NORWALK, Conn. – David Buzzeo was feeling the pride of ownership last week as he oversaw other workers standing below street level in a North Water Street hole, next to Norwalk's Maritime Aquarium.
"Are you looking at my building?" Buzzeo asked a photographer, with a smile,
The supervisor for Amec Carting was referring to the massive brick hulk at 20 North Water Street, formerly known as the Norwalk Co. building. It is "his" because its fate is now in Amec's hands: despite a last ditch effort by Norwalk preservationists, the building is set to be demolished in its entirety.
The work may be beginning Monday.
The plans to demolish the building were approved by the Zoning Commission on Feb. 15. But developer Clayton Fowler of Spinnaker Real Estate Partners Inc. sought a $500,000 Brownfield Remediation Grant from the Department of Economic and Community Development, opening a door for those who wanted to save it.
State officials held a public hearing in mid-May, seeking input from the community. Former mayor Bill Collins, who fought in the 80s to save many of South Norwalk's old buildings, was among those who attended. "I went ... to testify and urge the department to place a requirement ion the money that they're preserving to give the developer that they must preserve the façade, which is great, in order to get the money," he said.
Between 50-70 people said similar things, according to Maya Lowenberg, Department of Economic and Community Development permit ombudsman. But their effort was unsuccessful, according to Tim Sheehan, executive director of the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency.
Sheehan said the state historic preservation office had issued mitigation measures back to DECD. "They do not involve preservation of any portion of the building," he said. "It's more in line with marketing the historic aspects of South Norwalk, installing an exhibit in the courtyard area that reflects the historic character and importance of the Norwalk Company to the community, (with) photographic documentation of the building."
As further mitigation for the loss, the RDA suggested that the South Norwalk historic inventory is expected to be updated, which Sheehan thinks hasn't happened since the late 70s.
Sheehan stressed that the grant money would not go to the developer until all the building permits were in place. He said he had heard that demolition of the venerable building would happen by the end of July. A worker onscene (not Buzzeo) said that the demolition would begin Monday.
Ashley Soltes, who works next door at Beadworks, wonders why no one has told them what is going on. Lighthouse Group, which owns that building and others, papers Washington Street with flyers whenever they plan to do tree work, she said, but the only notification workers have gotten about the proposed demolition is a casual comment to a worker heading for her parked car.
"They have the common courtesy to tell us they're going to be trimming the trees," she said. "Now, if they're going to be putting dynamite off and demolishing an entire building, and, you'd think they'd have the common courtesy to say, 'OK, things might fall off your walls.'"
The old building will be missed, she said. "It's beautiful. I'm a member of the South Norwalk Boat Club. Even some of the members that I've spoken to, who are mostly 40- and 50-year old men, they're opposed to knocking it down, too," she said. "They remember this building from when they were younger. Nobody wants it to be knocked down."