Despite traffic concerns, Norwalk P&Z approves “smaller-scale” project on Main Avenue

Architectural designs
A look at one of the buildings approved for 272-280 Main Avenue.

A restaurant, an eatery with a drive-thru, retail space, and 10 apartments are coming to Main Avenue, after the Planning and Zoning Commission voted 5-2-2 on the plans for 272-280 Main Avenue, known colloquially as the old BJ’s site. 

The property is the former home of ELINCO (Electric Indicator Co.) and is a Superfund site that was put on the national priority list in 1984. It was declared ready for reuse in September 2020. There’s a groundwater treatment building on the site, which Attorney Liz Suchy, who represented the property owner, said would remain, and access to it would be maintained.

For years, the site has been referred to as the BJ’s site, after an initial proposal dating back to 2013. Next, the Commission approved plans for a 100,000-square-foot retail development called “The Village” in 2017, but that approval expired last year. 

The current property owner, Main Norwalk LLC, brought forward a more modest proposal—one that was praised by many of the neighbors who fought “The Village” plans years ago—to put three buildings on the site along with 196 parking spaces. 

Those buildings include: 

  • A 19,000-square-foot retail space with 10 apartments
  • A 2,240-square-foot food or coffee shop space with a drive-thru
  • A 2,200-square-foot restaurant 

Residents said they appreciated the smaller footprint and smaller businesses that would be located at the site, especially compared to the big-box retailer initially approved for it. 

Laura Lamorte, who lives in the Rolling Ridge development behind the property, said she was “appreciative of the applicant” for their plans that are “more sensible than the ones that were presented as far back as 2012 when a BJs-type big-box development was proposed.” 

“That was a big concern of ours, so we’re happy to see this site being developed as something that’s more in scope with the neighborhood,” she said. 

Council member Heather Dunn, the former head of the Norwalk Association of Silvermine Homeowners, which opposed the previous application, thanked the developer and staff for this proposal. 

“It seems like all of the issues that we had with the prior iteration for this site have been really thoughtfully addressed, and I’m really looking forward to seeing their great projects,” she said. 

An aerial of the site

Traffic Concerns

However, some commissioners expressed concerns  about the potential traffic the site would create, particularly if a popular retailer was to become a tenant. 

“I see a Trader’s Joe’s,” Commissioner Nick Kantor said, adding that a grocery store like that would produce significantly more traffic than a medical office would in that space. “For you to say this isn’t going to cause mayhem—we’d be lying to ourselves. That’s my biggest concern.” 

Kantor, who along with Commissioner Chapin Bryce voted against the project, said he was uncomfortable not knowing what was going to go in there. 

Representatives for the applicant said that they haven’t had any luck securing tenants yet, so they were using generic retail traffic trip generators, something that also concerned the city’s traffic consultant. 

Marissa Tarallo, a traffic engineer with AKRF, said the applicant had used a trip generator for a “high turnover sitdown restaurant,” which would include places where patrons would sit for about an hour and not do a lot of takeout business. However in emails, the applicant described Chipotle and Jersey Mike’s as potential tenants for some of the restaurant space.

“It also explicitly notes that takeout is a small percentage, if any, of a high turnover sitdown which is not what I think with a Jersey Mike’s or Chipotle—takeout is at least half of or a portion that is not minimal is doing takeout for most sites and they’re certainly not staying for 60 minutes,” she said. “The difference in trip generation rates are extremely notable.”

As Suchy, who was representing the applicant, noted, due to their traffic studies, “it has been determined that no traffic signal is appropriate or warranted for this development.” 

Because the road is a state road, any traffic light approval would have to come from CTDOT. Still, Tarallo said, she would have liked to have seen the applicant “put forth a warrant [for a traffic light] that says it’s needed, they agree to pay for it. They work through the process with ConnDOT and they want to prove it—that’s a different story to me than the rest of us feeling like it’s needed.”

The commission agreed, and one of the conditions of approval is that the city and state “shall coordinate and decide on if a traffic signal is warranted based in part upon the updated data and calculations within the analysis.” Another condition is that “prior to any potential retail store that primarily sells food or food-related products, such as a grocery store tenant, occupies the site, the property owner shall submit an updated traffic signal warrant analysis.” 

Commissioner Ana Tabachneck said she was annoyed that the applicant had a chance to do the work for a warrant for a traffic light before, as requested by city staff.

“We finally get up against the deadline, and it has to go into a condition—this seems like something they could have just done,” she said. 

Tabachneck voted in favor of the application.

Tarallo said while they still might not get a light, submitting the warrant was a good step. 

“I do think the chances of putting a traffic signal here are slim,” Tarallo said. “But I still would like to see what the impacts are of a reasonable traffic volume, reasonable worst case for this site, and let that play out with ConnDOT so that we at least understand where they stand in relation to a traffic signal on this corridor.”

If CTDOT does not approve a traffic light at the site, both left turns in and out would be allowed.

Kantor said this project reminded him of the Starbucks and the shopping center located just north of the intersection of Main Avenue and Grist Mill Road. 

“You have the Starbucks on the left, the shopping center there, and you have people coming out. They can make the left turn without a light. Accidents happen very frequently there,” he said. “Everyone knows what a mess that is. And I feel like deja vu a little bit, of like, ‘Wait, we’re gonna repeat that just a little further south on the other side of the road.’”

Commissioner Jacquen Jordan-Byron, who abstained, said she was concerned about pedestrian and traffic crashes in the area.

“I drive by this site every day. And not only is it an accident waiting to happen, it’s a fatality waiting to happen,” she said. 

Still, other commissioners echoed members of the public saying they appreciated plans moving ahead to develop the site. 

“I’d like to thank the applicant for wanting to develop on this site because it’s been vacant for as long as I can remember,” Commissioner Tammy Langalis said.


5 responses to “Despite traffic concerns, Norwalk P&Z approves “smaller-scale” project on Main Avenue”

  1. Drew Todd

    When do we EVER actually build something for the kids?! Maybe a Field House like they have in Newton? Or even in Westport?! When do we actually build something for the children that can have all sorts of sports and activities for them to use?! We were going to re-do Broad River but of course we somehow ran out of money because the new Bob Duff High sucked it all up. We have Vets Park well we all know what a joke that is. If this City ever got its head out of its backside they could actual tournaments for baseball and softball and make some serious revenue. But as we have come to realize forward thinking like that is unacceptable in this City. But let’s just keep building and building apartments! And in the meantime forget the kids who get board start roaming the streets and commit stupid crimes for fun. It’s only a matter of time. So we will now clog up Main Ave even worse with things we sure as heck don’t need but something for the kids and community needs well we can’t have that in Norwalk.

  2. Laura Lamorte

    Thanks again to the Commissioners and the Applicant’s representatives for an informative and thoughtful marathon discussion last night. The Commissioners have thankfully done a good bit of homework and appear now to understand the issues intrinsic to this area and the concerns of the various neighborhoods affected by large-scale development on Main Avenue.

    The safety issues to drivers and pedestrians that are sure to develop without a traffic light remain of concern even for those of us who are grateful that the plans are otherwise more in scope than the ill-conceived, membership based, big-box proposal of the past. The current plans include one lane to enter the site and two lanes to exit (a left-only and right-only turn lane). Left-hand turns across two lanes of traffic on Main Avenue can already be a death-defying endeavor and pedestrians have few crosswalks to safely maneuver across the road. However, as we learned from the professionals who presented last night, the decision for/against a traffic light is unfortunately in the hands of CTDOT because this Main Avenue corridor is a state road and the state decides whether or not the traffic intensity warrants a light. The site might have qualified for a traffic light if 272-280 LLC had tenants lined up to include a grocery-type store but as Mr. DiGennaro explained, they are having difficulty getting commitments from any prospective tenants due to the economic climate. It’s a Catch-22.

    Perhaps after a certain threshold of deaths and injuries in this location are met, CT DOT may reconsider their metrics for a traffic signal….

    A suggestion was made as to whether or not some other traffic “quieting” measures could be instituted in lieu of a traffic light. One idea was for re-timing of the lights already in place to create gaps that drivers exiting the site can find, especially for those difficult left-hand turns. I’m hoping that this is a decision that the City of Norwalk can make, otherwise we’ll continue to be at the mercy of CT DOT’s bureaucracy.

  3. Tysen Canevari

    Thank god something is going in there finally. Arent we tired of looking at it for the last 20 plus years. No matter what you put there the neighbors would cry. Not sure how it would effect them anyway because it will have an entrance and exit to Main Avenue. It doesnt matter what the the people want anyway because this town just throws up apartments so that we can send more income tax to Hartford. Then Bob can tell you he got us a grant for 1 million to build chicken coops at Taylor Farm and all the council will stand next to him and smile for the photo!

  4. April Wennerstrom

    Please, oh please, oh please, consider bringing a Donut Delight to this part of town. My true wish is for a Tim Horton, but D.D. would suffice. =P

  5. Diane Lauricella

    I thank both the Commission and the Site owner/Developer for presenting a better proposal than those presented since 2013.

    A couple of thoughts:
    1. Why can’t the entities in Norwalk “in the business of business development” help this landowner find suitable matches? I’m thinking the Economic and Community Development Division headed by Jessica Vonashek and Staff, the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency, the Chamber of Commerce, the CT Economic and Community Development Department, and the Mayor’s Office. As long as those matches follow zoning laws and embrace the Norwalk POCD.

    2. Former Elinco Pollution site: For clarification, my comments about the application, especially a little history of its pollution history, would have been of interest to your readers. After all, it is the only federal EPA Superfund Site in lower Fairfield County.
    There are best management practices to develop it safely with requisite vapor barriers and ongoing monitoring but both the PZ Commission and this blog seem uninterested in at least a few more details.

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