NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk’s newest Planning Commissioner was urged Tuesday night to do something that others are apparently not doing – take a hard fought-for plan seriously.
Two members of the public took to the microphone in the Common Council chamber to urge Bill Dunne and other members of Norwalk’s government to consider the Plan of Conservation and Development.
“I am sure we all prefer to decide the future of Norwalk based on the studies of a legion of experts rather than than the misplaced aspirations of a few developers,” former Planning Commissioner Leigh Grant said.
The plan, which is mandated by the state, was effective July 3, 2008. It has come to the attention of the public because of the recently pulled application to put a BJ’s Wholesale Club on Main Avenue.
“When the BJ’s application came up I soon realized that even though we are five years in to the POCD, some, possibly none, of its expert studies and plans had been implemented,” Grant said.
The POCD calls (on page 37) for the implementation of the recommendations of the Westport-North-Main Corridor Study and Plan, which was referenced by Zoning Commissioner Mike Mushak over and over again as he questioned Attorney Frank Zullo about the BJ’s application. The plan recommends (on page 1) that the size of an individual retail store on Main Avenue and Main Street be limited to 10,000 square feet.
Corporation Counsel Robert Maslan informed Mushak that the recommendations in the plan had not become zoning regulations, and were therefore moot. Some observers of the meetings have commented that other zoning commissioners did not seem to be aware of the studies and plans before Mushak began protesting that they were being ignored, even though the city has paid a significant amount of money to get the documents.
The issue was discussed Monday by the Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations. Diane Cece said a plan of conservation and development is required by the state every 10 years. It must comply with state statutes.
“It ends up becoming what some people will say is the bible of conservation and development in the city and others will go to the other end of the spectrum and say it’s merely guideline,” she said. “We have this balancing act” when it comes to defining how the study is used.
Grant described herself as a former representative to the South Western Regional Planning Agency. The Hour describes her as “a registered Republican who says she votes like an independent.” Moccia replaced Grant and Democrat Lee Levey on the Planning Commission with Republican Victor Cavallo and Democrat Joel Zaremby in 2008.
“Our planning commission spent a lot of time on virtually every word, idea and sentence of the POCD,” she said Tuesday. “It was a public process with its roots in the previous POCD, overlaid with the expert studies, staff leadership and citizen participation. The process included three public hearings, approval of the Planning Commission and the Common Council. The end result was submitted to Southwest Regional Planning Agency and found to be, quote, consistent with the plan, unquote.”
Large areas of Norwalk are vulnerable because they are areas of great change, which is why they were studied, she said.
“These professional plans and studies on which the POCD are based were meant to enhance the quality of life of all the citizens of Norwalk,” she said, “not for the specific imposition of one application, one store, one development. The expert plans evaluate land use, transportation, urban design and economic development. They plan for pedestrians, bicyclists and automobiles. Frankly, they plan for people in a supportive environment and they are long sighted, not short sighted.”
Another Norwalk citizen also urged Dunne to take the plan seriously.
“Work to enact POCD that will give guidelines and direction to the city to follow,” Dan Grundman said. “I am not interested in what has gone on in the past, I am asking that you pick up the POCD now and go forward with it.”