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.”