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Democrat Calls Norwalk's Affordable Housing Move A Disgrace

NORWALK, Conn. – A proposal to remove the affordable housing component from a prominent SoNo development has created a united opposition, two South Norwalk activists said.

Ward B Democrats, the NAACP and the Sono Alliance are gathering forces to protest a proposed change in plans for 20 N. Water St. at Thursday night's zoning committee meeting, said Bobby Burgess, Ward B's Democratic chairman.

Spinnaker Real Estate Partners is asking the committee to allow it to move the workforce housing units planned for the development to 143.5 S. Main St., down the road from Norwalk's homeless shelter, and to 50 Connecticut Ave.

"I think it's disgraceful for the city of Norwalk to even attempt to let that happen," Burgess said. "The NAACP sued the city of Norwalk over housing policy and that suit still stands in court. It can be reopened anytime."

The request is a matter of economics, said Clayton Fowler of Spinnaker Partners. "Costs ballooned. We have to see if we can put the genie back in the bottle," he said at the Aug. 9 zoning committee meeting .

Fowler said that when the preliminary plans were approved by the commission in February, his company reserved the right to revisit the workforce housing issue. Plans submitted for the site in 2006 included putting the affordable housing on Connecticut Avenue, he said.

Factors adding up to the increased expense at the site include asbestos that was hidden by the existing building and other "areas of concern" in the dirt that need to be investigated and capped. The proposal was changed from five stories to four, giving it "small deal-itis," he said, meaning there is less wiggle room when it comes to the profit margin from renting.

Some commissioners are concerned about the timing of the request. "I'm at a loss to understand why the applicant did not disclose its intention to use off-site workforce housing prior to obtaining our initial approval and why it waited to make this disclosure until immediately after it finished demolition of the historic Norwalk Compressor Company Building ," Commissioner Adam Blank said in an email to the commission.

The issue was discussed at length by "enthusiastic citizens" during a Sono Alliance meeting Tuesday night at Norwalk Police headquarters, said Connie Weston, chairwoman of the alliance. Members of the NAACP, Christian Community Action and Ward B Democrats were in attendance.

"We are all in agreement that to allow off-site housing is blatant segregation and have vowed to fight this issue through the courts if necessary," she said in an email.

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