12:30 p.m., May 28: amendments for design review added
NORWALK, Conn. – The Norwalk Zoning Commission is poised to approve the SoNo Collection on June 1, with a blessing from the Redevelopment Agency in hand.
The addition of “fins” to the parking garage and the definition of the northwest corner changed the whole feel of the project, said Commissioner Lori Torrano on Thursday before voting as part of a unanimous whole to approve a Cecil Group design review and send it to the Zoning Commission.
“There is no question as they continue to develop it there is work to be done, but every step has been a positive step and is consistent, I think, with the idea that visually this is an interesting place and it looks different – it looks different if you are a long way away, you get closer it looks different, and that is going to be kind of a magical part of this project,” Steve Cecil of the Cecil Group said in reply, after referring to GGP’s glass laden design as a “theater of transparency.”
The Zoning Commission closed its public hearing on May 18 with a list of possible conditions for the mall planned by General Growth Partners (GGP). Those included requiring that the main lights in the parking garage be dimmed one hour after the mall closes – which GGP Senior Planner Doug Adams said is standard procedure for the company – and a traffic study a year after the mall opens, or sooner if the Commission requests it.
It started with GGP Senior Designer Paul Madden presenting examples of parking garages that had similar ideas to the “fins,” which he said is “our attempt to create a layered and dynamic façade.”
Commissioner Nate Sumpter asked about the light the mall would emit upon South Norwalk, and Madden said it would be at about the level of a streetlight through the night.
Asked if the parking garage would be open 24/7, Adams said that at least portions of it would be because of the hotel component of the project.
Chairman Adam Blank asked a series of questions about the mechanicals on the mall’s roof, and was told that the HVAC units would be set far enough back from the edge to prevent the public from seeing them, from all angles.
Blank also questioned if perhaps the signage planned for the highways adjacent to the mall could be electronic so as to catch the attention of motorists and prevent confusion. Madden said that, originally, U-shaped posts had been planned, but it was thought that smaller posts made for less visual noise, and that adding lighted elements might need more support than currently planned.
The Department of Public Works will review the idea and see if it’s feasible, Acting Planning and Zoning Director Mike Wrinn said.
The traffic pattern of trucks was also a topic, as Adams explained that DPW felt the one-way plan of trucks entering from North Water and exiting via Butler Street was desirable because of the turning radii for trucks and the sight lines involved.
A condition would be put into the approval to allow the city 10 years to decide if Crescent Street should be widened and made into a two-way road, Adams said. In that case, GGP would provide an easement to allow the public to use its private access road, behind the mall, which is planned to connect to the current Crescent Street.
Blank said he liked that idea, as it would provide time to see how the public uses the bike paths that are planned for the private road.
He also suggested that GGP get Zipcars for its garage.
“I can’t commit to it here, but that is something that we do in other locations and I think it makes sense,” Adams said.
A sustainability review of the mall’s proposal is expected prior to the mall’s approval.
Adams said GGP is proud of its sustainability record, although LEEDS certification is not suitable for a retail project. The combination of a white roof with the rooftop garden (now dubbed the “SoNo Garden”) is the best method for reducing energy consumption, Adams said.
Cecil spent time Thursday explaining the mall’s transparency to the Redevelopment Agency, including the idea that some of the smaller windows will open into service areas and use lighting tricks to simulate depth.
The second story sculpture garden planned for the northwest corner “is really a very interesting way of opening views into the mall without it being a mall,” and the mall will glow, as seen from Interstate 95 and Route 7, Cecil said.
The review process for the mall has been “the most comprehensive review process I can recall the Redevelopment Agency undertaking in my tenure with the Agency,” RDA Executive Director Tim Sheehan said in a memo to the agency.
Cecil’s design review, delivered after the Zoning Commission meeting, calls for traffic assessments when the mall is 40 percent rented out, 75 percent rented out and 100 percent rented out. Corrective measures would be undertaken if needed, he wrote.
- “The Project is located at the junction of two urban districts that were once separate centers – SoNo and the West Avenue/Main Street districts to the 1-95 has been a clear dividing line between the two districts. This Project provides a composition of building masses that is adequately large and prominent to diminish the gap between the districts.”
- “The combination of vertical fins, an architectural “frame” of panels applied to the garage, and special features and massing changes above North Water Street provide a level of complexity and interest that mitigate the mass of the parking
- “The Project brings contemporary design features by using current technologies and materials that will provide aesthetic benefits associated with current architectural trends in the region and Contemporary elements, include the special effects associated LED lighting, metal and ceramic facade materials, large transparent window walls and planted rooftop and vertical wall gardens.”
- “ The architectural treatment of the parking facility provides a dynamic quality that will contribute to the aesthetics of the The appearance of the eastern facades of the parking structure will be different, depending upon the location of the viewer because of the color and graphic qualities along the vertical fins that will decorate this portion of the Project.”
- “According to GGP, EV charging stations will be located within the parking structure at a preferred location to promote alternate fuel transportation; and that these alternative fuel station locations will be determined by working with a specific vendor and located within the parking structure at preferred According to GGP, discussions are underway with vendors but no vendor has been selected.”
- “The architectural design of the Project is composed of massed building elements that are tailored to the circumstances of the site. It accomplishes a successful transition between the communication of an appropriately large scale and gateway characteristics as it is viewed from the 1-95 and Route … However, the architectural expression has thoughtfully integrated the appearance of secondary masses that break down the apparent scale of the entire composition and relate it to the typical dimensions associated with traditional commercial structures that are part of Norwalk’s urban heritage and context.”
- “The Project design includes innovative use of aluminum panels and fins to transform the elevations of the parking structure into an interesting and dynamic architectural This element has an integral graphic pattern that establishes as intermediate pattern and complexity that are needed to transform the eastern facades from the utilitarian structure that it screens.”
Commissioner Tom Devine agreed with Cecil on Thursday that the mall will be a landmark and, “It’s going to put Norwalk on the map.”
But, he said, he was concerned about the masses of the structure and it’s lack of consistency with its surroundings.
“It’s totally different, 100 percent from what I can see,” Devine said.
The design guidelines call for compatibility, not consistency, Cecil said.
“Two things can be very different but can be compatible. So what we need to do is say, ‘What drives compatibility as opposed to consistency?’” Cecil said.
There had been a lot of talk about “pasting historic facades in front of larger building,” Cecil said.
“The thing about this is that really the uses are dramatically different, relative to what is going on. As I look at this, I see that what they have been trying to do is to invent a kind of architecture,” Cecil said. “…. You’re not going to wonder if its housing, you’ll know what it’s about. I see components in terms of scale. The tools that they are using to create scale have to really work or it could feel a dressed-up box.”
“I think North Water Street has always been a kind of a mashup of these forms that are coming together, but it is a different architecture, a contemporary architecture,” he said.
The materials will echo their surroundings, such as the terra cotta unit making reference to the orange color of the neighboring church, but the structure “really is different,” he said.
Torrano commented that she was “very, very happy” with the design, that is was obvious a lot of time had gone into it.
Sheehan gestured to a rendering of the garage as seen from the top of Oyster Shell Park.
“That was quite extraordinary from where we have been. Although liberties were kind of taken – there’s not that much water there – but just from a design aesthetic its certainly is a part of the project,” Sheehan said.
RDA Chairman Felix Serrano said after the meeting that both he and Torrano had been very concerned about the look of the garage but, “It’s come a long way… That was a big concern for us and we are definitely pleased on how staff, Cecil and the developers worked to try and accommodate and improve that. So very pleased on that.”