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South Norwalk ‘heated staircase’ passes committee muster, heads for Council vote

The Norwalk Redevelopment Agency plans to make a major upgrade to this staircase, leading from Martin Luther King Drive to Clay Street.
The Norwalk Redevelopment Agency plans to make a major upgrade to this staircase, leading from Martin Luther King Drive to Clay Street.

NORWALK, Conn. – The $246,000 “so-called heated staircase” planned for Martin Luther King Drive was given a green light Tuesday by all but one member of the Common Council Public Works Committee, sending it to the full Council for a vote next week.

Public Works Committee Chairman David McCarthy (R-District E) stuck to his guns and refused to vote for the Transit Oriented Development project put forward by the Redevelopment Agency – he abstained.

Four committee members voted for the staircase after listening to five municipally active South Norwalk residents and RDA Senior Project Manager Susan Sweitzer explain its merits. The biggest objection, other than that from McCarthy, came from Councilwoman Michelle Maggio (R-District C), who protested that while a trough is planned for bicyclists there is no provision made for mothers with strollers.

Sweitzer said the staircase, designed with funding from the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), was never intended to be American Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant, as it could cost millions of dollars to construct a ramp suitable for ADA compliance in the bedrock that is the city’s right of way at the end of Clay Street.

Bike/Walk Task Force Chairman Mike Mushak asked if he could add “one sentence” of information to the discussion, although that would be out of order. The thought of Mushak keeping it short prompted much laughter. McCarthy allowed it.

Mushak said ADA provided for a “technically infeasible” waiver in such circumstances, because Clay Street is too steep for wheelchair users to be unsafe on their way to the staircase.

Mike Mushak ends his "one sentence" at Tuesday's Norwalk Public Works Committee meeting.
Mike Mushak ends his “one sentence” at Tuesday’s Norwalk Public Works Committee meeting.

While some commented that Mushak had actually used 15 sentences, Board of Estimate and Taxation Chairman Jim Clark suggested Mushak had made it with one long sentence, including a semicolon.

Mushak and Clark were among a contingent of Golden Hill Association members who spoke for the “heated staircase.” Chairman Jim DelGreco said the stairs are used heavily as is, even if “you take your life in your hands” if you walk down in bad weather because the slope is too steep.

David Westmoreland said hundreds of people use it and Clark said, “I think that before I understood the detail of the project the dollar figure did surprise me, but once I was able to get a little background about what is going to be a part of that I think it makes a lot of sense.”

Mushak talked about how the project conforms to the Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD), starting with section A.1.1. “This is definitely going to increase property values,” he said, elaborating that there are 20 condominium projects within a 10-minute walk of the stairway.

“My neighbor, who just moved in last year, drives to the station and pays the extra money because the stairway is dark at night and she doesn’t want to walk home at night. It’s very dark and she’s afraid, because there are some shady characters sometimes who hang out on the stairway. The so-called heated staircase, the heated part, is only 6 percent of the entire cost.”

McCarthy commented at the end of Mushak’s dissertation that he was only 10 seconds over the three-minute limit. “Your internal clock must be a little off,” McCarthy said.

The project budget includes $60,000 for lighting, while the actual staircase is $63,000. The heating is $15,000.

Sweitzer said RDA has, over the last 20 years, invested a lot of money in pedestrian lighting, “which provides a perception of safety but it’s a reality of safety. But this is not highway lighting, which is really what is there now. Which is perhaps fine if it’s OK, but it isn’t inviting, engaging and it doesn’t give you the perception that you are safe.”

“The environment of the stairway was important to us because it sends a message, if you will, that this is perfectly safe, convenient and it’s an alternative access way,” Sweitzer said. “I want to just point out it’s not just for commuters. I mean, that’s nice and I’m sure the folks here would primarily use this for catching the train, but the thinking behind this is it just improves the interaction between the neighborhoods in a safe, convenient, and very attractive way.”

McCarthy said he had gone to try the staircase, and the one on Hamilton Street. “I saw what I would consider to be normal wear and tear for the age of the stairs,” he said. Snow had not been a problem, he said.

Mushak had said the city is doing a much better job with snow on the stairs this year than last year, when many people enjoyed using a toboggan to go down them. “I did it,” he said.

McCarthy asked Sweitzer if she had talked to the neighbors on Clay Street.

Public Works Committee Chairman David McCarthy (R-District E)
Public Works Committee Chairman David McCarthy (R-District E) leads Tuesday’s meeting.

“The one thing I heard when I went out there, and there were a number of cars parked out there that were not from the neighborhood, that people were afraid that might create a situation that we have had at other train stations, where people who can’t park at the regular parking places will park someplace like this … leaving the neighborhood to deal with it,” McCarthy said.

“We would hope that would be discouraged now because you have a wider catchment area from the staircases,” Sweitzer said. She went on to explain the improvements to Clay Street, which include better drainage and a new guardrail.

Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) was the first to speak for the staircase. It’s important to make things easier for commuters so as to keep them safer, he said. There are “various ways” to deal with people parking near the stairs if it becomes an issue, he said, listing restricting people to a limited amount of time for parking.

Council President Jerry Petrini (R-District D) said he had been talking to a lot of people about the “$250,000 staircase.” The breakdown on the costs were very helpful because it initially looked like it was just for concrete.

“You’re right, that neighborhood, that area there, can get a little dicey. Anything we can do to branch out and make it a lot safer.”

Speaking of dicey, Councilman John Igneri (D-District E) said he drives through there frequently and, “In the evening hours there’s people coming down the stairs and you don’t see them. They pop out onto the street suddenly. I find it very dangerous. The staircase is functional but I think it could be a lot safer.

McCarthy said he was “really conflicted,” as a supporter of TOD. “At a time when we are trying to find money to put into projects whose neighborhoods are flooding, I have a problem spending $250,000 to replace, again when I walked up, was a serviceable stairway.”

This seems like a finishing touch on TOD, he said, not a beginning step.

McCarthy also took the time to rebut the NancyOnNorwalk story about last month’s meeting:

“McCarthy has changed his tune from a stance he took on a previous issue,” the story said. “When Rowayton residents came to the Council to try to stop the work scheduled for Rowayton Avenue, he said that the work had already been approved, that the Council was just voting on a contract to do the work. The staircase project was vetted through the capital budget process, meaning it was evaluated by the Finance Department and reviewed by the Planning Commission for inclusion in the budget, which was then sent to the Council for approval. The Public Works Committee is just voting on the construction contract.”

The chairman questioned Sweitzer on that before asking about the actual project.

“It was suggested after we table this that this had been somehow vetted and pre-approved by the Council. … Was this project, other than being part of the capital budget, brought before the Council, this committee or any committee?” McCarthy asked.

“No, it was part of the TOD, capital improvements,” Sweitzer said. “It was not specifically called out.”

“Was any of the data, as far as how many people go up and down these stairs, or any of the specifics to the outline, included in the capital budget?” McCarthy asked.

“No,” she said.

She went on to apologize for not being at the last Public Works Committee meeting.

The action to authorize the mayor to execute the contract with Vaz Construction for the staircase will be voted on Tuesday, weather permitting.

Not present at the meeting were committee members David Watts (D-District A) and Eloisa Melendez (D-District A). Melendez is in Washington, D.C., at a seminar organized by Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy.

Comments

25 responses to “South Norwalk ‘heated staircase’ passes committee muster, heads for Council vote”

  1. John Hamlin

    This is a worthwhile project and one that the Council should support.

  2. Just another view from a Norwalk resident

    I just can’t believe that this stairway is a priority of the City’s capital budget. I also don’t believe that the City should be spending one quarter of a million dollars to build a new stairway. Sorry but given the City’s budget constraints, this is not a worthwhile project in my opinion.

  3. Mike Mushak

    NON, thank you for the article. This project will benefit thousands of residents and solve some serious safety issues.

    To the last commenter, it is not just a staircase as has been explained, but includes new lighting, sidewalks, crosswalks, and drainage and guardrail improvements. The staircase is $65,000, with the heated part being $15,000 (which will pay for itself quickly with the staff time saved, staff who are needed to clear other city-owned sidewalks in the area like on Monroe St under the rail bridge.) Please get your facts straight.

    I want to thank Dave McCarthy for allowing me to use the world’s longest sentence in a meeting. I have no comment on his refusal to vote on such a smart and well-designed public safety project, except to wonder if it’s because of the location in South Norwalk that might have had something to do with it.

  4. EveT

    Why was Councilman Watts absent from this committee meeting? Especially if he knew his colleague from the same district (Melendez) couldn’t be there, one would hope he would have made an effort to attend.

  5. Tim D

    Initially I laughed at the cost of this project and would have voted against it as well, but then after looking into this further it’s really gotten bad publicity b/c of the “heated” part. This is a no-brainer. Does the Mushak-McCarthy feud play into this at all? I don’t normally agree with Mr Mushak but one would have to think that McCarthy is being a real jerk on this one.

    Ms. Melendez – glad to see you are jumping into this political thing with both feet but please don’t let those two morons (Murphy & Blumey) brain wash you.

  6. Don’t waste $300,000.00 on police promotions that aren’t needed and there is your money for these stairs

    If the mayor doesn’t waste $300,000.00 creating police promotions that don’t exist the money saved there can pay for these stairs.

    Stop wasting money for votes.

  7. Ryan

    Mike,

    Thousands of people?
    Really?
    Really.
    What a waste.

  8. Mike Mushak

    Tim D, thank you.

    Ryan, it will benefit thousands. Over 5,000 people live within a 10 minute walk of these stairs, that connect two of the densest neighborhoods in Norwalk that are separated by a steep cliff, and separates the busy Sono train stain from a very walkable neighborhood nearby, where many folks still drive between the two because of the unsafe condition of the stairs.

    The waiting list at the Sono Train Station is 12-18 months long and has over 300 names on it. If more folks who live nearby are encouraged to walk or bike to the station instead of drive, the pressure on the cherished monthly parking spaces is reduced, as well as the daily spaces. Thus effects a lot more folks around the city who may not take the train now because of the long waiting list.

    I ran out of time in my 3 minutes of speaking time before I could say I support the hiring of more staff engineers at DPW, since projects like this demand more time of them and they are already overworked. We saw this on the awesome repaving and sidewalk replacement on Taylor Ave in our neighborhood, where we had to help DPW coordinate with neighbors issues using our own volunteered time as they just didn’t have the time to do it all. The project turned out amazing and the DPW staff were great, as well as their work on Cedar St. But they clearly need more help.

  9. Scott

    Mike since you seem to have some listened to input and I’m assuming have seen the plans they need to keep the stairs in line with the current sidewalk for plowing purposes. This is extremely difficult street to plow and there needs to be space to plow the snow down the hill without blocking the foot path. The parked cars are many so maneuvering the plow is limited to straight down.

  10. INCREASE PROPERTY VALUE?

    “This is definitely going to increase property values,” he said. Michael, come on! Are you kidding me? That has to be the most delusional thing you’ve said to date!

    If that’s the case, i’m going to put a staircase in front of my house! Geesh, I mean, really!

    And I agree with Ryan. “Thousands”? All the meanwhile, your partner said in the story “David Westmoreland said hundreds of people use it”

    I mean, respectfully, I just can’t take you seriously. I try, over and over again, but I can’t. Thankfully, my wife pointed that discrepancy out! Embellishing and story-telling will only come back to get you in the end!

  11. Ryan

    Try as you might to change it Norwalk will never be Seattle or San Fransisco. We like our cars and will drive over walk almost everytime.
    These stairs are a waste of money. Period.

  12. piberman

    Some of us long time residents have been waiting for decades and decades for the City to repair potholes in our unlit streets not paved for 40 or 50 years. Quite a few streets could have been repaved with the staircase funding allowing us to take a stroll without “pothole watching”. Where are our “advocates” in the City budget ?

  13. Peter Parker

    What a sham this staircase is! No wonder this City is in the mess it is. What a joke and a waste of money. People are starving and we are contemplating heating a staircase. Really, Really!

  14. Mike Mushak

    Mr Berman, where are the unlit streets that haven’t been paved in 40 to 50 years? I bet a lot of folks in the leafier parts of the city don’t want street lights. I opposed street lights in Pound Ridge when I lived there to avoid light pollution and keep the views of the stars intact in that leafy area. Please, share with us the exact names of the streets that need street lights and have not been paved since the early 60’s. I will be happy to forward those street names to Customer Service for you.

    The staircase is 23% of the total project, and the heating is 6%. This is not a staircase project but a public safety improvement including improved lighting, sidewalks, drainage, guard rails, and crosswalks.

    Peter Parker, should we avoid repairing city infrastructure so we can hand out free food? We have food pantries and charities and food stamp assistance and so no one should be starving in Norwalk, although we know poverty is widespread. Norwalk nor any other city in America would ever use capital improvemt money to provide social support.

    Over 5,000 people live within a 10 minute walk of the staircases, and we know a lot more people will use them once they are improved and made safer with better lighting and design. This will likely free up parking spaces and reduce the 12-18 month wait times for monthly passes at the station garage, affecting folks across the city. So it will affect thousands, even though “only” hundreds use the stairs every day. A silly argument from the brand new commenter named “Increase Property Value?” Lol!

    The improved stairways will definitely improve property values, as they will improve the potential that people will make decisions to move into the neighborhood with a safer walk to the train station for commuting. We know this for a fact as we know many people who moved into our neighborhood to commute, but then drive to the staion because the stairways are unsafe especially at night and in bad weather.

    The heating which is sensor controlled and would only kick in when snow and ice is present will pay for itself in a couple of years worth of staff time.

    Scott, thank you for your awesome snow clearing efforts. I never cease to be amazed at how quickly our streets get cleared here in SoNo. I will discuss your concerns with Susan Sweitzer who is managing this project, before it gets handed off to DPW for installation.

  15. Statistical Data Needed

    Michael, please provide us a full study to back your claim with respects to the number of people using the staircase.

    Is ‘THOUSANDS” a cumulative number (annual) of those hundreds using it? Or are you suggesting literally 700 or more additional people on a daily basis will end up using the staircase?

    I think you’re grasping at straws, sorry.

    Show me the data that backs your claim that a staircase will undoubtedly increase the value of surrounding properties.

    Thanks.

    “INCREASE PROPERTY VALUE?”

  16. Notaffiliated

    this is stupid. What woman would walk from the train station to Golden Hill. Thousands of people? Dividing the Flax Hill neighborhood? Walk around the block.

    Go Obamaites!!

  17. Notaffiliated

    I am further bemused by the use or lack thereof of data and analysis. I’ve re-read some of Mr Mushucks comments and struggle with the causal relationship of a heated stairway to property values and thousands of people stopping to drive so they can hike up a stairway

  18. Mike Mushak

    Un oh, looks like the anonymous nasty trolls from the Hour site have arrived. Fasten your seatbelts.

    Studies were done by a professional planning firm and counts taken of users of the stairways. Close to 300 a day in peak hours only, more all day long that were not counted. Assuming 400 trips a day on average (weekends are also busy with recreational users and lots of people work on weekends too), that is 2,800 a week, 11,200 a month, or 134,400 total trips per year.

    The brand new commenter above with the attitude named “Increase Property Values” accused me of embellishing and storytelling because I said the stairway improvements would affect thousands of folks.

    Let’s see. Roughly 134,400 trips a year on the stairway, more once they are improved. Even assuming only 10% of those trips are by unique users, that is still roughly 13,000 unique users a year. My partner said the stairs were used by hundreds every day, I said it affected thousands.

    We were both right. Embellishment and storytelling? 13,000 unique users a year is a lot more than hundreds. Lol!

  19. Notaffiliated

    Through an independent (unnamed professional planning firm), 4000 people who are unemployed walk these stairwells everyday. I hear that beyond heating the stairwell, we’ll have massage by bare chested men (or woman if that’s your pleasure) at step 20

  20. Mike Mushak

    @Statistical Data, another unique name never used before on this site (interesting), we have neighbors who bought their properties because of the proximity to the train station for commuting. We also know of neighbors who are frightened to use the stairways at night, and drive to the station spending the extra $900 a month to park. Make the walk or bike ride to the train station safer and more convenient, and the need to drive and pay $900 a month will be made moot, and you will see more folks who will definitely choose to live in this dense neighborhood with hundreds of condo units and multi- and single-family residences.

    Property values will increase. It’s common sense when you improve a neighborhood including connectivity you make it more desirable. The scores of dangerous blighted properties owned by negligent absentee landlords that are scattered around the area creating instability and dragging down property values will likely get renovated with new investment, and everyone benefits with a safer and more stable neighborhood.

    The same thing results from sidewalk and street repairs, and improved parks and schools. After Flax Hill Park was renovated, numerous blighted multi-family properties bordering it were bought and renovated, and are now pleasant and affordable places to live.

    I realize this concept may be foreign to some of the Esposito era folks who believed no infrastructure or park or school improvements were necessary, but since that dark era of mismanagement we have become more responsible with much improved parks, schools, and sidewalks and streets, and we are seeing new folks in our neighborhood who are investing in the community instead of disinvesting in it, using it like an ATM which is what the unscrupulous slumlords do of which there are still many, but better enforcement and direct involvement by more responsible neighbors is slowly changing that around. We don’t have to stay the hole in the donut forever.

  21. Mike Mushak

    Notaffiliated, your insulting childish comment is completely unnecessary. The study was done by Fitgzerald and Halliday out of Hartford, part of a Transit-Oriented Design study to improve South Norwalk with new investment and community improvements. The study is available at the Redevelopment Agency.

    The study said nothing about unemployed or massages. Please go back to the Hour website where rude comments by trolls are welcome.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @Mike Mushak

      Our policy currently says you can only use one commenter name per story. We have a few people commenting on several stories, each under a different name. We also do have a troll policy, which has been pretty liberal. However, it appears that, coming into another election cycle and drawing in what does appear to be some new “voices” (the commenter you are referring to has been around since we began, though), we may well revisit the screen name policy and tighten up on the trolls.

  22. Nonsense

    ” Close to 300 a day in peak hours only, more all day long that were not counted.” More all day that were not counted? That to me is a red flag, Michael. That shows me a thorough study wasn’t executed and perhaps a refund is in order. How can a company only count a portion of a day?

    Listen, I know you’re all about this staircase. After all, it effects YOUR neighborhood and you want to improve it. Such passion wouldn’t exist if it were somewhere else in the City, I get it.

    But you just can’t push the agenda with unsubstantiated information for your cause. That’s what I’m trying to say. Monies can be allocated to a better cause in this city and deep down, you know that.

    There is absolutely no way you can prove to any of us that by doing this, it will increase the value of homes. That’s just smoking mirrors to get this project approved.

    @mark, I have always and will use my email address that has never changed in all the time i’ve posted on here. I change up the “name” to coincide with the appropriate story, but never wavered from my email. I honestly think that those who are using one-time emails/user names should be spanked. I’m still the same person.

  23. Mike Mushak

    @Nonsense, you are using different names on different articles as you hurl insults and personally attack me for supporting smart improvements in city infrastructure that will improve public safety. Why use different names on different articles as you admitted, unless it is your intent to deceive? Why not use your real name? What have you done to improve the city? What is motivating you to attack me at every turn for trying to make Norwalk better? Who are you? Do I know you?

    It would be amazing to find out who the trolls on this site really are. Now that would be a great story.

    You have ridiculed two smart ideas in the last day to improve the city for pedestrians and cyclists, and now you are splitting hairs because the consultant didn’t count pedestrians all day long but only at peak hours. Your attack is absurd.

    It is plain common sense that improving infrastructure and safety by improving sidewalks, streets, and heavily used currently dangerous stairways such as this will increase property values as I explained above. But don’t take my word for it, which you clearly find to be inadequate. Let’s look at just a small sample of the huge amount of research and evidence that supports my claim that this improvement will increase property values, as I believe we have to always fight ignorance with facts:

    1.) http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/green-living/does-walkability-raise-property-values/

    Improving walkability adds between $4,000 to $34,000 to home values, according to this study that looked at 94,0000 homes in 15 major markets.

    2.) http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/active-living/Documents/Good-for-business.pdf

    “These findings are significant for policy makers. They tell us that if urban leaders are intentional about developing and redeveloping their cities to make them more walkable, it will not only enhance the local tax base but will also contribute to individual wealth by increasing the value of what is, for most people, their biggest asset.”
    Lower speeds are important too: evidence shows that a 5 to10 mph reduction in traffic speeds increases property values for adjacent residences by 18% to 20%.

    3.)http://crosscut.com/2012/05/29/real-estate/108851/hinshaw-public-spaces/

    “High Walk Score neighborhoods are consistently coming out on top with respect to value per square foot.”

  24. Nonsense

    If I may add two more points that I challenge Michael on:

    1> You say that the staircase will increase the value of homes in the area. BUT, the staircase already exists, therefore, values are already at it’s peak. The current staircase does the job, correct?

    2> “My neighbor, who just moved in last year, drives to the station and pays the extra money because the stairway is dark at night and she doesn’t want to walk home at night. It’s very dark and she’s afraid, because there are some shady characters sometimes who hang out on the stairway. ——> So you think by renovating the staircase, shady characters will miraculously disappear from her route and the staircase? Why not just save money and install lighting on the staircase.

    Listen, I’m not intentionally going after you Michael. But I’m a taxpayer just like you. I think the money should be allocated to more important things. It’s like…. You have a car and it works, right? Why bother getting a new one? It does the job getting you back and forth. Perhaps it may need a new paint job (lights installed) but that’s about it.

    Not here for a contest. I respect your opinion, but my should be as well.

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