NORWALK, Conn. — It’s full steam ahead for The SoNo Collection.
The Norwalk Zoning Commission on Thursday unanimously approved GGP’s requested modifications for its mall, the removal of the hotel and some parking spaces, without resistence or even any discussion. Only three members of the public spoke at the brief public hearing, their comments largely in favor of the mall.
That’s the last hurdle for GGP, in terms of city approvals.
“Now we just have to get it built,” GGP Associate Developer Rob Jakubik said after the vote, to other GGP members and a jubilant citizen.
Construction has already begun, with work on the foundation progressing at the West Avenue lot just south of Interstate 95, on either side of North Water Street.
Language changes that drew controversy at the Common Council level did not even draw questions from the Commission.
Changing the definition of retail removes ambiguities that could give later generations difficulty years from now, Attorney William Hennessey said.
Retail is “a narrow term in the world and it’s also not a defined term in the regulations,” he said.
“We thought it would be good to just point out a couple of uses that could find their way into the mall over time, certainly nothing now, but would not necessarily be considered retail to the staff, because those are definitions that pertain to those uses,” Hennessey said.
GGP Senior Designer Paul Madden said 148 parking spaces are being eliminated, all in more remote areas of the mall.
“My client is very excited and very anxious to continue the pace of construction so this facility can open in October of 2019, just a little over two years from now,” Hennessey said.
Expressing “wholehearted support” was Wini Mola, a realtor who has spoken at previous public hearings.
Likewise former Common Council member Patsy Brescia, who said, “I hope tonight is going to be the last event. I was expecting balloons or whatever, but maybe later.”
Sallie Marsico resumed her objections to the LED billboard planned to face I-95, urging the Commission to take the opportunity to reverse the approval it granted the signs last fall.
But, “It is wonderful that an outstanding developer is about to build an outstanding mall with outstanding design features and outstanding department stores on this outstanding parcel of land. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that The SoNo Collection will be a success and grow in that success over time,” she said.
Hennessy’s reply was that the signs were approved in a separate application. He produced a letter from Michael McGuire to further illustrate why GGP felt it necessary to remove the hotel component from its mall.
Again, there were no questions from the Commission, and the public hearing was closed.
GGP has agreed to pay Norwalk $3.5 million in lieu of building the hotel. Attorney Eric Bernheim, special counsel to the city, told the Common Council last month that there’s an appeal period on GGP’s approvals, meaning that the money would be available at earliest the middle of July.