East Norwalk development plan evolves

NORWALK, Conn. — A village district zone along East Avenue would give the City more control over development. Also, it would be great if the Norwalk Department of Public Works garage was moved elsewhere.

Possible façade improvement programs around Selleck Street and the northern part of Osborne Avenue were also mentioned Thursday by Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin, as part of the developing East Norwalk Transit Oriented District (TOD) plan. Liberty Square and the Cove area might be preserved through a village district, he said.

The East Norwalk TOD Oversight Committee has been working for a year on a draft plan that is due within the month, Kleppin told the Common Council Planning Committee. In addition to the “hot topic” land use recommendations, it will offer ideas for economic development initiatives and transportation recommendations “in terms of new sidewalk locations, road improvements, and some other things.” Buildings up to 3.5 stories would be encouraged along East Avenue.

Norwalk hired the Boston-based urban design firm Harriman to help come up with an East Norwalk TOD plan and multiple public outreach sessions have guided the Committee.

In addition to minor land use changes planned for some spots, there’s  the big one, which “hasn’t really been vetted,” Kleppin said.

“Something to think about is maybe relocating the DPW garage to a different point in the city,” Kleppin said. “Where that is, I have no idea. It may not be feasible, but it’s something to think about since we have that facility right on the water there.”

On the other hand, waterfront property in close proximity to the Yankee Doodle Bridge would be rezoned from Neighborhood Business to Industrial 1, a “more appropriate” use, his memo to the Planning Committee states.

“What’s the difference between the Neighborhood Business and Industrial? Neighborhood Business is kind of what it sounds like,” Kleppin explained. “So it could be coffee shops, restaurants mixed in with apartments, kind of smaller neighborhood feel. Industrial 1 is where you can have anything from a contractor’s yard to a manufacturing business. So it’s kind of a wide breadth.”

The Selleck Street/Osbourne Avenue area “has a lot of de facto affordable housing,” and “what we’d like to see is it not flip and then somebody redevelop the sites and tear down what’s there,” he said. So, no Zoning changes are planned, and maybe a façade improvement program similar to what the Redevelopment Agency is doing in South Norwalk would help.

“There’s always funding issues, but that’s something we’re going to explore,” Kleppin said.

The Cove area and the Goldstein Place area would also not be subject to development incentives.

“We’re not proposing any additional height or density or bulk in that area, but what we would like to do is try to preserve those areas because they have some unique qualities,” Kleppin explained. A village district could be a preservation tool instead of inspiring redevelopment.

Cove has “a little beach village feel to it, in parts of it, so we’d like to kind of enhance that if we could,” he said.

Then there are little areas labeled “7” on the map above. They’re zoned Neighborhood Business but a “lot of them are residential uses,” he said. It’s a “mishmash,” with auto repair facilities next to houses and “we’d like to clean that up.”

These areas would be rezoned as C residential, which is one- and two-family houses, because “we think that could concentrate the development closer to what we were identifying as like the core area of the East Norwalk area.” An existing commercial use could remain but once that use is dropped, it wouldn’t be allowed to return.

“Our thinking is we’ll try to pull some of that disjointed uses back towards the center and concentrate the activity …  closer to East Avenue,” he said.

Speaking of which, “The main two areas that we’re focusing on are the East Avenue spine itself, basically from 95 south down towards the cemetery,” he said. “Most of that now is zoned neighborhood business. We’re proposing a new village district as part of this …One thing it does is allows the city to have design control over what happens if those areas redevelop.”

That East Avenue “spine” needs “some TLC and I think there’s some reasons why it’s in the state it’s in,” he said. “And I think it needs a little bit of a boost, which is what we’re trying to do.”

There’s a carrot and stick here: The Committee has come up with proposed amenities that developers could provide in exchange for being allowed to build denser and higher buildings.

They could build up to 3.5 stories, and, “just for reference, in South Norwalk you can go up in spots up to eight stories. So, we’re not proposing anything drastic. We think it’s a moderate, moderate targeted request,” he said.

The Committee has listed arcades, pedestrian plazas, public art, water features, and green infrastructure as possible amenities. Harriman is “fit testing” the possible amenities to see if they actually can be built and to determine their economic impact on developers, Kleppin said.

The green area on the map is Industrial 1 Zoning, parallel to the railroad tracks.

Kleppin said the committee had been unaware of the existence of many small manufacturing and warehouse-type businesses operating there. After speaking with those business owners, he said, the committee wants to enhance and build off what is there.

Property owners could retain their industrial uses on the ground floor and in most of the buildings, perhaps adding residential uses at a lower density than that proposed for East Avenue, he  explained.

Kleppin also mentioned incentives for co-working spaces and efforts to create a Zoning definition for maker spaces.

“One good advantage of having a village district is the village district has design guidelines,” Kleppin said. “The City has a couple of village districts now. One of them doesn’t have any design guidelines, it really has no teeth to it. So, it’s kind of kind of a waste. The other one is the East Avenue Village District, which is, you know, basically right out in front of City Hall. There’s a lot of projects, you’ll see just going up the intersection towards Newtown Turnpike, that have projects under construction, and those went through the design process.”

Proposed-Zoning-East Norwalk TOD

One comment

Frank J Billowitz March 9, 2020 at 11:06 am

This morning at Kendall school was a most horrific day. No crossing guard present cars were just speeding by with no regard for parents who are bringing their children to school crossing the street it was a free for all. It is an extremely dangerous area. There are 4 ways that traffic can travel not to mention the buses that also have to enter and leave the school. Need some sort of presence there. Directing traffic.

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