CNI News - Press Coverage

This page chronicles the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative and Washington Village in the news.

The Hour Insider logoNorwalk police salute longtime officer diagnosed with brain cancer
Pat Tomlinson, Dec. 16, 2019

NORWALK - For decades, community police officer Cesar Ramirez has been a constant presence in the lives of children attending Side By Side and Columbus elementary schools.

Each day, rain or shine, Ramirez could be found outside of the schools, waiting to assist the children and their families. With a grandfatherly demeanor and an incandescent smile that never seemed to leave his face, he was a beacon of calm in an otherwise bustling neighborhood.

Last week, Ramirez, 71, announced he is taking an extended medical leave from the Norwalk Police Department after he was diagnosed with brain cancer.

"It's been an honor to work with you these past 32 years. You've always demonstrated class, professionalism and, above all, a gentleman," Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik said as tears welled up in his eyes. "We're all here for you."

In honor of Ramirez's longstanding service to the community, the city declared Friday, Dec. 13, as "Cesar Ramirez Day." He was also given a key to the city.

"I do believe that God does things for a reason, and this is just another test in my life," Ramirez told the dozens gathered outside to celebrate his work for the community. "Stay strong, focus on your family and your health, do the right thing without expecting anything in return, and please respect others as you would like to be respected."

PDF Read more: Norwalk police salute longtime officer Ramirez
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Nancy on Norwalk logoRamirez honored by Norwalk Police, City leaders
By Nancy Chapman, December 14 2019

NORWALK, Conn. - Cesar Ramirez was given a warm, poignant send-off Friday at Norwalk Police headquarters, his sudden retirement marked by calls of "We love you."

"I still believe God does things for a reason," said Ramirez, who was recently diagnosed with brain cancer. "This is another reason, another test for my life. This new endeavor."

The crowd included city officials, numerous community leaders and many retired Norwalk Police officers, including former Deputy Chief Ashley Gonzalez, who flew in from Texas. Gonzalez is now chief of the Austin Independent School District Police Department. The brief ceremony was followed by a gathering at the St. Ann Club.

PDF Read more: Norwalk Police to honor ailing Ramirez
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Nancy on Norwalk logoNorwalk Police to honor ailing Ramirez
By Nancy Chapman & Harold Cobin,
December 11, 2019

NORWALK, Conn. - Norwalk Police Officer Cesar Ramirez, a 32-year member of the force, will be given a sendoff at 3 p.m. Friday. He has been diagnosed with brain cancer."It's a very sad situation," Mayor Harry Rilling said.

Ramirez, 71, joined the NPD in 1987, after seven years with the New York City Police Department. In August 2016 he received a Community Policing Award from the U.S. Attorney's Office, and was named Officer of the Month for organizing a vigil honoring five murdered Dallas Police officers.

As chairman of the Norwalk Housing Authority Board of Commissioners (on which he has served since 1992), Ramirez represents the Housing Authority on the Fair Housing Commission. He was also a Second Taxing District Commissioner from 2009-2016 until forced to choose between the Housing Authority and the Second District. He stated: "Housing has been my heart for so long. We have so many projects going on and I love this Commission. … You can see the effects when you deal with humans."

PDF Read more: Norwalk Police to honor ailing Ramirez
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The Hour logoNorwalk receives more housing vouchers for residents with disabilities
By Justin Papp11, Wednesday, December 4, 2019

NORWALK - The city's Housing Authority has received 27 housing vouchers to provide lodging for some of the city's at-risk groups.

Funding for the Mainstream Voucher Program was made available as part of the 2017 omnibus spending bill. It made $500 million available to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to enable people with disabilities, as well as their families, to find affordable housing. In 2018, Norwalk was awarded 19 vouchers, according to Norwalk Housing Authority Executive Director Adam Bovilsky. He predicted the 27 additional vouchers would be distributed in January.

"We look forward to working with our partner agencies to house and support 27 additional individuals and families with a disability here in Norwalk," Bovilsky said.

PDF Read more: Vouchers for residents with disabilities
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The Hour Insider logoTentative funds approved for new YMCA building in South Norwalk

NORWALK - The Board of Estimate and Taxation approved $1 million for a YMCA build-out on South Main Street.

With the addition of $200,000 from an appropriation from last August, Mayor Harry Rilling wrote in a memo to the Board of Estimate and Taxation, the city will match the YMCA's $1.2 million commitment toward the building's capital improvement plan. If the appropriation is approved by the Common Council, the new YMCA could open as soon as February.

The renovations on the building will take about $4.5 million to complete. The money contributed from the city comes from the $3.5 million given by Brookfield Properties, developers of The SoNo Collection, to help with the redevelopment of South Norwalk.

PDF Read more: Funds tentatively approved for YMCA
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Nancy on Norwalk logoNorwalk given high marks for LGBTQ equality; Housing Authority awarded vouchers; permit event Monday
By Nancy Chapman - November 30, 2019

The City of Norwalk scored 97 out of possible 100 points on the 2019 Municipal Equality Index as evaluated by the Human Rights Campaign, a press release said, touting this achievement: "In 2018, Norwalk scored a 71, and in 2019, scored a 97 - an increase of 26 points."

"The Municipal Equality Index (MEI) examines how inclusive municipal laws, policies, and services are of LGBTQ people who live and work there," the Human Rights Campaign states on its website. "Cities are rated based on non-discrimination laws, the municipality as an employer, municipal services, law enforcement and the city leadership's public position on equality."

PDF Read more: Norwalk LGBTQ equality voucher awards
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Nancy on Norwalk logoYMCA chosen to develop 'NEON building' into Norwalk community center
By Nancy Chapman - October 18 2019

NORWALK, Conn. - The old "NEON building" would be turned into a state-of-the-art community center under a proposal set to come forward to the Norwalk Common Council.

The Riverbrook Regional YMCA would put up $1.2 million and the City of Norwalk would contribute an equal amount from money collected from GGP as part of the approval of The SoNo Collection, to begin renovations of 98 South Main St., Mayor Harry Rilling and Riverbrook Regional YMCA Chief Executive Officer Robert McDowell said in a Thursday press conference. The YMCA is prepared to enter a long-term lease, after answering a Request for Proposals (RFP) a year ago.

PDF Read more: YMCA to develop Norwalk Community Center
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Nancy on Norwalk logoSome Norwalk photos
By Nancy Chapman - September 18, 2019

Ryan Park Sep 2019

NORWALK, Conn. - Today we bring you photos taken Tuesday in South Norwalk, showing the state of the Ryan Park construction and the progress made in building Soundview Landing phase II, the development replacing Washington Village.

Above is a view of a recently installed Ryan Park playground, with SoNo 19 Day in the background. The former is a Spinnaker development referred to as Maritime Village when it was going through the Zoning approval process in 2014.

The Norwalk Housing Authority's effort to replace its 136 public housing units at Washington Village was supported by a $30 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Choice Neighborhoods Initiative grant, awarded in 2014. The resultant Soundview Landing is a mixed income apartment complex, with one-third market rate housing, one-third affordable and one-third public housing. Phase I opened last year.

PDF Read more: Some Norwalk photos
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The Hour Insider logoNew Ryan Park to reflect South Norwalk neighborhood's roots while looking to future
Justin Papp - Aug. 17, 2019

NORWALK - It was hot Thursday afternoon in South Norwalk, and Walter Harris sat on an upturned milk crate in the shade of his Raymond Street driveway, just a few hundred feet from Ryan Park.

Other than the audible construction down the block on the next phase of the conversion of Washington Village housing projects to the mixed-use Soundview Landing, there was little activity around the dug-up park. Harris relished the relative peace - not just of the park, which has been closed for renovation since 2017, but of the gentrifying neighborhood - in what was once known by some as a hub for criminal activity.

"It was all drugs and stuff, way back," Harris said. "It's better now, it's nice and quiet."

PDF Read more: Ryan Park neighborhood reflects roots
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The Hour logoNorwalk Redevelopment Agency approves design for final Washington Village phase
By Kelly Kultys, Tuesday, August 13, 2019

NORWALK - With groundbreaking scheduled for this fall, the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency approved updated recommendations for phase three of the Washington Village replacement project.

"Washington Village phase three is hustling along to get them into construction," Susan Sweitzer, senior project manager for development for the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency. "They have finished their design and will be moving into their final permitting phase in September."

The plans for buildings D and E, the last two to be built, were sent out for peer review, which was done by the Harriman Group.

PDF Read more: NRA approves final WV design
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The Hour logoZoning Commission approves minor changes to Washington Village phase 3
By Kelly Kultys, Thursday, June 20, 2019

NORWALK - Construction at the site of the former Washington Village is "going very much according to plan," according to Michael Lozano, the senior project manager for Trinity Financial.

Lozano and members of his team gave the Zoning Commission an update on the status of the project while requesting a few approvals for updated plans for the final phase.

The first two buildings, which were a part of phase 1 are "100 percent" occupied, Lozano said Wednesday. The third building, considered phase two, is getting worked on now.

"That building is currently under construction," Lozano said. "That building is scheduled for completion in the spring of next year."

PDF Read more: Zoning Commission approves changes
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The Hour logoNew hotel sets May opening in SoNo
By Alexander Soule, Friday, April 26, 2019

Marriott International has set an unspecified day in May for the opening of its newest extended-stay hotel in Connecticut: the Residence Inn by Marriott South Norwalk, around the corner from the city's restaurant row on Washington Street.

Construction started nearly two years ago on the eight-story hotel that will have just over 100 suites, with the chain now including the Residence Inn by Marriott SoNo on its main reservations website with an "opening soon" notation.

Marriott has more than 800 Residence Inn locations, among the newest located in downtown Stamford that opened late last year after an extended delay stemming to an investigation and conviction of its original developer, John DiMenna, on charges of fraud, with the Stamford portfolio of DiMenna's Seaboard Properties getting auctioned off piecemeal in bankruptcy court.

PDF Read more: New hotel opening in SoNo
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The Hour logoNorwalk development projects on display for CT senator
By Kelly Kultys, Monday, April 15, 2019

NORWALK - From the Walk Bridge to the SoNo Collection Mall to the construction at Washington Village, Sen. Chris Murphy received a "bird's-eye view" of a variety of projects happening in the city.

"In this job, you need to make sure you know all the local opportunities so that if some money shows up at the federal level, you know where it best fits," Murphy said.

Mayor Harry Rilling, along with Tim Sheehan, executive director of the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency, Jessica Casey, chief of economic and community development, and Steve Kleppin, director of planning and zoning, took Murphy on a bus tour through the city to show off current construction and potential future sites.

PDF Read more: Norwalk development on display
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The Hour logoIn SoNo, a plan to bring people together with art
By Justin Papp, Thursday, March 28, 2019

Photo: Dennis Bradbury at her 22 Haviland Gallery
Dennis Bradbury at her 22 Haviland Gallery
Photo: Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media

NORWALK - For most of his life, Pierre Antoine has lived within a small radius in South Norwalk. But for the proximity, each space has been different.

When he first came with his family from Haiti to America, they moved into the former NEON house, directly next to Dennis Bradbury's 22 Haviland Gallery. The latter is where the young Antoine made lifelong friends and gained early exposure to art

In 2018, as the Washington Village Redevelopment began and buildings were razed, Antoine moved across the road with his family to Soundview Landing, the new, mixed-income apartment unit replacing the old housing project, as part of a federal Choice Neighborhoods Initiative grant.

"I think our main creative principal is unity in community. This is the rebirth of a neighborhood and we're looking for a piece of artwork that can bring people together," said Julio Pardo, a creative director and founder of a Norwalk-based firm who was contracted by the city to put out a call to artists, asking for a selection of art installation proposals for the redesigned park. Submissions accepted until April 21.

PDF Read more: In SoNo, a plan to bring people together with art
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The Hour logoClarke's showroom gets OK for mixed-use plans
By Kelly Kultys, Sunday, March 10, 2019

Photo: CNI 13 Day Street seen on left
Note: CNI 13 Day Street seen on left (Photo: Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media)

NORWALK - The Clarke Kitchen Appliance Showroom will have some more neighbors after the Zoning Commission approved Clarke Capital's mixed-use plans.

Their plans call for 40 residential units and almost 20,000 square feet of retail/showroom space on the block that runs along Elizabeth Street, from South Main Street to Day Street.

The main building, which will be on South Main Street, from the plan will be a five-story structure, with 29 apartments and the retail space. More than 10,000 square feet of the retail space will be for Clarke's existing showroom that has operated at the site since 2000. Clarke opened in 1955 as an appliance store and has grown into a wholesale distributor with showrooms across the New England area, including in South Norwalk.

"You actually have the primary retail tenant in place before construction and that's driving the construction, the opposite of about every apartment building that you've seen, which I think is a real positive," Attorney Adam Blank, who was representing the applicant, told the commission on Thursday.

PDF Read more and view photos: Clarke's showroom gets OK for mixed-use plans
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The Hour logoPublic housing: Once desired, now a decades-long decline in CT
By Justin Papp, Sunday, March 3, 2019

Mary Kingwood's home felt freshly settled.

The roomy first-floor apartment in a yellow house sits on a quiet street north of downtown - "up Norwalk," as Kingwood called it. On a winter morning, sunlight flooded through windows and a sliding glass door leading to a small porch, warming the kitchen and den. A TV sat atop a stand, encircled by plastic chairs - placeholders as Kingwood waited for her furniture to be delivered - and cardboard boxes lined the walls.

Kingwood, 73, likes her porch and the peacefulness she's found since moving two weeks ago into the Wilton Avenue home, which took her many months and multiple apartment visits to find with a Section 8 voucher.

Her search was narrowed by her congenital heart disease and the oxygen tank she must maneuver around her living space. Per her doctor's orders, only single-story, two-bedroom homes - for an aide, or her children, to watch her after she's had an episode - would do.
Several places had potential, but one had no closet space and another, she liked, "but they wanted water and electric and heat. Section 8 don't want to pay for that," Kingwood said.

PDF Read more and view photos: Public housing long decline in CT
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The Hour logoNorwalk police pursue new Community Outreach Vehicle
By Kelly Kultys, Monday, March 4, 2019

NORWALK - The Police Department wants to beef up its community outreach unit.

The department is in the process of purchasing and upfitting a "Community Outreach Vehicle" that will be used to provide information, a variety of resources and an avenue for the public to communicate with the officers, according to Deputy Chief Susan Zecca.

"We'll park it in the community, we'll have officers there to provide interaction," she told the Health, Welfare and Public Safety committee of the Common Council recently.

The committee approved the department's request to use up to $45,000 from the Choice Neighborhood Initiative Grant, which is administered by the Norwalk Housing Authority, to upfit the base van to include items like storage, countertops, a generator and an awning.

PDF Read more and view photos: Norwalk police pursue Outreach Vehicle
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The Hour logoAs Washington Village revitalization pushes forward, one family remains
By Justin Papp - Monday, January 7, 2019

NORWALK - Seeing the demolition in progress adjacent to Washington Village, and the boarded up windows in the project's still-standing buildings, FedEx trucks drive past the only apartment still inhabited. They assume the whole development is vacant.

That's a problem for Lucy Vallere, who has lived in Washington Village nearly 60 years and as of Thursday will be the lone dweller in final buildings slated to be razed. Vallere, now 63, has had a series of medical complications with her feet that have left her legs non-weight-bearing. She gets regular shipments of medical supplies that, as her neighbors have trickled out, have had to be diverted elsewhere, lest they be lost in the mail.

PDF Read more and view photos: WA pushes forward, one family remains
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