NORWALK, Conn. — A splashpad for children would be available all summer on the corner of West Avenue and Pine Street, as part of The SoNo Collection, if the current plan is approved.
The fun for kids was part of the plans for the mall’s southwest plaza that were detailed last week at the Zoning Commission’s first public hearing on the application put in by General Growth Properties (GGP). Also detailed was the northwest corner’s sculpture garden, while questions were asked about the mall’s box-like look along Interstate 95.
Among the tidbits was a prediction from GGP Senior Planner Doug Adams that the mall will be 70 percent occupied when it opens. It will phase up from there and at the end of a year, “I don’t know if it will be exactly stabilized 96 percent or 97 percent where our portfolio is, but it’s going to be yet higher,” he said.
That was in response to questions from Commission Chairman Adam Blank, who also asked if GGP would put a parking advisory system in its garage.
Blank said he’d been to Florida and seen a system where a parking spot is advertised as being available by a green light at its opening. Filled spaces have red lights.
Yes, GGP will have that system, Adams said.
“After you go through control gates you will be able to tell which levels have the most parking,” he said.
The splash fountain will be programmable and will be shut off to allow public functions on the plaza, adjacent to the planned hotel, according to Scott Rykiel of Mahan Rykiel Associates. This makes the area a civic plaza, where farmer’s markets, concerts, holiday events or “any number of things” can be held, he said.
The central plaza, on the corner of West Avenue and North Water Street, is marked by a green wall meant to be a gateway to North Water and draw attention to the staircase, Rykiel said. Planters divide the public space from areas meant for tenant’s business activities, with people eating outside.
A curved ramp separates the sidewalk from the northwest plaza, leading up to what is now planned to be retail space. Over that the sculpture garden, originally planned to be fully enclosed in glass, is now partially open.
The opening will be 40 feet high, when the third floor of the mall coming out halfway into the space to create a balcony, architect Robert Barry said. A “minor amount of outdoor seating” is planned, with trees along the edge.
Commissioner Doug Stern asked about noise from the adjacent highway.
“We believe the glass itself will protect it,” Barry said. “We don’t want it to be too quiet; I know that sounds a little bit interesting, but you want to understand the activity and kind of feel the activity.”
It’s more about noise coming from inside the mall, and making sure there are enough sound absorbing ceiling elements, he said.
Blank said he didn’t like the box-like look of the mall along I-95, between where Nordstrom will go and the northwest corner.
Fair point, Barry said, pointing out there is an artistic element halfway through. Breaking up the façade was easier along West Avenue, but GGP wants to incorporate signs along the highway, he said.
“I would guess that that entire façade would not be approved for … advertising signage and that a proposal that incorporated some advertising signage and some more artistic elements, whether that is a lighting kind of thing or an on-the-wall sculpture kind of thing or something like that to bring it up to that detail, it would be appreciated, at least from me,” Blank said.
“As we develop the signage package there are three different levels of signage that are going to be coming to this project,” Barry said. “There’s product identity signs, there’s advertising signs and then there’s just general graphics. We are restricted in some ways, we would go to the DMV, as well the rules and regulations, how much we can have there. So we are going through that and we will be presenting that very soon.”
GGP Senior Designer Paul Madden on Thursday clarified that for NancyOnNorwalk.
“We realize that for this retail development that existing sign regulations aren’t necessarily appropriate,” Madden said.
Anchors really need their signs, and a proposal will be made to adjust the regulations, he said.
“Everything on our building right now needs to be looked at conceptually until we have time to vet it with the Redevelopment Agency and Planning and the Zoning staff,” he said. “It would be great from a retail standpoint to be able to have some beautiful graphics that kind of fit proportionally on the north façade and face the traffic.”
That would be “well done graphics and not overt advertising,” he said.
“We really need to study how the signage can be compatible and tasteful and well done and what those proportions are. We have started that process. Hopefully, within four weeks, we have a really comprehensive plan,” Madden said.
Plans for the building will be approved and then the sign issue will be worked out, he said.
“I think everybody realized that this project itself was pretty complicated… It would make sense to get through this and then address the signage,” he said.
The sculpture garden was conceived in response to Common Council pushback about the idea of a public plaza on that corner being unacceptable due to noise and car fumes, he said.
“As we started really thinking about it, we understood that,” Madden said. “That kind of was one of the rationales behind, OK, it’s a prominent corner, what if we were to raise it into the building itself and accomplish two goals?”
In talking to potential tenants, GGP realized that the corner has a lot of visibility to it, with the possibility of signage on the corner. The parking garage will be set up so customers can walk right into the first-floor retail space, he said.
Enclosing half of the sculpture garden itself makes it easier to raise trees on the second floor and provides a way for people to get outside, he said.
The trees might block some of the noise and the elevation will help with that as well, he said, citing his experience working in New York City.
As for the outdoor space, with the curved ramp leading up to a higher level, Madden said, “This plaza is much different, not meant to be civic. I think we actually like that better because instead of it being almost repetitive to the south plaza, we have something quite different.”
Review of the mall application will continue with the second Zoning Commission public hearing at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The public will get a chance to weigh in after an estimated one-hour of continued GGP presentation.