial hammer, if that’s the only tool you use, everything looks like a nail. The proposed Innovation District iincentives developers. I think many Norwalkers are fed up with this particular tool.

Job creation, a reason to hang out in a downtown, a business that builds community, all do not spring out of the plans of developers. I wish it were so actually, because there are some wonderful developers who have big ideas and put in lots of money to build their vision of places that we would all love to see. The magic sauce to any vibrant space is people. And without a plan that outlines policy to activate people centric outcomes, you get the sterile tax incentive proposals that are unlinked to any outcome that measurably creates these experiences.

The proposed Innovation District should be opposed because it’s bad policy, no matter how much the people who crafted it think that their good intentions are enough to make it work. They should go back to the drawing board and actually do the work of identifying the conditions that Norwalk’s central business district currently represents and what actions should be taken, who is responsible for them and what is the measurable outcome for success. Kind of sounds like the Innovation Places process, or the Bloomberg Grant process, or the Knight Fiundation process. The techniques and thinking of all of these things help create projects and policy that achieve the outcomes they are intended to achieve. Maybe we should stop doing it with the Norwalk one size fits all hammer.

Mike Mushak August 23, 2018 at 6:58 pm

@Jackie, I have no doubt you also really do care about Norwalk, although when you helped Stamford get awarded a multi-million dollar innovation grant that Norwalk was competing for last year in your position as the paid director of the Stamford Partnership for the last 5 years, that did raise some eyebrows.

Please share your innovation and development success stories in your experience heading up the Stamford Partnership, and perhaps explain how Norwalk’s Innovation District would compare to Stamford’s that is just 8 miles away that you are being paid to promote.

By the way, wouldn’t Stamford and Norwalk often be competing for the same businesses, just as they competed for the innovation grant last year that you helped Stamford achieve while you were criticizing Norwalk’s leadership at the same time?

I’m sure there are many valuable lessons we can all learn here in Norwalk from all your past successes in Stamford.

Jlightfield August 23, 2018 at 8:44 pm

@mushak there you go again, missing the point. Yes I am a professional who gets paid for their expertise on Innovation Districts, startups, tech, and entrepreneurship. That sums up my qualifications and why I’m sought after to design, architect and plan a variety if projects. These qualifications represent decades of experience in the field.

You have a rather simplistic view that Norwalk and Stamford compete against each other. The reality is that Norwalk and Stamford are part of a larger region that faces stiff competition from Northern Jersey, Westchester County and the greater Philadelphia and Boston markets. We as a region compete for talent, employers and investment.

I should be insulted by your attempt at “mansplaining” my own work product, but I’ll chalk it up to your lack of knowledge of what projects I work on, where I work on them and why I work on them. I’m not here to brag or promote my work, but I am successful because I achieve results. Just like it says on the back of my Norwalk 2.0 buisiness card.

Mike Mushak August 23, 2018 at 9:13 pm

Jackie, I simply asked you for a list of successful projects you are responsible for, or in your words the “projects you work on, where you work on them, and why you work on them”. You responded with words, but a simple list of projects please. There must be many since you “achieve results” and are “sough after to design, architect, and plan a variety of projects.”

The public deserves to know as you present yourself as the true expert as you attempt to direct the future of Norwalk through public opinion and frequent commentary.

Certainly you have a portfolio of successful projects you are responsible for, and that can be verified with officials in Stamford or elsewhere.

I also offer up that you may have a conflict of interest as you are paid to promote development in Stamford while simultaneously orchestrating opposition to smart initiatives and projects here in Norwalk, which we all know competes directly with Stamford for businesses and investment.

Yes there is regional competition as you point out, but Norwalk has lost many businesses to Stamford over the years that have hurt our local economy, including the Kayak headquarters. It is not a stretch to see the inherent conflict in your actions in Norwalk, whether it is spreading misleading petitions (you stated the High Street project in the Wall Street area would remove public parking spaces that wasn’t true, but that stirred up opposition to the future project) to stirring up opposition to the Innovation District currently being debated, as you are simultaneously being paid to promote a similar program in Stamford just 10 minutes away.

I just think the public should be aware of your conflict of interest and put your actions and words in a larger context.

Andrew August 23, 2018 at 10:42 pm

Forget the conflicts and all that. What this all comes down to is the taxpayers (homeowners) cannot afford any more. We are stretched beyond our limits and this will increase taxes on current taxpayers to benefit some one else. I like the basic idea but can not afford any more.
Maybe if City Hall was propsoeing this WHILE cuting expenses. But they are not.

This is what this comes down to. Too much spending and not enough cutting

Rick August 24, 2018 at 12:02 am

A development success story

from Brookfield

Brookfield Property Partners (BPY -2.6%) says it will issue about 92 LP units of BPY and 160M class A shares of Brookfield Property REIT and will pay about $9B cash for its acquisition of GGP (GGP -0.2%).

Top-tier shopping centers will be expanded, while housing, office space or hotels will be added to less successful malls

Don’t you all wonder with two other shopping malls and two outlet stores now planned in our area as close as Bridgeport you have to Wonder what the Sono mall will be when it grows up?

9 billion plus for GGP and Norwalk got 2 million not to build something we may need in the end somewhere else with tax credits.Make any sense ?

Norwalk-based Winchester is being sold to Dublin-based Aptiv for $650 million. Norwalk doesn’t like guns then we don’t tax money

Westport gun permit-holders had 7,000 registered firearms last year Murphy must be right attack the gun companies anyone tell him they are from Norwalk?

We drive companies from Ct we dont embrace anyone .

this was a red herring Ill ad a boxing ring bell noise later if you keep it up.

Mike Mushak August 24, 2018 at 12:06 am

Andrew, not sure why you don’t use your real name here, but in any case you are wrong. The Innovation District doesn’t cost taxpayers anything. It collects the same taxes on properties as always but defers tax increases from improvements made to incentivize investment that otherwise likely wouldn’t happen, and guarantees increased tax collections into the future based on the higher appraisals. It’s a smart investment in our future.

Diane Lauricella August 24, 2018 at 8:57 am

@michael Maguire Agree with your reasonable request for plan with measurable goals…metrics!

For those who could not attend the Tuesday Ordinance Committee meeting, I suggested that this Innovation District concept go back to the drawing board UNTIL a new, more qualified Economic Development professional is hired.

This suggestion comes with concern yet hope and expectation that the selection process would:
1. Reach out across the country in order to find a professional with skills, ideas and years of a proven track record for urban planning that closely matches the demographic, geography and challenges that a harborside old industrial City filled with potential like Norwalk possesses.

2. Allow citizens and business leaders a role in the selection process, at minimum a citizen “listening session” by Administration and Council to include our ideas about what Norwalk needs. (By the way, I think a similar suggestion should be enacted for all the Senior staff/Chief positions, especially a new Public Works Director)…as staff at this level must interact with citizens during their tenure…let’s find out up front what kind of attitude the hire has about dealing with their public.

Assuming this hire has those credentials and proven abilities, let them reexamine this “Innovation District” concept and other professional “tools in the toolbox” they have used in past jobs and then immediately enact a viable plan.

Jlightfield August 24, 2018 at 9:48 am

@mushak you seem to have a reading comprehension issue. Debate if you will policy and analysis, stop with your endless personal vendettas.

Try reading the 2004 Wall Street Plan, and do some basic math on the recommended parking requirements. Further if you are going down the path of debating policy on an issue do your homework. For one you seem to overlook the simple issue when it comes to parking near Wall Street, something as a zoning commissioner that you should be up to speed on—that is minium parking refs and the max parking standards by land use. Then read up on the various parking studies on the area and review the current zoning. Then maybe we can have a nice chat about the number of parking spaces needed to supply asa resource for a the Wall Street area.

As for any policy debate on innovation districts, you seem to want to focus on anything but policy debate. That’s a shame.

Michael McGuire August 24, 2018 at 10:38 am

@ Mike Mushak,

I agree with much of what you are saying. However, I think many of us, and I’m not speaking for everyone, are more concerned with the process, and not so much the concept.

I for one have serious concerns about the Redevelopment Agency’s ability to perform in the area of complex commercial property development. Setting aside the opaque nature of how RDA operates, a review of their historical performance leaves one wondering “does anyone over there understand real estate”?

To RDA’s credit I believe they are adept at working the system to obtain grants and funds for various projects. That is their bailiwick and they do a good job of that. However, giving them what essentially amounts to project oversight/management for the City’s CBD on behalf of the City is a stretch.

But then to allow them to be the City’s chief advisor on long-term planning, economic development and the sole advisor on all things real estate is where their weaknesses really show up.

A great example is the Innovation District Document (NOT THE IDEA) – nothing is measurable with zero accountability. This is a sophomoric attempt at what should be a well thought out, well documented, performance based plan on how to spend $15M of taxpayer money.

There are so many ways the City can help revitalize this area – many discussed on this site by Norwalk taxpayers – all of whom have Norwalk’s best interest at heart. We don’t all have to agree.

But for the City to simply dump it in RDA’s lap and hope for the best, all the while dismissing the myriad of good ideas, is the lazy way out and erodes public trust.

One only needs to look at the recent POKO failure, and then all the more recent ridiculous controversy around Milligan to see what I mean.

So what is the solution? Demand, and expect, excellence. I think that is what many of the naysayers are saying.

Mike Mushak August 24, 2018 at 2:16 pm

@Jackie, you continue to avoid sharing your successes in a field you have proclaimed yourself to be an expert in.
Where are they? Can we verify them with Stamford officials? As you have proclaimed yourself the leading expert on these subjects, and that you are “sought after” for your expertise, than please share references.

If your expertise lies more in killing the competition with Stamford, I think that’s something the Norwalk public needs to know, especially the business community in central Norwalk who will benefit from an Innovation District to draw new investment and revitalize this area that has been suffering since the flood of 55.

This article and this debate have nothing to do with parking requirements on Wall Street, or the 2004 Wall Street Plan. Nice try on distracting from the question I asked you which is what are all your successes you claim to have? No need to keep them secret in your position as paid director of the Stamford Partnership for the last 5 years, right? I can’t find anything on line about your initiatives. Please share.

EnoPride August 24, 2018 at 4:51 pm

Your posts are so well put, Michael McGuire! Thank you for mentioning that some Norwalkers are not so much Naysayers against Innovation District as they are against the amateurish, cart before the horse approach to a project which will involve $15M of taxpayers’ money. Many of us have attended enough meetings to view firsthand that this group of people habitually vote in projects which cost massive amounts of money before a comprehensive strategic plan is worked, reworked, completed, and THEN presented to the public. This practice does not instill confidence. Your comment about zero accountability being immeasurable is spot on, Michael McGuire.

Agree with voting NO until RDA can put together a cogent plan with measurable results and metrics (like the BoE’s rigorous, comprehensive NPS Accountability template) to gauge it’s success. Hope all attend the public hearing and demand this!!!!!

Diane Lauricella August 25, 2018 at 9:59 am

Remember, our Charter created a “strong council-weak mayor” form of governance.

What does the Chair of the Council Planning Committee think about all this after a reported year of contemplation?

The Council chose this path, and it is unusual that the Council Committee moving this along is so silent.

Mr. Kydes, what say you?

Cyndi August 25, 2018 at 2:24 pm

One look at Melendez’ twitter account a d her support for Obama and her hatred of Trump shows that she is too extreme to be making important Norwalk decisions. She’s probably not even 30 years old yet? A baby can’t be taken seriously in office.

Jlightfield August 27, 2018 at 8:18 am

@mushak the debate is about the merits of the proposed Norwalk Innovation District plan. That you seem fixated on everything but shoes that there is no measurable outcome that would benefit Norwalk.

Maribeth Becker August 27, 2018 at 10:02 am

@mushak – these personal attacks and conspiracy theories are far beneath you and I’m disappointed to see you continuing down this path.

Maybe some of us up here are tired of waiting for the redevelopment magic wand that is going to be waved and miraculously fix Wall Street. Meanwhile property owners and small businesses have held on DESPITE redevelopment’s efforts.

Superblocks of fortress apartment buildings that add very little to the local economy as residents pull into their parking spot and take the elevator right up to their residence. How about the time they helped the area by subsidizing Wall Street businesses to relocate to SoNo? Super helpful for uptown revitalization efforts.

I’m all for trying new things, but call me a bit skeptical at this point.

Maribeth Becker August 27, 2018 at 10:05 am

Oh yeah, and don’t get me started on all of the missed opportunities for Head of the Harbor to truly be a great project that links Wall Street with the river.

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