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BLT explains its proposed master plan for 1300 apartments on Glover Avenue

BLT (Building and Land Technology) General Counsel David Waters details the North 7 master plan during Thursday’s Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing on Zoom.

NORWALK, Conn. — The Norwalk Zoning Commission is considering a master plan for Glover Avenue that would tentatively allow 1,290 apartments in seven buildings on the road’s western side.

If greenlighted, Stamford-based developer BLT would likely construct the first three buildings, with about 500 apartments, “relatively immediately,” according to BLT (Building and Land Technology) General Counsel David Waters. Further construction would hinge upon major traffic improvements under consideration by the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT). The tallest of those first three buildings would rise 115 feet, with 11 stories; if the project continued past phase I, two 150-foot tall 15-story buildings could be constructed at the northern end, adjacent to the Route 7 connector.

Waters, speaking to the Commission on Thursday, said the while 15 story-buildings sounds like a change, they would be 150 feet high and in reality, the same height as a 12-story hotel that is already permissible in the zoning regulations.  They would compare favorably to the nearby Merritt 7 buildings, according to Waters.

The proposed buildings would not be significantly taller than those at Merritt 7, Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin said in a memo.

The Danbury line train station under construction on Glover Avenue.

Phase I would be directly across the street from the Glover Avenue train station and would include 83 parking spaces for train commuters, replacing spaces in a ConnDOT lot, Waters said. There would be a public plaza and a pedestrian cut through for Oakwood Avenue residents.

“We’re proposing a town square in this location right across from the train station,” Waters said. “This is viewed as being kind of the center of the development, at least for the southern part of the development. With the retail on either side, as a gathering space, as a place where events can take place, as a place where just a general identity of the community can occur.”

Traffic Engineer Mark Vertucci said there would be 28,000 square feet of retail, not stores that would be a draw but would instead support the residents and Glover Avenue community. Given that “this is a transit-oriented development, so you’re going to have a substantial number of people not getting in their vehicle to commute to work, they’re going to walk to the train station, or work from their homes.”

Norwalk would benefit financially from the development, according to Donald Poland of Goman + York.

“I believe our findings was about $3.2 million more in taxes than local government expenses, and that was taking into account education expenses in school-aged children generated by the development,” Poland said. “We also estimated approximately $3.7 million in one-time development fees, that is the land use permitting process, the building permitting process and WPCA connection fees. In addition, we estimated on the economic impact side between 345 and 365 construction jobs created or maintained during the period of construction, and approximately 5.9 to 6.2 million in consumer spending within the market area, recognizing the market area exists at a regional level, not simply the local Norwalk level.”

Questioned by Commission member Richard Roina, Poland said the original calculation was for 247 schoolchildren. But in reviewing the existing housing stock, the projection was lowered to 181 potential students because half of Norwalk’s stock is three bedrooms or more, and the development features two-bedroom apartments max.

“We know bedrooms are a key factor in ultimately the enrollments,” Poland said.

The projection dropped again when adjustments were made for “new enrollments.”

“Most studies have shown, and I’ve tracked this for a number of years now, most studies show between 20 percent and 30 percent of enrollments are new to district, we use the conservative estimate of 50 percent,” Poland said. “That’s assuming maybe some backfill enrollments that move.”

Ultimately, his firm predicts 91 new enrollments to Norwalk Public Schools, “about $2.3 million in education costs,” he said. Those are factored into the calculation of the City gaining $3.2 million per year, should the entire master plan come to fruition. “It would take like another 227 School enrollments to actually drive the development into a fiscal negative position.”

BLT has already built three apartment buildings on the eastern side of the street, where it meets Grist Mill Road, a complex dubbed “The Curb.”

A chart presented by BLT (Building and Land Technology) General Counsel David Waters.

Of the 700 apartments there, 38 residents are under 18 years old, and “a significant number” of them are less than five years old, Waters said. Nearly 16% work in Norwalk, 13% in Wilton and 13.2% in Stamford; 300 residents are between the ages of 25 and 34, while 141 are over 55.

The master plan would be “plug and play,” Waters said. While phase I would likely be built as sketched out now, future buildings would adjust to market circumstances. If Google wanted a campus, the plans could change for the use. Or, perhaps a hotel could go in the northernmost part.

If the development continued, it could feature a two-acre park around a brook as another project focal point. The Norwalk River Valley Trail is factored in, although plans “somewhat in flux,” Waters said. It might go on the west side of Route 7 or it might go down Glover as originally planned and tunnel under the Merritt Parkway.

Traffic wouldn’t be an issue with phase I due to its proximity to the train station, according to Waters and his team, but phase II is dependent on ConnDOT completing its planned revision to the Merritt Parkway/Route 7 interchange. Kleppin said that construction is expected in 2025.

Phase III requires improvements to the Glover Avenue/Grist Mill Road intersection. Kleppin said there’s no ETA on that.

Route 7, Grist Mill Road and Glover Avenue could come together in a four-way intersection, Waters said.

“It would encourage the free flow of traffic predominantly to Main Avenue, which is what it’s always intended to do,” Waters said. “And then there would be additional improvements that would be made on Main Avenue from that Grist Mill intersection, up through to about gateway in Wilton. These are all on the books as being under contemplated plans of DOT… not yet a carved in stone.” But, “The state of Connecticut has actually analyzed that we could achieve stable traffic flow for the entire development if certain traffic improvements are made.”

The master plan wouldn’t guarantee BLT approval for any of its buildings. Each must go through site plan review.

Eight citizens spoke to the Commission at its virtual public hearing on the proposal.

The Curb.

“I’ve been to numerous meetings of this type over the years and the frustration and dismay I have for our community leaders in this matter is at its peak, particularly when we’re considering density and growth in an area already dense in the city,” April Wennerstrom said.

She also pointed out that ConnDOT has been unwilling to address traffic problems on Main Avenue and asked what tax abatements BLT might get.

“There is absolutely no tax benefits that have been given, this is purely market rate,” Waters said. “The only thing that we have done is to seek the impetus to get the DOT and the state of Connecticut to use infrastructure funding to improve the roadways which should have been improved 30 years ago when Route 7 was originally created.”

Glover Avenue is well outside the Enterprise Zone that awards tax abatements to developers.

An Oakwood Avenue resident pointed out that BLT’s traffic study was done during COVID-19 and before The Curb was completed, “so not representative necessarily of traffic flows.”

She said, “As the city grows and becomes bigger, we may be pricing out locals and gentrifying Norwalk to a point where people who have grown up here can’t afford to live here.”

Ben Hanpeter, who lives on the other side of town, said he supports the development.

“I’d like to see some socioeconomic analysis on this proposal to see if there’ll be any elements of gentrification if, you know, longtime residents will be priced out. I would like to think that would actually be the opposite way around,” Hanpeter said. “Providing more market rate apartments reduces the demand for less expensive units elsewhere in the city.”

Criticisms about traffic are “a pretty weak argument against building housing,” he said. “I think that means that we have to find ways to alleviate traffic. It’s not necessarily true that more housing has to lead to more traffic. You just have to be thoughtful about how you how you implement.”

Elizabeth Lazarou, an Oakwood Avenue resident, asked if anyone had walked on Glover Avenue. “It twists, it winds, it’s uphill,” she said. “…People are going to use cars. This is the suburbs. It’s not New York City.”

A man who didn’t identify himself said, “It’s just building a haven of unaffordable apartments for mostly renters, which I think is seriously going to create a transient populace. And that’s not going to benefit the city of Norwalk in terms of the infrastructure, the load on the infrastructure.”

A conceptual rendering of two of three buildings that would be built in phase I.

Leigh Grant said, “We seem to be building a third center for Norwalk. And we already have two centers. And I don’t think we need a third center.”

Waters took exception to that.

“This area of Norwalk is the economic engine of Norwalk, it has the class A offices, it has the high-quality office tenants. And if we don’t support it and make it into the neighborhood that it needs to be in order to attract those types of tenants and their employees, then you are not going to get what you’re looking for at all,” Waters said.

The Commission closed its public hearing, except that it will accept written comments until June 15, when it will hold its next meeting and perhaps vote on aspects of the application. Email [email protected] if you’d like to weigh in.

North7 – master plan 02.28.2022

Staff Memo_Public Hearing 5.27.22

15 comments

John O'Neill June 6, 2022 at 10:44 am

Have BLT hired Liz Suchy yet? Stephen Kleppin is not to be trusted as he proved to Richards Avenue neighbors just a few months ago. By the way, at the end of the day, when Steve’s done approving all these monstrosities around town he heads back home to trees, lakes and natural vistas up North. Shouldn’t our P&Z decision maker at least have to be a neighbor to the monstrosities he thinks are ok…As a reminder of how City Hall feels about
homeowners see link below…You can start video at 1:50 mark if you’re in a hurry.

https://connecticut.news12.com/norwalk-approves-new-sikh-house-of-worship-despite-neighbor-pushback

On a side note — Calf Pasture Beach was spectacular this weekend. Kudos to the Beach and Mayor’s staff for maintaining a quality asset. So — To all my naysayers out there, I do credit the Mayor for the good things he’s done…It is my hope there are more kudos to hand out to Harry’s Team in the future. The Norwalk Public School Administration would be a nice place to start, don’t you think?

Piberman June 6, 2022 at 11:15 am

City homeowners who pay almost 90% of the City’s tax bill won’t mind if a few hundred more new children enter our schools costing about $20,000 per student or perhaps another 3 or 4 million dollars to the school budget. Will property tax on these new apartments pay for school payments ? Especially when depreciation reduces building commercial property taxes. We know the answer to that one ! Homeowners to the rescue.

But why even raise such obvious questions. City Officials led by our distinguished Common Council continue to claim that “renters bring growth”. Even though that statement is not backed up by the professional economics literature. Or comparing Norwalk to CT’s other once proud cities.

Under Democratic leadership our once homeowner majority City has been transformed into a renters majority City. With steadily increased property taxes and continued reluctance of major firms to locate here with good jobs. We attract mostly low pay/low tax Big Box. As long as homeowners don’t object Norwalk will be CT’s “premier renters majority City”. Replete with failing public schools, severely distressed Downtown, 10% Poverty rate and Big Box retail everywhere.

Why would anyone complain about this continued transformation with ever more apartment buildings bringing transient renters of our once proud City where homeowners took an active interest in City affairs with pride in their public schools. Bring on the renters ! Make Norwalk Great !

Patrick Cooper June 6, 2022 at 12:53 pm

I had to double check the bi-line to make sure this wasn’t written by the marketing team at BLT.

Good gosh Norwalk – look at all the positives! As Alfred E. Neuman would say, What’s your worry? Speaking of him – think anyone in New Canaan misses Steve Kleppin?

The idea presented that the state will make “improvements” to the area traffic is laughable. It’s a SpongeBob band aide for a severed limb. Again Norwalk – listen carefully: WE need pitchforks and torches out at the next meeting. Not a single unit built until the state GUARANTEE’S they will extend the connector. EXTEND the connector, not gussy it up so all of the traffic dumps into Norwalk north.

No, this project – Hartford is the driving force here, along with a developer thirsty for their next billion. So, the chance we can stop this ended when you – Norwalk – re-elected Bob & Harry. It’s over folks. So all we have left is negotiation – what can we get for giving up whatever character and standard of living has existing for Cranbury since long before Caldor called this area home, and then was Wal-Mart’ed out of existence.

I also call BS on the idea that those corporate tenant’s will depart RT. 7 if we don’t put this development in place. How many folks living in the Curb currently work there? 10? I recall reading quite a bit about the decision by Diageo to depart Norwalk (the largest corporate defection since Norden in 2012) and take their 400 plus jobs with them. They were at 801 N. Main – at the “south end” of this development. Recall Bob & Harry saying “we can’t be expected to compete with NYC for business”. Never recall saying – if we would just add 2000 apartments, it would all work out.

Also, as I asked (but no answer) in the last post – do we have some conflicts here? BLT – I see they have a corporate “rebate” program with William Pitt Sotheby’s Real Estate, but do they own them? Major shareholder? It’s kind of important, seeing they are the employer of Bob Duff.

Fix up the Kitchen, put a coat of paint on the exterior – and put up the 4-sale sign folks. It’s over. When Harry is finished with Norwalk, we will be unrecognizable to anyone who lived here before 2012. No space, no tree’s, no way to get anywhere except by bike. And schools that don’t teach, but they offer $110 per hour babysit services (not including benefits).

Anywhere else.

Lady Driver June 6, 2022 at 4:50 pm

Appalling. Absolutely galling that this is even being considered. We don’t need 15-story buildings, we need more open space. Harry and Bob have taken a wrecking ball to our community and I guarantee will be out within ten years so the rest of us can suffer through insufferable traffic and an ever-growing concrete jungle. Sad, very sad. I listened in on the meeting and I think a whopping six people spoke out against this project. Wait until the next meeting when MM speaks up about how we need more apartments and how Cranbury just wants to be a bucolic oasis of single-family housing. Yes! That’s why folks moved there, to avoid so much density in what the rest of this city has achieved in overbuilding. Look closely at that rendering, folks. We’re talking about six ten+ story buildings to be seen from miles away. Is there anyone on Creeping Hemlock/Driftwood who’s happy about their view now? Is it up to the Common Council to nix this or does this go through once approved by this commitee? Help us all!

Tysen Canevari June 6, 2022 at 4:56 pm

Keep voting for Harry and his squad. If you are a developer than knock on his door. Small projects need not apply. Lets build high rise apartments wherever we can. Such a shame that one mayor has totally help destroy the character of this great town known as Norwalk. His pocket must grow bigger every day!

matthew merluzzi June 6, 2022 at 6:26 pm

Enough is enough. Traffic is bad enough, the city has absorbed enough new residents over the past 10yrs. People talk about America being a ‘melting pot’, well if Norwalk were a melting pot it’d be burning the cheese at the side of the pot because they keep heaping it in. Not to mention traffic, if they were considering with that issue…..does anyone think this would make it better?
I’m tired of it and so to should you be. The current leaders of this town want to stuff the town like a sardine can. I’m not sure what their rational is, but I don’t agree with the end goal.

Norwalker June 7, 2022 at 8:21 am

Turning a once beautiful town into cement city ..one building at a time ..wasnt ruining Stamford good enough ? Stop electing those who only consider their jobs their party their agenda their glory at the cost of our quality of life ..if I wanted to live in NYC or the Bronx or Stamford I would have .. time for common sense on election day ..enough is ENOUGH.

DrewT June 7, 2022 at 8:35 am

First: NORWALK DOES NOT WANT IR NEED THIS: OH Wait it’s being pushed through by the same 2 that rammed the new Bob Duff High through. So we already know they don’t give a rats if what anyone else wants. As long as their greasy pockets get filled! This can not happen! This will DESTROY our City!! We can only hope and pray the members of the CC don’t just rubber stamp this like everyone of Harry’s and Bob’s desires!! THIS HAS TO STOP! Follow The Money!

Leigh Grant June 7, 2022 at 10:23 am

My presentation at the Planning and Zoning Commission:

Taking an overview of the planned development of North 7 and the changes needed to move it forward, I ask that you deny them on the following basis:

1.) While we all envisioned a village to accompany the Super 7 railroad station, we did not envision building a third center for Norwalk. Norwalk already has two centers. We don’t need a third.
2.) We all strongly support Affordable Housing and feel Norwalk has done a pretty good job on this issue over the years.
3.) We support continuing and allowing for the Norwalk River Valley Trail.
4.) A change from 8 storeys to 15 storeys is an enormous change, virtually doubling the height of the buildings.
5.) In both Wilton and Norwalk, the built environment on either side of the river from these enormous proposed 15 storey buildings is historic and fragile, especially in Norwalk/Wilton Silvermine, and this development puts undue pressure on this area to further develop.
6.) We are looking at climate change that is already happening and North 7, being built in the river valley of the Norwalk River, will remove more of the needed absorption of the land and replace it with asphalt. Has a hundred year flood been anticipated? Is Norwalk planning for drainage BEYOND the hundred year flood given that our area experienced rainfall approaching a 500 year event in the fall of 2021 with Hurricane Ida?
7.) The area in which this development is proposed already has a major traffic problem in the morning and afternoon. Crossing the bridge on Grist Mill, as I have done walking back to a business on Main to get my car, is virtually death-defying right now without the new number of proposed occupants of these buildings. No pedestrian safety features exist here or farther south on Main Avenue. Furthermore, the area between the Starbucks and Motor Vehicle resembles a killing ground with the traffic exiting or entering Grist Mill to use the Super 7 connector. Imagine what it will be like with more traffic.
8.) The development has a further negative affect on the historic Merritt Parkway’s viewshed however this will already be impacted by the massive interchange.
9.) These proposed buildings are three storeys higher than the Sono Corporate Center which is in a downtown area and is the highest building in Norwalk along with 901 Main Ave. These proposed buildings are four storeys higher than the extant Merritt 7 buildings #s 401, 501, and 601. These new buildings are not in a downtown area but they are now further creating a downtown area.
10.) If you are changing the plan, why are you changing the review process?
11.) The past short-sighted approach by CTDOT to designing the final connection to the Merritt Parkway has resulted in the massive and very expensive interchange to be built in 2025. That past short-sightedness included not retaining enough land. Are you absolutely sure they won’t need the land that is being rezoned? Nor was the Super 7 land ever properly landscaped as promised.

RFN June 7, 2022 at 11:21 am

Outside money seems quite happy that Norwalk wants to become just like the housing projects in NYC. Its time to start changing the signs on the Norwalk highway exits. New signs to read :

1) “Welcome to Norwalk – your Waterbury on the sound”
2) “Welcome to Norwalk – a great place to LEAVE”

CT-Patriot June 7, 2022 at 7:42 pm

This reeks of the Obama AFFH program.

Hard pass Rilling and those Democrats who are all in just for more Federal money.

This is another end of the American Dream of a home with a white picket fence and a yard with grass, not concrete!

Mid terms are coming…send them a message we will not comply with these concrete monstrosities!!

Diane Keefe June 8, 2022 at 1:06 pm

I am all for more density near the train line with the requirement that the Glover St development include street level grocery, restaurant and medical clinic so that the 1,000 people who live there don’t have to drive for food or medical treatment either. That is distinctly lacking from their other development at the Grist Mill location. We need to build in for the need for more sustainable local living.
Bike paths that connect to the Norwalk River Valley Trail and landscaping including mature tree planting should be a requirement!
If there is any open space nearby the developer should be required to buy it and maintain it in exchange for 15 stories. This way property value is maintained in the residential buildings because long term quality of life for the residents is ensured no matter what happens to the office buildings on RT 7.
If they are not willing to give something back to the community through these new urbanism commitments then they should stick with 8 stories!

Lady Driver June 8, 2022 at 3:52 pm

Funny, not funny, but funny, I’ll add a third. See below:
“Outside money seems quite happy that Norwalk wants to become just like the housing projects in NYC. Its time to start changing the signs on the Norwalk highway exits. New signs to read:

1) “Welcome to Norwalk – your Waterbury on the sound”
2) “Welcome to Norwalk – a great place to LEAVE”
3) Where the local roads have so many potholes, you’d swear you were in Yemen (no offense to Yemenis). Or I guess Rhode Island according to this article: https://www.consumeraffairs.com/automotive/us-road-conditions.html

George June 9, 2022 at 10:56 pm

Has anyone at city hall even thought about oh, say adding more fire dept coverage, or where will thousands of gallons of domestic water come from or maybe even needing a bigger sewage treatment plant?

How about the added traffic to an already heavily congested area?

What about additional police officers?

NAAAAH! Nevermind. That’s all stupid stuff that is not needed.

Pay no attention to groups the Soundkeepers that will keep the city lawyers busy paying fines for exceeding the permitted numbers while staying in court winning millions of taxpayers money.

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