Costco would demolish the Doubletree Hotel and expand its parking garage, creating an entrance to the underground deck from Connecticut Avenue, under an application in front of the Norwalk Conservation Commission.
This would improve Connecticut Avenue traffic and improve the environmental conditions along the Five Mile River, representatives said at the Commission’s Tuesday meeting.
“The plan is to demolish the hotel as soon as we can. It’s vacant; Costco purchased it, it’s sitting there vacant. They want to get it demolished,” said Michelle Carlson, P.E, of BL Companies.
Commissioners unanimously vote to hold a public hearing Sept. 26, although they had reservations about tentative plans to retain a wall along the river.
“This is sort of a tricky situation for us. Because what this application is being compared against, it’s something that was should have never been done in the first place,” Chairman Steven Klocke said.
Costco apparently bought the neighboring 3.21-acre Doubletree property in an April auction, though Town Clerk Rick McQuaid said in early August that he had no record of the transaction.
“Costco is the owner the two properties at 779 and 789 Connecticut Avenue. Seven-seventy-nine is the site of the existing Costco store. Seven-eighty-nine is the former DoubleTree Hotel,” Attorney John Kluff said Tuesday to the Conservation Commission. “The properties combined are approximately 13 acres, and the Five-Mile River runs along the western property of both parcels.”
Costco plans to move its tire center to a new building along Connecticut Avenue, Carlson said.
Anyone who’s been to Costco knows more parking is needed and it can be made more convenient and accessible, Knuff said.
Carlson said the impervious pavement in the “regulated area,” adjacent to the river and on the hotel property, will be reduced from 35,000 square feet to 7,100 square feet. The existing 10- to 12-foot-high wall, which at one point is up against the riverbank, will remain. A new “green area” will be installed, with lower level trees and shrubs.
Invasive plants along the river will be removed, as will two trees from the hotel parking lot, she said. The new underground parking deck will, as is required by regulations, feature an oil water separator and runoff will go into the sanitary sewer system. The upper deck will feature a filtration system.
Currently, there’s untreated stormwater runs into the river, she said.
Costco plans to demolish the hotel and put down gravel in the proposed parking area, Carlson said. The “green” will be established and hopefully the actual deck will be built next spring.
Klocke said it’s not really the Commission’s purview but given the velocity of river waters during major storms, asked if Costco had considered taking down the wall.
The priority is to demolish the hotel and “we are going to analyze that and see if it’s feasible. We’ve had preliminary conversations with FEMA,” Carlson said. The “green area” might instead need to be “armored riprap,” considering the potential height of the water and “we have to be careful.”
Klocke suggested that if the Commission approves the project on the applicant’s promise to consider removing the wall, it will have no recourse if Costco doesn’t deliver.
“We are more than happy to consider the removal the wall,” Knuff said. “I mean, candidly, we just can’t do it now. I mean, that is a very long process, as Michelle can explain, working with FEMA, trying to understand what that how that drainage is going to work. … we will look at it diligently with the intent of trying to comply with the overall intent and, you know, undoing the bad past practices of the past.”
He suggested a condition of approval that Costco return within a certain time period “with a report determine analyzing whether or not that wall can be removed or not, and what the practical implications of that are.”
“You may have to make a tough decision of whether you want a riprap slope or whether you want to keep them a sustained landscaping,” Knuff said. The “hotel being vacant is a really serious issue. For us, it is a very serious issue for your fire and police department.”
He also said, “We had a all-hands-on-deck meeting with all your staff, and everyone was, I don’t want to be hyperbolic, but rejoicing at this application, that we can rectify some of the bad past practices, but also alleviate a real problem that’s on site and with traffic and with our patrons trying to navigate around the site.”
Norwalk Senior Environmental Engineer Alexis Cherichetti, who is also Assistant Planning and Zoning Director, said Costco understand the Five Mile River’s history of flash flooding and while the condition wouldn’t be “typical,” “removing the wall is a very significant project.”
“We’re not throwing down the gauntlet. And I think we might be in a position to, we’re not doing that,” Knuff said. “We’re pledging to continue to work with this Commission, we have a lot of respect for all the work that you do, and everything has taken place in the city and all the good work that’s taking place in city Norwalk.”
The application will also go before the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Klocke said, “There’s the ideal, there’s the existing that some boneheads did 50 years ago, and then, you know, we’re trying to figure out the best place to be in the middle. Within reason, obviously, because you know, it is private property, you have your rights, but also, we want to do the best we can for the river.”
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