Updated, 8:34 a.m.: Copy edits
NORWALK, Conn. – A SoNo corner would be transformed under a plan presented Thursday to the Norwalk Zoning Commission.
The Clarke family, the owners of Clarke Kitchen Showroom at 64 South Main St., would like to build four stories of apartments over their retail space opposite Norwalk Police headquarters.
The project is described as a mixed-use development with 19,400 square feet of retail and 40 apartments in five buildings. Attorney Adam Blank, representing the owners, pointed out that it’s really only 9,000 additional square feet of retail, as the existing kitchen showroom will remain and expand, and 26 units of housing will be added. Blank is a former Chairman of the Zoning Commission.
The family has also purchased four Elizabeth Street houses; two would be demolished and replaced with houses that would resemble the historic nature of its neighbors, Blank said.
No special permit is needed for the development under the SoNo Station Design District (SSDD) approved in April, Blank said. A public hearing would be held in February anyway, Zoning Commission Chairman Nate Sumpter indicated. Sumpter also requested that the Clarke family come back with thoughts on assisting two current tenants with relocation concerns.
Other pushback from the Commission included what they described as the modest amount of housing being added; the SSDD has a goal of encouraging Transit Oriented Design and it’s been said that retail spaces around Norwalk are empty because there aren’t yet enough residents.
“Why not go for higher density?” Vice Chairman Lou Schulman asked.
A Clarke family representative said there were financial constraints preventing greater density — more apartments would require parking structures, and double the project’s cost for the “small family company.”
Blank touted the preservation of “quaint” Elizabeth Street and said that the initial plan was to build as many units as possible, but the numbers didn’t work.
The plan is to demolish 8 and 10 Elizabeth St.; the new 10 Elizabeth St. would have a single three-bedroom rental while 8 Elizabeth would have two two-bedroom units.
Under the new SSDD regulations, the three-bedroom unit would count as two workforce housing units, Blank said.
The other two houses, at 12 and 14 Elizabeth, will be spruced up but nothing changed inside, he said.
The Elizabeth Street sidewalks will be redone and historical lampposts installed, which will accomplish the goals of the SoNo Transit Oriented Development district by increasing density but not destroying the character of the area, Blank said. He called the impact on traffic “negligible” relative to other nearby developments: The SoNo Collection, Washington Village and a hotel on South Main Street.
Developers have struggled to fill first floor retail and this development is starting off with a “vibrant first floor and activity in an area that could use it,” he said.
Clarke doesn’t have a tenant lined up for the additional retail space but plans to seek a complementary home-oriented showroom, he said.
“We don’t have the density to support retail so this is welcome,” Schulman said.
The five-story building would have four stories visible from the street as the fifth story would be set back in accordance with the SSDD regs, architect Colin Grotheer said.
The major building will have almost 30 units on 9,000 square feet of land, he said.
“That’s a pretty dense development,” Grotheer said. “Yes, overall on the site it’s only 40 units but you’re getting a nice, major street building on a prominent corner, opposite the police building that is a dense building. So it’s not that it’s not creating density. We feel it’s a very positive massing for the site and for the neighborhood. Then you’ve got lower density where it turns to a more historic character and there are still some nice single family homes.”