NORWALK, Conn. — Plans to build The SoNo Collection are bopping along, with hopes by the developer to begin in May, according to one Common Council member.
The Zoning Commission on Thursday had its first discussion on General Growth Properties’ hoped-for mall, setting a three-meeting schedule to begin in March and culminate with a May public hearing. Developers answered a smattering of questions in their half-hour presentation, ranging from the roof’s appearance from the highway to the possibility of an interactive sporting goods store.
Councilman John Igneri (D-District E), at Thursday’s Finance Committee meeting, said he had been talking to GGP and it is hoping to begin construction in May.
Igneri asked Finance Director Bob Barron if the lucrative building permit fee had been worked into the recommended operating budget for next year. The answer was, “absolutely.”
The last few years, Finance has hit up Norwalk Chief Building Official Bill Ireland for an estimate of potential building permit revenue when it is making its budget, Barron said.
“He has always been spot on. He tracks every project and he knows when and what they will be asking for, and the associated permit fee with it,” Barron said.
Barron didn’t say how much was expected. Igneri said he’s heard anything from $1 million to $5 million.
Asked about that, Ireland said in an email, “I need to know cost of construction to calculate.”
Barron’s budget anticipates nearly $8 million in permits, up $425,000 from 2015-16.
The Zoning Commission plans to devote entire meetings to the mall proposal – March 3 and April 7 on the committee level, then a Commission public hearing May 4.
Commission Chairman Adam Blank on Thursday expressed concern about the design of the back of the parking garage and traffic in respect to the Walk Bridge reconstruction.
Attorney William Hennessey said that would be worked out.
“I think you will need a couple more attorneys in here to convince me that there shouldn’t be a bus stop at this site,” Blank said. “I know that that’s not currently proposed. I would be interested to see what your numbers are for bus usage at the Waterbury mall, as well as the vacancy rate at the Waterbury mall. … I don’t know of a mall that doesn’t have a bus stop actually at the mall, even if they are close.”
He also said he wants a discussion about the size of the parking spaces, and the possibility of a green roof. He wants renderings of how the mall would look from Route 7 and Interstate 95.
Zoning Commissioner Michael O’Reilly had questions about the malls loading docks.
Hennessey said he appreciated questions and would keep a list running.
RTKL architects Vice President Robert Berry said the mall is designed to have a “contemporary identity with a contextual sensitivity.”
Berry said it was important that the mall resonate with Norwalk, so RTKL is researching industrial elements that could be incorporated. The goal is to make it “not just a place to shop, but a place to be and want to come back again,” he said.
Blank asked about the safety of pedestrians at the West Avenue entrance; Berry said that, yes, there would be pedestrian lights there.
After listening to the basics of the mall design, Blank said it would be great if the mall had a sporting goods store that were an attraction on its own, which he said is a trend now.
“I think the (rooftop) space is large enough, and we are testing it still, that there might even be an opportunity for, I hesitate to call it an ice skating rink but you see a lot of times there’s ice components to a project,” Berry said. “It’s not large enough for an Olympic ice rink… but there are precedents for projects where they have more of an ice path. That’s a place where the kids can go skate and the parents and adults can go hang out, maybe at a rooftop bar or rooftop café or something. What it does is it really starts to allow the space to be used 24/7. Of course with that comes the opportunity of doing something like that. You mentioned skating, it could be outdoor rollerblading, it could be winter skating and I think we certainly would certainly welcome things like that to strengthen the tenanting opportunities for this property.”