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Norwalk neighbors decry ‘BJ’s’ application for Main Avenue

Assistant Planning and Zoning Director Mike Wrinn, right, shows the plan for "The Village" to a concerned citizen Wednesday in City Hall.

Assistant Planning and Zoning Director Mike Wrinn, right, shows the plan for “The Village” to a concerned citizen Wednesday in City Hall.

Updated March 4: Photos added; Correction: Quote attribution changed to Leigh Grant. Updated, 8:52 p.m.: Photo added of plans, to show described Zoning compliance.

NORWALK, Conn. —A concerted effort was made Wednesday to convince the Zoning Commission not to approve a proposed Main Avenue development with a mysteriously-unnamed big box store, with no decision reached at the end of the evening.

The Commission decided to continue its public hearing until March 15, just to allow more comments about the big issue of concern over what is widely suspected to be a BJ’s Wholesale Club – traffic.

Commissioners said they had on Monday gotten a traffic study done on their behalf by a consultant, and hadn’t had enough time to review it. So, they continued the hearing, after three hours of testimony from both sides.

The site, 272-280 Main Ave., was the topic of much controversy in 2013, when neighboring condominium owners, members of the Norwalk Association of Silvermine Homeowners (NASH) and others raised enough of a ruckus to get BJ’s Wholesale Club to withdraw its application.

This application looks much different, as architect Bruce Beinfield has designed a village-like road frontage to conceal the big box component of the development, dubbed, “The Village.”

“At this stage, we do not have a tenant for the large retail building,” Attorney Liz Suchy told the Commission. “We have said that to you all along and we also have said should there be an indication of who that tenant is you can have a signed lease, we will let you know. We do not have a tenant.”

Traffic engineer Michael Galante speaks to the Norwalk Zoning Commission, Wednesday in City Hall.

Traffic engineer Michael Galante speaks to the Norwalk Zoning Commission, Wednesday in City Hall.

Numerous people in the sizable audience murmured, “I don’t believe that.”

“Over the past year there have been in excess of 40 companies interested … but we do not have a specific tenant,” Suchy said. “We were hopeful that we could provide that to you tonight but it just hasn’t happened as yet.”

Commissioner Galen Wells later asked about the signage for the development, as renderings did not show a sign that would be appropriate for a big retail store.

“Where is the BJ’s sign?” she asked.

“I think it’s on the front,” Peter Romano of Landtech replied, causing one audience member to comment, “He finally confessed that it’s BJ’s.”

Romano told the Commission that the applicant would be back with an application for signs once they know who the tenant will be.

Commission Chairman Nate Sumpter later asked if Romano know who the tenants would be for the smaller stores on the front of the building.

“There are no tenants that I am aware of,” Romano said.

Then it was on to the main event, as traffic engineer Michael Galante detailed the results from what he said was an exhaustive 10 month traffic study, explaining plans to put in a new traffic signal in front of the store and to synchronize lights up and down Main Avenue.

“There are some traffic issues out there, we acknowledge that. If we weren’t acknowledging that we wouldn’t be good traffic engineers. But we acknowledge that and we take that into account in our traffic study,” Galante said.

Sumpter asked him about trains on the Danbury line, which runs parallel to Main Avenue. Galante said there are two trains during the peak shopping hours on Friday, and one in the peak Saturday hours. The crossings and gates are part of the plans for synchronized signals, he said, explaining that although the computerized traffic modeling doesn’t include the trains there had been a conversation with the state on that topic, with agreements made.

Modern technology allows for traffic detection on the side roads, which the developer will pay to install, he said, explaining, “The coordination of all the traffic signals take that into account.”

Joe Fishinger of NV5, the city’s traffic consultant, took some wind out of the sails of audience members.

“The big thing is to make sure that the improvements that they are recommending, the retiming, the left turn slots, that as long as all of that gets implemented then we are in general agreement with their study, that what they are proposing will mitigate their traffic,” he said.

The plan to cycle the light in front of The Village quickly is reasonable, he said.

“I can’t stand up here and tell you that a signal will never back up past the driveway, there’s traffic on the road there always will be. But what they are proposing will help to mitigate that,” Fishinger said.

Starting the commentary for the opposition was Lee Levey of NASH.

“I find it interesting that the traffic consultant for the applicant chose not to look at current developments on Glover Avenue and future possible developments, along with the proposed changes to the Merritt,” Levey said.

Levey said 6,000 new residents are possible on Glover Avenue, where BLT, a Stamford developer, has won Zoning approval for three apartments and is rumored to have more applications in the works.

There are a lot of good things about the development, Levey said, listing improvements to groundwater runoff on what is a Superfund site but then asserting that there are fissures under the site and the water goes to the New Canaan pump station.

“We are drinking what comes off of this site. So, I think you have to think very carefully about this development,” Levey said.

Christine Names brought up the Dunkin Donuts on the corner of Main Avenue and New Canaan Avenue.

Norwalk Zoning Commission Chairman Nate Sumpter grins Wednesday after a reference to the Dunkin Donuts at 195 Main Ave.

Norwalk Zoning Commission Chairman Nate Sumpter grins Wednesday after a reference to the Dunkin Donuts at 195 Main Ave.

“That’s really dangerous… I would really like to know who did the traffic study on that one,” she said, drawing an “Amen” from an audience member and applause.

State Rep. Fred Wilms (R-142) said he was there not as a resident of the Rolling Ridge Condominiums but because he’d been asked to speak by constituents.

“I do agree as a citizen that another big box store on Main Avenue is just entirely inappropriate,” Wilms said, going on to assail Suchy’s comment that a tenant has not yet been signed up for the big box store.

“In my regular banking job, I work with commercial real estate with businesses throughout Fairfield County and I find that statement extraordinary, that a project of this scope to be built on a speculative basis, in this kind of economy,” Wilms said.

The state plans two projects that will affect traffic on Main Avenue, Wilms said. Not only is work expected on the Route 7/Merritt Parkway interchange is expected in 2019/21 but the Connecticut Department of Transportation plans to replace a bridge on West Rocks Road, and that will send 10,000 vehicles a day onto Main Avenue, he said.

State Rep. Fred Wilms (R-142) speaks to the Norwalk Zoning Commission, Wednesday in City Hall.

State Rep. Fred Wilms (R-142) speaks to the Norwalk Zoning Commission, Wednesday in City Hall.

“I don’t see how a traffic study can not incorporate the Glover Avenue project,” Wilms said. “… From a practical manner, since we have to live with this on a day to day basis, on a practical manner you have to include that. Because Main Avenue is inherently connected between Glover Avenue and this site here.”

Leigh Grant quoted author Vincent Scully as saying, “In my opinion, so-called traffic experts are so specialized that they haven’t any idea what they are talking about and are a danger to the structure of the state as a whole.’”

The crosswalk at Main Avenue and Ward Street is designed to kill you, Grant said, listing a host of traffic issues.

“Will you ignore the overwhelming opposition of your neighbors and of your community and let them cause irreparable damage to the safety, welfare and wishes of our community?” NASH President Heather Dunn asked the Commission.

But the next speaker spoke in favor of the project.

“I am sure many residents of Norwalk would welcome a BJ’s store, super supermarket, in our city without having to travel all the way to Fairfield, Stratford, and in the case of the Food Bazaar in Bridgeport,” Joanne Horvath said, after calling the property a vacant eyesore.

The traffic on Main Avenue is caused by a poor Route 7 interchange, and the state is planning to fix it, she said.

“BJ’s has not caused this problem and it should not be penalized,” Horvath said. “… Only a company that has big pockets can develop this property in order to support the pump house, filtration system, and really cannot be subdivided. … Do you really want a vacant property or something added to tax rolls?”

Deb Goldstein said it was strange that the state told this developer not to consider potential growth in the area because when the state considered its own plans for East Avenue the deciding factor in its decisions was the proposed growth.

Goldstein suggested a homework assignment for Commissioners: Google “Dark Store.”

When one big box store in a community goes out of business owners of other stores petition to have their property values lowered, thereby paying less taxes, she said.

Common Council member Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) said the Zoning Commission had not addressed the issues uncovered by the BJ’s application in 2013.

The choke point at High Street was not part of the traffic study, he said, asserting, “The traffic study for this needs to be extended out. Something like this cannot happen in a closed vacuum, and that is what happened.”

Beinfield’s design isn’t just lipstick on a pig, it’s also eye shadow, he said.

A view from Rolling Ridge Condominiums of 272-280 Main Ave. (Contributed)

A view from Rolling Ridge Condominiums of 272-280 Main Ave. (Contributed)

“Unless the Commission itself can start looking at the land uses up there and say, ‘You know, even though our Zoning requirements allow for this kind of intense unit, is it appropriate for the area? Are those apartments appropriate for the area?’ Yes, they’re allowed, but you get another bite at the apple to look at those kind of things,” Hempstead said.

“Call it what you want, The Village is just another smoke screen for large membership-based discount club that will only serve to create disruption and unsafe living conditions in our neighborhood. We just don’t understand the drive to turn main avenue into another Connecticut Avenue, with no guarantee of tax relief for Norwalk residents,” Laura Lamorte said.

Diane Lauricella attacked Galante’s mention of train volume, pointing out that ConnDOT is planning to build a new train station on the Danbury line and there’s talk of electrifying the tracks. The site would be a great place for a hotel or other clean industry, she said.

Diane Cece talked of “Empty Hole Syndrome.”

“I think in Norwalk what we can’t do is allow our Commissioners to be pressured into a bad decision because something has sat empty for a long time,” Cece said. “In fact, when we do that, we may encourage developers and land owners to knock things down and leave empty holes, knowing that ultimately someone will say, ‘It’s better than having an empty hole there.’ Perhaps you wouldn’t agree with me but I cite the mall as the example there as well.”

Some speakers claimed that the proposal does not conform to Zoning regulations, that no store with more than 10,000 square feet can be built.

A list on the plans for "The Village," showing its Zoning compliance.

A list on the plans for “The Village,” showing its Zoning compliance.

Suchy, in her rebuttal, attacked that right away, saying, “Nothing could be farther from the truth.”

Other speakers referred to studies, that specifically said a big box store shouldn’t be on that part of Main Avenue.

“You have never changed the regulations to incorporate any of those suggestions,” Suchy said. “If that had been the case we would have been required to abide by them. We are abiding by the regulations as they exist today and there is no disputing that.”

As for the unchanged Zoning regulations, Suchy said, “This commission started a discussion on changes to the Main Avenue corridor back in the spring but none were effectuated.”

Former Zoning Commissioner Mike Mushak tried unsuccessfully in 2013-14 to change the Zoning regulations for Main Avenue; former Commission Chairman Adam Blank tried again last year, also unsuccessfully.

As for Wilms’ comments, Suchy said, “I think it’s a wholly appropriate use for the zone because of the way Zoning regulations currently exist and the way in which we have abided by them.”

“I am surprised that Rep. Wilms as a banker would take the position that developing the site in this way could somehow be contrary to expanding the grand list,” Suchy said.

It’s a $21 million development; the building permit alone would be $350,000, she said.

“I find it interesting that many keep coming back to the concept that there is something else that is better for this site,” Suchy said. “The site has been vacant since 2000. It’s been empty with no structures since 2007. If something better was going to come along I would think it would have come by now. It’s five acres of vacant land that is generating $38,000 a year in taxes…. I would like to think that there is something else, that something else would have come. If it had been a higher better use, my client would have found it.”

“We are not talking at all about sales tax, but real property and personal property taxes from this site would be tremendously improved at a time when the city is looking at developing the sources of funding anywhere it can. You are trying to build new schools. This is a site that is vacant. It would seem to me that this is appropriate from a fiscal perspective,” Suchy said.

Galante and Suchy both said that a traffic study addresses current conditions – developers cannot guess about what is coming down the pike.

Hempstead, as a former Zoning Commissioner and “head of real estate for a large Norwalk company” should know better, Suchy said.

“He should know that we can’t and don’t add unprojected, unplanned projects to a traffic study. Doug knows that. As he should also know, as he does, so (the developer) can expect to be able to rely on Zoning in place. The uses allow the maximum developmental potential,” Suchy said.

NASH had, on Monday, presented a traffic study it commissioned in 2013, asking it to be considered as a rebuttal to the application.

Suchy objected because it was done for a different application, with different conditions. Commissioners Louis Schulman, Richard Roina and Michael Witherspoon said they agreed with her.

The study will not be considered, Sumpter said.

“I like this project. I wish we were voting tonight but we just got all this stuff,” Roina volunteered, referring to the Commission’s traffic study, which was paid for by the applicant.

“I was reading one of the reports during Attorney Suchy’s presentation,” Roina said.

“That’s really why we decided that we wouldn’t be making any final action tonight,” Sumpter said. “It’s because some of the entire information we have.”

272-280 Main Ave., with Rolling Ridge Condos visible in the background. (Contributed)

272-280 Main Ave., with Rolling Ridge Condos visible in the background. (Contributed)

29 comments

jlightfield March 2, 2017 at 6:38 am

It would be totally awesome for Target or Whole Foods to move into this site. The retail use is entirely appropriate at this location on Main Ave. as supported by the corridor study that specifically looked at where the transition to neighborhood business. That area is actually Main St. which starts at the New Canaanan intersection and is south of this site.

The Zoning Commission should take a closer look at the pedestrian experience in front of the building. The traffic signals and site lines exiting the driveway appear to be a bit constrained. If the front facade is housing small retail/restaurant concepts, then it is very important that the Commission allow for flexible and creative signage, pedestrian access that is clear and obvious from the sidewalk, and enough room on the sidewalk for outdoor promotional activities or outdoor dining.

Debora Goldstein March 2, 2017 at 7:29 am

NV5, the traffic consultant hired by the city (paid by the applicant) did n do an independent traffic study. That is what the neighborhoods have asked for.

They did a peer review of the Gallante study. This is “checking the work” of the other consultant.

Considering they found a significant number of flaws in the other study, it is reasonable to question whether a fully independent traffic study would have chosen to include other interesections or use the more stringent standards he identified, producing a more marginal result.

At a minimum, it appears NV5 would have identified the broken signal and had it fixed before taking the data.

NV5 did conclude that the existing study had no fatal flaws, and that there would be more traffic, but that the traffic mitigation plan would perform as represented.

It is up to the Commissioners to decide if the “stable traffic” standard in the special permit conditions, though Ms Suchy told them they must conclude that the applicant had.

The point is, there aren’t two dueling traffic studies, just one that the neighbors think is wholly insufficient and a review that couldn’t consider anything that was outside of that study.

People should read the NV5 letter for themselves.

Lisa Thomson March 2, 2017 at 7:48 am

Two things stand out in this exchange, as they have in every P&Z crisis Norwalk has had over the past 5 years.

1) The disingenuous nature and gamesmanship of developers or their attorneys to claim ‘not’ to know who or what exactly is going to occupy particular development space.
2) Little to no attempt by the P&Z board or city dept. to clean up ambiguous Norwalk code that developers and their legal teams can exploit.

Unless this developer is courting MGM or Universal for a backlot Hollywood studio or soundstage, it’s a pretty safe bet – it’s a big box store.

I find it disheartening that Norwalk’s leadership or vision does not extend beyond ‘low grand list revenue developments’ for neighboring towns to shop, while the city struggles with how to pay for schools under the current grand list strategy.

Hawkeye March 2, 2017 at 10:07 am

No need for a traffic study… Drive up Main Ave any weekday between 4-6pm…. It is an absolute traffic jam to the point where emergency vehicles would not be able to get by.

The entrance to the Rt 7 connector has traffic backed up all the way to the Merritt 7 Buildings on one side and just about to Walmart on the other.

The entrance to the Merritt Parkway is no different. Traffic backed up in either direction.

I’m not opposed to finally building something on this lot but something as substantial as a BJs with the amount of traffic it would create would be disastrous on top on an already intolerable traffic situation.

Adolph Neaderland March 2, 2017 at 10:18 am

I find it hard to believe that NON makes no mention of the tainted remediation issue that would put our water supply at risk.

It was pointed out that the proposed structure would impact the toxic treatment unit at the rear of the property, and that system would be necessary for 100 years.

If the charge is indeed valid, seems to me that should be a “no brainer” for rejection!

Toxic drinking water ????

Patrick Cooper March 2, 2017 at 10:39 am

It’s 5 miles from this address to the Norwalk COSTCO. Apparently, that’s a trip too far for our underprivileged “W” neighbors. The “Village” is pure Beinfield – an architectural version of “poo-pourri” – just a little spritz and your neighbors won’t know you just dropped a massive dump in their neighborhood. But while the smell is disguised, the poo remains. For our lifetimes.

Funny (not) I read about the traffic concerns – clearly no one lives there. Glover Ave impact? THE most negatively affected thoroughfare, aside from Main St., will absolutely be West Rocks Road – a parallel N-S neighborhood road that was already tuned into an unexpected arterial by the Main St. Wal-Mart. Note there are 3 schools along that corridor – All Saints, WRMS, and Winston Prep, all of which will feel traffic spikes as locals and GPS users avoid the BJ’s traffic. But the safety of these little kids and Cranbury quality of life doesn’t matter for some Nearwater Road residents and out of town developers.

Oh, and at 8:00am this morning, I counted 18 cars in a line on Ward Ave waiting to turn onto Main Street South, which created a 9 car waiting line coming south on Aiken – the last of which could expect to wait 10+ minutes to make the light. This is now – today. Traffic study? DRIVE it!

Norwalk needs smart development that adds to the community, and delivers to the Grand List. But we already have more Big Box retails shops clustered in our little city that any other of similar population in CT, and we are (insane) adding a 300,000-sq. foot mall. We really need, want, another retail development?

Last question: HOW does this fit into the Norwalk Master Plan? Oh, that’s right.

Concered March 2, 2017 at 11:31 am

Why does it have to be more retail space? We need more family friendly places in Norwalk, how about a new YMCA? Public pool? What about a flea market/farmer’s market space?

Regardless of what the space holds, i.e. BJ’s, or another store, the last thing that area needs if more retail space. The picture looks very nice, but in reality the lot is quite small for a building of that size.

Peter Franz March 2, 2017 at 12:05 pm

I think we have a logic fail. The traffic on Main Avenue is not caused by the poor Rt 7 interchange. The traffic on Main Avenue is caused by the fact that thousands of people drive on the road each hour. The proposed improvement to the interchange will actually increase traffic on Main Avenue all by itself.

So, let’s talk in very plain language. The state is going to rebuild this interchange. To suggest that it is “unplanned” or “unprojected” or whatever slippery language proponents are attempting to use, it is extremely disingenuous.

Additionally, let’s give examples in real-world terms. During busy periods, the lines for the local car wash and the Dunkin Donuts already back up onto Main Avenue. All the switching in the world is simply not going to allow a project of this size to exist in harmony with the road it sits on.

This is not anti-business. Let’s build businesses in Norwalk to benefit, not hurt Norwalkers.

Donna March 2, 2017 at 12:59 pm

In response to Liz Suchy’s rebuttal, that opponents keep coming back to the idea that there is something better for this site, consider that perhaps there is nothing worse for this site than the current proposal–Including a vacant lot. Bruce Beinfield lives in Rowayton. Pete Romano lives in Westport. They don’t have to live with a big box store in their neighborhood. Rilling campaigned on a desire to bring a larger corporate presence to Norwalk as the key to revitalization. But the zoning commissioners, unable to change gears, keep giving us big box stores. If we want more low paying jobs and lots of traffic from residents of towns that won’t allow big box stores, they should keep up the good work.

Andrew March 2, 2017 at 2:00 pm

How are the left turn lanes going to be created? There is no room on either side so without talking the land I can’t see this as practical. As for the timing of the lights – this is an issue on every single major thoroughfare in the entire city. I have no confidence that suddenly whomever is in charge of this will accomplish the goal of coordinating the lights, as it has never happened since I started driving 30+ years ago.

Overall it sounds as if another traffic mess is coming our way.

Gordon Tully March 2, 2017 at 2:07 pm

Regarding the architecture, Bruce made a valiant effort to tame the stark reality of a big box store (another bleed on our small businesses), but lining the street with stores is a purely visual, window-dressing effort. This is not a new urbanist solution, but yet another form of suburban retail. I doubt very much that it would increase foot traffic, since there is no parking in front. Everyone would drive into the parking garage and enter the stores from the garage. If you can’t enter the stores from the garage, they won’t get much business because people will be reluctant to walk back through the entry arch to the street, especially in bad weather.

Norwalk’s “planning” and “design review” is non-existent, so we end up with disastrous projects. Bruce’s new building on Water and Washington is the only exception I can think of. While Steve Cecil definitely made the mall better, incorporating a lot of my suggestions, the mall itself is a disaster. Perhaps the most insulting example is the proliferation of western movie-set “gables” tacked onto the roof of the new DiScala project at the head of the harbor, although Avalon and WayPointe are hard to beat for a position at the bottom of the list.

Norwalk is a highly desirable city for development, and the city should have a strong hand in guiding development. Yet it keeps behaving like a beggar, hat in hand, allowing developers to defeat every effort to make the city a city, instead turning it more and more into a car-centered suburb. After a couple of decades supporting doomed projects, I am giving up on this place.

Donna March 2, 2017 at 3:45 pm

Well said, Gordon Tully. I just moved here, though I’ve been invested here for a few years, pouring money into a renovation, and believing the post-Sandy Norwalk would be a fully revitalized city. But Gordon is right. There is no mission. There is no vision. I’m reminded of what Gertrude Stein said of Oakland–There is no there there.

Debora Goldstein March 2, 2017 at 3:55 pm

As long as we live in a world where the quarter million dollar POCD (aka the Master Plan) is “advisory” with respect to zoning, and our zoning code isn’t regularly updated to reflect what the plan for the city actually calls for, developers are going to keep driving the city’s development.

Figuring out how to align regular and fair zoning changes with the master plan and also aligning the budgets with the plan are two areas where Charter Revision can help take us a long way towards a solution.

The POCD, which is up for it’s once in a decade refresh next year, is a tool that we don’t use enough, and are limited in using when we should. It makes everything twice as hard, with consequences that last for decades.

Jlightfield March 2, 2017 at 4:23 pm

It is amazing to see so much misinformation about what the POCD and zoning in general says. This is a commercial zone, it has been for decades and having retail in a commercial zone is exactly what should happen.

Peter Franz March 2, 2017 at 4:51 pm

JL allow me to politely suggest that the point you’re making is clearly understood, but the size and scope of the project is the issue at hand and not whether this is a commercial zone.

Jlightfield March 2, 2017 at 5:27 pm

@peter franz The size and scope of the facility are determined by the zoning regulation, which dictates lot coverage, height of the building, setbacks and onsite parking. A cursory look at the proposed rendering suggests that the project meets the regulations.

Debora Goldstein March 2, 2017 at 9:26 pm

Yes Jackie, and yet it is a special permit situation. And one of the conditions is Compliance with the Zoning Code and Plan of Development, (unless there is yet another plan of development?)

My point was that the zoning code has never been modified to the recommendation of the POCD or the Westport-North-Main Corridor Study. If zoning conflicts with the planning for the city, then the developers are in charge.

What’s the square footage of a car dealership? That’s retail, right? Maybe we could have Tesla put one of their showrooms here.

jlightfield March 3, 2017 at 8:41 am

Actually @Deb Goldstein, I was on the Westport-North Main Corridor Study Committee, and zoning at the time, and that zoning regs were reviewed and updated to reflect the goals of the POCD for that area. The Special Permit is required because Main St. happens to sit over Norwalk’s Aquifer, and while old Norwalk managed to site heavy industrial uses over the aquifer (see Deering fields as one example) it has taken decades to remediate the Elinco site.

Who is to say that Tesla isn’t the retailer that will sign on to this development? The thing is, it is the form , look, and use of the building that zoning governs. Who the retailer is not, nor should it be. Fast food buildings convert into office buildings, office buildings convert into retail, retail converts into residential. Over time, good planning results in areas that people want to live, work and shop in. There are many ways to achieve that.

Michael Foley March 3, 2017 at 8:53 am

This project should be allowed to move forward if it meet’s all of the City’s requirements.

Bill Nightingale Jr March 3, 2017 at 9:31 am

Gordon Tully:

most of the examples you site are the work of the Redevelopment Agency. This first thing that needs to be done to ever have a chance of regaining control of pleasing development in this town is to abolish the Redevelopment Agency.

Casey Smith March 4, 2017 at 3:17 pm

@ Jackie Lightfield — I just want to point out that we really don’t need another Whole Foods as there is already one on the Norwalk/Westport line and another one off of Exit 11 in Darien. Market over-saturation has to be watched carefully. That was clearly demonstrated by Mrs. Green’s, who expanded into Wilton, moved to New Canaan and then closed all their Connecticut stores.

The last thing we need is a Target, particularly since they are struggling financially. It would be a real problem if they came in and then the chain folded. I’m not a fan of big box stores (BJ’s, Costco, Sam’s Club etc.) either. I’m not sure what would be appropriate for that space, or whether it should be developed at all. But if it is developed, whatever goes in there needs to be chosen very carefully or else we’ll have another white elephant on our hands.

jlightfield March 5, 2017 at 8:22 am

@CaseySmith The catalytic development in urban areas when a Whole Foods or Target opens is well documented. In Norwalk’s case, there are already approved development plans for hundreds of units of housing within a 10 minute walk. And that walking distance is the key metric. Despite the fears of traffic congestion, the future of this site and others will depend on whether Norwalk embraces the carless living lifestyle of Millennials, Gen Z, and downsizing Gen X and Baby Boomers prefer. National brands can afford the investment into the current Norwalk, it is more difficult but not impossible for local and regional chains to invest and be successful.

Peter Franz March 6, 2017 at 2:59 pm

JL: DId you just infer that the obvious traffic overload this development would cause should be swept under the rug because you expect (insert generational slang here) to walk 1.7 miles with groceries or BJ’s level of shopping in their hands? Is this what the “usability” of this development is based on? Which development plans for hundreds of units are you referring to?

Debora Goldstein March 6, 2017 at 4:58 pm

@Jackie Lightfield,

Can you refer me to the approximate dates of the minutes when the zoning regs were updated in response to the Westport-Main-North study? Because they clearly don’t agree, and it seems like they would not have undertaken changing them again so soon after in response to Mr. Mushak’s objections if they were in alignment.

Also, i would like to address your “carless living lifestyle of Millennials, Gen Z, and downsizing Gen X and Baby Boomers prefer. ”

I grew up in NYC and spent many many years experiencing exactly that. Many families I knew in the boroughs and the city lived the car-less lifestyle–and then they grew up and moved to places like Norwalk.

I chose my area of Norwalk because of the walkability and the nearness of the train–the DOT is busy turning it into an extension of I-95 so trucks can use the neighborhood as a cut through to all the retail I can’t walk to. Neither the trains, nor the buses are rational choices to commute to work.

I would like to hope that my tax dollars won’t be used to turn us into NYC where a public transportation trip that used to take 25 minutes in the mid-eighties now takes 1hr and 10 minutes.

Jlightfield March 7, 2017 at 6:08 pm

@peterfranz, I expect the people who live in the area to prefer stuff that they can walk to, and that fears of traffic are overstated by people who can’t read a traffic study and see that here, there are actually less car trips on Main Ave in last couple of years than over previous 10.

@deb Goldstein, zoning changes I know about occurred between 2005-10. Every time you see a two story building going up on in our commercial zone, it is because of the zoning that supports increased commercial density. It’s good for the grand lust and good for the streetscape of a walkable commercial corridor. Every curb cut that has been removed off of Main Ave has been as a result of zoning.

isabelle hargrove March 7, 2017 at 9:04 pm

Why do this article and comments look so familiar? Are we back to exactly where we were 4 years ago? In 4 years time, did our elected officials do anything to address this controversial piece of property? Did they formulate a vision for what this parcel could bring to Norwalk? Did they gather the needs and wants of the neighbors and neighborhood associations? Did they research potential use, potential tenants?

I think we all know the answers and it’s a darn shame…

Thomas Cappo March 9, 2017 at 9:08 am

@Jlightfield, apparently, in this town, those people who can’t read a traffic study are forced to contend with the clever manipulations of those who can. Take a look at route one where, on a Saturday afternoon, the entrance traffic to Costco backs up onto the exit 13 ramp of I-95. If current zoning laws allow for construction of a BJ’s type big box on a corridor as narrow as main avenue, then the laws are flawed and the traffic study bogus. The experience of the unread, uninformed masses sitting in traffic can bear witness. At least, you got “grand lust” right.

Russell Grant September 12, 2019 at 1:57 pm

This is a worthy project designed by a notable architect. His design is more aesthetically appealing than anything else on Main Ave, and it’s not even close.

People in Connecticut have bad attitudes towards development. ANY development is a positive for Norwalk and neighborhoods surrounding Main Ave. The state is struggling and Fairfield County won’t be spared by decline when taxes increase because the makers have to carry the takers. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

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