Community News

Women Seek to Establish New Swap Shack

Four energetic women are seeking to bring back a swap service similar to the old Norfstrom’s, formerly located at the transfer station. Their goal is to save the money it would cost the town to dispose of those items and to satisfy those who like to see useful things reused. 

Immediately after the Norfstrom’s container was removed from the transfer station last fall, these women began planning to resurrect the service.

The Norfstrom’s trailer, leased by Norfolk NET, ran into problems through a lack of adequate supervision. Items were left outside the trailer during off hours, materials that were often trash. The selectmen ended the service last year.

“Their intentions were good, but they didn’t have enough volunteers,” said First Selectman Matt Riiska. 

Susan Sloan, head of the ad hoc committee, approached Riiska to discuss a new recycling effort. “We realized all the problems from before and we talked to Jim [Powelzyk, the transfer station attendant] and Matt,” she said. “We didn’t want to do anything without their blessing.”

To raise funds, Sloan started retrieving recyclable bottles and cans from the waste stream. “You wouldn’t believe the number of bottles and cans people throw away, even at 10 cents a can,” she said. The effort has raised almost enough money to buy a trailer valued at $2,800 to $3,600. 

Shelving will be installed and it will be painted, perhaps with a mural on the side. The bin will be renamed the Norfolk Swap Shop and only Norfolk residents with transfer station permits can bring items.

“We don’t want people using it to get rid of their bulky waste without paying a fee. If it’s garbage, you know where it goes,” Sloan said. “People must be respectful of others’ hard work, or it will go away.”

Sloan stressed that there is still much work to do. Signage and a pamphlet will be developed listing guidelines. Everything will be stored inside, and recyclables will be restricted to small items.

The women plan to be onsite during warmer months and to close in the winter. “We are trying to keep it fun,” Sloan said.

Riiska and Selectman Henry Tirrell voted at Wednesday’s selectmen’s meeting to allow the project to go forward. Selectman Sandy Evans, who is opposed to it, abstained. She objected based on past experiences and did not like the selectmen reversing a previous decision.

“It soured a lot of people before because of how it was run,” Riiska said at the selectmen’s meeting. “I know Susan is clear about how it will be handled, but we will keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t get messy and burden the staff.”

The ad hoc committee will give the container to the town if the project does not work. 

Newsletter Editor

Region 7 Students Plan Special Plant Sales

WINSTED—Northwestern Regional School’s Agricultural Education Center will be the site of Saturday Plant Sales on May 11 and 18, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. There will be a large variety of plants to choose from, including hanging baskets, herbs, vegetables and bedding plants for containers and gardens.

Norfolk is among the four Region 7 towns. The school is located at 100 Battistoni Drive in Winsted.

The plants have been raised by students enrolled in the vocational agriculture department’s plant science program. 

Newsletter Editor

Board of Finance Approves Proposed Budget

After answering a handful of questions, the Board of Finance approved the $9.1 million town budget proposed for the 2024/25 fiscal year. There will be a Town Meeting at Botelle School on Monday, May 13, at 7:00 p.m., for townspeople to vote on whether or not to accept the budget. A special meeting of the Board of Finance, to set the mill rate, will follow immediately.

Susan MacEachron

Löfvall Named Choral Union Director

Gabriel Löfvall has been named music director for the Litchfield County Choral Union (LCCU) and is busy planning its 125th anniversary concert, set for August 4 in the Music Shed on the Battell-Stoeckel Estate. 

Löfvall is planning a more modest program than the 2023 concert, the LCCU, members of Yale choral ensembles and regional singers performed Mendelssohn’s choral cantata, “Hymn of Praise.”

“Last year was a great collaborative effort with Yale,” Löfvall said. This year, the LCCU will be joined by the children’s choir, Chorus Angelicus, and its adult counterpart, Gaudeamus, as well as a small chamber orchestra.

“I love collaborations,” he declared. “It’s always a great win. I think Chorus Angelicus and Gaudeamus will help to diversify and rejuvenate the program.” 

As artistic director of both, he admits to an ulterior motive in including them. Part of the mission set by the LCCU board of directors is to attract more singers. “After Covid, we had half the numbers we had in 2018 and ’19,” he said. “We’re rebuilding notch by notch, but one of the ways I will do that is to bring in the young singers and any members of their families who can sing.”

The program for August 4 will be enjoyable to perform, Löfvall said. It will start with  two pieces by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, including his ‘Sparrow Mass,’ “It’s a glorious piece he wrote when he was 16,” he said. 

The second part of the program shifts to contemporary composer Ola Gjeilo. “He’s a little new age-y, but writes gorgeous choral music,” said Löfvall. “I will use three … beautiful pieces with lots of strings and piano and sustained notes. The singers will love it, I know.”

Löfvall and rehearsal accompanist Elizabeth Allyn will hold a meet-and-greet and initial rehearsal at Trinity Episcopal Church, 220 Prospect St., Torrington, on Thursday, May 16, at 7:00 p.m. Anyone can audition and those interested are invited to contact the LCCU or e-mail them.

The LCCU continues the vision of Carl and Ellen (Battell) Stoeckel, passionate music lovers who brought many music world luminaries to Norfolk in the 19th and early 20th century. It was established in 1899 in memory of Mrs. Stoeckel’s father, Robbins Battell, an outstanding figure in the musical life of Northwestern Connecticut.

Newsletter Editor

2.5 Percent Increase in Mill Rate Approved

The Board of Finance approved a 2.5 percent increase in the mill rate for the fiscal year 2024/2025 budget at its special meeting on April 23, a move expected to bring in $8,016,209 in property taxes. To keep the tax increase below 3 percent, the significant increases in the education components of the budget were partially offset by a larger than usual infusion from the town’s positive balance fund balance, no allocation of funds to the capital reserve and a projected savings of about $135,000 from retiring the defined benefit plan. Norfolk residents are urged to attend the final budget hearing Tuesday April 30 at Botelle School at 7:00 p.m. before voting on it at the town meeting to be held May 13.

The total cost to run the town will exceed $9 million in the next fiscal year, a significant increase over prior years due to education expense at Botelle School and Northwestern Regional School Number 7. Generally, about 50 percent of the town’s budget is devoted to education and 50 percent to town government and the public works department. In the upcoming year education expense will account for 53 percent of the total budget. The education budget is $4,795,573, which is a $572,380 increase. Botelle’s budget was impacted by the need to send a special education student to a private school at a cost of $185,000.  

Norfolk’s budget allocation for Regional School Number 7 increased by 19 percent due to the increase from 69 to 75 Norfolk students, as compared to a decrease in numbers from Colebrook, New Hartford and Barkhamsted. The cost sharing among the four towns fluctuates from year to year based upon the student population from each town.

A more detailed article on the budget will appear in the May issue of Norfolk Now.

—By Susan MacEachron

NET, Church to Sponsor Bingo

To bridge the tidal wave of loneliness in the U.S., Norfolk NET and the Church of Christ Congregational’s Fellowship and Growth Team will sponsor “Bring a Friend to Bingo” Saturday from 4:00 to 5:30 p.m. at Battell Chapel. It will be an alcohol-free, recovery-friendly event. Participants are asked to bring a snack to share. 

The organizers report that more than 60 percent of adults report feeling alone, while 57 percent of Americans say they eat all their meals alone. Young adults ages 18 to 22 are said to be the loneliest age group.   

Construction Costs for Housing Project Pending

NORFOLK—The Foundation for Norfolk Living group is still working toward construction of 10 net-zero homes. It has now installed the road to Haystack Woods, site of its new affordable housing development at the base of Haystack Mountain, and a new street sign has gone up, but final construction costs are pending.

The next steps will be assembling the construction bids and applying for a construction loan.

Foundation President Kate Briggs Johnson said the houses are designed to be highly energy efficient and to meet affordability standards. 

She said there is a new housing assessment toolkit available to communities as they assess their housing needs. The toolkit was developed in part by the Litchfield County Center for Housing Opportunity.

Among other things, it shows that Norfolk has 109 households (15.8 percent) that they pay more than 50 percent of their income in housing-related expenses. The recommended cap for housing expenses is 30 percent. 

By this standard, in 2023, a family of four earning $90,000 would be making less than 80 percent of the area median income and should pay only up to $27,000 a year for housing. Housing expenses include rent or mortgage, taxes, insurance, utilities and any homeowner association fees. 

This fact underscores the importance of developing more housing options that are affordable, Johnson says.

Funding will come from three sources: a federally funded Community Development Block Grant that flows through the state Department of Housing to the Town of Norfolk and thence to the foundation; a construction mortgage based on the sale prices of the houses, and a $1,800,000 Department of Housing grant.

The last grant is meant to cover the gap between the cost of construction and the price the foundation can sell the houses for as they will be deed restricted to keep them affordable. Buyers will own their houses, but the foundation will continue to own the land beneath them.

Newsletter Editor

EDC Hears of Housing Shortage for Workers

No town or city in Litchfield County currently has an adequate stock of affordable housing, Jocelyn Ayer, director of the Litchfield County Center for Housing Opportunity, told Norfolk Economic Development Commission members. Speaking at the commission’s April 11 meeting to discuss surveys of housing availability, she reported that, at present, 94 or more workers travel 45 minutes or more to get to their Norfolk jobs.

Noting that the EDC’s function is to promote business growth, Kate Briggs Johnson, president of the Foundation for Norfolk Housing, said it would be fundamental to know what percentage of people living in the town’s affordable housing work in Norfolk. The foundation has already created 12 affordable housing units and is in the process of building 10 new homes.

While Norfolk does not have as large a retail center as some communities, it was observed that many residents are self-employed and operate service businesses from their homes.

“Employers have been pretty outspoken about their inability to find and sustain a workforce,” said EDC co-chairman Michael Selleck.

“It won’t hurt to ask questions of employers and I think it would be great to hear from people who work in town as to whether they have housing,” said Ayer, “A significant number of people who live in town can’t afford to live in town. They are severely cost-burdened in situations that are not sustainable over time.”

The paucity of affordable housing in Norfolk was underscored by Lauren Valentino, principal of Botelle School, who said there have been families who wanted their children to attend the elementary school but could not find housing they could afford. Botelle has 59 students in six grades and there has been concern among town leaders about the low enrollment, as well as about young volunteers not coming into the ambulance squad and fire department.

There was lengthy discussion about what kind of a housing survey would be appropriate for Norfolk. No decision was reached but the EDC will pursue. 

In other business, the EDC members agreed to write a letter supporting the Norfolk Foundation’s application for a $460,000 grant to install an elevator in the Royal Arcanum building. The elevator would make the apartments on the second-floor handicap accessible.

Newsletter Editor

“Bloomin’ 4 Good” Promotion to Help Food Pantry

The Norfolk Food Pantry is encouraging Norfolk shoppers to pick up a bouquet at the Winsted Stop & Shop during May as part of the food chain’s “Bloomin’ 4 Good” promotion. Every time an appropriately marked $10.99 bouquet is sold, the Norfolk Food Pantry will receive $1.

The food pantry, in Battell Chapel, 12 Litchfield Rd., has experienced increased demand since covid struck. Demand increased even more when inflation soared following the pandemic. In fact, the pantry served 22 families this past Tuesday, a one-day record according to volunteer Marie-Christine Perry. 

Perry said food items particularly needed this week are chunky soups, cookies and children’s snacks.

Newsletter Editor

North Brook Trail Plan To Go to IWA, P&Z

The Rails to Trails Committee is nearing the end of a long journey as it prepares to construct the North Brook Trail along the former Central New England Railroad right-of-way. The trail will stretch from a parking lot off Route 272 North to Ashpohtag Road. 

The committee has labored for more than a decade to bring the project to fruition. In May 2023 it received a $399,725 Recreational Trails Program grant from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The grant represents about 80 percent of the total cost of construction, which has been estimated at $500,000. The balance is to be covered by grants, donations and in-kind services. 

“There’s been a lot of activity,” said First Selectman Matt Riiska, who serves as secretary for the committee. “We got an easement from the Archdiocese of Hartford and an encroachment permit from the DOT for the parking lot. Allied Engineering in Canaan has been working on the plan and that is nearly completed. We still have to go before the Inland Wetlands Agency and the Planning and Zoning Commission before we can start construction.”

North Brook Trail is designed for use by both pedestrian and pedal traffic. “The surface will be firm enough for strollers and even wheelchairs,” he said. “It will be handicap accessible and open for everyone to use.”

A long boardwalk will traverse a wet section created by an active beaver colony. “You used to be able to walk it,” Riiska reported, “but now it is pretty close to being a pond. Instead of getting rid of them, we incorporated the wetlands so people could observe the beavers.”

He predicted the trail will be ready to open next year, but that is not the end to the committee’s aspirations. “We hope to work with the Norfolk Land Trust and eventually connect to its Stoney Lonesome trail. Then on the other end, we want to bring the trail to the town’s center.” He estimated the total distance as about four miles.

Riiska termed the Rails to Trails Committee “an excellent group to work with … As many barriers as are put up, they really work to break them down,” he said.

The committee consists of Robert Gilchrest (chairman), Michelle Childs, Riiska, David Beers, Erick Olsen, Daryl Byrne, Andra Moss, Gary Scheft and alternates Marie Isabelle and West Lowe.

Newsletter Editor

Edited 4/23/24 to reflect the corrected list of names for the Rails to Trails Committee.