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East Norwalk residents, experts decry “injustice” of MTA’s plans to create a transportation terminal at Norden Place

A look at the 10 Norden Place site, where the MTA is proposing to create a “transportation maintenance facility.” (Courtesy of Norwalk)

For more than two hours at the May 15 public hearing, residents from primarily East Norwalk, but also from other parts of the city—as well as experts hired on their behalf—expressed deep frustrations and concerns over the proposed plans for Norden Place. 

The MTA has proposed using a portion of the mostly vacant site for a “transportation maintenance terminal,” which would house about 150 employees who do maintenance and work on the railroads and their infrastructure. The applicant presented its detailed plans for the site on May 8 and members of the public began weighing in at that time. 

On Wednesday, more than a dozen residents asked the commission to vote no and protect their neighborhood. They said the proposal would cause massive issues on the local roads—many of which are used to transport children to and from nearby schools—as well as impact air quality and residents’ health and cause additional environmental issues. 

The Planning and Zoning Commission extended the hearing to next Wednesday, May 22, to allow all members of the public to continue weighing in. 

“We’re going to pause the hearing at this point,” Chair Lou Schulman said at around 11 p.m. “We’ve reached a point where I don’t think we can responsibly listen and absorb any more information, so we will continue this hearing next Wednesday and hopefully we can get to discuss action regarding it as well. I appreciate your patience.”

Schulman invited those in attendance who hadn’t had a chance to speak to return next week or provide written comments. 

Impact on the roads

Residents’ biggest concern was the effect this proposal would have on streets in East Norwalk, which many said are already overburdened with traffic.

“There’s too much vehicular traffic on East Avenue, Fitch Street, and Strawberry Hill,” resident Joseph Licek said. “They’re currently prone to gridlock because of increased populations in the area. It’s no surprise to anyone who actually cares. People know that we already are over capacity with residents living in East Norwalk. We have asked countless times towards the commission for quality of life. Why is this land still being considered for industrial use, and why isn’t it gone?”

Adding more cars for the MTA employees traveling to and from the site—as well as the trucks and maintenance vehicles leaving it—would only make it worse, according to residents. Many also questioned why East Avenue, the main road running through the neighborhood, and the road that vehicles would use to travel to and from the site, was not included in the applicant’s traffic study.

“East Avenue right now is a war zone, and adding traffic right now without any sort of mitigation is a little scary,” resident Lisa Brinton said. “The Norwalk Police Department crash data shows that East Avenue between Eversley and Winfield is probably the third-highest density crash site in Norwalk. So this location of the industrial park is just smack dab in the middle of one of our scary areas—I’m hoping that we can meet somewhere in the middle in terms of really studying this traffic so that we don’t bring East Norwalk into a complete and utter standstill.”

Resident Elizabeth Kenny said she was also surprised that no document or study “talks about East Avenue, and it seems somewhat obvious to state but it is impossible to get to any one of those roads without taking East Avenue.”

“How a study could be supplied to P&Z without taking into effect the main thoroughfare that is required to get to any of these roads that are included in the study just doesn’t make any sense,” she said. 

Michael Monteleone, senior vice president at SIMCO Engineering, was hired by the East Norwalk Neighborhood Association to review the applicant’s traffic studies. He also highlighted the lack of emphasis on East Avenue in the traffic study.

“It is likely that using the staff zip code data will significantly increase the use of the East Avenue car, which we feel is very underrepresented in the traffic index study to access I-95 by commuters to and from the site,” he said. “It is more likely that congested East Avenue, which is not part of the current GIS, would meet the threshold of 25 new peak-hour vehicles based on the city’s impact and access study guidelines, and traffic analysis would be needed in this busy corridor.”

Monteleone also expressed concerns that the applicant wasn’t factoring in how far the workers would be traveling.  

“If this site was being redeveloped for a local business, the local trip assignment that was used in the study would be reasonable,” he said. “However, a significant portion of the staff projected to work at the site will be relocated from the existing work sites in the region. I don’t feel it’s unreasonable to assume that some of these employees would travel as far as 50 miles from the site, and would travel great distances to get to the proposed site, especially as they’re being relocated. As a result, the trip assignment use …based on local travel patterns is flawed.”

Environmental concerns

Residents’ other major area of concern was the environmental impact of the proposal. Residents said the trucks and additional cars would have a negative effect on air quality and cause more pollution. 

“I am deeply concerned about pollution, primarily noise pollution, but I’m also concerned with the groundwater contamination, light pollution as well, as well as the overall screening of the property and traffic,” resident Christina Olson said. “We all know the fundamental issues with Norden. We have an industrial area within a residential community. Adjacent properties and other residents in this area are concerned about the negative impacts the [transportation maintenance] center brings to their current quality of life. 

Devki Desai, Ph.D., an engineer and environmental consultant hired by the East Norwalk Neighborhood Association, said the proposal goes against many of the goals outlined by the city itself. 

“There are some conflicts with neighborhood, city, and regional scale objectives that I have seen—I reviewed the East Norwalk TOD plan…I reviewed the statements set forth by the mayor of Norwalk with the intention of turning Norwalk into Connecticut’s greenest city. I’ve reviewed Norwalk’s Bike/Walk objectives,” she said. “This proposal, and just more generally, proposals to increase traffic to an industrial development that is very deep within residential communities and the access is only through those communities generally is counter to these other city and regional objectives I’ve reviewed that come out of Norwalk.”

Desai also critiqued the applicant’s environmental report, which stated the “planned MTA activities would not be expected to generate any particulate matter.”

“What this statement means is that they believe that the vehicular exhaust from their employee and fleet vehicles does not belong to them,” she said. “They see this as an externality which is to be supported by the surrounding community. This is somewhat typical of a developer’s mindset, a point of view; however, it is unfortunately not the case. Those emissions do belong to them and that’s why we are doing the study.”

Desai also asked the commission to look at this through an environmental injustice lens as well, stating the project might have a “net positive impact on air quality in the region,” but really harm the communities around it. 

“It is a very legitimate environmental justice concern that the negative impacts of this development would fall entirely on the shoulders of a diverse population, and  sensitive populations such as senior citizens,” she said. “This is the tenant of environmental justice—who benefits from a project and who experiences the adverse impacts of the project.” 

Expansion and economic impact

Beyond the two main areas of concerns, residents also raised questions about the economic impact of bringing a state-run organization to this site instead of a company that could generate more tax revenue for the city as it deals with challenging budget circumstances. 

“It seems to me that the property owner has not been maintaining the property,” Kenny said. “And I’d like to know what are they doing to try to attract new business to the area. What have they done to advertise the facility versus just waiting for the MTA to come in?”

Others stated their belief that while the initial proposal was for a portion of the site, the MTA might look to expand in a few years to take over more of the site and grow its operation, causing an even greater impact on the community.

Next steps

Residents can continue weighing in at next week’s meeting or submit written comments online. Diane Cece, a resident of East Norwalk and leader of the East Norwalk Neighborhood Association, asked that the hearing be postponed because of new information that was published on the city’s website—particularly the applicant’s written response to ENNA’s experts. 

Schulman said he believed it wasn’t significant enough information to delay the hearing, and Steve Kleppin, the city’s director of planning and zoning, responded, stating: “I would say the applicant has the right to respond to whatever information is submitted,” as part of their procedures. 

Comments

One response to “East Norwalk residents, experts decry “injustice” of MTA’s plans to create a transportation terminal at Norden Place”

  1. David Muccigrosso

    “…prone to gridlock because of increased populations in the area”

    LOL WUT.

    This is gaslighting. Come on, people! Pretty much ALL of the population growth in Norwalk has been in SoNo and the Merritt 7 area. East Norwalk is the one part of town that has had the LEAST population growth.

    It’s ironic that these are the same people who keep saying nearby cities like Darien and Westport need to “take up the slack” of population growth while not even doing their own fair share within Norwalk. Wake up, people. They’re speaking out of both sides of their mouth because they’re scared and don’t actually know what they’re talking about.

    This is the same old NIMBY brigade that complains about everything while ignoring that they allowed a Dunkin on the wrong side of the road and have DOZENS of ill-advised curb cuts on East Ave that make traffic worse. Everyone has a right to be concerned about things that will truly impact them, but when you keep blaming the WRONG PROBLEMS and ignoring the RIGHT ONES, it’s COMPLETELY FAIR for the rest of us to question your judgment.

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