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City Fails To Communicate, Norwalker Complains

NORWALK, Conn. – Camp Street residents and preservationists continue to be upset about the removal of bluestone curbs in a historic Norwalk neighborhood . They dispute city officials' estimates of the cost of saving the curbs and say the real problem is a lack of communication.

The curbs and sidewalks on Camp Street are being redone as part of a paving project that also includes Union Avenue, Eclipse Avenue and Ward Street. The city opted to replace the bluestone curbs with concrete. Hal Alvord, director of the Department of Public Works, said saving the bluestone would have been prohibitively expensive. Although the stone may be more durable than concrete, it is likely to sink into the ground and become cracked and uneven because of cars driving into it and over it, he said.

Peter Schuerch, an architect and resident of the street, challenges those claims. He is unhappy that the city signed contracts with A&J Construction and started the work before telling residents.

"He also did not even know Camp Street was a historic district," Schuerch said of Alvord. Camp Street is listed on the State Register of Historic Places, according to an email from Stacey S. Vairo, state and national register coordinator of Connecticut's state historic preservation office. She sent the email to Tod Bryant, president of the Norwalk Preservation Trust.

But Alvord said the city is under no obligation to save the curbs, even if the street is on the historic register, because no state or federal money is being used for the project.

"Why does the city need to be required by law to take the wishes of tax-paying residents of a historic district into account?" Bryant wrote in an email. "Take a look at Wall Street. New granite curbs."

Alvord did not respond to an email asking for a reaction to that comment but said earlier that the city will retain stone curbs in a historic area when "it makes sense" and there is a source of funding.

Construction stopped for four days last week in response to complaints. "We studied it, including how set (the bluestone) in the ground so it doesn't get rotated and create unsafe conditions," Alvord said. "That's how we came up with 70 percent wastage. ... People are going to drive over the curbs again, that's how this stuff all got driven into the ground before."

But Schuerch points to pictures of the bluestone that has been pulled from the ground and questions the estimate of 70 percent wastage. "This number makes no sense when we asked only for existing bluestone to be kept, and most of the old stone is excellent," he wrote. "And almost all of the street is stone."

Schuerch said he showed large pictures of the stone to "a highly experienced construction estimator" and a "trusted active Mason." He was told that concrete curbs cost about $10 a lineal foot installed, and new bluestone curbs would be about $30 a lineal foot installed. There isn't a need for much new bluestone, he said, and in this economy it might be possible to get a good price for the work.

"The real issue, I am sad to say, is that contracts were signed, and work started, before there was any public awareness of what we were losing," he wrote. "Now, it is much more expensive to backtrack on the job, and (Tracey Elementary) school opens soon."

Alvord said city workers went down the street twice to distribute letters detailing the work and "never heard a peep." The last such effort was July 22. Schuerch said he was away and returned July 31. The letter was in a pile of mail, and he did not see it right away. He said his neighbors reportedly not get fliers.

"The whole experience reeks of poor communication with neighborhoods," he said.

A Camp Street resident sitting in his back yard last Thursday said he did not care about the stones. He had another issue on his mind: speeding drivers. "They killed my dog a year ago," he said. Losing the dog was bad, but he worries about the children going to Tracey Elementary School. He'd like to see speed bumps.

Do you think the city does a good job communicating? Do you ever walk down Camp Street?

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