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Norwalk Center plan identifies ‘opportunity zones’

Norwalk Director of Community Development Planning Tami Strauss, center, gives a brief explanation of the development Norwalk Center Neighborhood Plan to the Common Council Planning Committee on Thursday in City Hall.

The Norwalk Center Neighborhood Plan boundaries, as shown in a Power Point presentation from May.

NORWALK, Conn. — The Norwalk Center Neighborhood Plan is percolating with a first for the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency – a third-party market review.

“We put the plan out for initial public comment in January,” Director of Community Development Planning Tami Strauss said Thursday to Common Council members. “We have received that public comment, we have incorporated it into the draft plan and now the plan is out for final economic analysis. We have decided that this needed a third-party market review, which we have never done before but to really look at the feasibility of commercial development, to look at the demands, look at the residential development.”

The Connecticut Economic Resource Center (CERC) is doing the analysis, according to a letter Straus wrote to the Council members.

The Norwalk Center Neighborhood Plan combines Wall Street and the West Avenue corridor into one area for planning purposes in an effort to create a healthy and vibrant city center, Regional Plan Association (RPA) states in the document submitted to the Redevelopment Agency in January.

The process was being restarted, Straus said in March, predicting that a revised, better, plan would be ready in mid-April.  The latest working group meeting was held on May 22, Straus said in her memo to the Council Planning Committee.

The boundaries of the plan extend to Interstate 95 at the south, up Route 7 but jutting out to include Norwalk Hospital, and up to High Street, Straus said Thursday, with Council member Tom Livingston (D-District E) jesting that the district had been “gerrymandered.”

“I wouldn’t use that word,” Straus said with a laugh, then explaining that there’s less blight in the district due to all the development and there needs to be a certain percentage of blighted properties in a zone to qualify as a redevelopment area, a reference to federal regulations.

The new boundaries exclude residences that are in good condition, east of West Avenue, but includes the hospital to maximize resources and because the hospital owns the old YMCA building on West Avenue, Straus said.

Five “opportunity sites” have been identified in the district, she said:

  • 370 West Avenue (the former YMCA site )
  • West Avenue between Merwin and Chapel Streets
  • Wall Street, West Avenue, Leonard Street, Commerce Street
  • Wall Street between High and Main Streets
  • The Norwalk Public Library and adjacent sites

 

“RPA has put forth some recommendations for those sites,” she said. “That’s really what we’re going to be testing with our economic analysis.”

The PowerPoint presentation provided to the Council members identifies these possibilities for the YMCA:

  • Health and wellness focused mixed use development serving hospital’s operational and programmatic needs and the local community
  • “New building{s) fronting on West Avenue
  • “Ground floor design and uses that activate the street
  • “Enhance Maple Street to encourage people to walk between Norwalk Hospital and West Avenue
  • Create a strong gateway at the intersection of Maple Street, West Avenue and the Norwalk River Valley Trail celebrating health and wellness at this important neighborhood entrance”

Norwalk Center plan 18-0607

 

It offers these thoughts on West Avenue between Merwin and Chapel:

  • Infill development on the auto sales and repair sites
  • “Provide for a continuous street frontage along West Avenue
  • “Require active ground floor uses that generate pedestrian activity
  • “Given existing uses, redevelopment of these sites is likely to require environmental remediation”

 

For Wall Street, West Avenue, Leonard Street and Commerce Street, it states:

  • Cohesive redevelopment strategy to rationalize disparate character of existing buildings
  • Mixed use development with a variety of residential, commercial, restaurant uses, live/work spaces, and light and/or boutique manufacturing
  • “For properties fronting on Wall Street, new development should respect and incorporate existing designated historic structures
  • Building facades consistent with the existing streetscape and stepping back at, or above four stories
  • Active and pedestrian-oriented ground floor uses on Wall Street & West Avenue
  • “Streetscapes with welcoming sidewalks, landscaping and lighting
  • “For interior suburban scale properties, orient buildings to face the street and introduce sidewalk, landscaping and lighting treatments”

 

The Norwalk Center Neighborhood Plan boundaries, as shown Thursday in City Hall.

Continuing on, the PowerPoint lists these ideas for Wall Street between High and Main:

  • Important neighborhood gateway
  • Prime opportunity for development of a 4-6 story building(s) with attractive, pedestrian-oriented frontage along Main, Wall & High Streets
  • Mix of uses– residential, office and commercial, light & boutique manufacturing- and replacement parking
  • Activate street scape through building design & maximize relationship with Freese Park
  • Widen sidewalks along Wall Street and provide pedestrian amenities
  • Redesign roadway to better balance pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular needs and improve the look and feel of the street

 

And finally, for the library and its adjacent sites, it states:

  • “Create cohesive, pedestrian-friendly environment that activates West Avenue with­

“A mix of community-oriented uses, including a new and/or expanded library

“Strong connections to open space at Union Park

“Strong connections  to transit and parking on Burnell Boulevard

 

  • Library is central focus of redevelopment, addressing

“Growing demand for library services and programs

“Need for more space for research, exhibitions and meeting rooms

“Indoor and outdoor public gathering spaces and parking for patrons

  • Redevelop vacant office building site adjacent to Norwalk Transit District’s Pulse Point for mixed use development with ground floor uses that provide passenger amenities and services wit h residential, commercial and/or shared work space above
  • Make Burnell Boulevard two-way to improve vehicular circulation to and from the Yankee Doodle garage
  • “Redevelopment of properties should strongly emphasize pedestrian comfort through building and street scape design to encourage library patrons to walk between the library, Pulse Point and Yankee Doodle garage

 

 

The next working group is in July, with CERC’s marketing analysis expected to be complete in October, Straus’ memo to the Council states.

“This is going to be done at about the same time as the POCD (Plan of Conservation and Development) will be finalized. So we may just wait to have this approved until the POCD is approved,” Straus said Thursday.  “We have been working very closely and collaboratively with Planning and Zoning and we have been at each other’s meetings. When we get to the finish line these plans are consistent with one another…. I don’t see any issue with the plan not being consistent. We have had multiple discussions and we are all on the same page, pretty much and we have been incorporating each other’s comments.”

An “opportunity sites” graphic shown in the PowerPoint presentation.

11 comments

jlightfield June 8, 2018 at 7:19 am

I am happy to add that representatives from the Parking Authority are on the steering committee for this plan, and thus the Norwalk parking master planning is also in sync with this process. One of the challenges in coordination and maintaining shared outcomes is the totally underappreciated time it takes to review and recommend alignment areas. This is the first time Norwalk has attempted to coordinate multiple plans and while there is clearly a learning curve, it is a good process. And for the record, I sit on both this and the parking master plan steering committees. Feedback is always welcome.

Adam Blank June 8, 2018 at 9:34 am

I agree with Jackie. The process on putting together this plan appears to be well thought out and coordinated. Very nice to see. Hopefully it will lead to positive growth for Norwalk Center.

Dorothy Mobilia June 8, 2018 at 10:39 am

The plan is very promising. Wall Street-West Avenue is a unique area with possibilities for blending modern concepts and uses with a large historically significant area. The scope and direction of the plan also lessens the centuries-old division between two major communities, Norwalk Center and South Norwalk. The coordinated plan and the third-party review is Norwalk’s best bet for enhancing the mostly disjointed earlier proposals for rejuvenating the area.

Michael McGuire June 8, 2018 at 10:49 am

Adam, Jackie – there is merit that they are moving in the right track but look closer. What does this plan achieve other than providing the next two decades of RDA funding?
What does it accomplishing. Reading this carefully and you will see that there are no thresholds or hurdles defined nor any plans to achieve them. It’s all wishy-washy.

I would recommend that the Common Council Planning Committee, along with the Wall Street Neighborhood Association select a suitable and qualified 3rd party analyst to perform a study on the feasibility/demand for reactivating the Wall Street Train Station, and then how to fund that. Have Redevelopment fund that study – that is what their mandate is, no?

Said expert could also weigh in on the Zoning issues brought up by Jason Milligan. Namely changing the recreation space requirement in new residential buildings – it seems so out of sync to have a recreation space requirement in a building in the downtown when you want to “activate” the downtown by having people get out of there homes/apartments and use the downtown for business and recreation.

They could also opine on the suggestions of how to deal with POKO Phase 1. Or what else might be needed in the way of expertise to expedite the POKO Phase 1 problem.

To the common council members I would suggest that you slow this process down and really ask yourself (better yet get the advise of real industry pros), the following:

1. is anything in the proposal measureable?
2. what defines success?
3. what is the end goal of this plan, what is it hoping to achieve?
4. does the Wall Street area really need this?
5. isn’t this a different plan than the Innovation district plan being floated by the same entity – Redevelopment? Why?
6. Are you comfortable that the Redevelopment Staff really understands the Wall Street area?

7 Why now? Why Redevelopment’s sudden interest in Wall Street? Is it because SoNo is largely done?
8. Why does Redevelopment continue to skirt the issue of studying the issue of reactivating the Wall Street Train Station? Is it because they know, like I know, that a train station is all that is really needed to ignite this area?

The most I can glean for the above info is that they want to widen sidewalks on Wall Street and change a few intersections and make Burnell BLVD two way. What does that achieve?

Lets take sidewalk widening – how does that square with the long time call for angled parking (which will significantly increase demand for retail)? Or a possible one way on Wall Street from West to Main (allows for even more angled parking)?

If you want to revitalize downtown Norwalk do three things

1. Reactive the train station
2. Fix the zoning issues mentioned by Milligan
3. Clean up the POKO mess without all the added gov’t incentives.

Wall Street does not need incentives – it needs a train station.

Paul Lanning June 8, 2018 at 11:54 am

Any plan for the area needs to include the theater. If it was professionally booked, marketed and operated, this fully refurbished historic entertainment venue would be drawing THOUSANDS of paying customers EVERY WEEK. Whoever has the authority needs to be calling Live Nation, AEG, Bowery Presents, MSG. Blue Note Group and FTC to make a deal and get the place up-and-running.

jlightfield June 8, 2018 at 3:38 pm

Thanks for your feedback @MichaelMcGuire, however, you do know how to use email right?

Lisa Brinton Thomson June 8, 2018 at 4:41 pm

All the private parties and activists interested in the success of Wall Street need to work together, otherwise it’s divide and conquer by the Redevelopment Agency.

Rick June 8, 2018 at 6:17 pm

we hear a lot from those not elected we hear a lot from Canadians like Stantec and Brookfield I think its time to trust the two Irishmen from Norwalk.

Maybe its time to divide and conquer by the Redevelopment Agency after all.

We have enough who like to play the city its obvious who they are maybe its time to look real close at those who have failed the city in the past and keep returning with new scams.

Residents are leaving folks time to buy Amerco stock they went up $3.50 today that is U Haul for those not in the market,

U.S. Blues June 9, 2018 at 5:16 pm

@jligtfield – your response to m.mcguire’s very well thought out and well laid plans seems a bit cryptic, harsh and bewildering.

Why? Wasn’t he suppose to share his thoughts?

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