BJ’s Wholesale Club would improve Norwalk traffic, engineer says

An artists rendering of the BJ’s Wholesale Club proposed for Main Avenue in Norwalk.

NORWALK, Conn. – Planners of a big box store proposed for one of the most difficult roads in Norwalk say their proposal will improve traffic in the area.

Traffic lights on Main Avenue will be synchronized and coordinated at seven intersections near the BJ’s Wholesale Club proposed for 272-280 Main Ave., according to a plan worked out with the state, Michael Galante of Frederick P. Clarke Associates told zoning commissioners at last month’s Plan Review Committee meeting.

Further discussion is on the agenda for zoning commissioners at Thursday evening’s Plan Review Committee, 7:30 p.m. in City Hall room 220. Public comment is not on the agenda.

The store proposed for the long-vacant Superfund site would be 109,908 square feet – smaller than what was there before, Attorney Frank Zullo pointed out. It would employ 75 to 125 people, half of whom will be part-time workers. Zullo also promised the project would improve the quality of the water drainage from the property.

“There will be jobs, there will be taxes,” Zullo said. “There will be an environmentally pleasing building on the site so the scar that was once a development to be avoided is now something that is going to be a plus to the community.”

But zoning commissioners first wanted to hear about the traffic in the area.

Galante said he wouldn’t be in front of the commission if the time he spent studying the project didn’t indicate it would work.

“A lot of work goes into this for me to come here and say I can make the BJ’s work,” he said. “That’s a big statement for me. It takes a lot for me to come here and say that, because I need to accommodate the current traffic on Main Avenue, the growth of traffic on Main Avenue, and the BJ’s on top of that.”

He had been working with the Connecticut Department of Transportation for more than a year, he said. He had been instructed not to include the interchange with Route 7. He also discussed it with Department of Public Works Engineer Dick Linnartz, he said, who agreed with the scope of the study.

It does not include the intersection of New Canaan Avenue and Main Avenue.

It is estimated the proposed store would generate between 459 and 700 vehicle trips during the Friday afternoon and Saturday midday peak hours, he said. However, CDOT allows Galante to deduct 20 percent of those trips, on the theory that drivers who are already on the road see the store and decide to pull in.

Commissioners were skeptical of the plan to synchronize the lights.

“The state – I don’t care what they say, that they’ll keep the timing synchronized,” Commissioner James White said. “When it becomes out of sync it’s impossible to get (it back)… is there any way to get a guarantee from them?”

Galante said the state would monitor the situation, but he couldn’t offer a guarantee.

Commissioner Mike Mushak said that synchronizing lights is overrated, as it doesn’t produce magical results on two-way roads. Galante said he had synchronized lights in Fairfield, Southington and other places, with good results. The lights can be programmed with different instructions for different times of day, he said.

Much of it is in the state’s hands.

“We get local approval from the city,” Galante said. “Then we get state approval. The state’s not going to approve this plan until the city makes a decision. The city says no, the state’s not going to approve it next week – I can’t come back and say, well, I have state approval. It doesn’t work that way.”

He also said, “If there’s a problem six months later that the state doesn’t like, we have to come back and fix it.”

As for employees going in and out, BJ’s can customize work shifts to the location its stores are in, so if there’s a problem it can be dealt with, Galante said.

The project is already facing stiff opposition.

The Rolling Ridge Condominium Association has submitted a petition in opposition to the plan, with more than 500 signatures. The association is “gravely concerned” about the plan and does not feel it is appropriate, a letter on file in the Planning and Zoning Office said.

Adam Silver, a Cranbury resident, wrote to Planning and Zoning Assistant Director Michael Wrinn on July 8 to say he is outraged about the “disastrous” proposal. It will decrease the quality of life in Cranbury and Silvermine and is “guaranteed” to lower home values, he said.

“Main Avenue gets so congested with traffic that it becomes problematic in that area,” he wrote. “BJ’s will only exacerbate that since that large number of vehicles will use I-95 and the Merritt to get to the store. We already know how clogged the I-95 interchanges between exits 14 and 15 get even during non-rush hours. BJ’s will make matters worse and it’s quite possible the improvements being made to these interchanges that will be complete in two years will be obsolete.”


31 responses to “BJ’s Wholesale Club would improve Norwalk traffic, engineer says”

  1. Diane C2

    The areas that were deemed necessary for the traffic impact studies do not include the Main Ave/New Canaan Ave intersection at Dunkin Donuts (another P&Z masterpiece). This intersection is the primary access from I-95, West Norwalk, Spring Hill area, South Norwalk and likely East Norwalk and Westport (until folks find a path of least resistance thru residential side streets).
    Because the intersection is not a part of the original traffic analysis for this project, neither will it be a required intersection for the post-operations audits, once the store is built and open.
    Just sayin….

  2. Independent Voter

    I always wondered what it would take to get traffic lights synchronized in this town. Now I know: propose a big box store in an inappropriate location and voila!

  3. Lifelong Teacher

    We see what big box stores have done to traffic on Connecticut Avenue and I-95. How can Mushak think we are so incredibly stupid to believe that now another part of town won’t be destroyed? Up to 700 additional cars during Friday and Saturday cannot bring traffic improvement.

    This will become another part of Norwalk to be avoided. Imagine the noise, exhaust fumes, and smells from the huge delivery trucks and all those cars? This should not pass.

    I have lived here in Norwalk for 35 years, and developers continue to ruin our city.

  4. Debora

    “As for employees going in and out, BJ’s can customize work shifts to the location its stores are in, so if there’s a problem it can be dealt with, Galante said.”

    This is an astounding representation to make on behalf of a retail store. Customization of shifts will be done to maximize profits, not minimize traffic. Cashiers will be scheduled more when the most customers are in the store. Stock personnel will be scheduled to handle the merchandise after it arrives and before the heaviest shopping times.

    For a retailer to do otherwise would mean empty shelves or long lines that discourage people from shopping there in an industry with very thin margins.

    Oh, and how does that merchandise get to BJ’s? In honking big tractor trailer trucks. Lots of them.

    A 20% knockdown for those folks already on the road who will just choose to stop in? BJ’s is one of those membership only wholesale clubs. The shopping behavior is different than those who of a true retail store. Because of the upfront entry fee only a percentage of people will have the freedom to stop in on a whim. Because of the entry fee and bulk size offerings, people tend to come only when they have time to “stock up” and from further distances.

    If this is the kind of advice the city is receiving on big projects like this, the traffic problems are making a whole lot more sense.

  5. jlightfield

    @Diane C2 While I think the Dunkin Donuts intersection (New Canaan/Main Ave.) is one of the worst in Norwalk, it was never before the commission since the zone is commercial, the site was a former brake service station, the Dunkin Donuts was across the street and the state approved the curb cuts.
    A better example is the CVS at Perry Ave. That is the other example I used, when demonstrating how Zoning approvals can have unintended results regarding impact on neighborhoods.

    If the City seeks to allow this use in this zone, then it should make the investment in Main Ave. to improve the pedestrian experience, widen sidewalks, add turn lanes and add trees to shade and slow the traffic . The problem in how these projects are approved is that DPW is absent in the planning process to improve the traffic via current best practices, and only looks at traffic from a throughput factor. Blackrock improved an industrial area that houses movie theaters and a BJs because they added the infrastructure to make the project work for the surrounding residential. We would be so lucky if we had a productive discussion about how to make a commercial street integrate instead of the usual for and against the project.

  6. Diane C2

    @Jackie – my bad – I meant zoning department vs commission, as I believe all retail applicants have to apply for permit and CO thru zoning.
    Also, the discussions for better commercial integration shouldn’t wait to be on the table a year or more after the applicant has already been working with P&Z on a project!

  7. Debora

    The for and against discussions are a result of a lack of overall vision for development. The question, before a particular project is pitched, should be “what is the best possible use of this lot and who should we recruit to fill it?”
    Then the projects could be measured against our own goals for our city, instead of the binary discussions where we discuss how to make a poor fit viable as cheaply as possible vs a hole in the ground.

    Mr. Mushak has repeatedly pointed out that this project is way over the recommended size for this site. Big box stores are poor tax generators relative to others types of businesses that can be put there. So, even when the big picture thinking IS done, it all gets ignored in practice.

  8. Al Raymond

    It`s okay people just put it over on CT Ave the people there are a push over you can do anything you want & know body say`s a thing.

  9. EveT

    Glad you mentioned the CVS on Perry Avenue. The curb cut on the south side is a monstrosity, and all it would take to fix it is to sacrifice ONE parking space to widen the ingress/egress. One parking space! But nooo…

  10. John Levin

    “[Michael Galante of Frederick P. Clarke Associates] said he wouldn’t be in front of the commission if the time he spent studying the project didn’t indicate it would work.”

    What a load of horse dung. Isn’t he paid by the applicant to make their case? When a paid consultant offers flowery language such as:
    “A lot of work goes into this for me to come here and say I can make the BJ’s work,” [Galante] said. “That’s a big statement for me. It takes a lot for me to come here and say that, because I need to accommodate the current traffic on Main Avenue, the growth of traffic on Main Avenue, and the BJ’s on top of that.”

    . . . then he is left with ZERO credibility in my book. He thinks Norwalk’s commissioners are a bunch of dumb hicks?

  11. David

    We’ve gone from the sublime to the ridiculous now.
    The proposition is that putting extra cars on the roads (700 by Galante’s own estimates, on a weekend), and trucks to supply the store will actually IMPROVE traffic.
    Improve. Not “minimize disruption” but actually improve traffic. Incredible!
    Is this gentleman a public employee or paid to get a “yes” from the commission? Don’t get me wrong, I fully expect the commission to approve this regardless of what anyone says about traffic, disruptions, or anything else, but to get up there and say something as disingenuous as that? The Commission will obviously LOVE to hear those words, because it’ll allow them to approve the site and then wash their hands when traffic becomes a nightmare in that area.
    Make no mistake, this is a done deal. The politicians in this city are making a bet that there will be no consequence to their decision, and for the most part, they’re right. The mayor, the common council, they’ll be voted back in, come November, they’ll re-appoint the same board and we’ll go from there. Everyone will acquire JUST enough cover to deny personal responsibility and wash their hands of it when things go wrong.

  12. Joe Espo

    Let’s keep the site as an empty lot or perhaps turn it into a community garden. Better yet: a butterfly garden! What do you think Diane or Debora?

  13. TLawton

    @Joe Espo
    Or a giant bike track for Mr Mushak to ride around?

    @Debora I agree, you have some very valid common sense points that ought to be taken more seriously. How did POKO work out for these clowns?

  14. piberman

    Attorney Frank Zullo, former Mayor, has long been the leading and most successful legal advocate in big box zoning applications in our City. Having turned Rt. ! in West Norwalk into a traffic nightmare and devalued adjacent residential properties our “Governing Elites” now focus on the heavily congested Route 7. Where one big box goes others follow. Remember the initial Home Depot success. Long term residents remember that each and every big box application was accompanied by a statement promising improved traffic, taxes and jobs. But the observable facts from Route 1 are greatly increased traffic, modest taxes on low valued warehouse buildings and low wage jobs insufficient to either rent or own a home in Norwalk. Having failed for decades to induce any demonstrable development along the “big hole” along I-95 the City’s “Governing Elites” have turned to the one avenue available – making Norwalk the “big box” retail center of the County. A stagnant Grand List and a well known reputation of a high cost provider of municipal services suggests the “big box” development strategy is flawed from the get go.

    What developer would ever consider building high valued office buildings potentially attracting high valued jobs in a City replete with big boxes ? It will take more than the Rolling Ridge residents to defeat Attorney Zullo’s application given his track record of one success after another.

    Even though its an election year maybe Mayor Moccia and the Common Council could give their thoughts on attracting another big box to our noble City – even on one of the heavily traffic arteries so obviously thirsting for big box traffic.

  15. NorwalkDinosaur

    Open wide Norwalk Taxpayers, The Good Mayor Moccia and his band of Merry Idiots are about to shove yet another nightmare big box store down our throats.

    All in the name of progress, of course…

  16. Debora

    I have no direct skin in this game, as I don’t live in that part of Norwalk and don’t shop in membership-based warehouse stores, but I feel for the folks that live over there.
    It’s one thing to take an honest look at it and decide that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, but it does not look like that is what is happening here. This gentleman looked across a table and made two assertions that are neither supported by the facts, nor are they enforceable by him or anybody who approves this plan.
    As Diane rightly points out, leaving one of the intersections out of the original traffic study means that when they go back to evaluate the results after the development is done, they won’t have to evaluate the traffic for that intersection to see if it was impacted negatively. Could similar gaming of the traffic studies be part of the reason he was able to attribute “good results” in “Fairfield, Southington and other places”?
    So far as the news reports go, the site appears to be too contaminated for a community garden and last I checked butterflies don’t pay taxes. But even if the most optimistic job numbers in this article play out, the 125 people who score a job at anywhere between 8,000 and 40,000 per year aren’t going to be paying much in taxes either. This is in a city that currently already has both a Costco and a Walmart, so I don’t think a BJs meets a pressing need of the community.
    I think we can probably do better. Has the business development team pitched that site to any other businesses who might produce higher quality jobs? Have we received thirty refusals? a hundred?

  17. Joe Espo

    Debora: Please edify: what use would you propose for “higher quality jobs?” (I assume you mean higher paying jobs.) And in a way that has little to no impact on traffic. Please give me a hint.

  18. Suzanne

    Debora, all good points. I think the problem with BJs is scale in every way, facility, parking availability, traffic and customers, as in, it is just too darn big for the site (as already discussed using BJ corporate data…) Why couldn’t the site accommodate a small business park for people who live in Norwalk? (That would mean “higher quality” jobs to you, Mr. Espo.) Or if the bricks and mortar concept is just too outdated for the internet generation, why not appeal to start-up tech firms or, better yet, a tech firm that is established enough that accommodating traffic and employees – to the scale of the site – would make sense. Maybe contractual tie-ins to the businesses at Merritt 7? Including a park, BTW, for the public has been accomplished quite successfully at the UBS building in Stamford. I wouldn’t eliminate the idea altogether if the remaining coverage were well-designed – there is always healthcare practices as well that could use such a site. (Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital at the retired Virgin Airways site?) I think “another big box store” which, as other people from Norwalk have expressed in this thread, is just an excuse to get away with an easy fix for empty space. If no one has really examined an integrated approach to the surrounding community and all of Norwalk, i.e., it is called “Urban Planning”, then the homework is not finished and BJ’s is entirely premature. Additive wheels to the road, BTW, would in no way “improve traffic”, timed lights or no timed lights. I think this is a big “duh” to anyone with common sense.

  19. Debora

    You answer my questions and I’ll answer yours.

  20. Norwalk Spectator

    @ EveT –

    Regarding the CVS on Perry Avenue, I have a very strong suspicion that the curb cut on the south side was dictated by the State of Connecticut DOT who did not want people making a left hand turn on to Perry in order to use the light to get out on Route 7, if that’s the one I think you are referring to. I don’t know, because I wasn’t there when the hearings were held, but in other Planning and Zoning meetings that I have attended, when there is a State road involved (like U.S. 1, Rt. 7, Rt 123, etc.), the State literally calls the shots. I totally agree with you about the exit, but I bet dollars to donuts that the developer and CVS literally had no choice in the matter.

  21. Debora

    I suspect a lot of uses are precluded because of the site contamination, but I am not qualified to make that assessment. But certain people are paid by the city to explore these issues and some more are elected in good faith by the city of Norwalk to do the same.
    This process is not worthy of the citizens of Norwalk when the position is “here’s what we want to do and if you don’t like it, then you have to propose a better alternative or make this work”.
    It would be useful to know that some long-term planning went into this. If they said, look, we can’t do medical or food here because of the contamination and we invited different companies that might be able to use the site: things like fleet vehicle parking, or a marine parts manufacturer or a tv production firm or a server farm or UPS or solar panel installers or whatever. We looked at many categories of development at this site and it was unattractive to all of them for one reason or another.
    Then you could say that there may not be a better alternative. Even then, maybe it makes sense to court Target or Macy’s. Or maybe you go to the owner of Sono Marketplace and ask him whether another location is a possibility. I don’t know if that is the answer, but the point is that the city doesn’t seem to know either. Which encourages these developers to ask for what they want without real regard for the interest of our citizens and to narrow the discussions to what objections they need to overcome because they are the only game in town

  22. EastNorwalkChick

    I think I need to put my waders on if this guy thinks that having a BJ’s there will improve traffic…Traffic is already a mess on Rte.7 during the weekends, forget about trying to get anywhere fast between 4:00 and 6:00 pm during the week. Adding the 700 or so cars, plus the truck traffic will only make the congestion worse, and force a lot of the traffic onto the back roads. I’ve become the mast of taking every back road in order to avoid Connecticut Ave…what a bunch of horse manure.

  23. Suzanne

    Contamination would not preclude most uses: think “Fresh Kills” landfill reclaimed to wetlands, parkland, etc. I can’t imagine what kind of toxicity a capped site would not eliminate and a BJ’s with lots of people buying items, including food, pretty much allows multiple uses other than big box. I think the illustration of BJ’s used in this article, BTW, is hilarious. With that amount of traffic, it would not stay open for long!

    More importantly, this once again points to process, rules and regulations that do not include the constituency or, if it does, does so inadequately. Norwalk’s regulations are long overdue for an overhaul. This fait accompli approach is just not serving the public. Developers reign under this administration without planning and without much public input until everything has already been addressed on a regulatory basis.

    I still believe Norwalk has great potential to be a wonderful small town serving its residents but not like this. Shoe-horning a huge store in a space too small for it on a street too busy just detracts from neighborhoods. Between this and the wide, wide acreage south of the 95, Norwalk is limping, not prospering.

  24. Tim T

    I would love to see more retail come to Norwalk. This would avoid us having to ride to Milford to go shopping. Actually I would love to see a mall is we had the open space. We have thousands of square feet of empty office space yet almost zero when it come to retail (except wall st.). This just proves what is and what is not successful.

  25. Mrs. Krumb-Kake

    What would be a better fit and fill a need? Well how about a Ryans steakhouse or a Morrisons with that huge fresh menue, available for take out. ummm. Sure would be nice to see more restaurants along the corridore. But restaurant jobs dont pay well either. What about a movie theatre? Well jobs are also low wage and minimal. Moderen theaters dont need many employees. A theatre would be a draw for folks. But something is needed to help intice folks down to patron the corridore rather that just drive through to get to Walmart or stand in line at DMV. Much of that area has squeezed in condos and apartments over the last decade or so and they just dont fit a commercial corridore. And it is a commercial corridore and there is nothing wrong with attracting our neighbors to patron our city. But, but the traffic considerations are legitimate concern that needs to be properly addressed but wmost assuredly wont be, with the current administration. btw, is the plan, currently, to build a parking garage like Costco? Not sure how a large floor plan can accomadate needed parking for such a large floor plan. It is not an ideal location for the proposed use and the revenue generated as well as the few retail jobs dont tip the scales to overlook parking and congestion not to mention noise pollution. Noise from the trucks are an ongoing issue at Home Depot, even though countles promses were made and continue to be made. Noise will now also be an issue for the residents for the new Lowes at Clinton Ave and CT Ave. With all the condos and apartments, next to this proposed site for BJ.s and all the homes on the hill to the rear, truck noise at night will also be an issue no matter what anyone says or promises. Cmon, think about it. Lowes was not a smart move by the city and neither is BJ’s. How many wrecks at NCA and Main since D/Ds moved across the street? Car went into the store front just baby feet from the road, not long ago. How easy we forget our own errors. As for CVS on Main and Perry, ever watch the truckers try and squeeze in that hole between the pole and the train signal box on Perry? Pure brain power, thinking that whole deal through there, for sure. Not long ago a car was hit by the Danbury train there, no? It’s a dangerous crossing with a blind side to the south, somone will be killed there no doubt and than it will be upgraded to a deadly crossing in the statistic data banks. And look at CVS going up at Scribner and Ct Ave. That intersection has accidents daily, oftentimes more than once a day. That intersection even Fred Flinstone could engineer better. Just looking at these locations, makes one wonder, is there money changing hands under the table or can people really be that incompetent? It’s our Norwalk.

  26. Norwalk lifer

    This study demands a peer review; it’s that simple, let a body of peers, equal to the skill set of this individual vet and review his study; objectively.

    If found sound, then it should be considered, but if found defective, throw it out and start over.

    Norwalk Lifer

  27. M. Murray’s

    700 more cars on the weekend? Is the total more or less than the total number of cars on Monday-Friday? What is the current total of cars on the weekdays compared to the weekends?

  28. jlightfield

    When traffic engineers testify in front of a planning or zoning commission, they are there to get the project approved. Consequently they study the existing conditions, project what new traffic will be be and then make recommendations that will mitigate the traffic impact. If the current conditions are a low grade, meaning heavily trafficked with long wait times at intersections, which is what the traffic study really measures, then subsequent improvements will focus on reducing the wait times at intersections. That will effectively improve things by making the traffic more fluid. Unfortunately that doesn’t mean that the street is better from a pedestrian standpoint, or by cross streets feeding into it, or by adjacent developments. The science of traffic studies is pretty accurate, how you plan with it is the subjective part.

  29. Anna Duleep

    FYI Here is the link to e-mail all 15 of us on the Common Council: [email protected].

    It may seem approval is inevitable, but you can at least make your opinions known. It is an ELECTION YEAR after all, and we have five people running for Mayor! While the Common Council is not the voting body involved, we will have to deal with the consequences of the Zoning Commission’s decisions (just like with Lowe’s and CVS on CT Ave).

  30. RU4REAL

    I find it hard to believe (bull….) that drivers, on a whim, pull into a store like BJ’s. Most people make plans to shop at stores like this. Will they have a gas station? That may get me to stop on a whim.

  31. RU4REAL

    Not to forget, the Mosque will be too big for the site too.

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