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Waypointe discussion turns to West Avenue bike lanes

An updated rendering of Pinnacle at Waypointe is shown on the City Hall Council Chambers’ screen Wednesday night during the Zoning Commission meeting. There’s been a minor change, as the building at left has been made darker. That’s not much but the Planning and Zoning staff still needs to review it before the public hearing can close, Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin said.

Updated, 1:30 a.m., Sept. 15: Two videos added. Updated, 1:43 p.m.: Additional information to clarify which development this is.

NORWALK, Conn. — Waypointe developers expressed frustration Wednesday as the Norwalk Zoning Commission said it couldn’t move forward with a vote on the plans for the former Loehmann’s Plaza.

Attorney Jackie Kaufman called it critical that the Commission vote in October; then the conversation moved on to West Avenue bike lanes.

Belpointe Capital is seeking approval for a seven-story, mixed-use development with 330 apartments, 61,482 square feet of residential recreation area, 55,598 square feet of non-residential space (retail, restaurant, iPic theater and health/fitness club) and a 942-space parking garage for a 4.6-acre lot on West Avenue between Orchard Street and Butler Street. The property was approved in 2016 for a six-story, 109,157 square foot mixed-use development with 76 apartments, 16,820 square feet of retail and a 303-space parking lot, some of it below grade, a revision from earlier approvals.

The Planning Commission turned this down, so Belpointe need a two-thirds majority approval from Zoning.

Outstanding issues prevented the Zoning Commission from closing its public hearing, Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin said Wednesday, naming a response from Belpointe’s team to an architectural review done on behalf of the Redevelopment Agency and documentation about an affordable housing plan.

Developer Paxton Kinol in July complained to the Commission that Redevelopment takes four to six months to complete a review. Typically, Waypointe goes ahead with construction as Redevelopment fusses over the 20 feet that is closest to the road, he said.

Things might have been different before Kleppin came on the scene, Commission Chairman Nate Sumpter replied.

Kinol on Wednesday asked the Commission if it was going to wait four months for the review, but Kleppin replied that a draft form of the comments had come in late in the afternoon.

“We don’t expect it to be four months,” Sumpter said. “We are as anxious as you are to close the hearing. So, we are here to be as much help as possible.”

“I think most of us are excited about this project,” Commissioner Joe Passero said.

Kinol volunteered that the citizens who spoke in favor of the development last month did so without being contacted by Belpointe.

That brought up comments made last month by former Zoning Commissioner Mike Mushak.

“Smart growth includes smart transportation choices. We have to have bike lanes on West Avenue, it’s so important,” Mushak said, mentioning that the Department of Public Works has agreed that bike lanes work and committed to putting them on West Avenue.

“I think that we have made some bad decisions on transportation in the past,” Mushak said, naming Kinol’s other development, HighPointe, and the decision not to put bike lanes on North Avenue.

“It’s really because of some engineers don’t like bike lanes,” Mushak said. “That’s not how good planning happens.  Good planning happens when the Planning and Zoning Department tells DPW this is what we want to have because it’s going to feed into a bigger picture, it’s going to help our economy and it’s going to draw millenials and retirees and people who want to live in the city and use bikes. We can’t have this old-fashioned ‘cars are for roads only’ attitude, it’s so obsolete. That sounds a little passionate, maybe a little radical, but if you go to any other city… in America, bike lanes are happening fast. The city can’t put them in fast enough.”

Commission Vice Chairman Louis Schulman suggested Wednesday that Belpointe respond to the comments.

Bike lanes are a city issue, Kinol replied, but Schulman said the issue is the property Waypointe would have to forfeit to make room for bike lanes.

Commissioner Richard Roina said he has been to every restaurant in the Waypointe complex three times, and brings visitors down West Avenue as part of a tour meant to be impressive.

“I am astounded how you can drive from one end of West Avenue to the other with no problem whatsoever,” he said. “So I hope that if there is going to be discussion regarding drive lanes and the rest of it that your traffic engineer might get involved again to make a statement as to what is going to adversely impact what seems like a fantastic traffic situation, to me anyway.”

Kinol said that he bikes from Waypointe to Calf Pasture Beach with his daughter, but wouldn’t go down West Avenue because it’s not safe.

“I think trying to force bike lanes where they don’t need to be is a mistake,” he said.

The state decided not to allow bike lanes on North Avenue and it was a good idea, he said.

“It may be your opinion,” but the city has a Bike/Walk Commission that may disagree, Sumpter said.

DPW has a concept of bike lanes on West Avenue but no formal plans, Kleppin said.

“They don’t want to see a bike lane on this project that doesn’t connect anywhere and it may not be the best location,” Kleppin said, suggesting that the Commission add a condition that room be left to allow for vehicular lanes, parking spaces and bike lanes.

There’s no reason why the Commission can’t vote on the plans next month, Kleppin said.

“We want the hearing to close, however it is part of our due diligence to make certainly that things are handled decent and in order,” Sumpter said. “So, we are not trying to string you along but there’s some things that we want to make certain that are handled properly.”

10 comments

Mike Mushak September 14, 2017 at 10:10 am

Paxton Kinol strongly supported bike lanes on West Ave. in the past. His change of heart is confusing and frustrating to say the least, and actually his statement that West Ave is dangerous now for cycling is exactly why we need a Complete Streets solution including bike lanes there, just as years of professional planners have recommended.

I had a 2-hour meeting with Mr Kinol a couple of years ago as a member of the Bike/Walk Task Force to show him the Norwalk Bicycle Master Plan, and explain why West Ave was so important as a connection between Wall St and his project, and to SoNo and the train station via the Norwalk River Valley Trail through Mathews and Oystershell Park. (The segment between the 95/7 bridges is too narrow for bike lanes although we see bikes there a lot now, including many on the sidewalks).

At the time of that meeting, Mr. Kinol also supported the bike lanes on North Ave (Route 1) in front of his huge project called Highpointe, in contrast to his comment last night. Many of us volunteers on the Bike/Walk Task Force worked hard for months with city staff and the then-Zoning Commission Chair Adam Blank to get conditions in place for bike lanes on North Ave, to tie into future bike lanes on Route 1 that are in the works among many of the cities in Fairfield County from Bridgeport to Stamford including Norwalk in the future. That is why North Ave appears as a bike route on our Bicycle Master Plan.

In fact, Stamford required Mr Kinol to put bike lanes on Route 1 (Main St) on his project at Glenbrook Rd. In that city, because Stamford looked ahead and saw what was coming, something Norwalk is also doing now. We can’t let developers determine what is best for the city, especially on a project as big as Waypointe.

At the Zoning hearing last month Mr Kinol explained that he only builds the buildings but then investors at Belpointe Capital take over and are responsible for filling them up with tenants and managing them. He was very clear that he is done with them once he builds them, and is not responsible for what happens with them later.

Since these buildings are atttacting many millennials and retirees among their tenants who want to live in vibrant bike-friendly settings, as many studies support, it is in the best interest of this developer and the Belpointe Capital investors to have bike lanes in front of his buildings for the long-term success of this project as well as surrounding areas. That is why this is happening in well-planned cities across the country, a fact the well-traveled Mr Kinol is fully aware of in our past conversations.

I wonder if the Belpointe Capital investors are aware of this new attitude by Mr. Kinol to share these thoughts in public meetings, and to seem to not care about the long-term success of their buildings they are investing in by ignoring the intent of making our streets safer for all users of all ages and abilities, and thus the success of these projects, which is the goal of many city agencies including staff and volunteers on various commissions.

Has Mr. Kinol now decided it’s not in his best interest to care about the goals of the city, but to just get the buildings built as quickly and cheaply as possible with little concern for the economic and environmental sustainability the City of Norwalk is seeking here?

That seems to be what is happening here, and after these shocking comments from Mr. Kinol that are opposite what he has always shared with us in the past, I am as frustrated now as the Planning Commission was last month when they voted against this project for various reasons.

Debora Goldstein September 14, 2017 at 11:24 am

Yes, please let’s focus on the bike lanes and not the density change for the proposed Belpointe apartment complex. Promised retail and entertainment traded for even more apartments.

What’s the RESIDENTIAL occupancy for the existing Waypointe buildings?

Bryan Meek September 14, 2017 at 2:16 pm

No more apartments and no more bike lanes please. At least until we get new schools built and fix the disaster on Strawberry Hill Ave that has made the road incredibly more dangerous.

Rick September 14, 2017 at 3:25 pm

confusing and frustrating to say the least this guy has to go. Mr. Kinol should sue the city next .

Belpointe Capital investors along with GGP and Stantec investors realize Norwalk is a marked city . Low hanging fruit along with its fruitcakes shows why we need leadership.

Why would anyone want to take a bike to Oyster shell park ? Hazardous conditions mentioned back when it was given back to the city reported approx 21,000 gallons of contaminated water leaves the site daily and that was years ago,now unchecked we have 1 man thinking its safe without the same report being passed around the city,

The Norwalk Landfill (landfill) property is located along Cresent Street in Norwalk, Fairfield, Connecticut. Local tax assessment information is unknown. The 15-acre property is currently owned by the Town of Norwalk and an active transfer station is located on the property. The City of Norwalk is proceeding with permanent closure of the landfill and development of a municipal park on the property. The property is bordered to the north by Interstate-95 (I-95), to the west by a tidal channel and railroad right-of-way, and to the south and east by the Norwalk River.

Prior to development, the property was a tidal marshland. An incinerator was built on the property in 1895. Aerial photographs indicate that by the 1940s most of the marshland was covered with ash. After construction of I-95 in the late 1950s, landfilling continued to the south of the highway. Reportedly, the incinerator ceased operating in the early 1970s, and since that time, the majority of landfill material consisted of bulky waste. The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (CT DEP) inspected the property in the early 1970s and found the landfill to be lacking in operating and closure requirements. The landfill was closed in 1979. In 1987, the property was included in the CT DEP’s Inventory of Hazardous Waste Sites as the property was identified as having the potential to contain hazardous wastes. Approximately 21,000 gallons of leachate per day are generated and may be fluxing in the Norwalk River; however, there is no observable impact on the river from the landfill. Results of a soil-gas survey indicate there are limited areas along the edge of the landfill where combustible gases have accumulated; however, the gas does not appear to be migrating off the property. Previous Investigations into the property include a Preliminary Assessment (PA) completed in 1989 and a Site Inspection (SI) completed in 1992.

The city was suppose to maintain the park do testing and make sure its safe, wonder if the city taxpayers the investors know this hasnt been done ever since the city took back the park from the state years ago.

I think the landfill may pose a problem but how would anyone know its never been maintained according to the directive of the EPA and State Deep.When was it tested last and when was it even checked for problems?

Al Bore September 15, 2017 at 7:09 am

There is no room for cars on the busy over crowded streets of Norwalk and we want to squeeze in bikes now. Someone is going to get killed on the crazy bike lanes on strawberry hill it’s is just a matter of time. Stop the madness!! We need bike lanes like we need more apartments. For those at city hall that do not understand what I mean, we do not need any more apartments or bike lanes. We are bursting at the seams. Cars cars every where cars the theme song for Norwalk.

Donna Smirniotopoulos September 15, 2017 at 10:31 am

Unfortunately, as long as cars dominate the roads, bike travel–lanes or no lanes–will be problematic. And it’s not simply a matter of educating the public to share the roads. Bikes are not easily visible. A bike traveling straight runs the risk of being hit by a car turning right. And then there are the car doors. There is a learning curve here that adding bike lanes will do little to address.

Non Partisan September 16, 2017 at 12:23 pm

I work in NYC

Bloomberg ( undoubtedly one of the best mayors in US history) implemented bike lanes in earnest.

It took several years for traffic to adjust. But now you can ride by bike almost anywhere. ( note- it’s not 100% danger free) and traffic is no worse than it was years ago.

But what’s the biggest outcome- along with many other changes- a vibrant city that attract talent from around the globe.

I often do not agree with mike- but in this I do.

Besides- how else will our illegal immigrant population get around?

Donna Smirniotopoulos September 16, 2017 at 1:07 pm

Maybe if the City of Norwalk could be bothered to fix the traffic lights on West Avenue, we could worry about and benefit from bike lanes. West Avenue lights still aren’t synchronized.
Enforce proper use of bike lanes where they already exist. Cyclists ride their bikes on the sidewalks, or ride opposing traffic or both. Let’s fix the stuff that’s broken first.

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