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.”