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Spinnaker plans TOD in East Norwalk

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 Department.

Correction, 7:38 p.m.: Mike Mushak did not say he is in favor of the project. Updated, 2:52 p.m.: Additional information from Steve Kleppin. 

NORWALK, Conn. – An old factory building in East Norwalk would be turned into 195 apartments under a plan submitted to the Planning and Zoning Department by Spinnaker Real Estate Partners.

This first Transit Oriented Development (TOD) project in East Norwalk has generated quite a bit of pushback on Facebook.

“Our property taxes are going up faster than our population. We simply cannot sustain this unimpeded growth. Forget Norwalk becoming another Stamford. We are on a path that will have us becoming another Bridgeport,” one person said, while another proclaimed, “These Apartments make sense, they are in walking distance to the East Norwalk Train Station and take out food, what more does a person need?”

Spinnaker, under the entity 230 East Avenue LLC, has an agreement to buy four properties totaling 3.62 acres at 230 East Ave. and 3 Rowan St., provided the Zoning Commission approves Zoning changes in the area to allow a TOD development.

The Zoning Commission will begin a review of the proposal at its Thursday meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in City Hall’s Council chambers. The item is not listed as a public hearing, with no provision listed on the agenda for public comment.

“The applicant will make a summary presentation to the Commission tomorrow night, assuming the meeting isn’t cancelled b/c of weather,” Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin said in a Wednesday email. “Correct, it’s not a public hearing and only the applicant will be allowed to address the Commission.  The application does require a public hearing.  The date will be discussed tomorrow night.”

Spinnaker has only asked for changes on its property, not the area, in view of the TOD study P&Z has just won a $125,000 state grant for, Attorney Elizabeth “Liz” Suchy wrote in a memo to Zoning.

Spinnaker would repurpose the old vacant hat factory, built in 1927 and later the home of a factory outlet, with 50-60 apartments on its upper floors and office, retail and other uses on its lower floors, Suchy wrote. The company would build a new 5-story 135-apartment building on an adjacent parking lot; units would range from studio apartments to two bedrooms.

“The contemplated development would help revitalize this transportation hub in East Norwalk, improve on-site infrastructure and walkability, provide new mixed­ income housing stock, create new commercial opportunities and employment and expand transient parking options convenient to the Metro-North East Norwalk Train Station. The East Norwalk station sees nearly 600 commuters daily at a stop along the nation’s busiest rail line. It is hoped that the investment that this development represents will serve to attract new businesses to the area and add some activity and vibrancy to the immediate neighborhood for all residents to enjoy,” she wrote.

This proposal comes one year after U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D- Conn.) visited the site to ask local officials for ideas to submit to President Donald Trumps’ infrastructure program, which has not materialized. Mayor Harry Rilling called the 230 East Ave. property “ideal for development,” and said, “There are some things happening now that we are looking at but this would be a perfect TOD project right here.”

Spinnaker Partners Chairman Clay Fowler on Tuesday called the property a great location.

“I think we can do a smart improvement to the building while saving its essential aspects and add appropriate housing to the area with its scale,” he said.

The development would create 356 parking spaces (97 within the former Hat Company/Factory Outlet building, and an additional 259 on-grade spaces, the memo said. Fowler explained that, parking spaces will be available via the trend of apartment dwellers vacating during the day and leaving parking spaces open for others.

Third Taxing District Pam Parkington is a fan of the idea.

“This is a good project, it has the potential to change East Norwalk for the better,” Parkington said in a text message. “Key for me is that the exterior of the building will be restored, Spinnaker’s work speaks for itself. We are lucky he is the developer.”

The buildings were painted grey, obscuring the original red brick that is a feature of other old Norwalk factories, she said.

“He wants it to have an old maritime look to it. Think Essex, CT or Boston waterfront restoration,” she wrote. “The look will be along the lines of the Corset Factory in South Norwalk. I love that building, plus it will give TTD some more customers! The smaller building in the back will be the same height as original factory building in front, will look good.”

Then there are the thoughts expressed on Facebook. One man wrote:

  • “East Norwalk has held out as the last section of Norwalk that preserves the coastal character of our Town. … We don’t have the infrastructure to support another concentration of residents, and the volume of traffic at that intersection is already unbearable at rush hour. As well, the east Norwalk commuter depot is woefully undeveloped, and this housing is obviously meant to draw new commuters. I hate it, and I think it wasn’t well-planned municipal Planning and Zoning.
  • “{T}ake a ride down to Shippan in Stamford. They’ve turned the Harbor-front into a circus with nightclubs and expensive high-rise housing. What’s next, the old factory store site? The 250K sq ft Hat Company site on Van Zant? These multi-unit housing structures are contagious. Take a look at Stamford, which is now a commuter housing center. Big companies are leaving, people who work in NYC are coming. The high income housing south of ‘95 in Stamford is squeezing lifelong residents out. Not every town is destined for bedroom community status. Think they’d try this in Rowayton, Darien, or Westport? We’ll lose our identity as a mixed demographic community after we morph into a place for people who leave from 7:00 AM-7:00 PM. Housing doesn’t create jobs, and jobs are what we need.”

 

Planning Commissioner Mike Mushak explained some of the reasons why TOD is a goal in many communities.

“I can’t say how I feel about this project at this particular point, until I see the application and not until after I vote on it as member of the Planning Commission,” Mushak wrote. “However, it is important to realize that Norwalk will grow regardless of how anyone feels about that, and the challenge with good planning is to direct that growth where it is best situated, near existing infrastructure and near transit. This limits traffic impacts from commuting, and expense of extending utilities or  expanding roads into less developed areas.”

“{C}ompanies won’t move to where housing is scarce or too expensive for their employees to live,” he wrote. “…That’s why affordable housing is so important.”

The project, like every other new apartment building with more than 20 units, would feature 10 percent of its units as “affordable,” with reduced rents based on 80 percent of the state median income. That would be 20 affordable apartments.

“The first thing businesses look at is commuting times and traffic,” Mushak wrote. “Building housing near train stations is common sense and many millennials don’t even want to own cars so it’s a win/win. Second, We have a housing shortage which is why our rents are so high. It’s the old supply and demand thing. Increase supply to meet demand and housing costs will become more affordable for everyone. And if you owned one of the hundreds of small businesses that have struggled through the recession, each new apartment unit brings potential customers you didn’t have before. Since small business is the backbone of our economy, that means increased income for local owners and more jobs and taxes paid, helping us dig out of the hole we’re in mostly from unfunded pension liabilities over decades by both parties.”

Some other comments:

  • “Historically, anytime Spinnaker is involved, the project is targeted to those who can afford $2000 a month rents. Just look at the buildings that they’ve already installed in town. Personally, it appears to me that Spinnaker has earmarked Norwalk as their personal playground for their development ideas, almost as if they’ve bamboozled City Hall to just sign off on anything they want to do.”
  • “I lived down the road from this site for 10 years and still own a house down the road. These empty buildings just bring down property values I would Much rather see the rentals go up and draw small businesses back to east avenue, than see them empty. Houses in east Norwalk have never recovered to pre-financial crisis levels, this can only help.”
  • “This is great. That building needs to be put to good use, and new apartments will bring new amenities to the area near the station. As a daily commuter, I welcome bringing extra pizzazz to the area beyond Station House and the gas stations.”
  • “I couldn’t figure out why they were fighting to tear up East Ave. Because these projects were in the works. It’s a get rich quick and RUN!  🙁 my beautiful seaside town, now mini Stamford.”
  • “There is nothing nostalgic about the old factory stores at its peak that place was a dump .as a small business owner in East Norwalk I welcome something new.”
  • “It would be a good site for a Christmas Tree Shop or an Ocean State Job Lot.”

 

Tony Pavia said he’s in favor of the project.

“Critical mass is important – bringing more people to, what’s in essence a parking lot and an under utilized old factory building is a win. Rising tide lifts all boats,” he wrote. “But a failure of Zoning enforcement has turned what could have been beachy, viby neighborhood into a neighborhood of 2, 3,4 and 5 family houses…. I do think this is the way to jump start other development in the area. I bet the local businesses there (Norwalk Pizza and Pasta, Don Carmelo’s, etc) would be in favor of more foot traffic and people living there. I certainly would. And Spinnaker plans and builds good stuff. West Ave Apts, Avalon Apts – terribly conceived, poorly executed. …This proposal is a win all around and should be evaluated on its own merits.”

12 comments

Sue Haynie January 3, 2018 at 6:19 am

This has been an underused site for years, with its depressed facade and often empty parking lot, even though located right next to a train station. This is an exciting development and a plus for Norwalk.

NotAffiliated January 3, 2018 at 7:54 am

A safe area of Norwalk with some nice apartments right next to the train station? Let’s get started

Let’s not blame it on Trump’s infrastructure plan not materializing (yet). Next thing we’ll know, our sanctuary city will also be Trump’s fault

Donna Smirniotopoulos January 3, 2018 at 10:56 am

The P&Z should put large scale development on hold until they sort out the POCD. Does Norwalk really want more apartments? Can the existing infrastructure sustain the added traffic? Will the traffic study be a wide circle or a narrow one of closest cross streets that doesn’t truly flesh out the traffic implications? It’s not that I love the looks of the existing building. Instead of residential, this could be developed as artists studios and space for light manufacturing—a distillery or brewery or start up baking business. Even excellent developers will choose the path of least resistance—the most profitable development that the existing regulations and land use boards are likely to allow. The only avenue left to residents who oppose the apartmentization of Norwalk is through the POCD, and the city has barely begun to collect data from residents. Can anyone say “Whoa”?

Education101 January 3, 2018 at 11:15 am

From a city planning perspective, it is not prudent to weigh heavily on anecdotal opinions which will likely carry the day on whether this project moved forward. The multiyear municipal residential building boom could be a black swan and sky rocket mill rates to unforeseen levels and likely add another decade to the malaise in property values. Simple Board of Education math at over 20k per student should be pause enough to rethink how much more housing the city can absorb. Further, demographic shifts deriving from the city’s immigration and millennial influx should dispel old notions that families are averse from apartment living/resettling.

Adolph Neaderland January 3, 2018 at 11:43 am

I have a problem with a zone change that further reduces the opportunity for creative light industrial and adding additional housing units.

Norwalk needs higher paying job opportunities, not additional residential renters.

What is missing is creative planning by our land use agencies to bring in light industrial and/or digital start-ups. The location would be ideal.

Our “planning” folks gave away the Glover Ave industrial sight (zone changed to residential) – let’s not continue zone changes for “instant gratification” residential projects.

Where is our “long range” planning?

Let’s get out of our current residential rut and get some balance into our planning!

NotAffiliated January 3, 2018 at 12:32 pm

Our strategic planning should involve decreasing the number of illegal immigrants and enforcing our country’s laws. The reason for our school costs going up is that factor mainly. Go to any elementary school in town or scan year books for the last decade. Great job security in Norwalk is being an ESL teacher.

This fact is especially troublesome for blacks. Been to McDonalds, Duchess, Dunkin lately?

Rick January 3, 2018 at 3:18 pm

wow and this is all before pot becomes legal in Ct.

The Matrix Corporate Center large vacancies creating problems within an entire market. The 1.3 million-square-foot building sits in Danbury and has been plagued over the last two years by fleeing tenants, lawsuits and foreclosure.

From the State house

Stamford The former UBS headquarters, all 712,000 square feet of it, is vacant at 677 Washington Blvd. Pitney Bowes’ former building on Elmcroft Road has more than 500,000 square feet available. BLT Financial Centre has major tenants such as Henkel and Deloitte, but has a couple hundred thousand square feet unoccupied.

Suchy a quantard ave facilitator Murphy a million plus and Mike being Mike

Where are Norwalks numbers how can anyone vote not knowing facts?

The mall will double the the population every day lets not plan what Norwalk needs lets just Casey Jones drive that train right taxpayers duff.

Debora Goldstein January 3, 2018 at 4:33 pm

Those interested in seeing the application should attend the Zoning Committee meeting on Thursday Jan 4th at 7pm in council chambers on the 3rd floor of City Hall (assuming it isn’t canceled due to weather).

TOD is just one of many economic development strategies the city could have pursued for this area/property over the last few years.

Donna Smirniotopoulos January 3, 2018 at 11:36 pm

@Debora, do you suppose we can count on all the commissioners to listen to members of the public—citizens and taxpayers—with an open mind? I’ve read things written by commissioners as recently as today that suggest their minds are made up regarding certain voices and opinions.

Donna Smirniotopoulos January 4, 2018 at 12:12 am

The proposed 6 story development on Water Street is part of the public hearing however. This project falls within the SoNo TOD. There may be an opportunity for the public to raise issues related to TODs in general.

Al Bore January 4, 2018 at 1:27 pm

How about bringing jobs to Norwalk we have plenty of apartments and everything that comes with them like traffic, people cutting through residential streets to get around, needing more fire, police, and schools which means more city pensions paid for by higher property taxes. Bring jobs and manufacturing to Norwalk. Enough apartments you can’t move in this overcrowded city now. Imagine the beach during fireworks with another 195 apartments right near beach road, sounds like fun for the whole family to me. Can our city government envision anything else besides apartments for Norwalk? The mall is almost starting to make sense to me now at least it is not rental apartments. Our new slogan “overcrowded Norwalk our roads are as stagnate as our property values”. We do need a professional person running this city things are not good and they are getting worse.

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