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.”