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Planning Commission has obligation to deny East Norwalk TOD request

Spinnaker Real Estate Partners would transform this property adjacent to the East Norwalk train station into apartments and retail, under a plan submitted to the Planning and Zoning.

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This is an Open Letter to the Planning Commission:

I am writing to you regarding tonight’s meeting and direct your attention to Item III. b) Zoning Commission referral – #11-17R – 230 East Avenue, LLC – Proposed amendments to Section 118-700 to permit transit oriented development (TOD) in the Industrial No. 1 zone at the East  Norwalk Railroad Station – Report and recommended action.

This is to respectfully request that the Planning Commission recommend AGAINST the approval of the text change amendment requested by the applicant. In addition, I would ask that the Planning Commission consider requesting a moratorium of nine to twelve months on permit applications and text amendments in an area defined by a one-mile diameter around the East Norwalk train station so that the Planning Commission, which is charged with carrying out the Plan of Conservation and Development, and the City, which will be conducting a state-funded TOD Study around the East Norwalk train station may permit the local bodies to consider, draft and adopt land use comprehensive plans and/or development regulations (or amendments).

 

Authority

The City of Norwalk’s Planning Commission, Zoning Commission and the Common Council’s Planning Committee are the appropriate venue to determine whether and where a Transit-Oriented Development overlay is appropriate and may be permitted.

Using a text change to the properly created and appropriately crafted zone in South Norwalk to generate a zone consisting of one property in East Norwalk usurps the Planning Commission’s authority in this area and effectively transfers it to the Zoning Commission. Once the text change is permitted, and the new map created, any future developers can use the same mechanism to add their lot to the map, bypassing the TOD planning process entirely.

 

Process

The creation of the TOD zone for South Norwalk is highly irregular. Other towns consider, plan and define an overlay district for TOD. It is not typically done by amending the special permit exception process as done here. The effect of approving this text change is really to implement zone change from I-1 to R3. There is a process for changing a zone, and this simply isn’t it. It is important to remember that, even in the context of South Norwalk’s train station, the creation of a TOD zone was done for an for the entire area, based upon years of studies and public outreach.

 

Missed Opportunities

For years, the economic development plan for Norwalk has focused primarily on the Norwalk Center and the Redevelopment Area. Many pages of the 2015 plan are dedicated to discussion about the sections of the City in the Redevelopment Area. A lack of focus on Economic Development specific to East Norwalk’s central business zone means that we don’t even know what zone change is the appropriate tool to jumpstart a robust, thriving community.

For example, many of the goals (other than housing density) for this area might be more appropriately achieved by rezoning this plot as an R&D zone. Locking this keystone property in as a one-plot TOD area will hinder the city’s stated Economic Development plans in general, and specific to this area. The Economic Development plan calls for TOD around South Norwalk because that is where the study has been focused.

The Plan of Conservation and Development suggests concentrating office space around the transit centers, and it calls for “Harbor-oriented retail/visitor development within walking distance of the Maritime Aquarium and SoNo.”

 

Connectivity

TOD connectivity in East Norwalk must necessarily be different from South Norwalk. Not only hasn’t it been studied, but it is currently in flux. Bike lanes changes, new traffic signals and roadway lowering and widening East Avenue are all on the drawing board, as is a restructuring of the railroad bridge and platform. Every roadway around the train station is two lanes wide, with little opportunity for significant traffic management without major infrastructure changes. We cannot base East Norwalk transit oriented development decisions on connectivity studies done around South Norwalk.

 

TOD Planning

Proper TOD planning calls for defining an entire area, making appropriate infrastructure improvements to the TOD area (connectivity), and not just allowing additional increased density and reduced parking.

Allowing this keystone property to be developed in the absence of appropriate TOD study will preclude appropriate development in the greater TOD zone, once it is established, and will stunt the development in the area for another generation. The City must create the plan for this area, (in concert with the residents,) not a single developer. Indeed, both the City and the State have significant investments right now in planning this area–$190k in the Plan of Conservation and Development and $125k in a state grant specifically granted for the study of this area.

There is virtually no on-street parking in the NB1 zones of East Norwalk as it is. If the parking density calculation for this property is not appropriate, it will exacerbate the competition for parking on the streets of the residential areas around the train station.

The most overlooked item of all, in this proposed development is the fact that not all transit hubs are created equally. Just as it would be inappropriate to take a TOD plan developed for the Stamford or Bridgeport station and use it for South Norwalk; it is also inappropriate to use South Norwalk’s station as a template for East Norwalk. Nobody has yet considered whether the station itself can handle the increased residential density there. South Norwalk is an integrated transportation hub, with 800 parking spaces and platform lengths that can handle ten train cars. It reported handles 1,900 weekday commuters and is ADA compliant. It has manned ticket booths, convenience businesses and public bathrooms, as well as indoor shelter for commuters.

East Norwalk’s commuter parking is scattered over multiple lots, with one as far away as the other side of the highway. It currently handles about 600 commuters on platform lengths that can handle four cars (the platform renovation will permit six). There is no indoor shelter, one service business, no public bathrooms and tickets are available only from automated ticketing machines that malfunction in the cold weather. The state’s own study of this station indicates that it is not ADA compliant and the dangers during icy weather will increase if the City goes ahead with the plans to lower East Avenue.

 

Fairness

South Norwalk, which already has an active and well-funded planning agency, got years of thinking, planning and study before an appropriate TOD area was mapped and an appropriate plan for the area developed. Not only is East Norwalk going to be precluded from the same type of robust study and consideration; but, if the City permits this text amendment, it will be the second time that the city has failed to provide East Norwalk with the opportunity to do so. When the TOD grant study money was last available, two years ago, the City was precluded from applying for it, because it failed to approve an ordinance to join WestCOG (WCCOG – Western Connecticut Council of Governments) in time to apply.

 

Character

For decades, East Norwalk has expressed a desire for a village district for its “downtown”. The neighborhood has a strong preference for a walkable, town square with a maritime feel and neighborhood businesses. While it is recognized that the area around the train station is currently zoned for I-1, it should be patently clear that the zone and the preferences of the neighborhood are incompatible. Permitting a hyper-local zoning decision of this magnitude in advance of a considered zoning change will rob the neighborhood of the ability to design the “gateway” to the rest of the community.

 

No Obligation to Property Owner

Unlike typical zoning arguments that come before the City, in which a controversial use is available “as of right” or via “special permit”, the current proposal is not an instance of an existing property owner seeking to develop his/her own property. Even a strong property rights supporter has to recognize that the plan being proposed is not currently within the scope of the existing zoning codes, and that it is not an application of the existing owner. The City is under no obligation to alter a zoning code to facilitate a property sale. It does not serve the interests of Norwalk to alter a code to facilitate the use of the property by a future owner while planning efforts are underway to determine appropriate development in this area.

Once again, I respectfully request that the Planning Commission recommend AGAINST the approval of the text change amendment requested by the applicant. In addition, I would ask that the Planning Commission consider requesting a moratorium of nine to twelve months on permit applications and text amendments in an area defined by a one-mile diameter around the East Norwalk train station so that the Planning Commission, which is charged with carrying out the Plan of Conservation and Development, and the City, which will be conducting a state-funded TOD Study around the East Norwalk train station may permit the local bodies to consider, draft and adopt land use comprehensive plans and/or development regulations (or amendments).

For what it’s worth, I believe that some level of residential density is likely to be appropriate for this area. However, without the appropriate study, nobody is competent to determine what density level, and what mix of uses will be best. Giving the POCD and the TOD Study time to yield results will allow us to make informed decisions.

Respectfully yours,

(Citizen) Debora Goldstein

East Norwalk

26 comments

Debora Goldstein January 16, 2018 at 1:50 pm

There may be members of the East Norwalk residential and/or business community who are unaware of this project. The P&Z Dept has helpfully placed all documents relevant to the application online (https://ct-norwalk2.civicplus.com/1746/Applications-Pending)

The neighoborhood’s POCD visioning forum will be scheduled shortly. It’s a good thing to think about all of the things you vision for East Norwalk’s downtown in the coming weeks. The request for a zoning text amendment for this one property is just one piece of the puzzle.

It’s your downtown. Let’s make sure that it reflects what East Norwalk wants and needs going forward.

Donna Smirniotopoulos January 16, 2018 at 3:16 pm

Well said, Deborah. The proposed development is the definition of spot zoning. Hard to imagine a litigation proof argument for approval. I hope the Planning Commissioners agree.

niz January 16, 2018 at 4:03 pm

this is so very complicated, makes it difficult for residents of East Norwalk to have time to really understand and have a voice with such a late notice about these matters. tonight and tomorrow, like i found out yesterday.

Nancy Chapman January 16, 2018 at 4:42 pm

As a point of clarification: There is nothing on the agenda for tonight’s meeting to indicate that the public will be allowed to speak on the TOD proposal. Should the Planning Commission vote to deny the request, the Zoning Commission can override that denial with a 2/3 vote. The Zoning Commission will consider it Wednesday (in a meeting that begins at 7) but this is not a public hearing, either. The item is listed as a “status report.”

Debora Goldstein January 16, 2018 at 5:24 pm

@Niz,

There will be a public hearing down the line, before this can be approved. It’s always best to hear the presentation yourself, and keep an open mind.

Nancy Chapman January 16, 2018 at 5:50 pm

Planning and Zoning Director Steve Kleppin tells me that the request for an East Norwalk TOD development requires a public hearing. “The date has not been set yet but we are targeting March 1,” he said.

Debora Goldstein January 16, 2018 at 5:58 pm

ZONING CHANGE APPLICATION PROCESS

Per state statute, once the application is physically received by the office their clock starts ticking on when hearing needs to be opened.

1. The date of receipt for this application is the January 17th meeting. (no public comment)

2. The public hearing shall commence within sixty-five (65) days after receipt of the application.

3. The public hearing shall be completed within thirty-five (35) days after such hearing commences.

4. All decisions shall be rendered within sixty-five (65) days after completion of such hearing.

5. The applicant may consent to one or more extensions of any period specified herein provided the total extension of all such periods shall not be for longer than sixty-five (65) days.

Donna Smirniotopoulos January 16, 2018 at 6:20 pm

In 2016, the Westport P&Z approved a text change to allow site-specific cluster housing in a residential neighborhood zoned for 1/2 acre lots on the site of the former Daybreak Nurseries. Mel Barr of Barr Associates drafted the proposal. Text changes are not usually site-specific. In this case, limiting the increased density to one site may have contributed to relatively smooth sailing for the P&Z. The usual arguments were made. The old site was a business. These would be age-restricted homes. There would be fewer cars, and almost no children. The text change passed without much fanfare. The proposal has now been through several iterations. Slowly as the public becomes aware of the proposal, more citizens are engaged in its opposition. But this opposition may have come too late, as the text change has been in the rearview mirror for nearly two years.

I empathize with Niz and others who feel they’ve been caught off guard. And I’m thankful to Nancy and her team for their commitment to keeping the public informed. Hopefully, by engaging the public before the public hearings begin, concerned citizens can mobilize and consider arguments against what to me sounds like an attempt at spot zoning.

Not all re-zoning is bad. Much of it is good. NYC rezoned 40% of the city under Bloomberg and deputy mayor for development Dan Doctoroff. But Norwalk is NOT New York City. Most of those who are concerned about this proposal would simply like the Planning Commission to finish the City Wide Plan (2018 POCD) before rezoning a light industrial lot to residential.

There’s been a bit of a rush to get approvals before the POCD is complete. I would caution the land use bodies not to do this.

Donna Smirniotopoulos January 16, 2018 at 10:43 pm

Does it matter to the residents or East Norwalk that in the opinion of Planning Commissioner Mike Mushak, the area around the train station looks like “a ghetto” (his words)?

The Planning Commission has not voted on the proposed text change. But it certainly sounds like some have already made up their minds before public comment had closed. One went as far as to claim we already knew what the $125k state funded TOD study would conclude more than 18 months before Steve Kleppin believes the work will be done. I suggest based on their evident bias, they recuee themselves.

We don’t know what East Norwalk residents want for East Norwalk. The project looks good. The developer is solid. That doesn’t mean the PC should be spot zoning before the POCD and East Norwalk TOD studies are complete.

Sid Welker January 17, 2018 at 12:24 am

I dont get it. You’ve sat there and starred at this empty lot/abandoned building (no disrespect pooch hotel) for the past 20 years and never batted an eye lash. All of a sudden a developer who wants to spend his own money,make the area into something while generating tax dollars on top of bringing in people to patronize local businesses that could use the help? Do you just need something complain about? And dont start with the cities infrastructure. The only valid point to that is police and fire staff. Traffic is not valid due to most of these people will be commuters and studies will show you that all of these new apartments going up DO NOT house children filling our school systems. Ask the city for the paperwork if you dont believe me. That monster Waypointe? 4 kids in the NPSS. These apartments are suited for young people prior to children. A.k.a young professionals. So like I said please find a better cause to get behind like child hunger, global warming, child obesity, etc etc.

Donna Smirniotopoulos January 17, 2018 at 12:36 am

@Sid, full disclosure. I do not live in East Norwalk. But the people who do have not finished telling the city of they’d like to be more of an urban center a la South Norwalk, or more suburban like their neighbors in Westport. Yet at least one planning commissioner seems to Tobin he knows what the results of the TOD study will be before it’s begun. Some don’t want this full stop. But most East Norwalk homeowners and residents want to be able to finish the planning process before the Planning Commission decides for them what their neighborhoods will look like. And you make a great case for maintaining the existing integrity of the neighborhood. For more than 20 years no one batted an eyelash. So why now before stantec completes its work and before a funded state study has even begun. Don’t confuse due diligence with whining.

Rem January 17, 2018 at 8:27 am

Waiting for a plan is always sound advice. It’s like trying to build a house without architectural drawings — you’ll find out you didn’t plan for something or you made the hallway too narrow. (Which by the way happened at a UCONN residence hall some years ago, and they supposedly had drawings).

People will need to get used to increased density though, no matter where you live in Fairfield County as land is getting scarce. Lots once undesirable in difficult urban conditions are now suddenly getting desirable. But with good planning and good design those areas can be beautiful and comfortable places to live.

Debora Goldstein January 17, 2018 at 10:16 am

The point is that this developer (who does not own the property, by the way) is getting a chance to put something on the property that nobody else in twenty years would have had permission to do. In fact, he’s seeking permission to do something that is currently NOT PERMITTED on the site.

We DID try to do something two years ago. We asked the City to apply for the TOD Study grant last cycle…and the ordinance committee was too busy #resisting imaginary county government to join the COG in time to apply for it.

If the TOD area had been studied, and zoning changed according to a comprehensive, holistic TOD plan for the AREA, we might have had eight or ten developers looking to do something with the property. If this single property is granted an express pass to the front of the line using this mechanism, there is no point spending $125k studying the area at all.

Every developer who wants to put high-density housing in I-1 in East Norwalk near the train station (there are 31 acres of I-1 around the rail station/tracks on both sides of East Avenue) will just ask to use this special permit exception and add their lot to the newly created TOD map. Under special permit (as opposed to a fully vetted new TOD zone), there is no requirement for anybody to contribute to the type of infrastructure improvements that are typically planned in a TOD zone.

As to Rem’s point, some density around the transportation hub is inevitable—that’s good planning. However, this station in this setting has constraints that are atypical for a transit center. We cannot assume that it can handle the same density as South Norwalk, which handles triple the traffic, with triple the parking on platforms that can platform 2.5 times the number of cars.

TOD planning is not solely about increasing density…it’s about a proper mix of uses. Without that, the assumption that these folks are just going to hop on the train to go to work and somehow spend all their money in Norwalk without also needing a car to go to the grocery store, their childcare provider, their doctor, etc. is just a bet.

Ask yourself, for a moment…would you expect this proposal to fly around Rowayton station? If it can be a special permit exception in Industrial, then it can be a special permit exception in any other zone.

Pamela Parkington January 17, 2018 at 11:58 am

Ok, say this project doesn’t go through and you win. Woo hoo!

Now what?

You say, now we wait for the E. Norwalk TOD. Which mind you can take a couple of years.

In the meantime the owner of the property is very anxious to sell, full disclosure the present owner of property has recently passed away and from what I understand it will be passed on to his children. Pretty sure they’re not going to sit on this empty white, or should I say grey, elephant of a property.

The property is a Zone 1 Light Industrial business, so they sell it to a business that qualifies within that set of zoning parameters. Path of least resistance.

FYI- a Zone 1 Light Industrial property can include a manufacturing; a warehouse, storage facility or distribution center; a transportation and bus storage terminal; a building material sale and storage yard, including a contractor’s storage yard; medical Offices, banks and financial institutions and contractor’s offices. Best one yet that falls under the Zone 1 Light Industrial is the Municipal sewage treatment facilities, no need for a special permit with this one! I digress, sorry.

Easy-peezy, sale goes through without a hitch.

Oh great jobs!!! Building still looks like crap because it’s not in the business’s financial interest to fix it up. No ROI. Plus we have a company and a good portion of the employees that have no ties or vested interest in the surrounding neighborhood. Why would they? Hell, it’s a Zone 1 Light Industrial business for god’s sake.

OK, so now the TOD is finally completed and low and behold what the good citizens of East Norwalk really, really want in that area is a Maritime looking/feeling mixed use property that revitalizes the area and creates walk-able village vibe with restaurants, shops and all sorts of good maritime-y funky things.

Cool.

WHICH IS THE EXACT SAME THING THAT THIS PROPOSED PROJECT WOULD BRING TO THAT AREA.

What’s that now? A wrench has been thrown into our maritime-y, walk-able, funky village vision?

Yep, because now we are stuck with a Zone 1 Light industrial business on one of East Norwalk’s most important pieces of property in a crucial area that IS considered the BUSINESS DISTRICT.

Said building will now be grandfathered in because you can’t really tell an existing business to hit the road, shoo now, get out of our neighborhood because you don’t fit into our funky maritime-y vision TOD.

Fast forward. Developers won’t bother to invest in that area, why should they? New small businesses will be less likely to come because foot traffic in that area won’t support them and existing property owners will probably think twice about fixing up their buildings.

Things will remain the same. No funky maritime-y village. The TOD vision will die on the vine.

Why? Because we let others who are more worried about getting the perfect “process” scare us into thinking that if we let this one project happen that all hell is going break loose.

Fire and brimstone will rain down upon us. Developers will swoop in mass and there will be apartment buildings 15 stories high everywhere! Hoards of children will overrun the schools; traffic will be bumper to bumper on every freaking street in East Norwalk; the train station platform will collapse because there will thousands, yes, thousands of people will be clamoring to board there and oh my god, yes, strangers will be living amongst us! And they will need to go shopping for food! How are we to cope?

“But we must be true to the process, we must follow the process!” they cry.

Yes, because of a few so-called activist’s infinite quest for the perfect, the perfect legislation, the perfect zoning, the perfect processes, along with putting another notch in their belt of grievances against City Hall, we here in East Norwalk may never realize our vision of that maritime-y, walk-able funky village.

We die on the vine.

But hey, they get a win!!!

Pile on in 3, 2, 1…..from the usual suspects.

Nora K King January 17, 2018 at 1:12 pm

I am actually getting pretty tired of the same naysayers that try to stop each project. This project is on the right track. It offers a good fit for TOD solution and will help the small businesses in the area. Some of the design issues need to be detailed a little more, which the developer is working on. However, this project is a nice mixed use TOD project. It is also by a developer who has worked well with the City in the past and has a proven track record. This is a plan that does fit the long term planning of our city and help progress our city. There is smart development and bad development. This is smart development.

Donna Smirniotopoulos January 17, 2018 at 1:37 pm

Nora, how do you address Debora Goldstein’s concern that without a completed TOD study—already funded—the Planning Commission will open the door to further TOD development near the East Norwalk train station and that necessary infrastructure upgrades will fall to the city instead of to the developers?

Also do you imagine the “same naysayers” have no valid points to make and are not endeavoring to ensure the best possible quality of life for all Norwalkers? Every time the Waypointe came up last night the same people who approved it moaned and groaned about the things the developer did no do right. So the same naysayers aren’t the only ones questioning every development. Some appointed people who approved these developments do not appear 100% with the outcomes.

james gallacher January 17, 2018 at 1:44 pm

small businesses? how long ago was the fire at Ludlow Shopping Centre? We have a finite amount of zoning earmarked for light commercial and nothing seems to be in the works to rebuild this spot.

I actually think the proposed railroad area project is a good idea, but we as a community need to lean on owners of property who do nothing with our commercial property to either sell it or use it. It’s a vital component in our land use mix to have good spots for small businesses to land. As it stands the same people have chosen to do nothing with the lot next to the exit 16 off ramp and it’s clear they lack vision.

If the railroad project goes through maybe it would put some pressure on these other owners to think about what our neighborhood could be instead of just passively sitting on the real estate thinking it’s going to rise in value for no reason.

It already takes 10-15 minutes to go up East Ave to exit 16 some mornings, but that’s because of poor existing planning and lack of follow through on promises to do anything about it. The people who want to develop this property into something nice shouldn’t be penalized for other people who continue to do nothing.

Steve Mann January 17, 2018 at 2:06 pm

As a 23 year resident of East Norwalk, I find it unconscionable for a Planning Committee Commissioner to make a clearly biased, highly misleading commment likening the area around the train station to “ghetto” in order to advance an agenda. The comment can foster nothing but negative sentiment on the part of those who don’t know better. To think that an appointee who sits on a committtee charged with doing the right thing by the city’s residents can make such a claim is highly upsetting. I call for Mr. Mushak to publicly retract his statement and further to recuse himself from further activities relative to this project because of his bias.

Pamela Parkington January 17, 2018 at 3:46 pm

@James Gallacher, I believe a development like this will draw new businesses to the area, which may spark some of the existing business property owners to either sell, renovate or build something on their properties in order to keep up and be competitive.

@Steve Mann, to be honest, it ain’t the most visually pleasing area in East Norwalk.

Debora Goldstein January 17, 2018 at 4:02 pm

Steve,

It’s unfortunate that none of the PC members seemed to know that the Ludlow complex that burned a couple of years ago is already under renovation by the owner to return those small business storefronts to contribute to the revitalization of the community.

With little on or off street parking, a small business like a tanning salon has a hard time surviving on a thoroughfare like East Avenue. A problem that will be exacerbated by the City’s capitulation to the state on lowering East Avenue below the railway bridge.

This is why we need a comprehensive plan for the area. Adding another 400 residents (theoretically all millennials?) and praying that it revitalizes local businesses, while trucks clog up our “Main St” is not planning.

Steve Mann January 17, 2018 at 5:46 pm

Deb, never confused the PC with facts. Yes, the Ludlow site is under reconstruction. What some folks don’t allow for is the time it takes to settle insurance claims, draw up building plans, get permits, etc. But those well-intented folks clearly know more about what’s good for a neighborhood than the residents of said neighborhood.

@Pamela, to be honest, well, gee, we like it just fine around here. What is is you find not to be “visually pleasing”? Is it the pre-Revolutionary cemetery? Maybe the three houses of worship within a few blocks? Maybe it’s the Masonic lodge around the corner? Or the small town green where we hold the tree-lighting ceremony each year? Or maybe it’s those huffy puffy trains that chug through town? I’m just not getting it. And frankly, what new businesses would you suggest be drawn to the area? We’re a residential community, with a small area of commerce. That suits a lot of people around here just fine. And for the amount of RE and PP tax the city collects from private property owners in the district, Hey how ’bout this: We close off Fitch Street and make it a pedestrian mall, with kiosks lining the streets so it can be a weekend destination!! So convenient. Just a :15 ride from Exit 16.

Donna Smirniotopoulos January 17, 2018 at 5:52 pm

@Debora, the Planning Commission last night did not put nearly enough emphasis on the “Planning” component of their purview. Instead the merits of this project were discussed, right down to the details on the faux brick facade. There is more to the redevelopment of this area of East Norwalk than the value of improved visual appeal from East Avenue. I would caution Commissioners to stay away from esthetic considerations at this point and focus on the planning aspect. That Commissioner Mushak referred to the area as looking like a ghetto does not help elevate the conversation. It’s not the job of Planning Commissioners to decide what the residents of East Norwalk would rather look at. That is a presumption to which I believe they are not entitled.

Text amendments are not supposed to be site specific. The creation of an East Norwalk TOD should follow the already funded study and should encompass more than a single development by a single developer, no matter how great we think Spinnaker is. The “if we don’t allow this, something worse will happen,” argument is not compelling. Hopefully, Commissioners King and Mushak, both of whom appeared to be inclined to support the project, will pause and hit refresh in order to listen to public comment, both written and oral, without prejudice.

Debora Goldstein January 17, 2018 at 6:14 pm

Well, I’m off to chapter two. Tonight the Zoning Commission gets their first look at his proposal. 7pm Council Chambers. After a public hearing on another application and some other applications. Hopefully, more people will get out and see/hear for themselves.

Sue Haynie January 17, 2018 at 11:44 pm

Agree with Pam Parkington and Nora King. A lot worse can happen and has happened for the last 20 years at that location. It’s been an under-taxed, under-utilized eyesore for as long as I’ve lived here. It’s 500’ from a train station. Spinnaker is a known entity, apartments there make sense, a commuters dream. They don’t even need a car. Im thrilled it’s not going to become a Self Storage Center.

Donna Smirniotopoulos January 18, 2018 at 12:24 am

@Sue, consider that East Norwalk residents might prefer self storage. Fewer cars. Less need for parking. Zero children. The vibrancy could be supplied via additional retail. Spinnaker does not own this parcel. Is it wise for the Planning Commission to approve spot zoning to benefit a non-owner developer? After Spinnaker succeeded in designating Reed Putnam an enterprise zone, they sold to GGP.

In my opinion it’s bad precedent for the PC to spot zone for a developer who doesn’t own the property for which he is requesting the changes. And it’s equally bad practice to enable a text change for a single parcel and not for an entire zone. The East Norwalk TOD study will help flesh this out. Land is finite. Let’s not settle because we’re afraid to see the plan through.

Debora Goldstein January 18, 2018 at 12:41 pm

It appears that at least one Planning Commissioner is operating on information that is not available to the others, or to the members of the Zoning Commission. The rumored self-storage center proposal is a hangover from an interested party that fell through many moons ago. The reason? The purchase price did not suit the seller. The reason the current purchaser is willing to pay the seller’s price? THE ADDITIONAL VALUE THAT WILL ACCRUE TO THE PROPERTY FROM A ZONE CHANGE. That zone change, if it goes through, will permit this one developer a unique opportunity to do something on that spot that nobody in the last two decades had.

Who knows how many interesting proposals might have been offered up if the City had gotten the TOD Grant two years ago, when it was requested, and completed a TOD Study with an appropriate TOD overlay zone approved.

BTW, if we are going to traffic in rumors about transactions that didn’t/will never happen, then everyone might want to hear the rest of the rumor about the self storage proposal…that the developer was looking to do a “wraparound” with retail at ground level all around the storage facility. Wonder if that developer will come back and propose a “spot” TOD zone designation for one of the other dingy buildings along Fort Point, Van Zant, Fitch or even up Winfield Street.

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