At their best, proposed development deals could enhance the unique character of Norwalk's diverse neighborhoods, increase foot traffic to local businesses and increase our grand list. Ever since the flood of 1955, various development deals have come before the Common Council; the majority party hails each approved Master Development Agreement as a visionary step forward. But what about the financing? Is the scope of development reasonable, given changes to the economic climate? What are the potential tradeoffs, as we cannot afford everything we want?
Several Democrats joined me in posing these basic questions to Mayor [Richard] Moccia before our scheduled vote on the Waypointe development deal in 2009. I wrote the following to Mayor Moccia:
"Considering the dramatic changes in the economic climate during the past year, it is prudent to take another look at the proposed financing of the Waypointe development ... If such a risk analysis has already been conducted, taking into account the long-term ramifications of the recent collapse of major financial institutions that relied too heavily on high-risk credit deals, I respectfully request a copy. If not, I request your cooperation and assistance in securing an independent financial consultant to advise the Common Council."
"Absent such documentation from a disinterested firm (with significant experience analyzing derivatives trading and interest rate swap agreements) that can demonstrate that allowing the possibility of general obligation, variable-rate bonds totaling over $100 million will not adversely affect Norwalk's ability to fund public improvements, what assurance do our constituents have that this is the best use of our scarce resources?" [City should take another look at Waypointe, The Hour, March 22, 2009]
Waypointe painfully illustrates the dangers of promoting development deals too large and too reliant on public financing to move Norwalk forward effectively. As a member of the Finance/Claims Committee in 2009, I voted against the Waypointe Bond Resolution. Promises of eventual repayment and ownership of five parking garages do not justify authorizing $104 million in general obligation bonds. Despite signs of looming economic downturn, the Republican majority won the final vote on the Waypointe bond resolution, 10-5.
Two years later, how far has Norwalk moved forward? On Nov. 4, 2010, Mr. Seligson's team updated the Common Council's Planning Committee. According to these Council minutes, "The Special Services District tax and $104 Million Bond Issue ... may not be viable in this economic market." Ditto the five parking garages. Consequently, Mr. Seligson's team has broken the initial proposal into three much smaller, financially realistic phases.
Imagine what synergistic "motion" could yield if our mayor and Council majority focused on smaller, financially viable development right from the beginning. If we designed the process to be less cumbersome for developers AND concerned neighbors, we could reach consensus faster. We could move past posed pictures with "shovels in the ground." We could move toward having developers hire Norwalkers to build. Rather than tout "motion" for motion's sake, shouldn't we reconsider where it is we want Norwalk to go?
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