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CT Construction Digest Friday September 6, 2019

Kevin Rennie: Gov. Lamont needs a relaunch. Can he do it?
Labor Day provides an opportunity for leaders to relaunch their missions. Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration recognizes this, and the first autumn of a first term provides an opportunity for some renovations.
Nedstock is done and the governor’s August vacation is complete. It is time to get back to the issue that Lamont believes is essential to his success and also a source of relentless confusion.
This round could be better for Lamont and Connecticut if the governor has learned the lessons of the bitter past. The first is that there is some value in consistency. The Greenwich Democrat was telling voters a year ago that he would support tolls on trucks only because out of state tractor trailer trucks were using our roads for free and damaging them. Only weeks after taking office, Lamont announced tolls on trucks would not raise enough money — something he must have known last year — for the road improvements he wants to make. He would only be satisfied with a far-flung network of tolls on all drivers.
It was worse than an error, it was a blunder. Announcing the change on a weekend made Lamont look frightened of the public he was elected to serve and lead a few months before. The governor compounded his clumsy rollout by then appearing open to any other suggestions — and then opposed to any alternatives. His public musings suggested he’d take some toll gantries off here or there, or maybe not.
For veteran observers of and participants in Connecticut government, Lamont’s toll odyssey has been a bewildering one-act farce with everything but slamming doors and mistaken identities.
The legislature’s regular session ended in June with no action on tolls, though Lamont had by then made the unsettling declaration that he was staking his governorship on his proposal. The summer passed without that happening. The passage of time gives the impression that this may not be the emergency Lamont insists it is.
It appears that Lamont has transferred leadership on the substance of transportation planning and financing from his transportation department, where the experts work, to Ryan Drajewicz, the governor’s chief of staff. Drajewicz has discovered that the federal government has all sorts of helpful programs to assist states in improving transportation. The details of which programs are best-suited for Connecticut have not been announced.
But here’s a preview of what may be coming from Lamont in the fall: The federal government could lend the state money to plan and complete projects. The state may not have to begin repaying the low-interest loans until each project has been completed.
Using the federal program might be the way for Lamont to build a broad coalition in support of road and rail projects, although state transportation officials might not welcome the oversight that comes with the money. It will give the state a head start on raising money to repay the loans many years from now, because road and bridge projects take a long time to plan and complete.Lamont unveils his next proposal, it will have to be the last one. He will look irredeemably incompetent if he is not fluent in explaining and persuading. The governor wounded his credibility when his budget diverted $1 billion that had been headed to the state’s transportation fund from the motor vehicle sales tax. His cynical actions belied his sincere manner.
 
 
When Lamont knew when he was running for governor that the public does not support an inescapable web of tolls on the state’s highways. It’s not just the cost. Many people believe that the money raised from tolls will not be used to pay for improved roads and bridges. Weary Connecticut residents have concluded that state government is an unreliable steward of money. Once money starts flooding into the state’s coffers, its destination changes.
Connecticut has seen temporary charges become permanent. Dedicated revenue streams disappear into the general fund. The public does not forget these incidents of deception dressed up as public policy. Lamont should reveal a realistic list of priority projects that will win approval of the federal government officials and explain to the public how his plan will be financed without tolls.
He needs a relaunch — this time, with a clear trajectory.
 
Norwalk Planning Committee advances master plan
Kelly Kultys
NORWALK — The full Common Council will get their chance to review and potentially adopt the 10-year master plan for the city, after the Planning Committee advanced it on Thursday.
The goals of the Plan of Conservation and Development aim to fulfill the city’s vision for the future, which includes making it a “national example of a small city that boasts a thriving and dynamic economy.”To do that, the document breaks down overarching goals and smaller action steps into four major areas and an introduction — living and working in Norwalk, environment, sustainability and resilience, city systems and the future city.
The Planning Committee made minor adjustments to the plan, including adding language surrounding “Vision Zero,” which is a multi-national road traffic safety project that seeks to achieve a roadway system that has no more fatalities or injuries due to road traffic.
The committee held an official public hearing on the plan in August at which time multiple speakers, including mayoral candidate Lisa Brinton voiced concern over “unsustainable growth in the city.”
“Unbalanced growth and increased population density is reshaping Norwalk into an expensive and transient city and we’re gradually losing our identity,” she said.Mayor Harry Rilling also spoke at the August hearing and stated that was glad people were looking to move to Norwalk.“Norwalk is a city that’s on the rise, we’re one of the very very few cities in the state of Connecticut where people are moving to, and they’re starting to take a look at who we are and what we have to offer,” Rilling said.
On Thursday, three residents asked the committee to look at updating the city’s zoning code to allow for two-family and multifamily residences in some of the single-family zones to make the city “more inclusive.”
Resident Laure Dunne said that the recommendations in the plans that call for preserving and maintaining the traditional single family neighborhoods “maintain the status quo of Norwalk’s segregated areas.”
Resident Susan Cole asked the committee to consider raising the workforce housing requirements from 10 percent to 20 percent to increase diversity throughout the city’s neighborhoods.
“Norwalkers pride ourselves in diversity and 20 percent rather than 10 is going to do a lot more good for integrating neighborhoods,” she said.
Audrey Cozzarin, a Norwalk resident who founded the Norwalk Citizens’ Traffic Safety Group, said her main concern was traffic congestion and if the plan discussed this.
“That POCD committee finding (from April 2018) was that traffic was the main concern of neighborhoods and businesses,” she said. “I wonder if this master plan addresses traffic concerns.”
Resident Diane Lauricella called for an additional industrial zone study, which Director of Planning and Zoning Steve Kleppin was already in the budget for this upcoming year.“What we’re doing is by not developing industrial — we’re putting more of a burden on residential,” she said.
The Planning Committee voted unanimously to send it to the Common Council for its second meeting in September on Tuesday, September 24 to allow the rest of the members more time for review.

Hartford’s $23M Arch Street apt. complex completed
Joe Cooper
The fourth and final phase of Hartford’s Front Street District is now complete with the recent opening of a new $23 million apartment complex.
Residents of the 53-unit, 81 Arch St. apartments overlooking UConn’s Hartford campus began moving in Aug. 1, said Peter Christian, director of development and acquisitions for Greenwich-based HB Nitkin Group, the project’s developer.
Christian said 60 percent of the units have been leased and 40 percent are currently occupied.
The complex includes a mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments, and has 11,000 square feet of street-level retail and commercial space. No retail tenants have been signed there, Christian said Thursday.
The development was also backed by a $1 million state grant for environmental cleanup and other work at the site.
The project represents HB Nitkin Group’s second major apartment development downtown. It also built the nearby Front Street Lofts, which debuted in 2015 with 121 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartment units.
The Lofts have consistently had an occupancy rate of over 90 percent, according to CRDA.
The Front Street District, which is part of the larger Adriaen’s Landing revitalization project, has been in the planning and development phases for more than two decades. After years of delays, its final completion represents a major milestone for downtown Hartford.

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