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Manresa Study released

The cover page for the Manresa Island study.

NORWALK, Conn. – The Manresa Island study has been released.

“The four concepts outlined in the report are: a marina and boatyard; a renewable solar energy generation and storage facility, an educational campus, and a residential single-family home development,” a press release from the City said Thursday. “All four concepts include preserving open space and public access on the island. The full report can be viewed at norwalkct.org/manresareport.”

The City and the Manresa Association in 2016 split the cost of a $150,000 study of the redevelopment possibilities of Manresa Island, known to many as the home of a defunct power plant that dominates the horizon along the waterfront.

“Getting to this point is the result of a great public and private partnership between the city and Manresa Association. We are committed to working with NRG, Manresa, and state and federal agencies to optimize the reuse of this property,” Mayor Harry Rilling is quoted as saying in the release. “This is one of, if not the best location in all of Norwalk. The site must be cleaned up and public access to the island needs to be expanded. Whatever happens on Manresa Island must provide value to our residents and reflect the desire of the community.”

The report developed by Fitzgerald and Halliday states that “the residential market presents itself as the most likely driver of reuse of the property,” based on market trends and conditions.

“This does not, however, preclude a targeted development either as a build to suit office situation or some other unique development idea brought forth by a developer,” the report states. “Given the associated cleanup costs, a fairly dense development model would be required to offset the land preparation costs.”

However, “While the market appears to favor residential development, there are multiple reuse options that could more effectively leverage the sites assets including the harbor and navigation channel, electric substation, and land area and solar exposure,” the report states. “These options include the potential for the establishment of a marina and boat storage yard, the development of a solar farm, and the on-site storage of energy.

“Manresa Island is comprised of two parcels that occupy approximately 144 acres of Norwalk’s shoreline. In 1960, a power plant was commissioned on the southern parcel by Connecticut Light & Power,” the press release explains. “The plant began operations as a coal-fired plant but was converted to oil in 1972. In 1999, the property was acquired by NRG Energy. In 2012, the site was inundated with storm surge during Hurricane Sandy and was subsequently closed in 2013.”

“The northern parcel is largely constructed of fill material and coal ash. Because of this substrate, contamination and surrounding wetlands and estuary areas, this parcel is not feasible for development,” the report states.

“Based upon the recommended redevelopment concepts, a parcelization (subdivision) of land is recommended,” the report states. “A total of five parcels are recommended to replace the existing two parcels. Additionally, the creation of a City right-of-way is recommended in place of the existing access road, connecting to the harbor and providing access to a public boat launch.”

Step one would be for NRG to complete remediation of the wetlands as required by the Connecticut Department of Environment and Energy (DEEP). Step two would be reparcelization, with parcels one and two – the northern part of the property – going to the City or to a land trust, the report states.

Recommendations for the southern parcel are:

  • “Marina: Includes 110 slips, a 6 acre boat storage yard, a marina facility building, a public boat launch, publicly accessible waterfront trails and public parking.
  • “Solar Farm: Includes a 4.9 MW solar array and a 0.5 acre battery energy storage site.
  • “Educational Facility: An educational institution or destination facility that leverages the coastal location and waterfront access.
  • “Residential Development: Moderate density residential development of up to 74 single-family homes.”

 

“The Manresa Association was formed in 2013 as an advocacy group dedicated to ensuring that Manresa Island is environmentally safe, provides open space and conservation habitat, and contributes to the physical beauty of Norwalk and the Long Island Sound coastline. The association is comprised of over 900 households and several local neighborhoods and clubs,” the press release states.

The release continues:

“’I appreciate the strong working relationship with the city and Mayor Rilling’s leadership in helping create this partnership. His administration has been supportive throughout this process,’ said Charlie Taney, president of Manresa Association. ‘This report is the culmination of well over two years of work. This is phase one, and we now can look toward phase two.’

“A Steering Committee comprised of staff from the Mayor’s Office, Planning and Zoning, and Economic Development, as well as Common Council members John Igneri and Thomas Livingston, and Manresa Association members Taney and John Moeling, worked closely with consultant Fitzgerald & Halliday, Inc. on the development of the report. The Committee also conducted outreach with NRG Energy to solicit information and receive feedback on these findings.

“’I look forward to our continued partnership as we pursue the timely re-use of the Manresa site in a manner consistent with the final report,’ said Livingston.”

ManresaFinalReport-121418-Compressed (1)

13 comments

EnoPride February 1, 2019 at 10:49 am

Mayor Rilling: “Whatever happens on Manresa Island must provide value to our residents and reflect the desire of the community.”

Residential development provides value to our residents and reflects desire of our community? I don’t think so. A fairly dense development no less, to offset costs? Just what Norwalk wants, another one of THOSE. How myopic but sadly predictable to expect from this City Hall. This recommendation of residential development should be nixed before it gets legs. How unoriginal. It is an easy, lacking in big picture vision, quick fix recommendation to finance a project with effortless ease in the short term, but how about long term sustainability costs?

Also, how are Norwalk residents enriched by and benefited by MORE uninspired apartments? Please don’t go this route for a change. It would be a sacrilege on this land which should be treated as more of a gem and an homage to Norwalk. Apartments suck up the footprints for more innovative opportunities to thrive. Please be more inspired this go round. Don’t ruin a great opportunity with more myopic and poor, closed session, decision making. By disincluding your engaged and creative stakeholders in closed session, the ideas are YOURS, City Hall, not OURS, and you are doing a great disservice to Norwalk. As a result, YOUR, not OUR, final product suffers, not even coming close to its fullest potential.

I challenge City Hall to be inventive and think out of the apartment box on this great opportunity. Maybe have a maritime science/marine biology center there. Have an “innovative cluster” of maritime themed establishments? Have a seafood restaurant? Approach Norm Bloom’s (a Norwalk gem) to partner with Norwalk somehow on a business venture on Manressa. Maybe they would be interested in expanding their reach and providing input as they are experts of the Sound. Bring Norwalk’s rich Oystering history into the mix. Maybe call that Mr. Mapley (the man who wanted to start his business here who Tim Sheehan dismissed) and get his City Windmills our there? While you’re at it, maybe an homage to the Naramake Indians with an interactive visitor center. Bring the Native American artifacts that were recently discovered by the Walk Bridge project over there. Put up a small gift shop.

Have a beach pavilion area with a concessions stand. Have an outdoor theater shell. Some bike paths and walking paths, maybe? How about a public pool for residents only where they pay a reasonable seasonal fee? Instead of building MORE fugly Minecraft looking fortress apartments, work with a developer to build a nice Inn where weddings, special events, and business meetings can bring $$$. Hospitality industry is a big money maker which provides lots of jobs. Can you imagine those wedding pics? Maybe partnering with Z Hospitality Group can get you there. An open air movie theatre with the Sound as a backdrop is another idea. You can generate money there. I hear these are trending now. People are tired of being plugged in and tuned out. A higher fee for non residents to use some kind of beach/park area on the property would generate money as well.

You know… actually PLAN and design the land, both economically and otherwise? Pull all your resources in Norwalk, contact businesses, to brainstorm ideas. Please, City Hall! Some VISION here! It is getting embarrassing and depressing for us corporate professionals out here. You can and should do better.

Manressa could actually be a maritime utopia which pays homage to Norwalk’s history and people while providing jobs and generating money. But it cannot be this if it is sucked up by more Minecraft looking Stamfordesque fortress apartments via the closed session decision making City Hall.

Norwalk residents… What are your ideas, thoughts, on Manressa? What do you want to see? This is the question Mayor Rilling should be asking. Would love to hear!

Mike Mushak February 1, 2019 at 11:20 am

Bravo to the committee, the consultants, and Mayor Rilling for supporting this effort.

This public/private effort was clearly a good investment for the city and the Manresa Association membership. There are a lot of good ideas brought forward here, and a lot of food for thought. The important thing is that this conversation has happened, and this should act as a catalyst for forward movement on this precious site.

I especially love the “educational facility” component.

A potential federally-funded visitor center for the McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, including nature tours by boat similar to what the Maritime Aquarium currently conducts, could be a viable component of this element. The precious McKinney Refuge includes many of the beautiful Norwalk Islands and habitat for endangered species, and currently doesn’t have any land-based presence in Norwalk to promote the Refuge and educate the public. Leveraging federal funding for a state-of-the-art visitors center would offset local costs.

Eco-tourism can easily spin off enough economic benefit to compensate for a loss of the current annual tax revenue of about $675,000, as many case studies for other communities have demonstrated. For example, Cape May County in NJ benefits from an astounding $300 million annual return to the local economy (restaurants, hotels, retail) after becoming an international birdwatching destination, after they worked with the Nature Conservancy in restoring a degraded wetland into a restored habitat on the Atlantic Flyway bird migration route, which Norwalk is also located on. Birding is big business!

A nature-based scenario of promoting birdwatching in a restored habitat actually provides a triple-bottom line benefit: social, ecological, and economic benefits. An emphasis on this could more than compensate for the tax revenue from the plan’s proposed 74 new homes built in the 100 year flood plain, at the end of a single access point which is Woodward Ave that is also within the 100-year flood plain and which floods now during high tides and storms,,frequently cutting access and egress to the Manresa site.

The enormous economic benefits of habitat restoration are highlighted in studies by the Nature Conservancy and others described here:

http://blog.grdodge.org/2014/06/16/why-communities-should-invest-in-nature/

The proposed marina can provide a base for quick boat rides to the Norwalk Islands (this is located at the outer end of the channel, shaving 15-20 minutes off the”no-wake” trip from SoNo) but also provide for a future water taxi system can provide connections with SoNo, Vets Park, and even Wall Street. Its exciting!

And I feel compelled to state yet again my own personal dream for this site that I have stated before many times but that gets little traction, and was not included in the study but which I forgive them for as it sounds a bit crazy (The High Line in NYC was also a crazy idea by a couple of local guys from that neighborhood, until it was not crazy anymore, so keep that in mind). Here’s my idea:

Demolish most of the power plant including the tanks and stack, but leave the smaller cube-shaped building that won modernist design awards in 1960 when it opened. Use the cube for large-scale art installations, possibly partnered with the Whitney or some other well-established museum or gallery that might enjoy an outpost in a beautiful coastal setting close to NYC. This scenario would follow the precedent set by other successful art museums in re-purposed industrial buildings which I have been to many times, such as DIA Beacon, MassMOCA, and the Tate Modern.

The result would be a steady but non-crushing flow of cultural tourists who would boost our local economy, who could be shuttled in a small van from the train station perhaps, that can also drop them off at the new hotel in SoNo or the restaurants on Washington Street. Or they can take a water taxi from Wall Street or SoNo.

I call this my “Birdwatching and Art” plan that rejects any disruptive residential or commercial development, and instead leverages the site’s two main assets, the dramatic ecologically important location and a small part of the iconic industrial building that both tells a story of our industrial past and features art installations that can put Norwalk on the map of cultural destinations within an hour of NYC.

This would create a sustainable and diversified economic engine of cultural tourism for Norwalk, especially when combined with the current and future investments in the Maritime Aquarium, Lockwood-Mathews Mansion, Stepping Stones, Center for Contemporary Printmaking, Wall Street Theater, Mill Hill,, Norwalk Historical Society Museum, and yes, even the SoNo Collection mall.

Its a dream that diverges a bit from other ideas presented before us now, but in the meantime, this Manresa Study is a great well-researched first step to a brighter future for this site, and for Norwalk. Thank you to everyone who worked so hard on it!

EnoPride February 1, 2019 at 11:44 am

@Mike Mushak, You have great ideas and vision. Just curious, what is your point of view on more dense apartments to offset costs? You don’t seem to mention?

Mike Mushak February 1, 2019 at 6:47 pm

@EnoPride, I have to be careful not to sound too biased against any potential proposal if I should end up in a position to vote on it someday, although that is still many years out at this point.

But in theory, I generally would not support denser housing this far from the train station, which is about a mile and a half away. The sweet spot for higher density housing is a half-mile or a 10-minute walk, up to a mile (a 20-minute walk) in some cases especially if there is frequent bus service.

And the fact that there is no safe “dry egress” above the 100-year flood plain from this site, because Woodward Ave is the only access road and prone to flooding also in case of a flood, would probably limit its viability to a developer using financing as most do. But I’m just guessing on that, and I would keep an open mind to any proposal if it could make a good case for itself.

steve February 1, 2019 at 9:18 pm

Eno, where’s the proposal to put up apartments at Manresa? I read 74 single family homes. At current values, I’d guess they’s each have a FMV of 1.5M (and greater), which would bring in over $1.2 Million in property taxes a year. Why the scare mongering about apartments- no one sees that asa a serious proposal for this site

EnoPride February 1, 2019 at 10:14 pm

You are right steve. My mistake. Not apartments. 74 single family homes. Whether apartments or large clusters of single family homes, both are residential development, which we are seeing so much of in Norwalk that our heads are spinning. It just seems that 74 homes is, like mentioned in the report, of moderate density, and like mentioned, isn’t necessarily the only way to bring in money. And like the report says, there could be issues with residences on Manresa due to stigma of environmental issues with landfill, issues with vulnerability during hurricanes, natural disasters, etc. Also, if 741.5 million and up homes come to be, would this be breeding a higher end island community that may down the road become a bit exclusive, thereby not providing value to all residents? Just thinking. Sorry to scaremonger. Seeing how and where development tends to go up in Norwalk is highly concerning. Just hope they get Manresa right. It could be a really great destination.

Piberman February 2, 2019 at 10:07 am

None of the 4 proposals would make a significant addition to Norwalk’s Grand List stagnant for an entire decade. Nor would they develop high paid new jobs assisting a failing commuter City to transform into a well functioning City. Why is this not surprising ?

Bryan Meek February 3, 2019 at 9:16 am

@enough. Proximity and walking distance. Not to mention, the way we roll it will be 10 years before the first shovel even hits Manresa.

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