Norwalk Inn Breaks
Ground on Phase One of Expansion Project
September 1, 2011
Contrary to many predictions, the historic
John House withstood Hurricane
Irene's fury over the weekend. But it's not
the first time the landmark building had
beaten the odds, and on Tuesday afternoon
the community turned out to commemorate its
Located at 93 East Avenue, it was one
of the few buildings to survive the burning
of Norwalk by the British Army in 1779 and
has long been among the oldest structures in
the city. It was first listed on the
National Register of Historic
places in 1986.
From 2001 to 2009, however, the Grumman-St.
John House was subject to political and
legal wrangling between the Norwalk Inn’s
owners and local preservationists. The
hotel, which bought the neighboring property
in 2000, had pushed for plans to demolish
the home in order to expand its existing
Last year State Senator Bob Duff (D-Norwalk)
and State Representative Larry Cafero
(R-Norwalk) helped work out a compromise
plan, one that called for both a
multi-million dollar hotel expansion and the
Grumman-St. John House’s continued
existence. The agreement was approved by
representatives from the hotel,
preservationists, and area neighbors before
being ratified by City Hall.
On Tuesday hotel management, neighbors, and
community leaders all turned out for a
groundbreaking event that marked the
official beginning of the expansion /
At the event State Representative Cafero
said that "we can't believe we are here.
This is a thrill. As Bob and I have said
many times- this was quite a
challenge. We didn't always enjoy it, but it
was so rewarding." He explained that dozens
of participants met over a 13-month period
to work out plan details. "They said that we
could never do it, but all of us made
Tod Bryant, president of the Norwalk
Preservation Trust, also spoke at the
groundbreaking. "I cannot tell you how
emotional this moment is for me. There was a
years-long struggle that went from people
being adversaries to groups working together
and understanding each other's points of
view." He added, "it's a powerful thing, the
idea that our city's past can get so many
people working toward a single goal. This
home will remind us not only of our history,
but of the process that got us here."
In addition to State Senator Duff and State
Representative Cafero, Bryant singled out
Richard Moccia and Common Council
Nicholas Kydes for praise.
In addressing a crowd of more than 50 near
East Avenue, Mayor Moccia stated that "it
goes to show what can happen when people
with different points of view sit down and
coordinate. I know Nick Kydes originally
asked to bring people together, and then
Senator Duff and Representative Cafero took
the bull by the horns." He added with a
laugh, "maybe these guys can go down to
Washington and figure out what they are
doing wrong because they did it right!"
The mayor went on to say that "on a personal
note, I am so happy for (Inn co-owners)
Chris Handrinos and
George Katsaros. I knew them on a
personal level before I became mayor. I know
that there are no better business people in
this community, and once everything is done
this will be a jewel for the visitors and
residents of our hometown."
Phase One of the project, which involves
landscaping, will take place over the next
few months. Advocates believe that the
introduction of dozens of new trees, shrubs,
and fences along the property lines will
improve a neighborhood which involves more
than 60 Norwalk families living on Morgan
Avenue, Colonial Place, and
Buckingham Place. Extensive renovations to
the Grumman-St. John building are scheduled
to begin early next year.
State Senator Duff said that "when this is
all done the neighbors are going to have
beautiful landscaping, the Grumman-St. John
House will be restored to its original
beauty, and, because the Norwalk Inn will be
able to serve more guests, it will create
jobs and pay more taxes to the city," Duff
said. "It's a win-win-win.”
"We didn't do this because it was in our job
descriptions as a State Senator or State
Rep. We did this because it's for Norwalk.
It can improve Norwalk."
New Landscaping Will Come First, Followed
by Grumman-St. John House Restoration and
Norwalk Inn Expansion
The (Norwalk) Hour
August 30, 2011
Expansion of The Norwalk Inn & Conference
Center and the restoration of the adjacent
Grumman-St. John House- projects once
deemed incompatible- got under way on
Tuesday with a ceremonial groundbreaking
attended by nearly 100 hotel
representatives, area neighbors, and
Starting in 2001 the Norwalk Inn's owners
had sought to expand its hotel facility by
razing the historic building at 93 East
Avenue. The Norwalk Preservation Trust
opposed the move and years of legal battles
ensued before State Senator Bob Duff (D-25)
and State Representative Lawrence F. Cafero
Jr. (R-142) helped craft a compromise
agreement last year. As a result, a
three-phase plan now calls for the addition
of new landscaping between the Inn and its
neighbors, the restoration of the
Grumman-St. John House, and the addition of
a third story to the hotel.
State Senator Duff was in attendance at the
groundbreaking that officially kicked off
the expansion / renovation project. In
speaking to the upbeat crowd along East
Avenue, he made reference to a future with
an improved neighborhood, a more beautiful
Grumman-St. John landmark, and a hotel
capable of adding new city jobs and tax
revenues. State Senator Duff dubbed the plan
" a win-win-win."
State Representative Cafero, who was also in
attendance at the groundbreaking, stated
that "the [negotiation] process was tough.
There were times we didn't enjoy it, but it
was so rewarding. Today is really the icing
on the cake."
At the event Norwalk Mayor Richard A. Moccia
made light of the years of extended
wrangling that proceeded the new plan. "I
said that we would probably have a hurricane
hit before [an agreement] would ever
happen!," referring to this weekend’s tropical
storm. "But it's a great day and it goes to
show what can happen when people of
different points of view sit down and
Tod Bryant, who lives on nearby Morgan
Avenue, fought for years to save the
Grumman-St. John House, which dates back to
the Revolutionary War era. Bryant said that
"this was a struggle that went from people
being pitched adversaries to groups working
together. Many thanks to Bob and Larry and
the neighbors and the mayor and everybody
Sen. Duff & Leadership that Works
The (Norwalk, CT) Hour editorial
October 26, 2010
As many Norwalkers know,
our hometown had long been afflicted with a
business-activist standoff that has hurt not
only the parties involved, but our entire
city. However, with the help of two key
leaders, a situation that engendered so much
past confrontation & frustration can
transition into a future based on compromise
In many ways the problem
dates back to 2001, when the owners of the
Norwalk Inn bought an adjoining property at
93 East Avenue. In order to allow for a
new hotel wing the Inn planned to demolish a
worn-out building sometimes known as the
'Grumman / St. John House', but the plan was
immediately opposed by a group called the
Norwalk Preservation Trust (NPT), which
argued that the house was an important part
of the city's historic legacy.
By 2009 the Norwalk Inn /
NPT disputes had dragged on through no less
than eight years of bureaucratic wrangling
and court battles, thereby producing a legal
limbo that was a detriment to both sides;
with the house falling into a state of
terrible disrepair, the hotel couldn't make
any money off its investment, any more than
the NPT could see any improvement work.
The ongoing debacle
affected all of Norwalk. One of the most
visible houses in our hometown, standing on
our most busy street, was a civic
embarrassment widely known as 'the East
Avenue Eyesore'. And in the last couple of
years, when our city economy has needed
investment more than ever, some of our most
prominent businessmen were spending money on
nothing but go-nowhere lawsuits.
It was a terrible
situation that cried out for a better way.
Thankfully, we found it. With the prompting
of Councilman Nick Kydes and Democratic
leader Bobby Burgess, we gained the
assistance of State Representative Larry
Cafero and State Senator Bob Duff.
Starting in August of
last year Representative Cafero and Senator
Duff volunteered to mediate a new
negotiation process between the Norwalk Inn
and NPT, a process that would entail far
less suing and far more talking. In dozens
of meetings over the following year, the two
politicos communicated with both sides,
clarifying the issues, identifying areas of
common ground, pointing out realistic
compromises, and setting out step-by-step
The parties eventually
formulated a detailed plan that can deliver
a landmark renovation project for 93 East
Avenue while providing an alternative means
for the Norwalk Inn expansion. When the plan
was recently ratified by the City Hall, we
all moved from a 'lose-lose' scenario to a
For the Grumman St.
John-House, the new plan calls for a
first-rate rehabilitation and
beautification. The hotel envisions a time
when the building will feature extended-stay
hotel suites, thereby acting as both a
historical landmark for the city and a
strong asset for the owners; both
architectural and business purposes win when
we have new gateway to the Town Green.
Just as important, the
Cafero-Duff plan allows for the Norwalk
Inn's five-million dollar investment in
first-class infrastructure and service.
We expect the Norwalk
Inn's new expansion to create dozens of new
jobs and to draw approximately 7,000-8,000
new guests per year. These visitors can
represent a much-needed 'shot in the arm' to
the local economy by delivering new
partnerships with local businesses, new
customers for local attractions, and new tax
revenues for the city's coffers.
Pretty good news, all in
all, but almost as remarkable was the
negotiation process that got it started.
Think about the context
for Representative Cafero and Senator Duff.
From the start, they contributed their
services without publicity and without pay.
They had no personal stake in the eventual
outcome. As veterans of two rival political
parties, they knew that any compromise
solution could risk alienating their own
supporters. Surely they had more enjoyable
things to do than listen to the squabbles of
two bitter antagonists.
And yet, over the many
months, they showed up in the early morning
hours, selflessly giving up the time and
energy they could've otherwise devoted to
their own schedules. In the end they
succeeded where many others refused to even
As far as I am concerned,
Representive Cafero and Senator Duff's role
in the Norwalk Inn-NPT negotiations was an
example of public service at its finest. In
an era when too many office-holders choose
to take posture and play politics, these two
chose to roll up their sleeves, tackle a
tough issue, and produce some real results.
leadership that works. Norwalk can be a
better place because of it, and if we had
more of that spirit it in Hartford and
Washington, our state and nation would be
better off, too.
Norwalk Inn Will
Expand Into Grumman-St. John House
The (Norwalk, CT) Hour
August 12, 2010
Calling it a "win-win" situation, local
and state officials applauded a compromise
agreement between the owners of the Norwalk
Inn & Conference Center and preservationists
over the future of the Grumman-St. John
During a Thursday press conference Attorney
General Richard Blumenthal put the final
signature on the settlement
agreement between the Inn and the Norwalk
Preservation Trust, thus halting a four-year
lawsuit intended to prevent the razing of
the Grumman-St. John House.
That agreement will allow the Inn- which
owns the dilapidated Grumman-St. John House
at 93 East Avenue- to renovate the building
that has been on the National Register of
Historic Places since 1986, provided the
proposed improvements make it through the
city's zoning process.
Zoning approvals will allow the Inn to
restore the house to its Revolutionary
War-era grandeur and convert it into seven
or eight extended-stay, suite-type rooms.
They would also give permission for the Inn
to expand to add up to 40 more rooms, and
provide visual buffering around the Inn from
neighbors on surrounding streets.
State Rep. Larry Cafero (R-142) and State
Sen. Bob Duff (D-25) spearheaded the
compromise that ended nearly a decade of
"Today is an exciting day in Norwalk," said
Cafero. "A year ago almost to the day, Bob
Duff and I agreed that East Avenue had a
black mark on it (with the rundown house),
and its use was subject to a lawsuit. Bob
and I thought we'd give a try to bring the
parties together. We found common ground,
and this is a win-win-win for everybody. We
structured a solution to the problem that is
acceptable to the owners of the Inn, the
Norwalk Preservation Trust, and- most
importantly- the neighbors."
Duff bristled at the idea that he and Cafero
had to bury some perceived hatchet to help
reach this compromise. "We are not political
rivals," Duff said. "We are Norwalk natives,
born and raised here. We love this
community. There was a black mark on the
city for 10 years, and we worked together to
find a solution."
Inn managers Chris Handrinos and George
Katsaros were happy with the outcome.
"Representative Cafero and Senator Duff
helped find a solution to this problem,"
Handrinos said with Katsaros next to him at
the podium. "In dozens of meetings, they
worked to clarify the issues, identify areas
of common ground, point out possible
compromises, and set out step-by-step plans.
In time, we formulated a plan that can
deliver sorely needed economic growth and a
landmark renovation project, not to mention
a significant neighborhood improvement
Handrinos and Katsaros filed their zoning
application on Thursday. Duff said a public
hearing before the Zoning Commission on the
project would likely occur in October or
Zoning Panel to Review East Ave. Plans
The (Norwalk, CT) Hour
August 22, 2010
A plan allowing The Norwalk Inn & Conference
Center to expand and the nearby Grumman St.
John-House to be restored to it original
grandeur will get it first official vetting
On Sept. 2, the Zoning Commission's Plan
Review Committee will begin its review of
the site plan, which calls for adding a
third floor to the Inn at 99 East Ave., and
restoring the Grumman-St. John House at 93
"Everybody gets something out of this. What
we get is the Grumman-St. John House
rehabilitated to the Secretary of the
Interior's standards, so the house will once
again be the gateway to the (Norwalk Town)
Green," said Tod Bryant, Norwalk
Preservation Trust president. And the Inn
"always wanted a third story, so this is
what they get, which is a huge increase in
value to their property."
The site plan represents the end of months
of negotiations between the Inn and
Preservation Trust, which had been locked in
a legal battle for years over the fate of
the Grumman-St. John House.
The house has been on the National Register
of Historic Places since 1986 as part of the
Norwalk Green Historic District
and, according to preservationists, its core
dates back to the Revolutionary War era.
Peter Handrinos, Inn spokesman and son of
hotel co-owner Chris Handrinos, said the
legal battle prevented the Inn from updating
its property. He said the Inn, while modern
and attractive inside, remains dated in
appearance on the outside.
"Right now the hotel exterior doesn't look
significantly different than it did when it
was opened in 1955," Handrinos said. "In the
future we're going to completely change
that. Among many other things, we're going
to add a whole new facade. It's going to be
something beautiful and, hopefully, it will
be recognized as the finest independent
hotel in New England.
Handrinos said the plans call for stucco
facing, new windows, cast-iron
ornamentation, a Mansard roof and other new
Under the expansion, the Inn will add a
third story above all three wings, adding 37
rooms to the existing 72-room structure. The
third level will feature a Mansard roof and
dormer-style windows. The rear parking lot
will be reconfigured. Extensive landscaping
will be added between the property and
abutting residential properties on Morgan
Avenue, Colonial Place and Buckingham Place,
according to plans drawn by Jozsef Solta
Architects of New Canaan.
The Grumman-St. John House, meanwhile, would
be rehabilitated and house seven
extended-stay suites for guests of the Inn.
Handrinos envisions corporate executives or
house-hunting couples staying several weeks
or months in the rooms. He noted that the
restored house will be "one of the more
significant historical restorations
Connecticut has ever seen."
To advance, the larger plan requires a
zoning change. The front portion of the Inn
property lies within the East Avenue Village
District but the rear portion of the
property, upon which the Inn itself sits,
lies in a B Residence Zone. The proposed
re-zoning would extend the village district
zone eastward to include the Inn.
In a related matter, zoning regulations for
the village district would be modified to
permit a hotel or inn that is "up to three
stories and 35 feet in height when located
on a parcel of three acres or more."
Handrinos said the entire development plan-
expanding the inn, restoring the Grumman-St.
John House, adding landscaping and improving
the parking lot- will be a "multi-million
Bryant said the Preservation Trust will pay
for a third-party review of the restoration
plan for the exterior of the Grumman-St.
John House to ensure the restoration
conforms with the Secretary of the
For years, Inn owners Chris Handrinos and
George Katsaros sought to raze the
Grumman-St. John house to build a
40-room expansion to their business. The
Preservation Trust sued the Inn owners to
prevent demolition of the house. State
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal later
joined the lawsuit on the side of the
At a news conference on August 12,
Blumenthal put the final signature on the
settlement agreement between the Inn and the
Preservation Trust, halting a four-year
lawsuit intended to prevent the razing of
the Grumman-St. John House.
State House Republican Leader Lawrence F.
Cafero Jr. and State Senator Bob Duff
spearheaded the compromise that ended nearly
a decade of squabbling.
Connecticut Inn Agrees To
Restore 1780's House
September 2, 2010
A long-neglected house in Norwalk, CT, will
be restored, thanks to a settlement
agreement signed last month.
The Norwalk Inn & Conference Center, which
has owned the adjacent circa-1780
Grumman-St. John House since 2001, applied
for a demolition permit in 2006, hoping to
expand its hotel property, but a state judge
granted a temporary injunction against
demolition in 2007.
After years of litigation, the Inn agreed to
a settlement and committed to restore the
structure, part of the city’s National
Register-listed Norwalk Green Historic
District. Locals have been concerned about
the run-down house's condition for
almost a decade, says Tod Bryant, president
of the Norwalk Preservation Trust, which
filed a lawsuit under the state
environmental protection act four years ago.
The Legal Battle
The lawsuit leading to the settlement was
brought to enforce Connecticut’s strong
preservation law, which requires adopting
"feasible and prudent" alternatives to avoid
harming historic properties. But the
litigation was not for the faint of heart.
The case required nine grueling days of
testimony over the holidays in 2006 and
2007, then a one-year wait before the
injunction was issued, followed by a series
of later hearings to enforce compliance with
the court's order. The Connecticut Attorney
General intervened on behalf of the State
Historic Preservation Office, and the
National Trust and the Connecticut Trust
filed an amicus brief. "It was a tremendous
team effort, and the role of the attorney
general's office was especially heroic in
getting to this point," said Elizabeth
Merritt, the trust's deputy general counsel.
"We are delighted by this outcome."
"I was excited and relieved at the same
time," said Bryant of the August 12
settlement. "There were so many other people
in Norwalk and around the state who were
interested and who stepped up to this
Two of those people- a state senator and a
state representative- were particularly
influential in crafting a compromise. In the
past year Sen. Bob Duff and Rep. Lawrence
Cafero met with Inn officials to discuss
alternatives to demolition.
"This was truly a situation where, by
getting everyone to sit down together, we
were able to work out a plan that was
beneficial to everyone involved," Senator
Duff said in a statement.
Under the agreement, the Norwalk Inn will be
able to add a third floor and 37 rooms (a
solution that required special zoning
approvals) and the Grumman-St. John house
will be restored as extended-stay hotel
Restoration should begin next year, after
zoning approvals are granted, said hotel
spokesman Peter Handrinos. "We want to go on
with our lives. We felt it was a pretty good
compromise, one that allows most everyone to
get a better deal. The status quo didn't
work for anybody."
Samuel Grumman built the post-and-beam house
during the Revolutionary War. The British
burned most of it down in 1779 but it was
rebuilt during the 1780's.
"The agreement saves the house and improves
the look of the Inn itself," Bryant says.
"The entire neighborhood is going to be the