The Common Council on Tuesday unanimously approved the drafted 10-year city-wide master plan, otherwise called a Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD), sending it back to the Planning Commission for its final review. Two citizens spoke against the plan; Council member Doug Hempstead (R-District D) offered cautionary concerns but said “it’s certainly a better plan” than the 2008 version.
“I haven’t met a master plan I liked, and I haven’t met master plan I didn’t like because it’s trying to be a catch all for everything. And that’s always a problem,” the veteran politico said.
Republican Mayoral candidate Lisa Brinton and former Council member Rich Bonenfant, who is running for an at large Council seat, voiced their long-standing objections to the plan.
Brinton said it doesn’t address “three fundamental goals”:
- “How large to you want to grow the population of Norwalk over the next 10 years?
- “Does the city have the infrastructure and space to support the increased population?
- “Due to our primary reliance on property taxes to fund city services: What percentage of single-family homeowners versus multi-unit rentals do you believe is a healthy balance to economically sus quality of life?”
“So, after two years of meetings and workshops, the answer is more apartments higher density, increased traffic and relaxed zoning rules,” Bonenfant protested. “It’s almost like the study results were written ahead of time and the exercises were just designed to validate the agenda.”
But Planning Committee Chairman John Kydes (D-District C), who is seeking reelection, said, “I think in this day and age with social media, email, the internet, I have no doubt that this plan has reached more people and has had more public input than any other (Norwalk POCD). So that being said, I believe that we have well drafted plan, that sets a clear path for our city and the path that includes beyond goals, and all our diverse neighborhoods.”
It’s a “vast improvement” over the 2008 plan, Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E), who is also running, said. “I also like the fact that it’s very broad and detailed,” with action items, “but they’re only positive if we follow them… we all have … to make a commitment to do that.”
“There doesn’t seem to be a strategy to evaluate what’s presently happening to Norwalk, before we implement something,” Hempstead said, asserting that the City doesn’t know the impact of its current development, including the mall that’s about to open. “I think there needs to be some studies and evaluations done prior to implementation of some of the suggestions that are in this master plan, that I support it because at least for specificity, this plan is a heck of a lot more specific than our last plan.”
Bonenfant had criticized the plan to encourage accessory apartments, saying that he could label his daughter a caregiver, build an apartment on his single family home and then sell it as a non-conforming two family home.
Hempstead said his concern was someone dies or the house is sold and “Now what do you do? You can’t make them tear it down.”
Nevertheless, the plan is only “advisory,” he said.
Council member Colin Hosten (D-At Large) voiced support for the plan.
“I agree that I think the plan is not perfect,” he said. “And I think you know, compared to the (2008 plan), I find this to be very thorough, thoughtful, I think it would be useful guide to be, like you said, an advisory role to help us look at more specific policies.”
Mayor Harry Rilling echoed Kydes.
“This is probably one of the most widely publicized documents that I can remember,” he said. “It’s also a living and breathing document …. It’s a document that will be revisited over and over and over again, and will be changed as needed.”
Norwalk Fair Housing Officer Margaret Suib recently said the plan ignores fair housing needs by:
- “Only planning for multifamily housing in areas where it already exists, rather than opening opportunities to all in other areas of the city so as to do something about our historically segregated city”
- “Planning for ‘empty nesters’ and ‘young’ residents in the urban core (a potential fair housing violation)”
Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin in a Sept. 18 memo said Suib is “not correct.”
“Chapter 4 goes into detail regarding the demographics and data behind the housing challenges the City faces … the very first goal in Chapter 4 contains concrete policies and actions that further Fair Housing within the City,” Kleppin wrote. “This addresses providing housing choices throughout the City, which is consistent with the City’s existing policies. For example, over 70 permanently deed-restricted workforce housing units will be available at Glover Avenue (once complete), which is on the Wilton border. Group Homes, Congregate Housing and Conservation Developments are allowed in most single-family zones and accessory apartments are allowed in all single-family zones.”
He continued, “Recommending multi-family housing be allowed everywhere in the City goes against Smart Growth principles, since many of the suburban areas of the City lack infrastructure such as sewer, public water, sidewalks or mass transportation. More importantly, the Plan recognizes that while the City has made significant strides in many of these areas, there is still more work to be done and provides further recommendations on how to proceed.”