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East Norwalk mounts powerful opposition to proposed Norden Place distribution center

A rally held Saturday on Strawberry Hill Avenue. (Richard Bonenfant)

NORWALK, Conn. — COVID-19 has upturned everyone’s lives in devastating ways and on top of that, East Norwalk residents are threatened by a proposed development that would send tractor trailers down neighborhood streets, Anne Marie Walsh said.

“The Norden proposal is placing another extreme burden on residents as we fear not only sharp declines in our home values, but also the possibility of a disturbing choice. If the special permit is granted, our choice will be living in a greatly degraded neighborhood or preparing for an unexpected move,” Walsh wrote to the Zoning Commission.

And it may be even worse than feared – a traffic consultant working for the organized opposition estimates as many as 405 trucks might be generated by the proposed distribution center at 10 Norden Place.

Walsh’s Jan. 24 email is one of many received by Planning and Zoning in response to the application from KABR. Opponents are trying to generate more emails and get people to attend Monday’s Zoning Commission public hearing, scheduled for 6 p.m. on Zoom.

“It’s important that all Norwalkers come to the Zoning Commission’s virtual public hearing whether they live in East Norwalk or not. This application is an issue that will have an impact on the entire community. Our experts are projecting that there could be up to 400 trucks a day on our streets which is four times the 100 trucks that the developer is projecting. These trucks will clog up our streets whether it’s East Ave, Strawberry Hill, or Route 1 and alter the quality of life in Norwalk as we know it,” Farhan Memom of the Sasqua Hills Neighborhood Association said in an email.

The newly formed group, whose residents live near the Shorehaven Golf Course, has teamed with the East Norwalk Neighborhood Association to hold rallies, generating a crowd in Saturday’s frigid weather to chant “no trucks” alongside Strawberry Hill Avenue.

Diane Cece speaks Saturday during the rally on Strawberry Hill Avenue. (Richard Bonenfant)

“We wanted to get everyone out to show a force of opposition and show our elected and appointed officials, just what it would be like to stand on this road and have tractor trailers going by a 330,000 square foot-distribution center is going to destroy your neighborhood,” Diane Cece of ENNA said. “Air pollution, noise pollution, traffic congestion and gridlock, loss of property value. And importantly, one of the reasons why I’m here today is because we’re going to have a real safety issue in our residential streets with tractor trailers coming up and down. We must protect pedestrians and cyclists in our community.”

It’s not just traffic that opponents are worried about. An air pollution review done for SHNA accuses the applicant of not taking into account the existing air quality in the neighborhoods right off of Interstate 95. Devki Desai, a civil engineer, alleges the pollution levels “already reach or exceed air quality standard limits in an area with sensitive population groups.

(Richard Bonenfant)

“The pollution caused by diesel trucks is well known,” Memom said. “The air in Norwalk does not meet federal standards for ozone and fine particulates. One study done on trucking in linked day-to-day variations in ambient ozone levels and daily mortality, finding an association in most cities between high daily ozone levels and deaths due to cardiovascular and respiratory distress especially among the elderly. Today nearly 8.2 per cent of white children have asthma while 12.7 per cent of black children have asthma. Even brief exposures at the street level to the noxious fumes of diesel trucks can trigger severe attacks. This is not the type of future we want for our children.”

In addition, Eric L. Reuter, a noise expert hired by the Sasqua Hills Neighborhood Association, has “several concerns and questions about the methodology used” by the applicant, he wrote to the Zoning Commission. As an example, a noise consultant working for KABR testified that ground absorption was omitted from the calculations in an effort to be conservative,” but as much of that ground is paved, the result would be reflection, not absorption, he said.

The noise factors “depend a great deal on the type of business that occupies this facility,” Reuter wrote, alluding to the applicant’s claim that the distribution center’s tenants haven’t been established yet.

SIMCO Engineering, SHNA’s traffic consultant, alleges that the “business to business” model put forward by KABR may not stand the test of time.

“{T}he COVID-19 pandemic has drastically accelerated the use of e-commerce delivery activities and has put a premium on warehouse/distribution center square footage needed to support e-commerce,” Michael F. Monteleone wrote. “Although the Applicant has stated that it is proposing a business-to- business and not a business-to-consumer/last mile delivery facility in their application and analyses, the demand for e-commerce space after COVID-19 may ultimately drive the market and heavily influence the future tenant and use of this site. The size of the building, the 19 available loading docks, and almost 2,000 parking spaces appear to make the site suitable for an e-commerce tenant.”

The City’s peer review traffic consultant, WSP, is not nearly as hard on the report done by Tighe & Bond on behalf of KABR. WSP generally finds the Tighe & Bond analysis to be “acceptable” in terms of data provided but suggests, in the November document, that, “The applicant should re-evaluate the expected truck trips given that the provided truck trips do not match the estimates from the ITE Trip Generation Supplement. Additionally, the applicant should consider restricting the trucks leaving the site during the morning and afternoon school arrival and departure peak hours.”

(Richard Bonenfant)

SIMCO states that Tighe & Bond used standards based on KABR’s prediction of 100 employees in the building and the expected “business-to-business warehouse” model.

“Since the use of the property as a warehouse is by Special Permit, it is prudent that the traffic and truck projections for the site represent ‘reasonable worst-case’ conditions,” Monteleone wrote. “Certainly, without an identified tenant, the description of the use as ‘business to business’ is vague and could potentially allow for a wide variety of high volume uses for the site that comply with the applicable provisions of the City’s Building Zone Regulations. Accordingly, the ultimate tenant at the site could produce significantly more cars and trucks than is presently contemplated and described….”

“Unfortunately, once the Special Permit is approved by the Commission, the local residents would be severely limited in available remedies if a high passenger vehicle and truck producing e-commerce tenant ultimately occupies the space and passenger vehicle and truck traffic has already overwhelmed and excessively burdened the community,” he said.

More than 300 emails have been sent to P&Z regarding the proposed distribution center, according to Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin.  Comments include:

  • “Its always hard to turn down an opportunity that can bring more revenue to Norwalk in these difficult times but I firmly believe that allowing Norden to build an operation here with all its truck traffic would seriously effect the quality of life in this city,” Theodore J. van de Kamp wrote.
  • “Despite living in Westport, I frequently ride my bike on the designated bike route on Strawberry Hill Rd., which runs perpendicular to Norden Pl. The proposed facility will bring hundreds of additional trucks and cars each day through East Norwalk and directly through family neighborhoods from Post Road to Rte 136/Winfield St., East Ave., Strawberry Hill Rd, Triangle St and surrounding neighborhoods. This problem would be compounded given the relatively long distance from 10 Norden Pl. to the nearest I-95 entrance (over 1 mile). Needless to say, besides the negative traffic impact on residents residing in these areas, those non-residents who regularly use the bike route would face additional traffic and danger on the road here,” Ivan Alexander wrote.
  • “East Norwalk is a beautiful place to live. PLEASE deny this special permit application – do not ruin East Norwalk by turning it into a trucking corridor,” Emily Cobbs wrote.
  • “There is no infrastructure in place to handle this level of tractor-trailer traffic. The laws of physics apply. Euphemistically, this is 100 pounds of manure in a 10 lb bag,” Charles Lee wrote. “The developer should work with the federal, state, Norwalk (and Westport?) to put a private on and off ramp off of I-95. Locally, East Ave is already disastrously congested. As for the access from Westport to Triangle St, having a fleet of tractor trailers though residential zones is dead on arrival. I can see the bike lanes on the satellite photos; we’re going to end up with squashed people.”

 

“The applicant’s attorney read hundreds of residents letters pleading with our Commission to deny this, and her conclusion is that while our comments are ‘heartfelt,’ we are not experts. Well we are experts: we may not be traffic engineers, but we see and deal with excessive traffic and congestion every day,” Cece said in a statement she read at the rally. “…We trust that our Zoning Commission will agree that there are no conditions or mitigating factors that would make this distribution center an acceptable or suitable use in our East Norwalk.”

 

12 comments

Scott Vetare February 5, 2021 at 8:33 am

Common sense would tell you this is not the area for a distribution center. The roads are narrow, there’s bike lanes being used and most importantly plenty of kids walking to and from school. What has Norwalk become under this current administration? East Norwalk isn’t the place for tractor trailer traffic. What will it take for the zoning commission to realize this.

David Muccigrosso February 5, 2021 at 9:06 am

Look, let’s just get this out of the way: I *hate* NIMBYs. They are one of the single most destructive forces in our economy.

1. Shorehaven is on the opposite end of East Norwarlk from Norden Place. And yet THESE jokers are who’s complaining about it? Please. The trucks aren’t getting anywhere near your precious country club.
2.The prevailing winds blow east-southeast. Any air pollution isn’t going to hit Shorehaven, it’ll blow out to Saugatuck and Compo.
3. People shouldn’t complain about “lower property values” when the housing market is insanely inflated around here to begin with. If we could right-size our housing market, perhaps we wouldn’t have to freaking care about our property values, because we wouldn’t have so much invested in them. And that means BUILD BUILD BUILD, not WHINE WHINE WHINE.

That said, this project also is truly trash. All it takes is one look at the East Ave overpass/interchange to see that the existing infrastructure simply can’t handle all those trucks making a stupidly tight turn to get onto the highway. The developer should have to pay to revamp that whole intersection or build their own access road if they want their precious distribution center.

There are zero heroes here. Yall should be ashamed.

Patrick McMahon February 5, 2021 at 2:40 pm

Liberals being liberals. Give, give, give but when it comes to bringing in revenue to help give its NIMBY! East Norwalk is seven feet from I-95 and a metro north station! the “pollution” won’t be that much worse than it already is….Heaven forbid we bring jobs and opportunities to Norwalk

Bobby Lamb February 5, 2021 at 5:28 pm

Not sure who should be ashamed? Every single person is against this. The mayor spoke against it, council members spoke against it, the boe certainly hasn’t endorsed it. residents are universally against it. Literally no one except the business proposing it is for it. This is a private entity putting a proposal before a zoning board. It has to go through the process. The project obviously stinks. I highly doubt it will be approved. It’s not like any of the powers that be are supporting it. Confused about who people are mad at. Also not sure people understand how these things work. The zoning board has to make rulings based on the current code. If they deny something based on political pressure and don’t even agree to have a hearing it will be over turned in court and we would ended up with the court ordering the project to be allowed. Stop demanding public figures try to influence the process – that’s a recipe for disaster on appeal.

John Miller February 5, 2021 at 6:27 pm

Below is the email that I sent to the Zoning Commission on December 30th in opposition to the proposed Norden Distribution Center. In response to the applicant attorney’s comment that none of us are experts, I beg to differ. My three decades in the transportation industry qualifies me as an expert and I’d be willing to bet that I have forgotten more about transportation than she will ever know. And as far as Mr. Muccigrosso is concerned, although he does admit that the project is trash, his arrogant, condescending elitism merely highlights the fact that he doesn’t know what he is talking about.

From: [email protected]
Sent: Wednesday, December 30, 2020 5:24 PM
To: [email protected]
Cc: [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; John Miller
Subject: NORDEN PARK WAREHOUSE/DISTRIBUTION CENTER PROPOSAL

Mr. Kleppin:

I am writing this email in opposition to the proposed warehouse/distribution center at 10 Norden Place for the following reasons:

The roads leading to and from Exit 16 in Norwalk and Exit 17 in Westport to Norden Place were not, in spite of the applicant’s claim, designed to accommodate 65 foot long, 80,000-pound tractor semi-trailer equipment. If the roads were suitable, why does their proposal include a provision to remove part of the lawn in front of St. Thomas Church to allow this massive equipment to make right hand turns from Fitch Street onto East Avenue?

To get some sense of how this distribution center would actually impact the area, it’s really worth taking a ride from Exit 16 in Norwalk and then from Exit 17 in Westport and driving the roadways leading to and from Norden Place and trying to picture this massive equipment moving in both directions on the existing, relatively narrow and always crowded roadways and making the wide turns necessary to get to a distribution center on Norden Place (Full disclosure: I spent three decades in the transportation industry so have an idea what the reality might look like and it isn’t pretty). The existing roadway infrastructure will simply not safely accommodate this kind of equipment. Additionally, over time, the weight of these tractor trailers will damage these roadways, most of which unlike I95, are not underpinned with concrete. We are all familiar with the grooves on I95 that are caused by the tractor trailers.

The most significant, dangerous and unacceptable aspect of this proposal is that, although the Norden site is zoned commercial, the truck routes pass through residential neighborhoods and past three schools.

The applicant also describes the property as manufacturing/warehousing, which it has not been for quite some time. Northrop Grumman closed the Norden facility in 2014 and moved the manufacturing to Baltimore. Norden Park was an office park with tenants such as Tauck Travel, Gibbs School and Pepperidge Farm. Norden had a small area on the East end of the building which was for R&D. I worked for Pepperidge Farm at that facility for several years. We used to arrive at work at 8am, park, and leave by 5pm.

The applicant also failed to adequately address the issues of noise pollution and air pollution. Their presentation made light of diesel emissions due to the proposed distribution centers proximity to I95 but it failed to address the impact that the diesel emissions would have on the residential areas that the trucks would be passing through. Diesel exhaust is a source of atmospheric soot and fine particulates and contains contaminants that have been found to be carcinogenic. Their noise pollution presentation was almost laughable. Their noise sensors were located around the perimeter of the Norden property but no effort was made to determine the noise pollution impact that the tractor trailers would have as they moved through the residential areas.

Their estimate of the actual number of truck trips is also a bit open ended. Without having clients for the proposed warehouses, the number of truck trips that will actually occur is just that, an estimate.

There’s also the matter of the hours of operation. Distribution centers are generally cross dock operations. The full loads arrive via tractor trailers. The cargo is then off loaded, sorted, and cross docked at night when it is loaded onto smaller equipment for delivery. Their claim that they would be able to control when the inbound trucks arrive does not reflect reality. When I was at the Clairol plant in Stamford, it was fairly common for the inbound truckers to arrive well before their appointed delivery times and park on Blachley Road outside the main gate with their engines idling. The neighbors just loved it.

We also don’t know what kind of commodities will be moving through the warehouses. Will there be any hazardous materials? There was a tractor trailer fire in Milford recently which involved four thousand pounds of bleach, which is a hazardous material. Even without a fire, a bleach spill would release chlorine vapor, which is an inhalation hazard, into the atmosphere. Just what the kids need when they are walking home from school.

Finally, the operation of this facility would essentially turn a significant residential area of East Norwalk into a de facto commercial zone and diminish the property values of the homeowners in the impacted area which, for all intents and purposes, would amount to an uncompensated taking.

Thank you and the other members of the Commission for ultimately rejecting this proposed project.

John C. Miller, Jr.
18 Highbrook Road
Norwalk

Mark vincent February 5, 2021 at 9:26 pm

Of whom ever Does the traffic control in norwalk has any say in how this works just check out what they have done at major intersections in norwalk to date just look at East Ave bridge at exit 16 an absolute mess or Danbury road and Blayne Street ever try to turn left from Blayne st you can not my point is the so-called experts have no clue about the affects of traffic and jugging from how menu times I saw them watching the East Ave bridge Traffic flow you would think they would have fixed it no such luck it doesn’t work it should not only be about revenue for the town

Milly February 6, 2021 at 5:38 am

Bogus revenue is always an excuse to build or allow something stupid to be done in Norwalk. Remember when there was a push to have a zip line put in Cranberry Park for $10,000 a year payment – thankfully that wasn’t approved. Any “revenue” or the few jobs – probably part time no benefits – are not worth destroying a neighborhood.

DryAsABone February 6, 2021 at 11:03 am

Two things:

1) Check the site for radioactivity.

2) Look at ChickFilA for a tiny hint of how traffic can impact a street.I am hearing all sorts of chatter about how totally screwed up that location has become. Perhaps NoN can do a story?

Jeff February 6, 2021 at 8:52 pm

@Patrick Mcmahon – do you really think this is bringing jobs to Norwalk? Look at the mall for example. I drove by that site multiple times a day (as I still do) and all I saw was NY plates on contractor trucks or contractors from places in CT I’ve never heard of. That tragic accident where the guy died, was a guy from NY, not Norwalk. This is all a total farse. None of this construction translated into Norwalk jobs. Nobody wants to admit it, as far as I know, but take a look at the contractors. These major projects are all done by outside contractors not Norwalk contractors. I would love to know how many people that work at the Sono Collection actually live in Norwalk. I’m going to take a bet that less than 50%. Please, someone correct me with accurate facts but I think I’m being generous. So, when this administration tries to sell you on Norwalk jobs, I’m calling bs. I’ve never seen any evidence of that.

All that said, I don’t even know why we’re still discussing this proposal. It’s a special permit. As I understand it, it needs to show a hardship to approve, not by right. If this gets approved with all the vocal opposition, I don’t trust the mayor, the Council, NOBOBY! What’s the point in even having any of them if our voice is not heard?!

Bryan Meek February 7, 2021 at 8:38 am

@Dry. There are most certainly PCBs. 30 years ago the water dept and city did a project on North Bridge st, south of and downhill from the Norden site due to toxic levels of PCB found in the ground. My guess would be from the circuitry they used to make there which would be washed in PCB laden solutions back in the day.

Christina February 7, 2021 at 1:25 pm

If this truck depot is approved, the residents of the city of Norwalk need to elect new city officials as the current ones obviously don’t look out for the residents of the city of Norwalk. The Norden site is surrounded by residential homes and protected wetlands. Installing a truck depot in this location is criminal. If this is approved, I hope a kickback/bribery investigation is launched by the state

Mike Barbis February 8, 2021 at 8:19 am

Good point by Dry As A Bone
The Police Department references how ChilFilA is a “bad design” yet it was approved by experts — always the same traffic engineer, Michael Galante. So why does he have this credibility even though there is hard evidence to prove him wrong? This should be a story for NON

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