‘The city must change its ways’: Some Norwalk residents upset over West Rocks tree removal

NORWALK – With 18,000 square feet of trees cleared from the space between West Rocks Middle School and Sunrise Hill Condos, construction began on the $ 2.4 million soccer complex on the property.

For Peter Di Salvo, who lives on Sunrise Hill, deforestation was the final straw in a seven-year redevelopment along Aiken Street. Di Salvo visited the online forum Nextdoor.com to express his frustration at what he viewed as the lack of transparency and public opinion regarding tree removal and soccer field development.

Di Salvo’s criticism of the development began on October 17 when he noticed that many of the trees behind his apartment complex were wearing pink panties, indicating their imminent demolition.

“I’m pretty naive about how urban areas work and I thought if this is something really big they will surely let us know without realizing that it took years,” said Di Salvo. “It was pretty much a deal at the time.”

The football complex was first approved in 2018 under the capital budget of Mayor Harry Rilling. However, according to city documents, a developer was not selected until the summer of 2020. HI Stone & Son Inc. acquired the project in July for approximately $ 1.7 million.

The field will include a concession stand for $ 279,000, as well as lights and a new parking lot for $ 236,000, according to the documents.

“I’m still completely upset about why the city feels the need for the West Rocks football project in the first place,” wrote Di Salvo on Nextdoor. “West Rocks Middle School had two full soccer fields and one smaller field, not to mention a fourth smaller soccer field on the Lower West Rocks grounds.”

In addition to the tree removal, Di Salvo and other Sunrise Hill residents have raised concerns about the decision to use artificial turf for the field instead of real grass. The artificial turf decision was made in August under a $ 443,000 contract with Field Turf USA, Inc.

“It is frustrating and pathetic that the people charged with protecting the city and its longtime residents are giving greedy ‘visionaries’ the opportunity to change their landscapes forever,” wrote Ninette Halpin, a Norwalk resident at Di Salvo’s post.

During a July Joint Council meeting, Oak Hills Park Nature Advisory Committee Chair Audrey Cozzarin expressed her displeasure with the artificial turf proposal due to safety concerns about the infiltration and potentially poisoning synthetic material, Cozzarin said.

At the meeting, Councilor Kadeem Roberts reassured those in attendance that there are no confirmed health concerns related to rubber turf.

For Cozzarin, the main concern is the city’s willingness to remove large tracts of land and drive developments through government processes with little to no public input, she said.

“What it does is highlight that the city does not have effective communication with citizens,” Cozzarin said. “It seems like the city just looks like, ‘As long as these development projects comply with current zoning regulations, they just go through them.’ It doesn’t matter how many residents try to fight the town hall. “

In 2019, the city’s planning and zoning regulations were updated for the first time in over 30 years, according to the ministry’s website.

For Di Salvo, the soccer project is one of three recent developments that require deforestation, alongside transforming the lower field of All Saints Catholic School into luxury condominiums and developing the woods across from the Sunrise Hill complex, he said.

“I believe the city needs to change its behavior and send a letter to every address within one mile of a proposed project, within days of the project originally being listed on a city agenda, a budget proposal,” said Di Salvo. “Until changes are made to the process, we are at the mercy of zoning and planning. And as far as I can tell, their roles are inconsistent with my duties. “

According to Rilling, the city is working to replace trees removed due to construction or disease when possible and is confident of choosing the turf.

“While we have some concerns, we do our best to replace trees when they are removed,” said Rilling. “They talk a lot about some of the main streets. Where there used to be trees, perhaps because of a certain development, trees have been removed. “

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