Updated, 11 p.m., videos added.
NORWALK, Conn. — The SoNo Collection steamrollered forward Thursday with more nods of approval from Common Council members, this time for the “underpass” design and the plans for public realm space.
Councilman Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) was reassured at the Planning Committee meeting by consultant Steven Cecil that, although the schematics for the underpass seemed to be “white, white, white,” there is much variation to make it appealing, but not to the point that it will be too elaborate for North Water Street drivers.
Videos of the presentations at end of story.
The sculpture garden will give people a great feeling when they exit the mall’s northwest corner and, while public interior spaces will sometimes be used for commercial purposes, General Growth Partners (GGP) is way over on its public realm requirement, GGP Senior Planner Doug Adams said.
The plans were passed to the full Council for approval, with Hempstead abstaining on the public realm plan.
Adams said GGP is required to have 55,000 square feet of public realm but has designed 80,000 square feet.
“This to me is satisfying. One, it’s a public space and that doesn’t even include a lot of the concourse, which is yet another 100-and-some-thousand square feet. I mean, they’re open and much more available to the public than a typical office building or a residential building, which I think is key to stitching this downtown upper and lower West Avenue together,” Adams said
Plus, there’s variety, he said.
“If, for some reason someone says, ‘This isn’t quite what I had in mind for public realm,’ there is still an abundance of space, a buffer so to speak, that allows, we think, everybody to find something here in the variety of public realm,” Adams said.
Architect Paul Madden described a sculptural green wall on the northern corner of North Water Street that would provide a “great entryway.” The rooftop garden is designed to give the best view of Long Island Sound that is possible and will be usable year round, he said.
“No one asked for it and you did it, so, kudos,” Planning Committee Chairman John Kydes (D-District C) said.
Council members asked if there is specificity in the language of the agreement when it comes to public realm; Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan said Corporation Counsel has worked out a code of conduct.
“We wanted to make clear that public realm is just like a city park,” Adams said. “You can’t go into a city park and do anything you want. … If people came in and said we are going to have a big protest here today, well, that’s not going to work.”
Hempstead said he was disappointed in the design for the North Water Street overpass.
“I thought there was a great opportunity with modern technology, lighting, etc., that the ceiling of the underpass would give it a sense, somewhat, of space,” Hempstead said. “The way I am reading it, unless I am reading it wrong, the only thing that is happening with the bottom of the deck, or the top of the ceiling over the entire underpass, is it’s getting painted white.”
“There are parts of it that would be white but there are parts of it that would have different characteristics, too,” said Cecil, of The Cecil Group. “It’s a very complex ceiling that’s been designed to create quite a lot of interest, I think… that is one of the aspects that is dramatically improved from where it was at CMSP (Concept Master Site Plan) level.”
The plan is within urban renewal plan guidelines, which stress connectivity and vitality, he said.
Pedestrians will be much safer with the current plan he said, explaining, “There is now a continuous, effectively straight connection with sidewalks on both sides of the street.”
The walls along the façade will have a “complex architectural screening and graphic art approach” that will “really animate” them, and GGP has put much thought and energy into air quality, Cecil said.
The parking decks need to be ventilated and there are two designs that are being studied to see which is best, he said. The overhead driveway, or bridge, has been designed to be built with thin steel and, “We think the overall effect is a far more open feeling and will have more light than the original proposal would be, which is what our goal was,” he said.
Indirect lighting is inlaid in a series of bands, with accent lights shining on columns, he said.
“I think the accent lighting is going to help a lot. It will not be plain,” Cecil said.
Councilman Tom Livingston (D-District E) asked about possible discoloration on the walls from vehicle exhausts.
That’s one reason for the air handling, Cecil said.
“I think we have, with a proponent like this, unlike some kinds of facilities – I can think of a few train stations that are not maintained… there is going to have to be maintenance to make sure that is kept up,” Cecil said.
The area is important to GGP, Sheehan said, concluding, “I think GGP is looking at this underpass as really the driving entrance of the facility in its total.”