Public hearings Tuesday evening on Innovation District, Norwalk government reorganization

NORWALK — The Norwalk Redevelopment Agency’s answers to questions about a proposed Innovation District in central Norwalk likely will come up during a public hearing on the topic Tuesday evening.

Among the questions: Why does the proposal — where tax breaks would be given per Common Council approval — not do more for existing businesses that have struggled?

“If an existing business owns its building and is seeking to undertake improvements totaling more than $10,000 then they would benefit from the proposed ordinance,” wrote Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Timothy Sheehan in a memorandum to the Common Council’s Planning and Ordinance committees. “If they rent their building and they are seeking property improvements to be undertaken by their landlord, the ordinance provides additional incentives for the property owners to undertake the desired improvements.”

The Common Council’s Ordinance Committee will hold public hearings Tuesday, Sept. 4, on the proposed Innovation District and a separate proposal that would reorganize Norwalk government under seven senior-level managers. The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. in Room A300 of City Hall, 125 East Ave.

During a joint meeting Aug. 21, the two committees heard and sent to Sheehan questions raised by the public about the proposed Innovation District. His answers can be found under “Planning Committee Documents” at

Under the proposed Innovation District, tax incentives would be available, on a case-by-case basis, to eligible office, mixed-use, retail, manufacturing, information technology and light manufacturing uses within the boundaries of the district. The incentives would be subject to council approval.

The district would be bounded by Interstate 95, the Route 7 Connector, Route 1, Park Street, upper Smith Street and the Norwalk River, but also include Norwalk Hospital, King Industries, Devine Brothers, Lillian August, the Norwalk Public Library and Stepping Stones Museum for Children.

The proposal has sparked vigorous debate over whether tax breaks are needed and to whom they should go.

Lisa Brinton, who lives in Rowayton and ran as an independent in Norwalk’s 2017 mayoral race, said tax credits “can be useful for spurring economic growth” but added she’s not comfortable with what’s proposed.

“I don’t feel comfortable with this administration carrying out the spirit of the ordinance under its current guise of innovation, business, light manufacturing or IT, especially given the lack of continuity, expertise or consistency between councils,” Brinton wrote in a letter to the editor published in the Norwalk Hour Friday. “I think this ordinance is more about fortress apartments, particularly since the residential/mixed use component was purposely left in the ordinance — despite pleas from the public to remove it.”

Among the questions raised Aug. 21 was whether the proposed Innovation District needs more multi-family housing. In response, Sheehan described the Wall Street-West Avenue areas as the second-least populated census tract in Norwalk behind Silvermine.

“Urban areas are meant to be dense, walkable, and highly populated areas,” Sheehan wrote. “Without additional housing, Norwalk’s urban geography will fail to meet the population levels necessary to economically sustain an active urban environment.”

In a separate hearing Tuesday evening, the Ordinance Committee will invite public comment on the proposed city government reorganization put forward by Mayor Harry Rilling. The reorganization would deliver city services more effectively and efficiently by grouping like functions together under seven senior managers overseen by a chief of staff and the head of the law department, according to his administration.

Among the proposed new groupings are a Department of Chief of Staff and an Economic and Community Development Department. The plan also calls for revising the ordinance governing the Department of Recreation and Parks, and the Department of Public Works.

Nancy Rosett, chairwoman of the Norwalk Bike/Walk Commission, weighed in as a resident Aug. 21.

“I support the creation of the Economic and Community Development Department,” Rosett said. “While the commission has worked with the Department of Public Works to improve the built environment for all users of the roads, which is a large part of the complete streets philosophy, I feel that we will be able to enlarge that effort with the creation of this department.”