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‘BJs’ development goes kaput: Approval has expired, Norwalk P&Z says

A rendering of “The Village,” presented in 2017.

The zoning approval for “The Village” at 272-280 Main Ave. has expired, according to Principal Planner Bryan Baker.

Commonly called “BJs,” the proposed 100,000 square foot retail development was approved in 2017. It’s not officially a proposed BJ’s Wholesale Club site but many people suspect it eould be because that’s what it was originally pitched as. Developer Main Norwalk LLC hadn’t listed a tenant for the development’s big box space.

It was the topic of much controversy in 2013, when neighboring condominium owners, members of the Norwalk Association of Silvermine Homeowners (NASH) and others raised enough of a ruckus to get BJ’s Wholesale Club to withdraw its application.

The second application included a big box store component hidden by a village-like street front of smaller stores and restaurants, a façade designed by architect Bruce Beinfield. Parking would have been underneath the big box store, in the back.

The property has been vacant for years. Formerly the home of ELINCO (Electric Indicator Co.), it’s a Superfund site and was put on the national priority list in 1984.

It was declared ready for reuse in September 2020.

Architect Bruce Beinfield’s rendering of “The Village,” a plan for 272-280 Main Ave.

Developers have applied for one-year extensions on the approval since then, the last one in September 2022. No Commissioners voted against that fourth extension, though P&Z Chairman Lou Schulman expressed reservations. Seeing a consensus, Schulman voted with the group.

“Within the zoning regulations and statutorily, there are time limits on approvals, but also the ability to requires extensions,” Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin explained at the time.

Since it’s been a year, NancyOnNorwalk asked if the approval is still valid. Baker said Friday that it’s expired.

Recently, heavy machinery has been toiling on the site, prompting neighbors to wonder what’s up.

“Per the contractor, they are prepping the site to make it more presentable.  It appears they seek to remove concrete and fill piles, cut down the existing weeds and trees, demolish the rear concrete wall, and grading of the site,” Assistant Planning and Zoning Director Alexis Cherichetti said Oct. 11.

“No Zoning Permit has been pulled for the Village or for any other work at the site.  I also confirm there currently is no pending P&Z approval application for any other proposed development work,” she said.

Attorney Liz Suchy, who represents the developer, on Friday declined to comment.

A year ago, Suchy offered various reasons why the project had not moved forward. For one thing, neighbors had appealed the approval and that took time.

“Much like the past extension last year, the delays in securing the zoning and building permits are largely due to COVID again, and those lingering impacts are very, very substantial,” she said.

Costs had escalated due to supply chain issues and the estimate to build the project had risen from its original $23 million to $35 million, she said. Two by fours had gone from $4 to $12 and large sheets of wood sheathing had gone from $48 to $96. Some products just weren’t available.

Comments

4 responses to “‘BJs’ development goes kaput: Approval has expired, Norwalk P&Z says”

  1. Tanner Thompson

    A great example of how Norwalk would stand to benefit from redesigning our streets. (“Complete Streets”, if you will.)

    This site is only a 10 minute walk from Stop & Shop and a 15 minute walk from the restaurant row on Main St (e.g. Valencia). It’s an 8 minute bus ride from Merritt 7 and a 13 min bus ride from Wall Street – and that’s with the current bus network, which is being improved.

    This would be a great site for people to live that don’t want to drive everywhere (and thus would be less of a burden on traffic) – but for it to work, Main Ave needs improvement. It needs better sidewalks and more frequent crosswalks. Some traffic calming and a high-quality bike path would help too – a connection to the NRVT at Broad Street would be a game-changer for those who would like to ditch their car and use an e-bike. If we made those improvements, this lot would be a lot more valuable – not only to the owner, but also to our community – and it would not sit vacant for long.

    If we build streets that let people walk, bike, and take transit, we’ll attract people who will drive less, and lots like this will stop sitting vacant. On the other hand, if we don’t, we’ll either get more vacant lots or we’ll get more big box stores that everyone drives to.

  2. Laura Lamorte

    Oh, happy day! Here’s hoping that P&Z uses a more critical eye in consideration of those neighborhoods that will be negatively impacted if this permit request should rise again. The project was out of scope for the area back in 2013, and still is. The apparent prep work that is currently underway is causing widespread noise disturbance in the neighboring areas and there’s concern about the pollution being kicked up in the air.

  3. Skip Hagerty

    That’s too bad. Hopefully we can get another big box retailer that will share the parcel with a Chick-fil-A, a drive-thru Dispensary, and 100 or so apartments. New developments need to reflect the overall character of the city. Progress.

  4. Bryan Meek

    @Tanner. Since you are new here, better start getting used to these “improvements” happening long after they are needed and at taxpayer expense. These things should be done up front at expense to the developer. This is the issue many of us have with the current administration simply giving the city away with no concern for infrastructure until it is way, way too late.

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