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To the Editor:
How many people were paying attention last year as our Planning Committee of the Common Council voted to approve the giveaway of approximately $2 million worth of our property on Day Street to the Norwalk Housing Authority for one dollar, who will in turn own the land but lease the property to a private developer?
The item recently made its way to the full Council, only to be tabled and sent back to committee for further review thanks to the outcry of several concerned citizens. This week they will vote again, and will surely move it on to the Council.
All without even one public hearing. Not even one public meeting (meetings were held with Washington Village tenants, but no public information sessions have ever been scheduled). The other meetings are task-force strategy meetings held during the middle of the workday, and are not noticed in the newspaper, other local media, or on the city website.
The Day Street parcels will be used in conjunction with the much-anticipated and highly sought-after federally funded HUD Choice Neighborhoods Grant to redevelop the Washington Village public housing project.
Essentially, our tax dollars and credits will be footing the bill for the plan, but a private developer will reap the benefits of market-rate rental incomes as a part of the mixed-income development. Estimates for required public improvements (infrastructure, roads, flood mitigation) are as high as $10 million, and you can bet that money will be coming out of your wallets, just like for the Waypointe and 95/7 project (how’s that working out, folks?)
What part of “Gee, wouldn’t it make more sense for a private developer to pay us full value and build the mixed-rate housing” don’t our elected officials grasp? Why aren’t we at least considering a 50-year lease to the Norwalk Housing Authority, so that we retain ownership but they still comply with site control?
The footprint of the existing Washington Village can accommodate a new, mixed-rate multi-use development with stunning water views. Hmmm. Perhaps therein lies the problem – how to preserve the current location for future luxury waterfront development? I believe the scope or design of the current plan is likely to change over time to better suit the Housing Authority, Redevelopment Agency and private developer.
Applications get approved all the time, only to have major changes approved after the fact, usually once demolition of existing buildings has been completed.
In fact, the Option to Purchase Agreement says this project can be changed in scope by as much as 19% on any component without ever coming back before the Common Council! At that late stage of development, surely no future Council will have the political will or courage to call a halt to the project. I call it “holding them hostage.”
One councilor explained his position as a “reasonable return on our investment” in the area. I have to disagree. A reasonable return would be selling the land for at least a $2 million cash infusion, especially since no one is willing to estimate future potential tax revenue for the city.
The item is on the agenda of the Planning Committee on Wednesday Feb. 6, and presumably advances to the full Council on the 12th.
If you think our elected officials should not be giving away city-owned land without a public hearing, contact your Common Council members and tell them. Conversely, if you think this is a prudent and fiscally responsible decision, tell them that.
A group email link is provided on the city website at www.norwalkct.org. Click on City Departments, then Common Council, then the link “Email All Council Members.”