Drafted ‘Norwalk Center’ plan set for overhaul

Melissa Kaplan-Macey, Connecticut Director of the non-profit Regional Plan Association (RPA), talks to Norwalk Common Council member on Feb. 1 in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. – There isn’t going to be a roundabout – a traffic circle – where West Avenue meets Belden Avenue.

Taking out references to roundabouts is just one of the revisions needed in the Norwalk Center Neighborhood Plan, or, more correctly, the West Avenue/Wall Street plan when it is re-unveiled to the public.

“Roundabout options for intersections aren’t happening,” Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan said in a list of criticisms of the plan, which was submitted to Redevelopment in late January and included a suggestion to, “Consider converting the signalized intersection at Cross and Belden to a single lane roundabout.”

Public comment on the plan, created by the non-profit Regional Plan Association (RPA), was set to end Tuesday but the process is being restarted, Director of Community Development Planning Tami Strauss said Tuesday.

“We have taken the public comments submitted to date, given them deep consideration and thought, and we, with our consultant, are working on a revised Plan that we will put out to public comment and start the approval process anew. I imagine the revised document will be ready by mid-April,” Strauss said in an email.

“It will be delayed a month or two, but we are going out with a better plan,” she said, in City Hall.

The big issue is that recommended Zoning changes need to be pulled out and put into a separate document, to facilitate the approval process, Strauss said.

The plan needs to mention building setbacks to minimize the visual effect of tall buildings from street level, Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin wrote.

“POKO is too high for the neighborhood,” Kleppin wrote, explaining that pedestrians should only see four stories from the street, whether it be West Avenue or Wall Street, so that the buildings should appear to be in scale with the surrounding environment, a.k.a. “Waypointe height.”

While the plan suggests moving Pulse Point to South Norwalk as part of an effort “to transform its existing transit infrastructure into a 21st Century transit hub with comfortable, attractive and energy efficient transit vehicles and passenger amenities,” Klepping objected to a comment suggesting “Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) or light rail station with a direct connection to the South Norwalk train station along West Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard… designed to feel much more like a train ride than a bus ride, similar to the CT Fastrak system connecting New Britain to Hartford.”

“We should remove specifics of (CTfastrak) as most streets in the core cannot accommodate a designated transit lane. The plan should add in a policy to investigate the feasibility of a designated travel lane throughout the urban core and the area whether it be for bus, light rail, or other forms of public transit,” Kleppin wrote.

Sheehan objected to calling it the Norwalk Center Neighborhood Plan, saying that Wall Street and West Avenue are not the city center and requesting a change to “Northernmost most section of the larger urban corridor.”

“It is not really the geographic center – other areas of Norwalk also have a ton of civic institutions,” Norwalk Redevelopment Agency Senior Project Manager Susan Sweitzer wrote.

RPA said it would address that.

He also wanted a revision in a sentence referring to eminent domain.

While the plan stated, “None of these actions include the taking of property by eminent domain,” Sheehan wrote, “if it wasn’t in the purview of the agency we wouldn’t be doing a redevelopment plan – we will send you the language from the TOD {Transit Oriented Development} plan.”

Financial tools need to be excised from the plan because they aren’t approved yet, and can be added as an amendment to the plan when they are, Sheehan wrote.

Design guidelines need to be “robust and comprehensive,” Sweitzer wrote, explaining, “The way approvals happen in Norwalk is that Zoning approvals are done by Planning and Zoning but design approvals are done by the Redevelopment Agency, which is why our plans have them within them robustly.”

Parking Authority Chairman Dick Brescia asked that references to the Stepping Stones Museum for Children be changed to Matthews Park museums and asked that Mill Hill be included in the plan.

RPA changed some of the references and added a reference to Lockwood-Matthews, and put Mill Hill into the plan.

It’s not feasible to put Pulse Point at the South Norwalk train station, Brescia wrote. RPA replied that it could be “nearer” to the train station.

Other comments:

  • “I went to college in MA and there were 5 ‘rotaries (as they say in Beantown) around campus. If Chevy Chase finally found his way out of them on his vacation, I think Norwalkers can eventually adapt,” Historical Commissioner Suzanne Betts wrote.
  • “Consider allowing ADA-accessible apartments on the ground floor (with design guidelines),” developer Jason Milligan wrote. “In zoning, consider reducing the public amenities requirements in new developments, as they are expensive, and will push some uses to vacant storefronts and activate the ground floor space.”
  • “8 stories on Wall street is too tall. The ex-POKO building seems to prove this. It is a hulking presence that overshadows the historic streetscape. I don’t see any incentive related to the preservation and rehabilitation of historic buildings, similar to those in the TOD Plan,” Norwalk Preservation Trust President Tod Bryant wrote.
  • “For what it’s worth, I love roond-a-boots (as they’re pronounced in England). If anyone is interested, I can share a book called Traffic that cites numerous studies showing how much safer and efficient they are (once you get used to them),” Common Council member Tom Livingston wrote, in his role as a Historical Commissioner.
  • “My only gasp of horror was the recommendation of roundabouts for certain intersections. There are roundabouts I regularly have to negotiate in Hartford and out on Cape Cod and in NJ and the problem is if you’re not used to them, they can be nerve racking. Plus – CT drivers tend to be more aggressive and less courteous which could result in fender benders, physical altercations and shootings. They are great in theory and lousy in practice,” Historical Commissioner Eric Chandler wrote.


Betts also skeptically questioned having six-story buildings next to historic structures, and Bryant suggested a provision to actively list areas like Berkely Street in historic registers.

Melissa Kaplan-Macey, RPA’s Connecticut Director, indicated at the Feb. 1 Council Planning Committee meeting that she understood that the plan was in draft mode, that it was out there to receive public comment with the intention of revising it.

Council member Doug Hempstead (R-District D) suggested that there wasn’t enough emphasis in the plan on open space, calling that a necessary amenity for the increased housing density that is being encourage.

He specifically mentioned a dog park in Matthews Park.

“This is good feedback,” Kaplan-Macey replied. “What we heard was Matthews should be the Central Park of this neighborhood and for Norwalk. Maybe that’s not coming through clearly enough in the draft plan and maybe we have to go back to that.”

She also offered information gathered in the public outreach process of developing the plan.

“What we heard from the folks at Waypointe was very interesting, just the lack of pedestrian activity. People came sort of expecting a certain thing. They are saying, when is it going to happen?” she said.

Half the people who moved their businesses to Norwalk did it because they see Norwalk as an up and coming neighborhood, and half felt the new residential developments would help their businesses, she said.

Norwalk Hospital, the Norwalk Public Library and the Stepping Stones Museum for Children are already discussing creating a local food shed, she said.

That’s a collaboration to help healthy food production, healthy food distribution and healthy food consumption, she said, explaining that Stepping Stones is already growing food and the hospital could have a rooftop garden on top of whatever it eventually builds in place of the old YMCA building, a garden that could produce food for the hospital cafeteria.

Straus said Tuesday that detailed thoughts about transit don’t belong in a Redevelopment plan as it’s not the purview of the Redevelopment Agency.

“We are incorporating public comment we’ve received to date into the draft Plan and will be going out to public comment again with a revised Plan,” Council Planning Committee Chairman John Kydes (D-District C) said in an email. “We are doing this as to present the public with as comprehensive and implementable plan as possible.”


Chris K March 14, 2018 at 11:19 am

“Straus said Tuesday that detailed thoughts about transit don’t belong in a Redevelopment plan as it’s not the purview of the Redevelopment Agency.”
Then redefine the purview of the agency, or bring in the right group to co-create this thing. How can anyone legitimately talk about a redevelopment plan of this scale and think it is okay to exclude transit from the discussion?

Chris K March 14, 2018 at 11:33 am

“‘Plus – CT drivers tend to be more aggressive and less courteous which could result in fender benders, physical altercations and shootings. They are great in theory and lousy in practice,’ Historical Commissioner Eric Chandler wrote.”
First, everybody thinks drivers are more aggressive where they live– just like everyone thinks they are a good driver. Second, a roundabout could result in “shootings”??? Wow. Third, roundabouts are actually great in theory and *in practice*. Motorists who are unfamiliar with them tend to drive more cautiously through them. And any accidents that do occur are at slower speeds and safer angles than in a traditional intersection. There is a lot of existing research showing their clear benefits but this Mr. Chandler is basically saying he can’t handle a roundabout, thus it is a bad idea.
Now, it is true that roundabouts are not universally great, but I don’t think anyone has yet made a credible argument against it at this particular intersection.

Chris K March 14, 2018 at 11:37 am

“The plan needs to mention building setbacks to minimize the visual effect of tall buildings from street level, Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin wrote.”
This one also has me concerned. Large setbacks are bad for inducing pedestrian activity– but pedestrian activity and walk-ability is a major reason that people are moving into these new condos in the first place. Walk-ability is kind of the whole point of revitalizing this core area. For every encouraging thing I hear from these people I hear two more things that make me shake my head.

Rick March 14, 2018 at 1:44 pm

Waypointe is very interesting

lack of pedestrian activity.

Don’t they ave car repo events every night there?

Devon Place just the other day didn’t they have a community fight were pd responded with many units?

Another Robbery at Norwalk hospital yesterday?

Has the homeless camp behind Toys R us been taken down yet?

Elm st is good for at least two arrest and ten calls a week for disturbances

West ave has many cars towed each night.

Waypoint has both fire and police there almost every day

I guess the city hasn’t provided enough after all

Jerry March 18, 2018 at 9:12 am

Rick, you hit the nail on the head! This city is a joke. I was an investor in the Waypointe. Thankfully I got out half way thru. We lost close to $2M, but we’ll be alright. Greystar management and the majority owner Paxton have no idea what they’re doing. Investors beware. Especially Carmel. The police don’t do a damn thing in this town. At all. Worst police dept I have ever seen. All they do is focus on finding drugs. That’s it. We see police chases every single night. Oh and sirens? You can bet good money on a siren every morning starting at 7am and going thru the whole day. Friday was 25 sirens from Connecticut Ave Fire House, Ambulances from Norwalk Hospital and PD. Orchard Street has become chaos almost every other night with people parking in no parking zones. This creates angry drivers coming down both ways honking their horns. It’s insane!!!!!

Cars are stolen from here about every other night. Fire alarms go off every other day or week. The building is deemed non-smoking and some ass was caught smoking in the emergency stairwell and he set off the alarm at 11:30 at night. We all had to evacuate becuase of this guy. Tenants hang their laundry on the balconies. Smoke on them. I saw one guy has an electric heater on his balcony. Totally against the rules and fire code.

People speeding down West Ave right now as I write this comment. Not one police car in sight.

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