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Let’s talk alternatives to Wall Street Place proposal

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The upcoming proposal by Citibank/McClutchy for the rescue of the POKO project “Wall Street Place – Phase 1” leaves a lot to be desired from the perspective of Norwalk’s citizens.

It doubles down on the complexity of the previous deal with even more complex financing arrangements, puts an out-of-character and oversized anchor in a charming and historic downtown, and does little beyond adding more people to the area (without the associated property taxes). And it leaves most of Isaacs Street with a blank wall.  (Granted it will have some architectural elements to break it up, but essentially it will be a long blank wall.)

It omits solutions for several “stranded” elements that have evolved as a result of the previous developer’s failure to perform under the LDA, such as the loss of the Isaacs Street lot (under litigation), and the inverse condemnation of the Dias property (also under litigation). Despite the fact that one of the main problems with implementing Phase 1 is the parking requirements, we are paradoxically allowing the new developer to “buy out” of some of it.

So, let’s grab our creative pencils and see what else might be considered, shall we?

Idea Number One:  Let’s put more “active” uses into the building for starters. As long as we are moving the parking off-site to where the Garden Cinema is, add another story (or half-story) to the parking structure, move some of the parking out of the building to the parking structure and put the Garden Cinema into the ground floor, facing Isaacs to activate the side street, and create an anchor for more “arts district” activity.

Idea Number Two: Make use of a true “smart growth” architectural solution to add what the Wall St area really needs–small and affordable retail spaces and other uses designed to encourage people to spend time walking around. The developer should use a “liner building” instead of the blank wall. This can result in a lot of small business operations, or even artist workspaces and small office rentals that will be attractive to the community, and yield revenue for the developer. Again, more jiggering of parking will be necessary, but we’re doing that anyway. In a Central Business District that is considering micro-units for residential, why not do the same for businesses?

In either case, Isaacs has to be made two-way by removing more of the street parking. Purchase the Dias property, as originally threatened, since this is how Norwalk settles most land disputes anyway.

I’m sure there are more good ideas out there. What’s yours?

 

Debora Goldstein

5 comments

E July 18, 2019 at 12:19 pm

Agree with Adolph’s comment… and thank you for this article – true smart city development – could be the real ‘gamechanger’ for Norwalk…

CAROL July 18, 2019 at 8:04 pm

nothing will change as thr powers that be are determined to build this monstrosity on wall street and not try for any charm.
people get what they deserve and if no one speaks up and demands to be heard 101 affordable apts will be what you get.

Clark July 28, 2019 at 11:36 am

I like the concept of liner buildings — I won’t say it’s wrong, but I will say it’s insufficient by itself IME. in my neighborhood, however, the small spaces created at the base of new apartment buildings were leased to 1) banks for banking machines 2) insurance agents. Another retailer built a pair of smaller retail spaces that ended up both being leased together for a larger remodeling firm — the construction messed up the parking for a greengrocer that was struggling to get a foothold (since has closed). A coffee and ice cream place with minimal seating seems to be barely hanging on.

What I conclude is that it is important not to overlook the existing inertia of a place and try to understand its drivers and sources. The existing shops and businesses in the described particular retail district serves not the neighborhood, but people from outside the neighborhood, who drive there to a maze of individual parking lots (and you’ll get towed if you park in the wrong place).

I do wonder whether the cost of new construction in the end makes such liner buildings affordable to single proprietors — that’s the question I have about new construction in general, including so called affordable housing. My guess is that in many cases, people can share an existing house in a tree lined neighborhood far cheaper and live in a more gracious manner than rent one of these micro apartments at so called affordable rates.

The goal in our neighborhood was to get people to use the train, but the parking lots are crammed full of cars. The inertia is still overwhelmingly car centric, and people looking for “affordable” are not patronizing expensive little shops — they are saving money for rent or DRIVING to COSTCO or Walmart.

Transferring ideas to a community by fiat/placement of buildings seems to bring about a different result as compared to a community generating or pushing for certain features that make sense in the established context, or help to move that context in a way to goes with the flow. Often “development” is code for “getting rid of the people who are here, and adding people who aren’t”.

Loved the Garden Cinema — the owner has closed two theaters in the past couple of years and to me expressed doubts that the future of the movie theaters was economically viable. Given all the home viewing options, it may be insufficient to have “a theatre” –beyond “come/watch/leave”, the coming together and socializing over a film aspect may be more important to emphasize, and the newer space may be unaffordable for the economics of offering niche independent films

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