NORWALK, Conn. – Efforts to reform Rowayton parking regulations to encourage small businesses there are on hold until a new Zoning Commissioner learns to behave like an adult, Zoning Commission Chairman Joe Santo said in a voicemail message.
Santo left the message on Nora King’s voicemail on Friday. Planning and Zoning Director Mike Greene confirmed in a Monday email to King that zoning staff have been pulled off working on the proposed regulation changes, part of a revised village district designation. King said Santo’s refusal to move the effort ahead stems from the vote on the Nathan Hale Middle School athletic field lights.
Santo was the only zoning commissioner to vote against the lighting design. King said he had tried to line up support for that point of view before the vote. “His comment to me was, ‘Just remember you’re going to need my support and my vote for Rowayton parking project,’” King said.
Santo declined to comment on King’s allegation.
King began pushing the commission to revise Rowayton’s village district designation last spring, shortly after she was appointed to the commission. The effort has the support of all three Sixth Taxing District commissioners.
Commissioner John Igneri said there are empty storefronts and one empty building. “If we had easier zoning regulations we might have those buildings occupied, bring more retail to the village. That’s not a bad thing, that helps everybody. It helps the restaurants, it helps the people who have marinas and so on, it just brings more traffic. That helps. We feel the area can handle more traffic,” he said.
“The commissioners would like to see more businesses come to town in these vacant storefronts along Rowayton Avenue and keep the businesses that are here. For example, the kayaking business, Below Deck, left because she couldn’t afford to pay for the parking,” Commissioner Tammy Langalis said.
Igneri said the Sixth Taxing District hired a consultant to study the situation two years ago. One of the findings made by Rich Redniss of Redniss and Meade Inc. was that Rowayton has a village district that could be expanded. That would change the zoning regulations.
Another suggestion was to talk to corporations in Rowayton and see if they would allow the public to use their lots in the evenings, Igneri said.
The village district revision was appealing, Igneri said. The commissioners would like the Zoning Commission to revise the rules that require a different number of parking spaces for different types of businesses. They would like a blanket regulation based strictly on square footage, no differentiation between a restaurant or an office space, for instance.
The kayak business owner had to pay the landlord for parking spaces. She was required to pay for too many, Langalis said.
The discussion between the Zoning Commission and the Sixth Taxing District commissioners was “going along fine” until “suddenly they wanted a traffic count,” Igneri said. Langalis counted traffic in May, but Zoning Committee Chairwoman Emily Wilson wanted more information. The taxing district commissioners have hired a company to count the number of occupied parking spaces.
On Wednesday, King informed zoning staff that the counts would be done during the first and second weeks of August, which she said is the busiest time of the year in Rowayton, and copied zoning and taxing district commissioners . The email exchange devolved; Wilson asked for counts for all of the parking in the commercial district, on nights and weekends and on the day of the farmer’s market, and King wrote back that if Wilson had studied the spreadsheet with the email her question would have been answered.
“I think we agreed to the second and last weekend in August for those counts,” Wilson wrote back. “The new parking counts should be added to the counts you provided to us already, and then we’ll have a better picture of the current parking situation in Rowayton.”
King copied the press on her next email, sent Thursday night. She wrote, in part:
“I have copied the commissions on this since they have to hire and PAY for the person. All of these requests do become a burden on taxpayers.
“They hired someone for the first two weeks of August because no one had placed a time restriction on them until just now. We reached out to the board two months ago and this is the first we are hearing from someone about timing issues.
“I am now going to start asking the press to cover this because I think you, Dori and Joe are not in favor of this moving forward. Dori has already made some bad decisions here like the exit out of the ambler parking lot. Since you and Joe don’t live in Rowayton … I am not really sure why this is an issue for you.
“I think this is something you should campaign on! Perhaps it can be one more thing the zoning commission doesn’t want progress on. … Let’s be very clear on what is happening here because you are running for office and I want my district to be very clear on how you stand with small business and parking restrictions.”
On Friday, Santo called King and left a message.
“I have instructed the staff to stop working on the regulation that you want until you calm down and get more reasonable, with making all the accusations. You can do more of your count, that’s entirely up to you, but it stops here until you realize that you need to be an adult.”
King called Nancy On Norwalk. Santo, Wilson and Greene are against changing the village district, she said. Asking for the count to be done later in August was a stall tactic, she said; it would mean it wasn’t on the agenda of the next committee meeting, she said.
Wilson said, “I made a suggestion as to where and when the counts might be done taking into account comments from other commissioners and looking for the broadest picture of the current parking situation we could get. I certainly have no intention of delaying the proposed amendment, but, the Zoning Commission should not rush this amendment through without some fundamental information. We simply don’t have enough information to base a decision on yet. The Sixth Taxing commissioners are working to get the Zoning Committee the data we have asked for. Moreover, the information we requested is no more than we have requested from our own staff when the Zoning Commission has previously considered amendments to parking regulations.”
King said Santo is killing the Rowayton project as payback for the Nathan Hale light vote.
“Jill (Jacobson) and Emily were going to vote his way; he was trying to get Jim White and Mike O’Reilly. I could tell Mike and Jim didn’t really want to and I was like, ‘Come on you guys.’ … They agreed with me and then Linda (Kruk) came over. It sort of forced Emily and Jill to come along as well. Which of course makes him dislike me even more,” King said.
Santo would not respond to King’s accusation, but said in a voicemail to NancyOnNorwalk that zoning commissioners should work with the commission and the staff, “not be crying and going to the press.” He referred to King making threats and said, “In the future we’ll work it out.”
Wilson said, “I voted in favor of the Nathan Hale proposal because I felt that the regulations were met, and that the proposal would improve the fields. Due to the high volume of information that came into the Planning and Zoning staff the day of the public hearing on Nathan Hale, and at the recommendation of staff, I voted to send the application back to committee for the purpose of reviewing the new testimony, and to prepare a resolution that took into account the neighbors’ concerns.
“Instead, the Commission as a whole wanted to vote on Nathan Hale on the same evening, and we worked out a resolution which was acceptable to most of the Commissioners including myself. I am at a total loss to see a connection between the Nathan Hale approval and the proposed amendment to the Rowayton Village District.”
King sent a blistering email to Greene. An excerpt:
“You have seven commissioners. Just because Joe Santo doesn’t like the fact that someone questions him doesn’t mean that you should be pulling the staff off of this project. This is not the Joe Santo show, this is the zoning commission of the City of Norwalk. Joe Santo has not [sic] right to yell at me, threaten me and or to act outside the realm of his authority. This is not how a Chairman should act.”
Greene declined on Monday night to comment on the situation.
Igneri agreed Monday night that the village district revision is stalled.
“I just got an email suggesting that I meet with Mike Greene and Joe Santo to discuss just talking to the local corporations about opening up their parking in the evening, so that seems to be going away from the early discussions of village district zoning,” Igneri said.