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Planning Commission debates plan to sell All Saints’ 5.5 acres

Winnipauk Village Board of Directors member Steven Bentkover talks to the Norwalk Planning Commission on Tuesday in City Hall.

Updated, May 18: Video added; headline adjusted

NORWALK, Conn. — The All Saints Catholic School property would be subdivided and houses built on an unused ballfield in the back, under a proposal in front of Norwalk Planning and Zoning.

The Planning Commission on Tuesday approved the subdivision on a 6-1 vote, with a majority of members saying it’s “as of right,” that their only decision concerned the division of the property, that the Zoning Commission will handle complaints from neighbors about expected flooding.

Nora King voted no, saying the proposal for a conservation development is in violation of the Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) and, “If we were smart as a city we might be talking to that school about maybe acquiring that property for something to do with our own schools instead of giving it away to a developer.”

MTS Enterprises LLC originally planned 18 homes but the Commission disallowed a sliver of land and it’s now 17 homes, Pete Romano of Land Tech said Tuesday. The nearly 26-acre All Saints lot, owned by the Bridgeport Roman Catholic Diocese, would be split into a 20-acre lot and a 5.5-acre lot, with the “PUD” housing going on the grassy unused ballfield along Aiken Street and Winnapauk Village Road, just across the street from West Rocks Middle School.

This would exacerbate the drainage problems at Winnapauk Village, Steven Bentkover said during the public hearing, explaining that he’s lived in the complex since 1991 and been on the Board of Directors for eight years, and, “Every year there are drainage issues.”

Recently, more houses were built than should have been allowed in proximity to a wetland and that didn’t help, he said.  Not only that, but all the trees were taken down and now people are looking into their neighbors’ bedrooms.

Aiken Street Development LLC built condos in 2015, according to the city’s website.

“I think that there has to be some concern for privacy because this isn’t Manhattan, this is Norwalk, Connecticut,” Bentkover said. “There should be some green space and if you continue to allow green space to be demolished, to put up more pieces of property that shouldn’t be in small little areas like this, I think it’s a crime.”

King asked for more information; Bentkover said water runs down a fairly steeply pitched hill and groundwater comes up underneath the lower units.

“I’d say conservatively we put $1 million into redoing drainage in the last four years,” Bentkover said.

Diane Lauricella suggested that the property is largely ledge and blasting it will badly disturb the area’s hydrology, and Laura Lamorte, of the Rolling Ridge Condominiums just down Aiken Street, said there was a storm two weeks ago that created a “huge flood.”

“Apparently there is an underground river/stream that goes out beyond Rolling Ridge property and feeds into our pond area,” she said. “This townhouse development has exacerbated that.”

“In this zone you are allowed to subdivide the land that way,” Romano said. “It’s an as of right, it’s a Zone for this, those questions – it’s really not relevant.”

The houses would have a 1,200 to 1,400 footprint and would be no closer than 40 feet from the property lines, he said.

The concerns are premature, as “We are not finished with the design… some of your concerns are going to be addressed in the conservation development. The conservation development does exactly what you are worried about. We have to leave 50 percent of this property open space,” he said.  “…We did test holes. There is enough soil to support storm drainage.”

“You guys are at the bottom of a hill. That’s kind of what happens,” he said.

Assistant Planning and Zoning Director Mike Wrinn called the plan a PRD, planned residential development, with condominium-type ownership, commonly referred to as PUD.

“We have something that looks really nice on this piece of property. It’s not overbearing, it provides another type of housing in Norwalk. I think we’re going to capture the young people,” Romano said.

“I feel like we will be doing some redesign of West Rocks School for the ballparks and the sports arena,” King said. “I feel like that site is much more conducive, because you’ve got the two schools there, to be a part of that. Do we need another housing development there? I have got a problem with the entire A Zone in the city of Norwalk, anyway and this just feeds into why I have such a problem with the A Zone in the city of Norwalk. I am not sold into this whole thing of allowing school to subdivide that is prime real estate for that area to put more PUDS, condominiums, housing, whatever you want to label it.”

“We are just approving a subdivision that’s allowed by law,” Commissioner Mike Mushak replied. “So our reasoning to oppose this needs to be based on the regulation, not on the proposal. This is all theoretical. Those are all questions for zoning, but not for this action, which is just subdividing, which is going to be really hard to find any justification to oppose because it’s allowed by law.

“How are we in this position?” King asked. “This is a perfect example of us once again doing something that is not appropriate … we will be forced to vote a certain way and it’s really not appropriate for that area.”

“Take a big step back, look at the Zoning regulations themselves,” Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin replied. “The A residence zone, it’s one lot per 12,500 square feet of lot area. You have 5.5 acres and I know you have to have frontage requirements and other things but if you divide it…. 19 units, if they can fit the roads in and do all that so it’s not like there a big ask outside of what the subdivision regulations allow anyway.”

There aren’t enough ballparks in Norwalk, King said, asking, “Why are these rules stronger so that in the areas that are around school you can’t just sell off land or do stuff like this?”

“I don’t think you have any legal mechanism of any regulation in any state statute that would allow what you want to do,” Kleppin replied.

“It’s private property, and people can do what they want with their property,” Romano said.

King said the proposal in in violation of the POCD; Kleppin said state statute clearly defines the Planning Commission’s role and “The subdivision law is crystal clear.”

“The zoning regulations themselves, which outline the minimum width and the lot area, are the governing document for the division of land,” Kleppin said. “That is considered the general plan of the community. If those regulations are being followed by this application we don’t have any say in whether you think it’s a good idea, bad idea or that.”

Commissioner David Davidson pushed for a resolution specifying that the “Engineering department require that no further drainage impact be permitted on the surrounding properties,” and Romano and Mushak replied that there’s a drainage manual.

Davidson changed it to, “The Commission is concerned about drainage impacts and requests that the Department of Public Works require no negative offsite impacts as a result of the development.”

Chairwoman Fran DiMeglio refused to put that forward because, “DPW knows what it has to do.”

She agreed to say “we are concerned” about drainage, trees and a buffer zone.

King made a motion to not approve the subdivision, but no one seconded it.

“If the subdivision meets the minimum requirements which we have been told it does, by staff, then we must approve,” DiMeglio said. “We can’t say we don’t approve because we don’t like it.”

13 comments

Bryan Meek May 17, 2018 at 7:12 am

The city should buy this land immediately and sit on it for future use.

Can someone, anyone on the council please show an ounce of vision and do the right thing here?

Mike Barbis May 17, 2018 at 7:28 am

I thought there was a consensus that the rules regarding these PUD Conservation Developments needed a major overhaul??? And that the “goals” of the Conservation PUDs were not being met??? Hello P&Z Reform!!

Rick May 17, 2018 at 8:08 am

wow when lajoies and and lablancs put in contractors yards it now floods lawerence st and makes it impassable,yet the city decides to employ a two year old complaint that has nothing to do with flooding after the state told the city time to do your job, bet Mike has no idea whats going on there.

Give Winnapauk Village a boat in fact charge the for all the police and fire calls the city pays for and call it even.

Pick on the catholic church Norwalk and see where it gets you!

Its funny to read such things coming from Nora, time out folks Kleppin is our expert.

{..}

We can’t say we don’t approve because we don’t like it.” where is Mario warning everyone about a lawsuit , mess with the Catholics and see what you get.

Let this be decided at a table at NY a bakery where Norwalk experts actually meet.
edited to remove ascribing motives without proof, a violation of the comments policy.

Concerned May 17, 2018 at 8:53 am

Thank you Nora King for your comments!
“Nora King voted no, saying the proposal for a conservation development is in violation of the Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) and, “If we were smart as a city we might be talking to that school about maybe acquiring that property for something to do with our own schools instead of giving it away to a developer.””

Let’s try to be forward thinking. I know the West Rocks fields get torn up due to the soccer games played almost year round. It would be great to see additional fields behind All Saints that would benefit the entire city. Money would be saved fixing the fields at West Rocks, weekend game parking woes would be fixed, and the open space could remain.

alan mcnichols May 17, 2018 at 10:56 am

Very much like Ferone’s assisted living, the neighbors are always ignored by P&Z. The “Fish Church” in Stamford built apartments on their property and ruined a fine property.

Just Learned May 17, 2018 at 11:24 am

P&Z is broken, lacks direction and again demonstrates tunnel vision with a complete oblivion to common good practices – the rational being used here is confounding when much needed reform should have been in place prior to this hearing taking place. Yet another dysfunction of city hall.

U.S. Blues May 17, 2018 at 12:39 pm

I’m surprised rilling hasn’t made a backroom deals and is planning on more apartments…
Typical Norwalk, this will get hacked up.

Jeff May 17, 2018 at 2:26 pm

A residential development in a residential area which will increase the grand list (land is likely not being taxed now), with no mention of a tax abatement or other tax incentives? And permitted within the existing zoning? Not sure what all the fuss is about. If the city wants the property (which I’ve only seen here in the comments), offer more money.

Laura May 17, 2018 at 2:37 pm

Thanks for your coverage, Nancy, and to Nora King for speaking passionately about what concern so many of us as our neighborhoods are encroached on more and more. I live at Rolling Ridge Condos on Aiken Street down the hill from All Saints, West Rocks Middle School, Winnipauk Village condos, new townhouses (a wooded area was clear cut to make room for these several years ago), and Sunrise Village condos, not to mention a number of private residences that are downhill from us. If the developer prevails in the appeal that we filed, the former SuperFund site in our backyard at 272-280 Main Ave may house a members-only big box store, drawing an unsupportable amount of traffic, further trapping us within our already hemmed-in streets.

Aiken Street and the surrounding area is prone to runoff due to underground water supplies which feed wetlands (or what is left of them) that ultimately drain into the Norwalk River. Increase in traffic is becoming more and more difficult to navigate (and the resulting noise less and less tolerable). The subdivision that was approved on Tuesday night by the Planning Commission should be further developed ONLY with abundant oversight and full disclosure to affected residences.

An additional note of concern about protocol: we are learning that our management company may not have received the required notification of the planned subdivision application and Public Hearing. Will Planning Commission follow up with responsible parties?

Rick May 17, 2018 at 2:42 pm

What are Chairwoman Fran DiMeglio qualifications and affiliations with the city?

Elected or appointed when ? compensation?
\
Its time to do some homework folks its not like anyone sees the train coming down the tracks on theses things, its obvious these plans are decided well before most public meetings.

Norwalk has those who play God and others think they are.

I don’t care abut what party these boards are from its the party at city hall I care about the most.

Some were tired of hearing about Firetree before that a Mosque, East Norwalk then we had a victory parade and laps on a gas station that may be high rises or a sober house complex someday.

No sympathy anyomore just sarcastic comments showing the city deserves what it gets from being so detached from reality.

The city is run by lawyers real estate agents and builders its what you voted for now learn from your mistakes, if you have/t realized it by now , its the time to push it all thru before city hall changes so sit back and wait for the next guess who is moving in next door .

Home owners who have lived by the law paid taxes on time , enjoyed girl scout cookies and have great parades and seen whats left of the city destroyed .

Where its not easy to hear your neighborhood is no longer a safe place its the way it is.

This who say no impact usually live in a vacuum or have other motives I will suggest as i have in the past read your police logs and ask is this the kind of city ready for a mall or even another apartment house?

Read where the crime is where the calls are at assisted living homes and of course the bars the alcohol related calls.

Wall st takes the lead last night a smashed bottle to the face , what a nice family neighborhood then look at the ems calls they are to our senior homes i don’t see any problems yet when we have to wait for outside ambulances because the regular ones are retrieving crime victims what about those seniors who belong here who gave years too this city what bout them , take a number and hope its not a trauma your waiting on.

http://my.norwalkct.org/police/PDFReports/PressLogIncidents.PDF

Big drug bust cant imagine this will stop anything its all on demand , Norwalk has some great places to buy in the city just go look at the city website on locations.

http://my.norwalkct.org/police/PDFReports/PressLogIncidents.PDF

Ny bakery is leaving it said one issue was parking, years ago they were almost robbed at the parking garage many other things have happened to their customers but this is what the city votes for ,maybe the next mayor will have some police experience .

Buddys bakery at the Mall the cake boss how nice the city has done iy again.

V May 17, 2018 at 4:35 pm

@Rick – maybe if the ‘bakery boys’ (which at once point included Prince Harry) didn’t spend hours sitting around in there talking there might actually be parking for someone buying more than a $2 coffee.

EnoPride May 19, 2018 at 12:11 am

Agree with Just Learned that “P&Z is broken, lacks direction, and again demonstrates tunnel vision.” I also agree with the comment from another that P&Z is functioning as real estate brokers where they should not be. This irresponsible practice is overpopulating and unfortunately detracting from the character of the city. I quickly learned this after attending the public hearing on the East Norwalk Train Station Redevelopment Project. While I agree with the train station improvement, I do not at all agree with bringing more apartments into the mix. East Norwalk is obviously dense enough. Aside from wondering who felt that people really want to live that close to actual train tracks, I could not believe how easily the P&Z folks could vote to widen roadways, pass 190 apartment units (250-300 more cars to make East Avenue more ridiculously congested, gridlocked and broken than it already is, folks!) without having a grasp of the landscape and scale of that area and having no substantial dialogue with the residents about the massive amount of traffic congestion, bottleneck and fender benders that happen on East Avenue every day from 8 -10AM and 4-7PM.

Due to nonexistent zoning enforcement, the word is out that East Avenue in East Norwalk is currently functioning as an I-95 truck stop with it’s four gas stations cluttered up with box trucks and yes, even tractor trailer sized trucks! The trucks don’t even wait in the traffic congestion. They jump out of waiting on lines at the lights and drive up onto and along pedestrian sidewalks (I see it now all the time… It’s maddening chaos!) to cut through the gas station properties, endangering pedestrians to get to their street. And P&Z wants more walkable neighborhoods? P&Z seems blissfully unaware. 300 more cars flying off of Exit 16 (might as well add The Mall spillover which will happen on Exit 16 into the mess) will exacerbate this already stress-inducing traffic catastrophe that greatly impacts quality of life. No thorough traffic study of East Avenue, the main artery that will feed into that development, has been conducted yet. The cart is before the horse here. I was disturbed that one commissioner didn’t even know the name/location of the street that would be the entrance to the Train Station he approved. His vote counted!

Stop selling out Norwalk, P&Z! No more apartment buildings, please! We already have too many. You are not at a lack for residents here! Please acquire vision. Be mindful and listen to the residents’ voices. I commend Nora King for having the conviction to say what so many Norwalkers are thinking and wanting regarding the All Saints property. Consider other alternatives for this land use, alternatives that will be of benefit to the quality of life of the already existing taxpayers. A park? A sports field? Tunnel vision apartment sprawl and overpopulation is not what we want. It effects our quality of life. Less apartments, more green public space! Please direct your focus on what can be done to improve the lives of the hard working, tax paying Norwalkers who are already rooted here and supporting you and our city with their tax dollars. Focus your energies on fixing what is broken with our already existing infrastructure to improve our city. Selling out with thoughtless sprawl is not the answer.

Donna Smirniotopoulos May 19, 2018 at 1:03 pm

Though I cannot argue with Commissioner Nora King’s motivations in withholding her approval of this subdivision, the Planning Commission voted appropriately, according to their purview and the advice of Mr. Kleppin. If this is a legally allowed subdivision, then the Planning Commission had no choice but to allow it. The Zoning Commission will deal with the particulars of the application. But this application does draw attention to weaknesses in the code and a lack of planning at City Hall. There are parcels all over the city that the city should jump on—this one, and maybe the Klaff’s parcel before that too gets snapped up by an apartment developer. But if no one is willing to get serious about reforming the code and P&Z and the Charter—if the mayor chooses to drag his feet on five year old campaign promises to fix P&Z and re-empanel a Charter Revision Commission, Norwalk citizens should look forward to more developments like this one—not what anyone really wants, but not something we have any real legal basis to oppose.

Take a shot at it during the Zoning Commission hearings. Maybe some of the drainage issues will stick. I wouldn’t bank on it. This ZC seems content with mediocrity.

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