NORWALK, Conn. — An idea thought to be “dynamic and exciting” by the developers of The SoNo Collection was looked at askance Thursday by members of the Norwalk Zoning Commission.
The proposed aluminum tubes on the side of the parking garage were a dominant part of the discussion at a brief Zoning meeting, where Norwalk Senior Planner Dori Wilson said the May 4 public hearing date will allow time for traffic consultants to do their work, although this meant General Growth Properties had to sign off on an extension on its application.
Attorney William Hennessey, in a Feb. 26 letter to the Commission, pressed for an April 7 hearing to at least get started, but the Commission stood firm.
A model of the mall might be available next week, RTKL architects Vice President Robert Barry said, explaining that the base of the model will be about 5 feet by 5 feet.
Mall bus stops were talked about right off the bat, with Wilson explaining that there are two existing bus stops in the area, one on either side of West Avenue, but they do not have shelters.
“That has to change right away,” Zoning Commissioner Michael O’Reilly said.
Wilson continued with a list of “a lot of little nuances” that staff is trying to work through and said GGP had worked to address questions from the commissioners.
New mall renderings were presented, showing a view from Oyster Shell Park. Zoning Commission Vice Chairman Nate Sumpter asked if this was just a “beginning stage.”
RTKL architects Vice President Robert Barry brought forward samples of the materials that are planned for the mall – expanses of brick will relate to the historic nature of SoNo and terracotta is planned for the southwest plaza and between Nordstrom and the glass box on the corner next to the Interstate 95 on ramp. But, “We couldn’t find a sample of what we are proposing to be aluminum tubes,” he said, going on to explain that RTKL did not want to create another building façade in the back.
The irregular shape of the parking garage would help create visual interest and the tubes “would have irregular spacing to them even though the order of them is regularly spaced across the façade,” Barry said.
“So each of the tubes is, say, three feet away from one another,” Barry said. “It has a slight deviation to pattern, which we feel helps mitigate the scale of it and also allows for opportunities, some very subtle lighting, but particularly allows for some contrast as you are driving down the road, particularly on 95, and you get various vantage points of the back of the garage from the vehicular car, kind of creates a Moiré effect, which again we think will be dynamic and exciting and again more importantly starts to mitigate what we feel is a complex scale to try to address.”
Reilly asked if there was a similar garage somewhere in the Northeast that the Commission could go look at. Barry said he couldn’t think of one but would come up with case studies.
“Does a garage necessarily have to look like a garage?” Sumpter asked.
Commissioner Linda Kruk asked Barry if GGP had considered green walls, suggesting that ivy might break up the expanse.
Hennessey said there are “all sorts of thoughts out there” and that the Redevelopment Agency is responsible for design review.
A lot of people are trying to ameliorate the look of parking garages these days, Commissioner Roderick Johnson said.
“This obviously looks like a parking garage,” Johnson said. “I mean, it is very, very, very upfront, this is a parking garage you are looking at. I can understand trying to break up the scale a little bit with the aluminum rods, but I mean this is a very important façade from the highway, it’s very important from East Norwalk, it’s important from the Oyster Shell Park, you know, from all over. So it is really almost the primary façade of the building because, north façade, you probably see it all. The West Avenue façade you’ll see really be appreciated at the street level mostly. The south façade you really won’t see much. This is the façade of this building that people are going to read and see. This is Norwalk. It is part of Norwalk, so I think we all are kind of getting a sense that we’d like to get a little bit more.”
Hennessey said the Commissioners had a list of questions and answers in their packets.
“Everybody has asked about the façade on the east side, including your staff. So I would say we are sensitive to the issue and we are continuing to work on it,” Hennessey said.
“It just looks like a garage, a very plain garage,” Sumpter said.
“We are just here to report where we are,” Hennessey said, promising traffic reports, architectural review from Redevelopment, “word smithing” on proposed zoning amendments, and “a lot more information on parking layout,” including the locations of columns.
As for questions, “You folks have been pretty good at telling staff what you need,” Hennessey said. “It helps a lot.”