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Developers floating new idea for ‘BJ’s site’

Then-mayoral candidate Harry Rilling decries the plan to put a BJ's Wholesale Club at 272-280 Main Ave., in the summer of 2013.
Then-mayoral candidate Harry Rilling, in September 2013, decries the plan to put a BJ’s Wholesale Club at 272-280 Main Ave.

NORWALK, Conn. — There’s a new plan brewing for that piece of Main Avenue land where developers had hoped to build a BJ’s Wholesale Club.
It would include a street-friendly frontage of small retail and restaurants that would conceal a big box store component in the rear, architect Bruce Beinfield said. The box store would “not necessarily be a BJ’s,” he said.

The proposal in 2013 to put a BJ’s Wholesale Club at 272-280 Main Ave. generated much resistance and developers pulled the idea before it came to a Zoning Commission vote.

It would have been the smallest piece of property for a BJ’s Wholesale Club in the United States of America, then-Zoning Commissioner Mike Mushak said. Then-mayoral candidate Harry Rilling decried the idea of big box stores in general and specifically against a BJ’s on Main Avenue; Silvermine residents predicted that the traffic impacts of a BJ’s on that property would reach their neighborhood.

Since then, the property has been dormant. It’s a former Superfund site, formerly the home of ELINCO (Electric Indicator Co.).

A rumor began circulating through Norwalk this weekend that BJ’s is back with a new proposal.

“There is an alternate proposal for that in the works,” Beinfield said Monday. “I have been retained by the owners to come up with some concepts for that. It would be still primarily retail uses on the property but the idea is to put the project in the scale and character of a much smaller development as seen from Main Avenue.”

“The owner of the old Elinco property has hired Bruce Beinfield to provide concept drawings for the site,” Rilling said in a Monday email. “Smaller, boutique-type retail outlets in front and a larger building in the back.  I told them this was a better plan than the plan put forth before.  We have offered to work with the owner in reaching out to potential retail/restaurant vendors who might have an interest.”

“It would look like a series of much smaller buildings lining the street. The parking would be totally shielded from Main Avenue so that you don’t have the usual kind-of big box retail phenomena, a sea of parking in front of retail use,” Beinfield said.

Rilling asked developers to reach out to neighbors and stakeholders to get feedback before submitting a formal application, Beinfield said.

Developers do not have a deal with BJ’s at present, he said.

“I told them I am still not in favor of a BJ’s at that location,” Rilling said. “I recommended they reach out to all neighborhood groups including NASH (Norwalk Association of Silvermine Homeowners) to discuss what might work there.  The owner has indicated he is reaching out to other retail, not just, or necessarily even, BJ’s in order to find a suitable use for the site.”

Again, the big-box component would be totally hidden from the street, Beinfield said.
“It would be basically a big box retail, not necessarily BJ’s but not necessarily that different from that in terms of the size requirement,” Beinfield said.

Traffic is probably the primary issue, Beinfield acknowledged, but said a new traffic light would be part of the proposal and that mitigation would have to be consistent with Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) standards.

“In all other respects the project, I think, is an excellent one,” Beinfield said.

It’s thought that the street front would feature one or two restaurants and two to four smaller neighborhood-oriented retail stores, landscaped in such a way as to be very pedestrian oriented on the very pedestrian unfriendly Main Avenue, Beinfield said.

“The city is better off in the long run with an active use there and hopefully, the goal right now is to make is such that the people that live in that neighborhood will be able to walk to this place that will have some retail, restaurants and some small shops,” Beinfield said. “They can be integrated as a very positive place in the community.”

Comments

  1. Mitch Adis

    ATTENTION TAX ASSESSORS OFFICE! The property you are currently assessing at $2,023,225 sold for $7,995,000 in November 2015!!! This is the fair market value! We can get 4x more tax revenue today. What are you waiting for?

  2. Christine M.

    No, the problem with a “big box” store is not necessarily how it looks from the street or if there’s a parking lot in the front or back; it’s the amount of traffic that it will create. Yes, traffic has decreased in that are since Super 7 was put in, but there is still a LOT of traffic in that area.

  3. EveT

    Parking shielded from the street, meaning you have to park in the back.
    Does anyone realize this is unsafe at night, or at least makes customers feel unsafe? Please, Mr. Beinfield, take safety into consideration.

  4. The Norwalker

    There is still room on the end of Glover Ave for a BJ’s. That way Super 7 and Route 106 in Wilton would handle most of the traffic. The spot on Main Ave would be perfect for small retail stores with apartments up above.

    Main Ave has some of the best public transit access in Norwalk and it would be great for people without cars.

  5. Tom

    Great idea!! Let’s start another project just for the sake of starting a project. If this follows the trend of other Norwalk’s project – it will run out of money, ruin a neighborhood, be totally unneeded / wanted and will look as ugly as sin.

    With zero apparent ability, intent or desire to put together a comprehensive, thoughtful and community supported plan for the future of Norwalk – the future of Norwalk is not bright.

    There seems to be no one in our city government overseeing and coordinating the many, various projects to ensure the buildings are in keeping with Norwalk’s history and heritage. It seems there has been big ugly high rent box apartment buildings followed by big ugly box low wage paying retail / commercial buildings.

    Let’s finish the current development debacles in “progress” before trashing another section of Norwalk. But, PLEASE get a plan. Norwalk is one city, every project should be in keeping with Norwalk’s single master plan to enhance the quality of life for all our citizen’s and position Norwalk to take advantage of our history, location and assets.

  6. Debora

    There is a plan. It’s called the Plan Of Conservation and Development. The state requires that we revisit it every ten years. But zoning is not allowed to consider it in their deliberations and planning is staffed by the redevelopment agency which is only concerned with development in the city center. We are due to undergo the full process of developing the POCD, but the council only budgeted 50k this year for something that should cost about $1.5million for a city of our size.

    Until the planning and zoning functions are rebalanced in the city charter, any developer with a pot of money and a good lawyer will be in charge of planning.

    Unfortunately, the only thing the council chose to consider for charter reform this November is term length and compensation for the council and removal of some functionless elected offices.

    Voters should consider voting no to charter reform until it includes p&z reform.

  7. Patrick Cooper

    Infrastructure should be first and foremost with any scale planning. PLEASE do not call this stretch of road SUPER 7 – because a true SUPER 7 would stretch to Interstate 84 in Danbury. This should be called the Toni Boucher legacy road – and her small but dedicated group of supporters in Wilton, Ridgefield, and the communities that would dot this extension collectively has the worst case of NIMBY in the state when it comes to mass transit solutions. I defy anyone to tell me they can make it from the end of the extension to the Peoples Bank ½ mile north (Grist Mill to Kensett Ave) in less than 15 minutes during the morning / evening rush hours. Oh and I love the – “We’ll just add another traffic light” comment. Norwalk has more traffic lights per capita than any city in the US. Go and….stop. Go…..and stop. Go….and stop. That is our day. 6 red lights over ½ a mile – stop at every single one of them. Quality of life? Mr. Beinfield – when you agree to traffic lights at (1) Pine Point / Nearwater, (2) Pine Point / Roton, and (3) Roton / Richmond avenues – then you can add another to North Norwalk.

    With all of the development – can Norwalk P&Z pursue ANYTHING other than apartments & retail? How about attracting a business, that employs people – preferably a manufacturer? I mean we have a COSTCO already – do we really need a 2nd warehouse club shopping destination, especially when BJ’s has locations in Fairfield and Danbury already? Maybe we should reach out to the Fed’s – my guess is Homeland Security would love to add a new DEA branch. Or maybe a massive crematorium – with the first job this idiotic idea.

  8. Peter Franz

    “Until the planning and zoning functions are rebalanced in the city charter, any developer with a pot of money and a good lawyer will be in charge of planning.”

    Debora, thank you for this chilling assessment. It explains much.

    “. . .But zoning is not allowed to consider it in their deliberations. . .”

    Oy.

  9. Piberman

    Maybe we should let Mayor Rilling’s new P&Z Director hired from the tiny, wealthy, leafy town of New Caanan (after a “national search”) to take the lead here. Could be an “education” for everyone.

  10. Gypsy

    Why not locate the BJs in South Norwalk, where the defunct “craft mall” was? Or is that too close to the entitled Rowaytonites?

  11. Mike Mushak

    The project should consist of mixed-use retail (strictly no larger than about 25,000 square feet per business, the size of an average CVS or Walgreens) and housing. Larger footprint businesses of more than 25,000 SF tend to be big box stores drawing regional traffic in addition to local traffic.

    That is the problem here. The infrastructure can’t handle regional traffic, but don’t take my word for it. This was clearly identified in the 2006 Main/North Ave study conducted by a national planning firm. They used standard traffic models and predicted a large footprint regional retail use on this site would require expensive road widening, which would impact the 140 thriving local businesses that exist in that corridor now, through eminent domain and years of disruptive construction. Oh, and there’s that SWRPA study of 2011 that described this as one of the most dangerous corridors in southeast CT.

    Who pays for that eventuality? Taxpayers, just like the expansion of CT Ave costing tens of millions funded by taxpayers years after the developers made their money through poor planning decisions led to gridlocked traffic.

    Lets recall what happened about 3 years ago, which would have made this ongoing saga moot at this point if a smart zone change I introduced had passed if it wasn’t killed in committee by just 2 votes from former commissioners who were “property rights” advocates, who believe anyone should be able to build anything they want at any scale anywhere they want. Those are their words.

    The zone change was based wholly on the recommendation by the professional planners in that 2006 study to limit maximum retail here to 10,000 square feet. I compromised to gain support and made it 30,000 SF, still only 1/3 the size of the 100,000 SF BJ’s that had been proposed a year earlier and withdrawn at the final moment a day before the hearing for unknown reasons.

    The intent, as I made clear on the record, was to prevent an over-scale big box store drawing regional traffic in this dangerous stretch of road, to protect the 140 existing businesses as well as the neighborhoods of Silvermine and Cranbury from the same short-cut regional traffic that impacted the Flax Hill and West Norwalk neighborhoods when big box was built along CT Ave, a situation I live with every day on my side of town. The quality of life in West Norwalk and along Flax Hill was changed dramatically with regional traffic from big box projects, as anyone can tell you who lives in these neighborhoods.

    This site needs development for sure. But that stretch of dangerous road with a huge accident history including injuries does not need a large footprint BJ’s or any other large big box store. I made my opinion clear to the new developer who contacted me long after I left the zoning commission. I trust Bruce Beinfield to make whatever it is attractive, but the big box component is troubling to say the least.

    Again, we would not have needed to even say this if the advice of professional planners was followed 3 years ago, instead of ignored by a committee chair who decided public safety and quality of life were not worth protecting over company profits. Thank goodness those couple of zoning commissioners have been replaced by Mayor Rilling, but their legacy lives on with potentially inappropriate development proposals.

    Let’s hope a smart mixed-use project with smaller footprint retail occurs, in keeping with the scale of the 140 existing businesses and residential projects already here. They have property rights too.

  12. Andrew

    Traffic, traffic, traffic. This town is getting completely choked out by the traffic, and lack of any planning to account for increases.
    Traffic pattens have not changed much in Norwalk since I took my driving test on the East Ave DMV in 1987. Each one of these developments increases it. Just take a look at the intersection of Richards Ave and Conn Ave. Nothing changed with NCC moving there – and continues to increase in size. And just wait until the nursing home construction starts for real.

    This sounds like the mall, which it has been noted will increase traffic, but no changes are necessary. Meaning, when and if it is built, I will avoid that part of town at all costs. No more eating in SONO as it will be an island cut off by the bridge work and out of town shoppers flooding the desperately needed mall.

    So now all those business’s and residents will be in inconvenienced in favor of an out of town owner, hiring an out of town contractor, to lease to an out of town business, all hiring the cheapest out of town workers.

    The one good piece of news is that at least an local architect is getting some business. We must be grateful for small blessings.

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