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GGP plans response to Council, Redevelopment concerns Thursday night

SoNo Collection model view from the northwest.

SoNo Collection model view from the northwest.

NORWALK, Conn. – SoNo Collection developer General Growth Properties (GGP) will present revised plans for the proposed mall on West Avenue to the Planning Committee of the Norwalk Common Council at the committee’s regular meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 6, in Room 231 of City Hall.

The agenda package is available for review on the Planning Committee’s website. Included in the GGP-related agenda items is the presentation of additional information regarding the malls’ Conceptual Master Site Plan as requested recently by the joint committee of the Common Council and Redevelopment Agency.

At that committee’s July 22 meeting with GGP representatives, Redevelopment’s Tim Sheehan expressed concerns about a planned 335-foot underpass – also called a “tunnel” by some people – on North Water Street, a design feature planned to provide space for anchor tenant Bloomingdale’s and keep the upscale retailer closely connected with the rest of the mall. Concerns about pedestrian, traffic and parking issues were also discussed.

The overpass issue does not get any special attention in the update, and is not prominently featured in any contextual way in the visuals.

The information GGP submitted is available for download here.

Other mall-related items on the agenda:

  • Review the Amendment Provisions of the Reed Putnam Urban Renewal Plan Review LDA Amendment #4 (Executive Session)
  • Discuss August Joint Meeting with Redevelopment Agency
  • Discuss September Public Hearing on LDA

The new information comes complete with a 56-page pdf package titled CMSP-Additional Information.

Under Massing and Context:

  • Four 3-D models with views of the project from various directions (the overpass/underpass/so-called tunnel is not shown)

Under Site Plan Detail Design Concepts:

  • Drawings, artists conceptions and photos of the project and surrounding area.

Under Concept Views:

  • 6 renderings of views from various directions

Under Connectivity:

  • A parking and traffic map with legend
  • A pedestrian connectivity map with legend
  • A bicycle connectivity map with legend
  • A public transportation map with legend
  • A drawing labeled Connectivity Clarifications

Under Public Realm Concepts:

  • Public realm definition
  • Public realm vision with pictures
  • Public realm location and comparison with photos of other places and a map with locations for similar activities
  • Concepts for exterior public realm activation with photos and map
  • Concepts for interior public realm activation

Under Building Height:

  • A drawing indication dimensions

Under Parking and Traffic:

  • Interior circulation strategy with drawings
  • Anchor prime parking drawing
  • Traffic clarifications

Concept Master Plan Site Drawings

  • Roof plan
  • B2 level plan
  • B1 level plan
  • Level 1 plan – street level
  • Level 2 plan – Mall level 1
  • Level 3 plan – Mall level 2
  • Level 4 plan – Mall level 3
  • Hotel level typical plan
  • West Avenue elevation
  • Site sections

Concept Master Site Plan Addendum

  • Retail planning principles
  • Anchor requirements
  • Planning diagram
  • Roof plan
  • Design concepts photos, rendering, drawing
  • View from Reed Street and West Avenue
  • View toward West Avenue
  • Conceptual sections

7 comments

Gordon Tully August 5, 2015 at 2:17 pm

I just realized this is a physical model, making it impossible to do a computerized walk-through.

Gordon Tully August 5, 2015 at 2:21 pm

It is encouraging that we have visuals prior to approval of the LDA. They raise some important issues.

1. The tunnel is a serious bone of contention. The images on pages 54 and 55 are the only way the Planning Committee can evaluate the impact of the tunnel. Both have been deliberately distorted to make the tunnel look more like the outdoors.

The rendering “View from Reed Street and West Avenue.” is deliberately distorted to increase the area of blue sky visible through the tunnel by approximately a factor of 4.

I recommend to the Planning Committee that the rendering be corrected. If GGP is unwilling to do this, retain a third party to do so.

2. Both renderings dramatically magnify the light levels within the tunnel. When looking into the tunnel from outside, or out of the tunnel toward either end, one’s pupils will constrict to adjust for the glare of the sky. Everyone knows this experience from driving through a tunnel on a sunny day.

There are commonly used computer models that accurately simulate the light levels in spaces. The Planning Committee should insist that GGP create and provide printouts from such a model. Better yet, have the city hire a third party to do this.

3. It is possible to let daylight into the tunnel by removing the small block of retail that is just east of the entrance to Bloomingdales (in the up direction on the plan). This would dramatically reduce the contrast in light levels and make it possible to insert some trees into the middle of the tunnel.

I can think of two reasons why GGP has resisted this obvious solution. One is that Bloomingdales wants that retail next to their entrance. The other is that GGP gets top rents for this block of space.

In either case, the city should insist on the hole to illuminate the tunnel, and let GGP deal with the consequences.

4. The Planning Committee should require more detail on the route of the proposed circulator and where the stops are located. Consider southbound on West Avenue. If the stop is located on the west side of the West Avenue, it would require people who wish to go further into SoNo to cross 6 lanes of traffic.

If the stop is within the tunnel the Circulator would make a left turn onto North Water Street. A logical place for the stop would be at the number 7 on page 53.

Then what? Would it continue on North Water Street to the Aquarium? Or would it turn around and go back to West Avenue? If so, how will it turn around? This may sound like a detail, but the decision might impact the design (for example by creating a place for the Circulator to turn around in the tunnel).

5. The design now incorporates large areas of windows on the walls of the protruding volumes. Take a look at the view on page 13 and compare it with the plans on pages 41 through 43.

The double line at the outer perimeter on the plans represents a service corridor. What will be the effect of looking through the glass into fluorescent lit, lifeless corridors? I think it will resemble the phony dormers one often sees added to the front of newer shopping centers.

Again, we are being snowed by misleading visuals. The Planning Committee should address this issue head-on by recognizing that there will be no windows looking into bustling retail activity. It is better to accept that the mall is a windowless box and work out how we want to decorate the blank walls.

I personally am in favor of substantial areas of LED lighting that could be programmed by computer to create changing images (with suitable limits to the extent of advertising allowed). The arrays could be made available to local artists who could create frequently changing imagery. This kind of lighting array is increasingly used to enliven building facades.

I believe this would create a striking effect that could put Norwalk on the artistic map in a big way. Don’t be seduced by these phony windows.

In summary, there are serious design issues that need to be resolved before GGP is given a blank check. It is important not to fast-track the approval process if that reduces the Planning Committee’s leverage to make changes.

Mark Chapman August 5, 2015 at 7:43 pm

@Kevin, Rod

Like the old Certs commercial said: Stop, you’re both right! Obviously, I opened it read it, wrote about it. I also had a problem with it the first time I put it online. So I reset the link, and it worked fine. But perhaps it is being a little funky, with sporadic bugs. Or maybe, as it is such a big file, there are technical factors far beyond my knowledge at play. Or maybe Chinese hackers… For the most part, though, it has been accessible.

Rod Lopez-Fabrega August 5, 2015 at 7:52 pm

Yes, I did manage to get in. Very impressive presentation, but excepting for some reductions of square footage here and there, it all looks pretty much as it did months ago. Now that I’m in the building, however, I can’t seem to find any elevators anywhere. Getting from here to there on different levels seems to depend on 1)a ‘monumental staircase’ (which eliminates anyone who hasn’t recently scaled Mount Washington); 2)ramps; and 3)escalators. Did I miss access for older folks and wheelchairs and freight to service upper level retail?

But, this is nitpicking. Looks like we had best get used to living with this thing. It is the way it was always going to be–and we can only hope it will be a huge success–contrary to all the caveats that no one has addressed.

P.S. Loved all the pretty photos of happy people.

Gordon Tully August 5, 2015 at 9:31 pm

After a careful analysis of the drawing, I am deeply embarrassed that I erred in claiming that the perspective “View from West Avenue and Reed Street” was inaccurately laid out. It is not, and I apologize to GGP.

My error was triggered by the first rendering, not now included in the set, that indeed had been doctored to remove North Water Street, making me overly suspicious.

My other comments stand.

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