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SoNo Collection concept plan scrutinized at Norwalk joint committee meeting

Planning Committee Chairman Doug Hempstead (R-At Large)

Norwalk Common Council Planning Committee Chairman Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) leads the joint meeting of the Planning Committee and the Redevelopment Agency on Tuesday in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. – Connectivity was a buzzword Tuesday as an architect and an executive explained their latest concept for a mall in SoNo.

In response to the release of General Growth Properties’ concept, Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan told Common Council members and Redevelopment Commissioners that there are always concerns with any new development and, in this case, he has a lot of doubts about the length of the “tunnel” proposed by GGP for The SoNo Collection. Sheehan said the overpass planned for North Water Street has been a source of conflict between the city and GGP; GGP Senior Planner Doug Adams said the “tunnel” is already as short as it can be, at 335 feet, given the needs of anchor Bloomingdale’s.

Sheehan and the city’s volunteer leaders also questioned the sidewalks planned for North Water. Suggestions were also made that GGP consider redesigning its “jewel box” storefronts to make them parallel with West Avenue, so they would blend in with the area better. GGP reps promised to get back to the city quickly – a pitch had been made to expedite the process further so as not to cause GGP to miss some important timing windows. Planning Committee Chairman Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) said the Council will likely vote Aug. 11 on a proposal to separate the Land Disposition Agreement issue from the Urban Renewal Plan issue in order to keep the process moving and allow GGP to go to Planning and Zoning as negotiations continue. It will be taken up again Aug. 25. This, in spite of some logistical problems, in what is normally a slow time of year.

“I think it would be insane if GGP doesn’t put all of its resources to get all of this answered,” Hempstead said. “To allow this to lapse until after an election, that would be insane.”

The joint meeting of the Redevelopment Agency and Council Planning Committee began with Attorney Larry Cafero explaining that the concept plan is limited to bulk and mass, that exterior details have not been worked out yet.

The plan has been worked out with general retail planning principles used industry-wide and published all over the world, he said. “Anchors drive the deal,” Cafero said. “… (Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s) did not sign up without some various general representations.”

That includes direct access and sight lines from one end to the other. But there’s more, he said – anchors either open in April or October. Miss one window and you wait another six months for the next, he said.

Since the Council and Redevelopment approved the general parameters to the Land Disposition Agreement amendment, there has been no contact between GGP and Council members or RDA commissioners, Cafero said. Rumors have developed that the behemoth GGP has gotten a little arrogant, he said, adding, “I want to assure this body that nothing could be further from the truth.”

“We knew that we could make something great out of this property,” GGP Senior Director of Design and Construction Mark Witte said. “… We looked for the absolute best architectural and engineering team that we could find, perhaps the best in the world.”

An artist's rendering of the overpass concept for North Water Street.

An artist’s rendering of the overpass concept for North Water Street.

Sheehan later said he agreed that RTKL Architects were top notch. But the “elephant in the room for me is basically the overpass over North Water Street. We have had a degree of conflict within our discussions amongst the public parties and the development team. I can’t support what they have come back with and I do not see the degree of necessity of what they have incorporated into the easement area as being critical elements, elements that would be deal killers associated with the uses they have incorporated there,” Sheehan said.

GGP insists that it needs 60 parking spaces in the easement area but has 3,000 in the project, Sheehan said. “To say that 60 spaces are absolutely critical and are a deal killer, I can’t deal with that,” he said.

Common Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) asked if the overpass could be made smaller.

“We already had to kind of show them that we are creating this window from the mall onto West Avenue and North Water Street,” Witte said. “That kind of breaks the continuity that the anchor is typically used to. They want something to continue the shopper towards their entry point. It’s going to be a challenge but, we can ask.”

“I don’t want you to be alarmed by the fact that we are coming back with some level of concern,” Sheehan said. “I don’t know of a major large-scale development that has occurred that we haven’t come back with some level of concern.”

Redevelopment has asked for more information, Sheehan said, specifically mentioning a desire for view from all angles so as to get an idea of the context of the development.

“Any overpass over North Water Street has a negative impact on the pedestrian environment at the street level that is below it,” Sheehan said. “We should be looking at recognizing that there is a need for that connection, have the connection be as limited as possible but not damaging to the project as a whole. I think the issues of the anchor having a reasonable connection into the mall is absolutely critical. I think that the parking bridges at all levels of the parking are necessary but they don’t have to occupy 352 linear feet.”

GGP has reduced the size of its overpass from 352 feet to 335 feet, Adams said.

“I am not sure it is worth the effort to take a look at the realignment of North Water Street, but maybe it is,” Sheehan said, trying to recognize the needs of the anchor in relation to the planned overpass.

Sheehan said the North Water Street overpass was much more of an issue, in his estimation, than the tunnel planned for West Avenue to accommodate southbound drivers trying to get to the mall. He expressed concern over the needs of pedestrians trying to cross North Water at the “slip ramp” planned by GGP for the south side of the property, to get drivers up to the second level of the parking garage.

A traffic study is nearly complete and will be shared with the Redevelopment Agency soon, Sheehan said. It was paid for by GGP, but commissioned by the city, Hempstead said.

Cafero asked that the Council consider separating the LDA from the urban renewal plan approval. Separating the two would send a signal to GGP that the city is willing to move ahead.

“That gives them some impetus to go back to Chicago and say we want to get the final design as quickly as we can,” Sheehan said.

Hempstead said he would send emails to see who is around and try to arrange committee meetings when things can be arranged to keep the ball rolling. “I am making an effort in the dead of summer to try and put a couple more committee meetings together,” he said.

SoNo Collection CMSP006

28 comments

Don't Panic July 22, 2015 at 6:50 am

As has been predicted here by others, now that the LDA is more or less approved, GGP is unwilling to change anything. Was this April or October issue included in the discussions when Planning and Redevelopment first agreed to an unprecedented process to provide an expedited approval? Or is it now being used to override the concerns of city officials?

Rod Lopez-Fabrega July 22, 2015 at 8:44 am

And the behemoth rolls on. It is clear that the concern about the width of the overpass is the last gasp of anything even vaguely related to questioning the validity of the entire project. At this point in time, latching on to the overpass as an issue looks mostly as an effort to get some modicum of concern on the record for future reference.

EveT July 22, 2015 at 9:58 am

A 335-foot overpass — that is the length of a football field. Gordon Tully offered some good ideas for making it less oppressive. Will they follow his suggestions?

Mike Mushak July 22, 2015 at 10:05 am

I simply do not see how a covered road and sidewalks in the extreme climate of New England, resulting from the 300-foot long and very high (30-foot minimum) overpass is a bad thing in and of itself. A couple of people seem irrationally obsessed about it, and the viability of the entire project may be compromised as a result.

First, there will be less rain, snow, and glaring sun for cars and pedestrians and cyclists to deal with on North Water, which is awesome in our extreme climate, and perhaps the ceiling can be animated with special effects like energy-efficient LED lights as seen here for example at a railroad tunnel in London, which are gaining popularity all over the world now:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ii4Ulj0NiS4.

However, I absolutely do agree that pedestrian and bike facilities and connections need to be improved, especially under the overpass on North Water and on West Avenue. The gap in the south sidewalk along North Water (formerly Reed) St. at the “slip-ramp” driveway entrance that goes up to the parking garage can easily be solved with a pedestrian-activated light-up crosswalk with flashing lights in the pavement as seen here:

http://www.streetfilms.org/seattle-crosswalk-tap-foot-lights-blink-cross-street/.

In fact, I can see all the crosswalks on North Water St. under the overpass being the light-up type , even the ones connected to traditional traffic lights. This would go far to promote pedestrian and cycle safety.

We need bike lanes on North Water, painted bright green, with green “bike boxes” at all intersections with advanced stop bars to promote safe turning for cyclists as well as improve safety for pedestrians.

We also need a northbound bike lane on the sidewalk level of West Ave., about 5 to 6 feet wide, just as the Cultural Trail in Indianapolis has done so well (I rode it last summer and can vouch for its success.) Here is a ink to it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=F4ykv0yrLWI

Note: the northbound bike route on West Ave only needs to be one-way, instead of the wider 2-way Cultural Trail shown in the link, since we have room for a bike lane southbound on West Ave. The sidewalk width can easily accommodate both bikes and pedestrians as well as future cafe space if needed, if the building facade was slightly altered to have a cantilever over the sidewalk which also helps with weather protection, and mimics the many successful arcades around the world. Eventually we will have bike lanes on the length of West Ave, and we need to plan them into this project since they were inexcusably ignored in the most recent expansion about 8 years ago.

Finally, I was also surprised to find out our Redevelopment Agency did not know what our DPW was comfortable with in terms of truck traffic and access to the two loading docks. GGP has shared their need for truck loading docks and their locations for months now, and it was surprising to find out last night that our Redevelopment Agency has not worked this access out yet with DPW. The main northbound loading dock access is via Crescent St., and the smaller southbound loading dock for the one anchor tenant on the south parcel is presumable accessed via Pine St. as GGP indicated last night, but the Redevelopment staff were still assuming trucks would use North Water St. Come on guys, get it together and communicate!

We only have thousands of construction jobs, 2,800 permanent jobs and millions in tax revenue, and Norwalk’s national reputation at stake here! And please get over the irrational obsession with the size of the overpass. Imagine all the money saved by the city in snow and ice removal, as well as the benefits of a huge public space protected from our extreme weather.

Last year, after visiting Indianapolis to ride their awesome bike lanes and enjoy the numerous cultural attractions on our car trip (with our bikes on the back of the car and our dog Coco in the bike basket), we headed south to Louisville KY, to check out there advanced bike lane system and urban design innovations.

The 4th Street Live complex in Louisville covered about 300 feet of a downtown street and turned it into an extremely popular retail/entertainment gathering place protected from the weather , as seen here: https://sp.yimg.com/ib/th?id=JN.gn2eW%2fIY1kERnvuQUNU%2fuA&pid=15.1&P=0

We also visited Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Cincinnati, Chattanooga, and Pittsburgh on that same 2-week car trip, and saw thousands of smart solutions in all of these cities where pedestrians, bikes, and cars all shared roads and added to the vibrant urban experience as all of these cities are rebuilding and correcting decades of decline. This isn’t rocket science. It just takes folks dedicated to finding smart solutions, and that goes for all the parties here including our city staff, GGP, and elected officials.

Lets not mess up this amazing opportunity to help the entire city with jobs and economic development, and become an attractive vibrant city again just like we once were at the height of the industrial era before our long 50-year decline.

Gordon Tully July 22, 2015 at 10:32 am

Please note that GGP has for the second time doctored a rendering to make things look better. In the rendering “View from Reed Street and West Avenue”, they have distorted the perspective to greatly enlarge the blue sky area. This makes the tunnel over North Water Street look more open than it is.

Do not believe any view published by GGP unless it is taken from a computer model of the actual project. A computer model would also allow you to make virtual tours through the project.

Gordon Tully July 22, 2015 at 12:39 pm

Mike, this is not a personal matter but a concern about the future of the city. You, Jackie, myself and any number of other people are vitally concerned about creating and maintaining urban vitality in SoNo.

You and I have very different views of what the mall will be like. Because GGP has published only doctored renderings, it is quite difficult to picture what the project will be like. We need a computer-generated model with walkthrough video. This is standard practice.

Creating a vital pedestrian environment is very tricky. There is a long history of failed attempts to turn streets into pedestrian malls. For every successful example, there are 10 unsuccessful ones. All the examples you have cited are urban areas that have retail on both sides of the street, in the heart of cities. In this case, the one block of retail proposed along West Avenue is isolated and one-sided.

At the north end, where the design shows a useless plaza next to the I-95 on-ramp, they are contemplating a fitness center. All the customers visiting the center would come by car and enter the building directly from the garage. There will be zero pedestrian activity at this end.

South of the strip on the east side of West Avenue and North Main is low-density development, including two churches and a row of townhouses, that may or may not be vitalized by new retail over time. For the near future there is no sense of urbanity until you get to the middle of North Main Street opposite the cinema. No one has any idea how many mall visitors will make the trip, especially in the winter. No idea.

The main problem is that the retail strip is one-sided. There is zero chance that the other side of West Avenue will be developed into humming retail, and in any case pedestrians would have to cross 5 lanes of traffic to get there.

The great majority of customers for the West Avenue retail will park in the garage. I find it inconceivable that they would be forced to walk 100 feet through an alleyway, out into the weather, in order to enter the retail from West Avenue. Instead they will have access directly from the garage. This means that a large fraction of customers will never set foot on West Avenue.

Finally, no one has any idea of whether the small percentage of mall visitors making the 3/8th mile trip to Washington Street will provide enough customers for the existing restaurants in SoNo to compensate for the restaurant competition in the mall. No idea.

GGP’s priorities are not aligned with those of downtown SoNo. It would be a plus to GGP if the mall itself turns into the main SoNo destination. The success of the mall is founded on how attractive its anchors will be to the surrounding high-income towns, not on its proximity to downtown SoNo.

The Aquarium, however, might be a draw. Thus the one urbanistic aspect left to preserve is the link between West Avenue and the waterfront, which will draw people for the view, the park and the Aquarium. You can tart up the tunnel with lights, but it will basically feel like what it is – the entrance to a 3,000 car parking garage.

Placing retail along North Water Street is probably not viable, but should certainly be looked into. Otherwise, the street will be lined with 4 levels of parking on the north and 3 levels on the south, plus the ramp and bridge and a 4-lane entrance to the garage.

The view out the east end of the overpass is cut in
two by a vehicular bridge, leaving about 20 feet below the bridge and 15 feet above. I don’t think watching cars moving across a bridge is a vital urban experience.

If GGP shared our goals and cooperated, we could settle these issues without disturbing their construction schedule. Their job is to sell Bloomingdale’s on a design that minimizes street coverage. Instead, they have stonewalled and doctored renderings. This is self-defeating.

Don't Panic July 22, 2015 at 12:59 pm

Note:
We only have thousands of construction jobs [not going to Norwalkers], 2,800 permanent jobs [only 12% to Norwalkers?]and millions in tax revenue [property taxes, which will be abated for the first seven years and aggressively challenged by GGP, as they have done in other cities, and .5% of the sales tax, courtesy of our state legislators to help this deal go through], and Norwalk’s national reputation at stake here! [This mall is nowhere near the size, scope or uniqueness to make it the source of a national reputation]

And please get over the irrational obsession with the size of the overpass. [Irrational by whose standards? That’s a pretty strong word to attach to perfectly rational, measurement-based opposition. Irrational would be expecting this tunnel to accomodate flying cars]

Imagine all the money saved by the city in snow and ice removal, as well as the benefits of a huge public space protected from our extreme weather. [Perhaps, but car fumes are all but impossible to remove from a tunnel of this size. AM Radio signals and perhaps cell signals may be effected. It is not unreasonable for the community to insist that their public thoroughfare not be turned into claustrophobic cave in the middle of downtown. Having the unnegotiable response be, “because Bloomingdale’s said so” turns home rule concepts and city planning on its head.]

It is the height of chutzpah to ask the city to expedite this project even when everyone is in general agreement about the objectives.

It is beyond the pale to then insist that the deadlines be met when it is clear that there are reservations about the design. Remember, when this tunnel concept was first walked around the community, it was a “proposed design” and negotiable. Now its not.

Rod Lopez-Fabrega July 22, 2015 at 3:06 pm

For whatever it is worth…

A few interesting observations made by a professional financial advisor based in Beverly Hills, CA (a very affluent community):

Bloomingdale’s has been closing stores cross country and is now down top 21 stores. The merchandise in some of these is lower quality than in the Bloomies of old because the higher cost items are not selling.

The high end Nordstrom stores are VERY expensive, but it has been observed that costly items are soon reduced to sales prices. No buyers for those $800 dollar dresses–even when reduced to $500.

GAP has closed 165 stores nationwide.

Mail order shopping is soaking up the potential shoppers.

Kevin Di Mauro July 22, 2015 at 4:09 pm

@Rod Lopez-Fabrega

Does the professional financial advisor you refer to have any info. on the stores on Rodeo Drive which is also located in Beverly Hills, CA?

A Potential Visual Blight in the Making July 22, 2015 at 4:44 pm

The name, The SoNo Collection is already awkwardly pretentious. Like “we’re really known”! But that’s a given at this point. What’s maybe not a given is its application. Please police the design of this apparently very prominent “logo” treatment. Signage can make or break the overall aesthetic of a project. What is presented in the rendering will read as a dated joke in years to come. The typography should be elegant and have a more classic look for more longevity. Look at Oakbrook and Old Orchard Centers outside Chicago. Norwalk and especially the DPW and Norwalk Paking Authority are signage and way finding amateurs. Just look around South Norwalk. The incredible insensitivity of these departments slapping up hideous, inconsistent, oversized and confusing signs on any available lamp post does nothing but detract from any charm that might be inherent in this neighborhood. A marquee sized “The SoNo Collection” sign as shown is hideously boastful for an area of the town with a more humble and historic character. There is a lot of subliminal take away from typography, logos and identities. GGP should retain an exclusive branding or design firm to develop (on the same level as the architecects they retained) and deliver the proper identity, signage and wayfinding treatments in the best visual tonality for this Mall. Otherwise all of the supposed architectural grandeur of the project will be vastly diminished. This may seem trivial to some but this is not a Times Square billboard. Just look at any Trump building if you want to see the deleterious effects of bad signage.

LWitherspoon July 22, 2015 at 4:55 pm

@Rod Lopez-Fabrega

Mayor Rilling opposed the Mall project as a candidate, then surprised us by making supportive comments shortly after becoming Mayor. The 180-degree turn was complete when he finally admitted to supporting the project, claiming he had changed his mind.

You supported the current Mayor’s election. You also have been consistent in your opposition to big-box development and the Mall. What’s your opinion of the Mayor’s failure to honor the stances he took during the last election?

Suzanne July 22, 2015 at 9:42 pm

L Witherspoon, This is much bigger than the current Mayor. This is this mayor and, maybe, give or take the longevity of this Mall, five or six mayors in the future, if we are lucky.

It is myopic to make this an exclusive Mayoral issue. It is a community issue, a long term economic issue, a development issue, a traffic issue, an employment issue, a viability issue, a quality of life issue – just for starters.

Whatever this current mayor did or did not do, said or did not say, these GGP depictions do not show: context, mass or proportions, of this project. I have no idea from a human perspective either driving by or standing next it to what this behemoth is actually going to look like.

Whatever this Mayor said or did, GGP is showing its best efforts at breaking up the “big box” while making a tunnel, whose dimensions were previously shared, look open and inviting. This project, is beyond the scope of one person’s opinion or decision, even the Mayor’s.

GGP is going to show Norwalk what they want us to see to sell their project: those gullible enough to take the representations in this article as somehow accurate to the actual end product are falling into the GGP marketing trap.

The tunnel, BTW, is not a “public space” per se per Mr. Mushak’s comment above, but an access way, i.e., thru way and parking access. If that makes it a “public space”, we would all be enjoying any covered parking or roadway with picnics and parties. Not what GGP has in mind.

Mike Mushak July 23, 2015 at 12:08 am

I find interesting the few nasty comments here that portray GGP as wanting to build an awful project by “tricking” the public with deceptive renderings. Gee, just what GGP wants to do of course, which is build a lousy project just so no one will want to visit or rent space in. Yes, that’s the conspiracy theory! They really want to fail by hoodwinking all if us into thinking it will be a really great project, when all they just want to do is invest hundreds of millions to build a huge failure. I jest of course to make a point.

Interesting none of the anti-mall commenters here commented on my links or my point that the covered space on North Water should be considered an asset in the harsh weather extremes of New England. Imagine how nice that covered space will be when its 95 in the blazing sun as it was last week, or 0 and snowy as it was most of last February and March, or on raw windy and rainy days in our frequent nor’easters.

I am also surprised that an absurd assumption is being made by some otherwise smart folks including a certain city official that somehow retail is essential on the steeply-sloped and too-narrow-for-on-street-parking North Water St, to create a connecting route between the mall and SoNo. Funny, that thought never crosses the minds of the hundreds of pedestrians and cyclists who now use West Ave every day to get from point A to point B, or for that matter use the sidewalks around the building-free Webster lot, or as an extreme example, the many folks who traverse the building- and sidewalk-free Reed St between Walgreens on the heavily commercial West Ave and the residential Cedar St at the top of the hill, used so heavily all day long as to have worn deep rutted footpaths into the dirt on both sides. I see them all day long as I live nearby.

Will someone please remind all those folks we see all day long and into the evening that they are violating the absurd theory that retail is somehow necessary to line connecting routes, and that they shouldn’t want to walk or ride their bikes on these routes if retail isn’t present? I jest, but only to make the point that we are hearing some highly questionable arguments like this from some folks right now.

Oh, and by the way, streets and sidewalks are indeed crucial urban public spaces, where many of us find ourselves most of the time in our daily routines whether we like it or not. Picnics on grass are not the defining feature of public spaces although that is nice when it happens and is a romantic notion. We certainly have plenty of amazing parks for that all over the city.

However, the challenge in all of the design professions including engineering, architecture, urban planning, and landscape architecture right now in the 21st century (as cities experience a huge renaissance), is how we make our shared streets aka public spaces safer and more comfortable for all users whether on foot, two wheels, or four. That certainly is the challenge of the mall project, and one many of us are working on solving despite the naysayers and armchair urban designers who suddenly have decided that overpasses are somehow bad even in our extreme climate, and that no one will ever walk on streets without retail, both of which are absurd notions based on emotional assumptions and not empirical evidence or simple observations around town.

I’m afraid we may end up with a dumbed-down “design by committee” solution for the mall that tries to appease everyone including the staunchly anti-overpass Doug Hempstead (with all due respect), and then struggles or even fails miserably as it has compromised the basic formulas of retail success the experts are tellingly us they need.

Nancy Chapman July 23, 2015 at 3:31 am

@Potential Visual Blight
As mentioned in the story, it was clearly stated at the meeting that the Concept Master Site Plan refers only to bulk and mass. The exterior of the building has not been fully designed; the materials and architectural style have not been decided upon.

sofaman July 23, 2015 at 8:46 am

What’s the font on the signage? Not enough plants in the tunnel? I’m sorry, but we are NOT seeing the forest for the trees here.

From the frequently promised “one million visitors per month” that GGP has predicted will be visiting:

How is West Avenue going to funnel 3,000 cars per HOUR into and out of this space? How can this project be considered a “Done Deal” before it’s even been determined that it is NOT going to become a deterrent to SONO and Riverfront visitors.

Why is Norwalk always so quick to sell out its own town to visitors at the expense of its residents? I don’t present that question as an “Anti Mall” person, I simply haven’t seen or heard an answer. Where is the Traffic Study?

Suzanne July 23, 2015 at 9:24 am

“I find interesting the few nasty comments here that portray GGP as wanting to build an awful project by “tricking” the public with deceptive renderings. Gee, just what GGP wants to do of course, which is build a lousy project just so no one will want to visit or rent space in. Yes, that’s the conspiracy theory! They really want to fail by hoodwinking all if us into thinking it will be a really great project, when all they just want to do is invest hundreds of millions to build a huge failure. I jest of course to make a point.”

Nasty comments, I guess, because they characterize comments with which you disagree. GGP is being clever: these pretty pictures do not show the reality of this edifice for that area in a holistic fashion demonstrating the actual mass and context to the surrounding community this Mall will occupy.

No one is saying GGP is promoting a lousy project: what IS being said is that this project shows no concern whatsoever for the context of Norwalk as a community, as an “urban core”, unique to itself, that needs revitalization.

GGP is giving Norwalk what they can give to make the most money from the project for themselves. That is not conspiracy. That’s the way business works. Norwalk has to decide whether it is important enough to make GGP lots of money while ignoring its own needs.

The idea that GGP would “assist” Norwalk in making a better town for everyone is counter to their goal to make their money and, when the profit margins (based on that one million customer per month estimate by GGP?) does not make their proscribed threshold, why would they hold on? They have made their money. They can “download” Norwalk, after all of the tax breaks and vendor profitability, to a management company (their previous practice, especially during the bankruptcy reorganization,) free to reorganize the space to “whatever” after GGP is gone.

There is absolutely nothing special about this Mall project: given the National trends, in fact, it looks as though they are going ahead with the pigs ear that is losing money and being either repurposed or destroyed all over the country.

There is nothing nationally to be recognized about an uninspired design in a congested area inserted into a formerly industrial town with some historic value to offer, absolutely not embraced by GGP, that could be put in any other town where GGP sees the same profit potential in Interstate passersby and nearby wealthy communities.

There was nothing wrong with your link about connectivity – in fact, as always, your work is impeccable in its references and logic. However, that is not what is totally at stake here.

This Mall development is based upon the success of cars pulling in from other locations, pulling out and the passengers spending a lot in between at a GGP Mall.

Adjacent community areas: Wall Street and SoNo are of no concern to GGP and any shown has been negated by the comments they have made and the actions they have taken. For example, the recent concern by restaurant owners in SoNo re: the Cheesecake Factory. The parking payment structure that would penalize shoppers after a certain period of time by a large cost uptick: the GGPer at THAT meeting said they didn’t want anyone to go anywhere else.

So, no conspiracy, just community: this Mall is about GGP profits and not Norwalk success. It’s just business. There will be no altruistic changes by GGP in order to make Norwalk better and simply inserting massive amounts of retail into an urban area does not a successful “urban core” make. Not an armchair theory: common sense.

Suzanne July 23, 2015 at 9:30 am

To Visual Blight: your observations are appreciated and sensitive. It is disingenuous for GGP to present a rendering without consideration for the visual, whatever the goals of the meeting. The goals, by this rendering, were not met and your points are well-taken. Norwalk deserves the time and care and professionalism of accuracy.

Gordon Tully July 23, 2015 at 9:54 am

@sofaman,

“How is West Avenue going to funnel 3,000 cars per HOUR into and out of this space?”

It seems unlikely that the entire capacity of the garage will turn over in an hour. Many spaces will be occupied by employees, and the garage will be full only rarely. I suspect the best candidate for gridlock will be a snowy day a couple of weeks before Christmas.

The design shows entrances from Butler Street via Crescent St., directly from West Avenue southbound, and Pine Street in addition to the two entrances off North Water Street.

Congestion at exit 15 is likely to back traffic up at exit 16 and Est Avenue and down into SoNo. Note that traffic studies can easily be manipulated because they are very sensitive to the input assumptions, and need to be taken with a load of salt.

One thing in favor of retail over other high-density uses is that the traffic will be spread over many hours, while housing and office uses concentrate traffic in rush hours.

LWitherspoon July 23, 2015 at 10:35 am

@Suzanne and RLF

I agree with you wholeheartedly that the issue of whether there should be a Mall on 95/7 is a big one. The implications for Norwalk’s future are enormous, and I am glad to see the beginnings of a discussion, albeit rather late in the game.

Honest representation by elected officials is an important issue too. There is only one elected official who commands the bully pulpit the way the Mayor can. There is also only one elected official in Norwalk who ran as an opponent to the mall, only to change his tune shortly after being elected. What you seem to be saying is that Mayor Rilling deserves a pass, for reasons that I fail to understand. Can you explain?

You had a reasonable expectation when you voted for the Mayor that he would oppose the mall. He didn’t. He did a 180 and supported it. Moreover, he accepted campaign contributions from the original developer, who is still involved with the project. That issue deserves to be addressed, along with all the other important issues you raised. Imagine what the conversation regarding the mall would be like if someone of the Mayor’s stature were actively opposing the project.

It’s important to hold politicians accountable when their official actions are the opposite of their campaign positions. If we fail to hold the Mayor accountable, we simply enable more of this behavior.

Kevin Di Mauro July 23, 2015 at 5:50 pm

One aspect of this project that is being completely ignored is the “hotel”. I doubt GGP would risk the money to build it unless they thought the City of Norwalk had some staying power. People will come to this mall not only to shop but also to stay and see what the rest of the city has to offer. This is a big risk that GGP is taking, and I’m sure it’s not motivated by profits alone. They have heard the voice of the public.

Kevin Di Mauro July 23, 2015 at 6:08 pm

@Piberman

I know the traffic study was a big concern of yours so I hope you will read this article since it states that it is almost completed, and that it was commissioned by the city but paid for by GGP. Sounds good. The same should also apply to the OHPA’s attempt to put a 36 bay, double-decker, commercial driving range in AAA residential neighborhood. It’s in voting District E.

sofaman July 23, 2015 at 6:31 pm

@ Gordon Tully, thank you for your response, but my 3,000 per hour isn’t a number I pulled out of my hat. If you take the often-used number of 1,000,000 visitors per month that GGP has been using as a motivation to get this project approved, I am simply asking the city if they have done their due diligence.

1,000,000 / 30 days per month / spread out over 10 hours per day of operation = 3,333 cars per hour on West Avenue. What is the impact of this? Mr. Tully, I am not asking you, I’m hoping someone from the town realizes this needs to be studied, carefully.

Let’s assume GGP is being “optimistic”. Let’s say half that many cars. That’s still a ton of traffic considering peak times could be 5X the volume of a slow hour.

Suzanne July 23, 2015 at 6:31 pm

L Witherspoon, You answer your own question with your own agenda without anyone else’s input. All right, already. You don’t like this Mayor. Could more information gleaned as he ran and then was elected have changed his mind? Do mayors and elected officials get to do that? You do and I guess they do too.

Kevin Di Mauro July 23, 2015 at 7:51 pm

I wonder what Fillow Street will become if the OHPA’s driving range becomes a “profit center”.

Rod Lopez-Fabrega July 23, 2015 at 11:03 pm

@LWitherspoon

You focus on Mayor Rilling when you say, “There is also only one elected official in Norwalk who ran as an opponent to the mall, only to change his tune shortly after being elected.” I don’t recall that the mall was the only issue or even the major issue that decided his election. As a matter of fact, I do recall that none of our elected officials were making definitive comments either way about mall proposals being developed at the time of the last election.

Eventually, as GGP plans progressed and as they were presented to the public, State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff and State Representative Chris Perone came forward with vigorous and unequivocal support of the mall. This was not and should not be a political issue, so the assumption is that the choice of these honorable men to support the project was based on personal decisions that this mall would be good for Norwalk. That was a disappointment to those of us who have the contrary opinion that this is an ill-conceived project and one that is not appropriate for Norwalk. However, as I stated in a N.O.N. posting at the time, these officials deserve our respect for taking a firm stand with no vacillations on a contentious issue so that all of us know exactly where they stand.

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