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Rilling: SoNo Task Force will tackle problems

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Then future Mayor Harry Rilling and former Mayor Bill Collins chat in South Norwalk during a campaign event announcing Rilling’s intention to focus on SoNo issues, including parking.

Updated 12:42 p.m., list of members; 2:36 p.m. with additional quotes from Mayor Rilling.

NORWALK, Conn. – A task force has been formed by Mayor Harry Rilling to further a conversation that began before the election about making improvements in SoNo to help the merchants there.

“One of the many issues we are going to be looking at is how we can work with the Parking Authority to make regulations a little less difficult and how we can make them a little more structured so they’re all consistent,” Rilling said.

Former Mayor Bill Collins, on whose watch in the ’80s Washington Street was renovated and the Maritime Aquarium was constructed, is the chairman of the SoNo Task Force.

“This task force grew out of a couple of meetings that Harry had with South Norwalk merchants and restaurant owners prior the election,” he said. “I attended those meetings with Harry and we got quite an earful. So Harry promised at that time that if he got elected that he would set up a task force to examine and codify and try to come up with a few solutions anyway to the main problems.”

Those meetings were set up by Democratic District B Chairman Bobby Burgess, Collins said.

There are about a dozen people on the task force, Collins said. The first meeting was at noon Friday, held in the offices of task force member Bruce Beinfeld, the architect who designed the development now being built at on North Water Street, SoNo Ironworks.

“It was a good meeting. We talked about some partnerships with the public and private sector that might be able to facilitate some of our programs and projects,” Rilling said.

Among the members Rod Johnson, who was director of the Redevelopment Agency when Collins was mayor; Stephanie Pelletier of TR Sono Partners, LLC; Common Councilman Travis Simms (D-District B); Chris Lloynd of the Maritime Aquarium; Susan Sweitzer of the Norwalk ReDevelopment Agency; Eric Rains- of Eric Rains Landscaping; Steve Semaya of Strada18; and Burgess. Common Councilman David Watts (D-District A) also attended the meeting, Rilling said.

“The committee is a work in progress,” he said. “The parking authority should have somebody at the table. But its still a work in progress. We’re trying to figure out who would be best to sit on the task force. There’s probably some other people who would be considered.”

“We’re trying to find the points in each problem where we can apply some pressure for change,” Collins said. “Parking is the worst one. Something has to be done to make parking more friendly. There is an issue of maintaining cleanliness in the district. Not terrible, but it’s sagged over the years. In some places the lighting is not adequate to make people feel comfortable.”

Everyone is bringing something to the table, Collins said.

“From my standpoint, there has not been any updating of the public art in the area,” Collins said. “It’s not so well organized. The district needs something exciting. I mean, it was exciting 30 years ago when we put up murals on blank walls. But after 30 years people get kind of accustomed so we need some new stuff.”

13 comments

Triumvirate of Doom December 14, 2013 at 5:50 am

Harry, Bill. Where’s Alex? The creator of the Norwalk Parking Authority and $10 million plus, plus Maritime Garage we are still paying for wasn’t available for comment?
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Mr. Mayor, I beg of you to be careful who you listen to on this. There are larger economic forces at play here. Go talk to any other restaurant in the city outside of SONO and they will tell you business is way off.
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Plain and simple with all the regulation at the state and federal level (not local parking issues), business is slowing down. Of course we can do more to help SONO but these decisions should be made carefully and in the context of the whole picture and not the few perpetual malcontents who think that parking is killing them and not the $30 plates of pasta they serve.
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Winter is coming.

Keen Observer December 14, 2013 at 7:29 am

I certainly hope there a representative from the Norwalk Parking Authority on the task force. Does anyone know if there is?

Free Parking exists only in Monopoly December 14, 2013 at 9:05 am

Most businesses in town will tell you business is off in general and it has nothing to do with parking regulations. Hopefully the mayor does solicit input from the NPA. It looks like Alex is missing too. He organized the NPA and drove the decisions to build the Maritime garage. Let’s improve SONO, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that it is regulations at the state and federal level that are stifling the economy more than anything else.

Nancy Chapman December 14, 2013 at 1:09 pm

@Keen Observer
At present there is no one from the Norwalk Parking Authority on the task force.
I added the list of members, provided by Stephanie Pelletier, about 20 minutes ago.

Casey Smith December 14, 2013 at 1:40 pm

Okay, so the task force has a former mayor, a former director of the Redevelopment Agency, and the former head of NEON on it. Same old, same old.
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And by the way, where does Bill Collins live these days?

Jlightfield December 14, 2013 at 4:07 pm

While I applaud the relatively quick assembly of a task force to focus on SONO, I’m concerned about which SONO is apparently being addressed by this task force.
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Is it the SONO that comprises the area south of Meadow Street? Is it the SONO that comprises the business district? Is it the SONO under development focus in and around the train station? Is it the SONO of flax hill / golden hill / cedar st neighborhoods? Each of these areas present different challenges and opportunities for any group to address.
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But if the focus is on the business district, then the blast from the past look at the issues may not necessarily result in fresh thinking about a business district that has been under pressure since it was “reconcieved” 30 some odd years ago. Let’s not forget the new pressures of the 21 st century, digital disruption and an aging baby boomer demographic who is still clinging to a suburban drive and go mentality.
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It is always good to have discussions, but paying some respect to the history of the last 10 years might help in avoiding some misconceptions about the state of of affairs. Sorry but the negative impact of the parking authority is not a question of “friendliness” it is an economic impact that has been studied numerous times with pages of reports outlining what is fairly obvious: the parking authority sets it’s rates to meet budget objectives not on what the competitive market based pricing dictates. The years of raising rates has masked the decline in transactions. In English, less people pay to park in SONO (the business district) because of several external causes and significant internal causes — the instance on forcing the visitor to calculate time and pay instead of just making it easy to spend a chunk of time.
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I would be remiss in not addressing the off-hand comment noted in the article about the lack of any public art since the murals of decades ago. It would perhaps help the task force to understand that the common council has consistently not funded public art and most efforts to create public art have come from the greater Norwalk’s arts community. I was honored to serve as leader of the Norwalk Advisory Commission on Arts and Culture where many of the initiatives during the “lost decade” such as concerts, art in vacant windows, installations on traffic signal boxes, sculpture and interactive figures at the train station,and a viewing gallery in the administrative office of the Parking Authority were created. I am pleased to see that the current Arts Advisory Commission has continued many of these programs and is poised to do more.
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I hope that this task force embraces inclusivity. It’s not hard to do, and maybe some surprising things will happen as a result of fresh thinking.

Diane C2 December 14, 2013 at 4:29 pm

Whoa! This is getting very close to having the inmates run the asylum, no?
With the exception of a couple of people on the task force list, it reads as a Who’s Who of why SONO is the way it is today, by their very design even, literally and figuratively.

EveT December 14, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Anything that can make the Parking Authority more customer friendly and consistent would be a great improvement, IMO.

Joe Espo December 15, 2013 at 2:49 am

And Harry promised that he would employ so many new qualified peoples from all different walks of life into all the commissions and boards… right, Diane C2? You don’t feel that you were duped, do you, Diane C2? Can you point out any appointment that’s not a recycled politico from prior dem administrations, councils or DTCs? Greg Burnett, Nora King and Michael Coffey are truly virginal fresh faces on the the Norwalk government scene, aren’t they DC2? How about this SoNo “task force?” Wasn’t Harry going to do something unique like knock on random Washington Village doors and conscript some fresh new faces into community service?

Diane C2 December 15, 2013 at 8:43 am

@Joe – c’mon Joe, you are preaching to choir, and once again in a rude and abrasive manner.

For the record, at least this task force is not a city commission, for example, zoning, or planning. Look at the damage that can be done there by planting politically-motivated players! Enough blame to go around on past and present administrations.

I guess if dems and repubs want the same old results, they’ll just keep appointing the same old players. I don’t mind them enlisting the knowledge of folks who were actually involved in the formation of the new SONO, as long as the process includes some constructive feedback – what’s worked well, what hasn’t, and in hindsight, what would they all have done differently or better….

We need people who will dare to ask questions; are willing to invest the time to do their own due diligence before they vote; and can explain themselves after doing to. Unfortunately, whatever party is in power tends to avoid putting themselves under the microscope, no?

irishgirl December 15, 2013 at 8:45 am

It seems like Rilling can’t do anything without input from Collins or Knopp – all the photos, task forces and committees keep pointing to former mayors playing puppet masters and Rilling, the puppet who dances to their tune.

Guy in SONO January 3, 2014 at 1:24 pm

After working and living in SONO for a year I can say with certainty that the parking authority is corrupt and should be disbanded.
They ticket before the meters run out, give out 25$ tickets to people picking up food at naked greens/famous pizza.
Never respond to the online applications for parking passes so as to keep the people in the street. I called for two weeks until someone answered and allowed me to get a permit.

Rick March 18, 2014 at 3:06 am

@Guy in Sono.. yep I agree. I’ve been ticketed while I was pulled over with hazard lights to check one of my tires for 5 seconds. It’s more strict than anywhere I’ve seen including Manhattan.

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