NORWALK, Conn. – Here are some items of interest that were seen or heard recently in Norwalk:
An argument over affordable housing in Norwalk led to an uncomfortable back-and-forth between commissioners at Monday’s Plan Review Committee meeting.
The exchange came after Zoning Commissioner Nate Sumpter began grilling a developer’s representative about what he saw as a sticking point.
Ela Lagasse of Belpointe Capital, developer of the Waypointe project at 515 West Ave., was there to request approval for 21 additional apartments in the development. Two of those would be affordable housing units, making a total of 37 in the resultant 362-unit building.
The problem for Sumpter: Lagasse said none of the affordable units would face West Avenue.
“Is that kind of like the back of the building? Versus West Avenue, which is the front,” he said.
Four other zoning commissioners eventually joined this discussion.
Lagasse said the building’s courtyard was actually the main amenity, that some of the apartments facing West Avenue would carry premium prices because they come with lofts. Some of them have bigger windows, which developers think may make them marketable for a higher rent, she said.
“You’re saying the workforce housing people aren’t eligible, or they don’t have your premium units? Although this commission, and not just this commission, but others, approved dispersing them through the building?” Sumpter said.
Lagasse said she had supported affordable housing units for years, that she thought it was fantastic, that she had seen hundreds of people come in and enjoy the same amenities as other renters, which in this case meant granite countertops and stainless steel appliances.
Sumpter asked her how the affordable housing units were subsidized. How does the developer get the difference in rent, he asked. Who pays it?
That’s when commission Chairman Joe Santo decided to jump in.
“They are not subsidized. They’re paying less rent,” he said.
“Excuse me Joe,“ Sumpter said.
“Well, you’re wrong. You don’t understand it,” Santo said.
“Can I have her answer the question?” Sumpter said.
“You’re wrong,” Santo said.
“Don’t tell me what to understand. I am asking her to answer a question,” Sumpter said.
Santo and Commissioner Jill Jacobsen asked Sumpter why he wanted affordable units on the front.
“Why shouldn’t they be disbursed like every other person?” he said.
They are, several people said.
“They’re not! They’re not on the front,” he said.
“I don’t get it,” Santo said.
“Of course you don’t get it Joe, you never get it,” Sumpter said. “I’m not asking you, I’m asking the people that own the building.”
Commissioner Linda Kruk attempted to mediate, but Sumpter was having none of it.
“Linda, way before you came on this commission, the question that I am asking of Waypointe is the same question I asked on a different development. It has nothing … it was explained before that in any of the developments that they were going to be dispersed,” Sumpter said.
Santo said he couldn’t understand why Sumpter would want the affordable units out front, on a noisy street.
“Joe, you go to the back,” Sumpter said. “I don’t like the back. I never did and I never will …”
“You’re way offline,” Santo said.
“What I am saying is the frontal part of the building, if it’s great for you, then it should be great for workforce housing people,” Sumpter said.
“There is nothing in the regulations that gives us the authority to tell the owner where to put these units,” Commissioner James White said. “Whether we like it or not there’s nothing in there.”
Santo moved to stop the argument and called for a vote, although he is not the chairman of the three-member committee. Chairwoman Jill Jacobsen made a motion that the commission not require the developer to move the affordable housing units. White voted for that. Commissioner Mike Mushak, who had been silent, voted against it.
At Wednesday’s full Zoning Commission meeting, the application was approved, leaving the apartments where the developer had designed them.
What was that again?
Diane Cece confronted Director of Public Works Hal Alvord after a recent public hearing on whether Norwalk’s sewage treatment plant should have its permit renewed.
Cece said she had overheard Alvord say something as Mary Therese “Missy” Conrad was testifying. Conrad was upset about an editorial written by Common Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E), published in The Hour, which took the environmental activist who requested the hearing to task.
As she was speaking, Cece said, Alvord said something to the effect of “You haven’t seen anything yet.”
“I wanted to know what you meant by that?” she said to Alvord. “What does that mean?”
Alvord stared at her.
Cece started up again. “I don’t know if that was in relationship to something Missy said, or a public official’s comment.”
After 20 seconds of soulful staring at Cece, Alvord said, “I don’t recall, Diane. I don’t recall.”
Later that night she said by email that she had caught Alvord’s comment on a recording she had made of the entire meeting.
Last week she allowed NancyOnNorwalk to listen to the recording.
Just as Conrad is saying, “That a public official would write such a letter – a person who is in charge of our Public Works Committee of our Common Council,” you can barely hear Alvord say, “You ain’t heard nothing yet.”
Asked about it Friday, Alvord said he really didn’t remember the comment or what it was about.
The sewage treatment plant has a new headworks, Alvord said before the hearing, in defending its merits.
A headworks, it turns out, is the primary process in treating sewage. It’s basically a filter, stopping large items from getting into the system.
The question, “What have you found in the headworks?” prompted laughter among a small group standing with Alvord after the hearing.
“You can’t imagine,” one person said.
Alvord mentioned bowling balls.
“We found two-by-fours in Darien,” Water Pollution Control Authority board chairman Darren Oustafine said. “how do you get a two-by-four – ?
“You put it in a manhole that has a pipe that’s like 24-, 36-, 48-inch diameter pipes,” Alvord said. “… somebody lifts the manhole cover and throws something in there.”
“A hundred fifty pounds to lift the lid off,” Oustafine said. “But somebody did it, stuck a two-by-four in there.”
“We have concrete, people who dump oil, antifreeze … paint, cement,” Alvord said. “It’s amazing what people throw in there. It’s crazy.”
A building permit
SoNo Ironworks, the large building formerly known as 20 North Water St. being constructed on the corner of Washington Street and North Water Street, apparently has another business lined up to occupy its ground floor. Harlan SoNo pulled a permit Wednesday, declaring a value of $600,000 and paying a fee of $9,166.
The Connecticut Secretary of State reports that Harlan SoNo is owned by Forstone Capital. The company also owns Harlan Social in Stamford, an upscale restaurant/bar.
Random acts of kindness
Long before she was Republican registrar, Karen Doyle Lyons ran a day care. Now she has about 100 “grandchildren,” she said.
One of them was Michael Ness, who died in August at age 22 after being severely burned in a fire on Pettom Road.
Lyons said the family is now distributing business cards with Ness’s photo on them and words suggesting that it might be a good idea to perform random acts of kindness.
Lyons said that’s what she is doing, especially because it is Christmas.
“Do it in memory of someone you love or just because,” she said. “It not only makes them feel good but it makes you feel better.”