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‘BJs’ opponents press on in Norwalk Zoning battle

A rendering of "The Village."
A rendering of “The Village.”

NORWALK, Conn. — Opposition continues to the application for a big box store on Main Avenue, with work underway to present a new traffic study at Wednesday’s Zoning Commission public hearing.

The Commission on March 1 continued its public hearing on The Village, planned for the Superfund site at 272-280 Main Ave., specifying that the focus would be limited to traffic concerns and that the public could still weigh in. The Norwalk Association of Silvermine Homeowners (NASH) has since worked to update a study it commissioned in 2013, so it can be presented to the Commission on Wednesday, NASH President Heather Dunn said Friday. 

Dunn attempted to present the 2013 study to the Commission, but was told that it was for another application, the one openly planned for a BJ’s Wholesale Club, and was not applicable.

Opponents to The Village, which features a smaller big box with a prettied-up street front, suspect that it’s still a BJ’s, although Attorney Liz Suchy said she doesn’t know who the tenant will be.

The traffic plan for The Village calls for two entrances/exits, one with a traffic light. The southern exit would allow right turns only.

That was the same plan for the BJ’s.

Although Galante’s positive predictions for traffic were echoed by a city consultant, NV5, the NASH study, executed for $10,000 in 2013 by Adler Consulting, saw things differently.

“Trucks leaving the Site on the southerly exit could only turn right onto northbound Main Avenue and would be prohibited from turning left toward 1-95. This exit restriction could lead to many large trucks attempting to use driveways on Main Avenue to execute a U-turn or traveling on local streets through residential neighborhoods leading to additional safety and congestion concerns,” Adler wrote to then-Zoning Commission Chairwoman Emily Wilson.

“A review of the information provided in the Traffic Impact Study indicated that the traffic volumes expected to be generated by the proposed BJ’s Wholesale Club project would  have  a detrimental  impact  on traffic volumes  and conditions  along Main Avenue  and  in the  surrounding  residential neighborhoods,” Adler wrote, recommending that the BJ’s not be approved.

BJ’s withdrew its application in the face of an organized opposition.

Traffic engineer Michael Galante on March 1 explained the traffic plan for the mystery big box development.

“There is going to be traffic but the idea is to move it safely, process it through an intersection and make sure it is not queuing up to another intersection. In this case, there are many, many driveways on Main Avenue that we are trying to pay attention to as best we can to mitigate impacts to the driveways,” Galante said.

“The retiming and the upgrades to the signals that Mr. Galante spoke about really does make a big difference,” Joe Fishinger of NV5 said. “… As long as all of that gets implemented then we are in general agreement with their study, that what they are proposing will mitigate their traffic.”

The Village paid for NV5 but had no role in selecting the consultant, Suchy said.

Dunn said the new study should be updated in time for Wednesday’s hearing, and a traffic engineer should be on hand.

“We have lots of data and information that we have been compiling!” Dunn said.

Opponents were going to meet Sunday for a rally, she said, but NancyOnNorwalk could not make it.

“We support development on this site, but object to the goal of trying to shoehorn something so oversized into that location. It is an area zoned for mixed use of smaller retail, small businesses and/or manufacturing along that stretch,” a flier for the rally said.

The flier offered topics for the hearing:

  • 103,000 sq ft. – identified as a “discount club” by the traffic engineer, is a regional draw (Darien, Wesport, New Canaan and Wilton have not allow this in their towns so they would be traveling here) and does not primarily service local residents.
  • Using a special permit, it multiplies by four, the acceptable store size in B2 zoning and by ten the size put forward by the Plan of Conservation and Development, and the corridor traffic study.
  • The traffic study submitted by the developer is too limited in scope to the intersection with New Canaan Ave. to Linden Street (a steep downhill). It cuts out the Merritt Parkway, Glover Avenue and Grist Mill.
  • All of the trucks will be required to go North to Grist Mill to get to I95. How many will instead go up Perry onto James Street onto a bridge that cannot support a truck? How many more will mistakenly end up on the Merritt than already do, needing to be backed off because they cannot fit under the bridges?
  • The tenant is unidentified but formerly it was BJs. Even the City refers to it by that name although the tenant has not been revealed. The site it is on contains remediation of contaminated carcinogenic water and is a Superfund site, now downgraded to Brownfield by DEEP. Cleanup is reckoned by DEEP as 250 years.
  • Regional cars cutting through the neighborhoods around it, add traffic
  • The are several railroad crossings (but they say there are only two trains a day) which causes signalization issues. With an estimated 5000 housing units going into Glover Ave (1,400 already approved), there will be more trains/ cars using this stretch.
  • Compared to Connecticut Ave. and Westport Avenue, the road is narrow, the intersections already have stacking problems and additional problems from Walgreen left turns going north, and poor traffic planning around CVS and Dunkin Donuts.
  • They say they will fix the signal light timing, but it is a state road and CTDOT controls it, not the developer and they have not fixed the existing timing issues in so many years (CVS, Linden, Dunkin Donuts) that it is unlikely that they have the magic solution.
  • The whole area already has one of the highest accident rates in the city (over 250 last year from New Canaan Ave to Grist Mill).
  • 41 Wheels busses stop there, backing up traffic leaving only one passing lane
  • There are school bus stops
  • Super 7 was built to pull traffic off of Main Avenue so that it could be used for more local traffic instead of regional.

 

Although opponents say it’s a 103,000-square foot store, the application is for a 85,000-square foot big box hidden behind 13,000 square feet of retail on Main Avenue, with 4,000 square feet of restaurant space, a total 102,000-square foot development.

The application complies with Zoning regulations, Suchy said. The Connecticut Department of Transportation must approve the traffic plan for the project, as it is a state road, Galante said; the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) will monitor the site work because of the environmental  problems, Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin said in an email.

Leigh Grant wrote to Mayor Harry Rilling on Feb. 27, asking, “Can you find a way to oppose this as you said you did earlier?”

Dunn said, on Friday, that the mayor would not take a stand.

Rilling was a mayoral candidate when he opposed BJ’s. It’s illegal for a mayor to interfere in a Zoning application, both Rilling and former Mayor Richard Moccia have said.

Rilling forwarded the email to Kleppin with the words, “Please see me on this.”

Grant’s email to Riling outlines the opponents’ traffic concerns.
“There have been changes to Perry Avenue where it crosses the RR tracks in that another lane was added,” Grant wrote to Rilling. “However the RR is there to stay. Cars and school buses have gotten caught on it. That’s not going to change with added traffic coming from Wilton and New Canaan for BJs. BLT has planned a huge number (1700 I believe) of housing units up by Glover Ave., all of whose owners will use this road. In five years we are looking at changes to the Merritt Parkway/Super 7 Interchange and reworking the Grist Mill end of the road. Lastly the scope of the traffic study is much too limited. Reworking the lights to let traffic flow on Main Ave. must allow egress and entrance to roads leading into the surrounding neighborhoods on both sides, not just into the entrance of BJs. Both Dunkin Donuts and CVS have been examples of poor traffic planning on Main Ave. in the immediate vicinity of the proposed development. By CVS, another business has unfairly paid the price for that poor planning.”

Comments

3 responses to “‘BJs’ opponents press on in Norwalk Zoning battle”

  1. Ernie DesRochers

    A couple of comments. I am surprised the zoning commission would approve the application with a generic use proposed. Traffic is not traffic as it can vary from big box use to big use. There are other tenants who could want the site besides BJ’s. It is a smaller sized store for them and they virtually have a monopoly in Fairfield. I would think the site would have appeal for a Company like Wegman’s who would like nothing better to have a store in Fairfield County. Their options in the region are few, if any, and the proposed store fits their footprint.

  2. Russ

    Who has the monopoly you are referring to, BJ’s? Or some other store? I wasn’t aware of any BJ’s around here so I looked it up and found that BJ’s has one store 10 miles away in Fairfield and another 20 miles away in Brookfield. That certainly isn’t a monopoly in Fairfield County. Did you mean in the town of Fairfield? Are you saying BJ’s has a monopoly in that town? Your statement is just very confusing. I am no expert, but I don’t see where the parking for this type of store exists on that lot anyway. Why would Wegmans want to be hidden there?

    1. The parking is designed to be under the store. That’s 371 spaces “on grade,” with the store built over the lot, behind the smaller buildings in the front.

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