South Norwalk is not a ‘slum,’ Rilling says

NORWALK, Conn. — Mayor Harry Rilling isn’t crazy about labeling South Norwalk a “slum.”

“I agree with Councilman (Richard) Bonenfant; this sends a very negative message,” Rilling said in an email. “South Norwalk is a historic area with many beautiful buildings. Unfortunately that is the designation necessary to receive federal funds. I am not comfortable with the designation but I understand the Planning Committee’s decision.”

The Common Council will vote Tuesday on designating South Norwalk as “slum, blighted, deteriorated or deteriorating” (slum/blighted), a designation of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). While Rilling is not a fan, former Mayor Bill Collins said it’s part of the game.

“That’s one of the little bureaucratic things you have to put up with, I’m afraid, the definitional issues,” said Collins, SoNo Task Force chairman. “So you do what you have to do to meet their requirements and I suppose from an income standpoint it would qualify for that, although it doesn’t look blighted anymore.”

The issue was discussed at last week’s Planning Committee meeting.

Bonenfant (R-At Large) voted against it, the only nay vote. It wouldn’t help real estate agents, he said. Others agreed that the word “slum” was distasteful.

“It’s a balance with trying to, not ‘projecting the right image,’ but to meet the criteria to acquire the funding we are needing,” Planning Committee Chairman Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) said.

“I do believe we are marketing South Norwalk aggressively and doing everything possible to attract investors to the area,” Rilling wrote Monday. “One simply has to look at all the development taking place to realize SoNo is moving in the right direction.”

“The Realtors and the people who are inclined to buy in that part of town are not naïve,” Collins said. “They know what they’re getting into – you drive around and you see it. Most people with that turn of mind really like it and they have to decide if they want to pay as much as is being charged. But the fact that somewhere it says blight on the HUD application is not going to be consequential.”

Taking on a blight/slum designation opens up the door to eminent domain, NoN commenter Don’t Panic said.

“Eminent domain should be the choice of last resort,” Rilling said.

“We need eminent domain anyway,” Collins said. “Maybe not for anything in that project but we’re certainly going to need some in both SoNo and NoNo. I can’t imagine that admitting that it’s blighted would have anything to do with that. That would be an action of the Redevelopment Agency and the Council, I would think.”

NoNo is a Jackie Lightfield label for North Norwalk, Collins said. Great marketing idea, he said.

“If you wend your way down behind the railroad station it wouldn’t require Sherlock Holmes to find blight,” Collins said. “Little hard to find it on Washington Street anymore, so I have no idea what the definitional issues are on that, but if we have to say ‘OK we’re blighted’ in order to get the money, then who is going to oppose it?”

The designation qualifies an area for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding, HUD says on its website. It lists examples of qualifying activities:

  • Rehabilitation of substandard housing located in a designated blighted area and where the housing is expected to be brought to standard condition;
  • Infrastructure improvements in a deteriorated area;
  • Economic development assistance in the form of a low-interest loan to a business as an inducement to locate a branch store in a redeveloping blighted area.

“The criterion used to determine a blighted/slum area are very basic and could apply to many other areas not just South Norwalk,” Rilling said. “The term slum is offensive and certainly does not describe South Norwalk.”


John Hamlin May 12, 2015 at 6:23 am

Parts of SoNo are wonderful but parts are blighted and resemble a slum. No wonder the city won’t enact an effective blight ordinance — it’s political leaders can’t see blight when it’s right in front of them. But they are finally forced to admit it’s a slum to get money to address the problem. Tough when you have to admit that the problems you have enabled actually exist.

Piberman May 12, 2015 at 8:24 am

After many decades City officials are finally recognizing the obvious – much of SoNo is a slum.
So why have they been so reluctant to propose meaningful solutions ? Because………………

Don't Panic May 12, 2015 at 5:22 pm

“Eminent domain should be the choice of last resort,” Rilling said.

Yeah, well. In this town “should” and “will” are often worlds apart. A certain business person has been very vocal about his desire to have the city act against another property owner down there (Duleep). This opens the door to that action…

“We need eminent domain anyway,” Collins said. “Maybe not for anything in that project but we’re certainly going to need some in both SoNo and NoNo. I can’t imagine that admitting that it’s blighted would have anything to do with that. That would be an action of the Redevelopment Agency and the Council, I would think.”

Hmmm. That’s a very interesting assertion, considering the city has been saying “Hell, no!” to any sort of eminent domain to reconfigure Washington Village, even though some very thoughtful suggestions have been made to prevent the destruction of the park and to avoid putting many of the structures directly in the Federal restricted flood plain area.

What if we used the money we are going to waste raising the roadway down in Washington Village? Would we need those Fed funds badly enough to risk opening up the developer giveaway grab bag again? After this goes through, are we going to give away more parking lots and parcels as economic incentives to developers?

Norwalk, wake up. What’s happening in South Norwalk could come to your neighborhood next.

Mrs. Ruby McPherson May 12, 2015 at 6:24 pm

Its actually to move certain people out, and redevelop as the rest of SONO. I am not looking to sell or have anyone take my home, but South Norwalk, in areas do need some revitalization. If Tim Sheehan hasn’t convince the common council and remove home loans for repairs from his program but want to give it all to SoNCC.

Toni V May 12, 2015 at 11:44 pm

Certainly there is a lot of development going one in the part of SoNo near the Aquarium , but one has only to walk down Ely just below the RR station to Lexington , or over the Lowe st bridge to Bouton , or down Woodward to realize that “slum” isn’t a total misnomer.
I walk there all the time , and it’s obvious that the city DPW is neglecting basic garbage and street cleaning services , and seems never to have heard the words “code enforcement”.

inquirng minds May 13, 2015 at 3:14 am

Real question is: why/how has the Aron family that has had ownership of that area of chestnut st and henry st since the 50’s, how have they gotten away with it for a generation? Anyone care to ask the real estate magnate family that owns condos properties and hotels all over NY, CT and Palm Beach Florida? Seems like it just isn’t right that a slumlord sitting on his yacht at his own private dock in his back yard is never, never held accountable. There should be a law and with teeth in it to hold these wealthy guys accountable that hide behind dozens of llc’s sipping there cocktails and laughing. This is the kinda of bs that have people loosing confidence in our legal system and any real justice.

Don't Panic May 13, 2015 at 8:56 am

Just remember, if a wealthy developer starts buying up land near your home, you could be next.

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