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GGP finally unveils The SoNo Collection to Norwalk Zoning Commission

General Growth Properties (GGP) Senior Developer Doug Adams, left, narrates as a video shows simulated 3-D views of The SoNo Collection from North Water Street and West Avenue to the Norwalk Zoning Commission.

General Growth Properties (GGP) Senior Developer Doug Adams, left, narrates as a video shows simulated 3-D views of The SoNo Collection from North Water Street and West Avenue to the Norwalk Zoning Commission.

NORWALK, Conn. — To be continued…

A presentation by General Growth Properties (GGP) about its proposed SoNo Collection mall came to an abrupt halt at 10 p.m. Wednesday when Zoning Commission Chairman Adam Blank suggested that enough had been said for one evening and that GGP should continue May 4.

This, after three hours of talk that included explanations of updated traffic plans, including a new concept for Crescent Street and a promise of an “insurance policy,” an additional system to keep things moving.

Blank took pains to ask GGP, on behalf of the members of the public that had waited for a chance to speak, how long its presentation would take during Take Two of this show. Attorney William Hennessey said he guessed it would be about an hour and 15 minutes.

So keep that in mind if you’d like to express an opinion to the Zoning Commission.

About 30 non-GGP affiliated people attended the first public hearing on the proposed mall, with several filtering out before Blank called a halt. One woman exiting mouthed the word “filibuster” to describe GGP’s presentation; a couple on their way out said they had talked to GGP Senior Planner Doug Adams before the meeting about their traffic concerns for West Avenue.

Attorney Larry Cafero listens to a man who is not a fan of The SoNo Collection, Wednesday in City Hall.

Attorney Larry Cafero listens to a man who is not a fan of The SoNo Collection, Wednesday in City Hall.

One man cornered Attorney Larry Cafero in the hall for more than 20 minutes, expressing many objections to the mall.

“What are we going to do with a vacant building?” he asked, at one point.

The presentation started with a lesson about the history of the property; more exciting was the zippy 48-second animated video, showing the proposed mall as if from the viewpoint of a driver on North Water Street and West Avenue.

This was followed by a tedious-to-the-public explanation of a requested zoning change, with Hennessey explaining that the two lots were divided into sub-areas of the Reed Putnam Urban Renewal Plan area, and that there’s a zone district change midway through the two properties, one north of North Water and one south of North Water.

“Having a zone line through a building probably wasn’t a great idea,” Hennessey said. “So we had a long discussion with staff and we think the zone change is appropriate.”

More history followed – the Fred F. French proposal for the site was bigger than the 95/7 proposal that GGP has replaced, he said.

The lingering effects of 95/7 were mentioned in the traffic presentation, which came along an hour later.

The infrastructure improvements in the area help make it a good place to put a mall, John Plante of Langan Engineering said.

“The infrastructure is there to help facilitate traffic going in and out. … There is extra capacity in infrastructure already available to support a project such as this,” Plante said.

Only about 15 percent of the cars going to the mall will use local roads, with 60 percent of arriving shoppers coming via Interstate 95 and 25 percent using Route 7, he said.

“This is the right location for this project,” Plante said. “… The city has designated this site years ago for this kind of dense urban project. … It’s the right location from a traffic perspective because of where it’s locate.”

Langan estimates that 90 percent of the people who leave the mall will do it via West Avenue and 85 percent will get back on the highway, he said.

Blank asked if GGP had any idea how many people would drive to shop elsewhere, heading to Stew Leonard’s or the Container Store, for instance.

GGP did surveys at two similar malls, Adams said.

“It was generally very positive and in fact showed more cross shopping than we had expected,” Adams said.

Shoppers headed elsewhere wouldn’t be spread evenly through Norwalk, Blank said.

Blank pressed, but Adams did not have an answer.

“The survey didn’t try to pinpoint where they are getting back in their car,” he said.

Peak hours would bring 900 vehicles into the mall on a weekday or 1,300 on a Saturday, Plante said.

GGP is proposing to add traffic signals at Fairfield Avenue and I-95, and at Reed and Stuart streets, Plante said. There will be one traffic signal on North Water, although two had been prepared for under 95/7.

The traffic signal at Reed and Stuart is a recent addition, as previously a 4-way stop had been planned.

Sending traffic down Reed Street is convenient because there are no curb cuts, Plante said.

It’s been thought that truck traffic would enter GGP’s private driveway behind the mall by going down Crescent Street, but Adams said that is shifting due to discussions with neighbors to the north and with DPW. Trucks would enter the private driveway via North Water and exit out the other end, in more of a loop, Adams said.

“We are certainly open to that. It is just to be resolved with DPW,” Adams said.

GGP had been planning to put a traffic signal on Crescent Street to control one-way traffic, but the only place it really needs to be one way is at the pinch point, next to the Pine Island Cemetery. Adams said DPW feels it doesn’t need a traffic signal because the sight lines are good and trucks exiting the mall will be able to see oncoming traffic. A stop sign will suffice, he said.

Langan feels that driver experiences will actually be improved by the mall, Plante said. That’s because of its “comprehensive look” at the conditions and proposals to change the pedestrian interaction and add traffic lights, he said.

GGP is proposing “concurrent pedestrian phases,” which would mean that pedestrians would cross as traffic moved in the same direction beside them. This would keep traffic moving, Plante said.

“That is one of the tweaks that we make working with staff,” he said, attributing the proposal to the “powerful new equipment” that has been installed.

Plante went on to explain that there’s an “insurance policy” for traffic.

“We feel what is proposed works and works well, and what GGP has agreed to do at the request of staff and the peer reviewers is to provide what is called an adaptive signal control system,” Plante said.

GGP has agreed to install closed-circuit television cameras at intersections, in a system that adjusts to real-time traffic conditions, he said.

“You can program the phasing and timing, but this allows for the system to automatically adjust if traffic isn’t operating the way you studied it,” Plante said.

City staff would monitor the system, but it would be automatic, he said.

“If a road is closed because of accident or construction project … this system will adapt,” Plante said. “It’s a tremendous system and one that GGP has agreed to provide.”

A diagram shows traffic plans for the area of The SoNo Collection.

A diagram shows traffic plans for the area of The SoNo Collection.

A slide from General Growth Properties' PowerPoint presentation at Wednesday's Zoning Commission meeting.

A slide from General Growth Properties’ PowerPoint presentation at Wednesday’s Zoning Commission meeting.

4 comments

MsB April 28, 2016 at 12:14 pm

The adaptive signal control system will be a great feature. That should help prevent the long lights when there is little traffic, e.g. late at night.

Rick April 28, 2016 at 2:53 pm

This comment was deleted because it was almost entirely lifted verbatim from another published source — bad enough — and also without attribution.

Bill NIghtingale Jr April 28, 2016 at 4:16 pm

The I-95 traffic from this (already horrible) is going to be detrimental to quality of life in Norwalk…and anyone passing through on I-95.

Rick April 29, 2016 at 10:49 am

Didn’t realize the free dictionary had any name to credit the information to whom,so heres the link

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Haven_Galleria

seems Norwalk is always short changed bedsides that the most of the info was sounding like Norwalk and how the city (New haven) saved itself from a mall that was poorly thought out and would hurt the city. From building roads to traffic to trolley did this West Haven Mall mimic Norwalk yet the tax revenue seems to be weak for Norwalk considering the age of the West Haven mall after considering square feet.

Tax revenue compared showed Norwalk is open to losing money on the deal where the taxpayers of Norwalk may have to subsidize parts of this new mall with our tax revenue.There was talk of a $5 million dollar increase but I found nowhere it could be applied or backed up.The mall has cost the city and state money so far the total escapes most reports GGP have filed to date.

Whatever we are hearing now is out of the playbook from West Haven where the credit should be given to those taxpayers there smart enough to say no.

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