Last week, the Norwalk Planning and Zoning Commission continued its review and discussion of the proposed zoning rewrite for the city. The Commission has been hosting public work sessions, where they review, discuss, and edit parts of the rewrite. On November 8, the focus was on sustainability initiatives, point systems for developers in areas like the East Norwalk Village TOD (Transit Oriented Development) Zone, corner stores, and village districts.
One of the updates the Commission made was requiring that all new buildings over 5,000 square feet would have to “use all of the available roof area not required for mechanical space or access” to either have solar or some kind of green or cool roof.
The Conservation Commission recommended that the City increase the building design elevation in flood zones from one foot above the base flood elevation to two feet above the base flood level.
“We’re seeing flooding at greater levels and with greater frequency than we have in the past,” Planning and Zoning Commission Chair Lou Schulman said. “So, I think boosting it up at least a foot makes a lot of sense to me.”
But City officials and some Commissioners are looking for more information on how this might affect people who live in the flood zone.
“I just don’t want to have a backlash here,” said Commissioner Mike Mushak. “We’re trying to avoid that right, that’s what our streamlining is intending to do, but on the other hand I support the two feet above the flood level—it makes sense. It’s just, do we create a class of homeowners that are going to have a grievance as a result.”
The Planning and Zoning Commission also reviewed a recommendation from the Conservation Commission to enhance the coastal buffers—including promoting nature-based solutions, establishing a building setback, and promoting the removal of existing seawalls/hard flood control structures.
Director of Planning and Zoning Steve Kleppin noted that the city is currently working on gaining a better understanding of the coastline issues.
“We’re just starting to get into a lot of study off the coastal areas and sea rise impacts now. So, I don’t think this is the end of the discussion whether you guys include language, or just leave the language as it is—we’re kind of at the very beginning of that discussion right now,” he said.
The staff would also be working on some language that requires larger structures—25,000 square feet or more—to have some level of “green” certification, such as LEED Zero certified.
East Norwalk Village TOD Zone point system
Kleppin said that the staff worked on a “modified version of the point system” for the EVTZ (East Norwalk TOD Village Zone). The current regulations allow for additional density if developers add things to the property as part of an incentive system.
“I think what it does is tightens up the point system, because there were items that you could obtain points for now that we’re saying are required,” he said. “And I think that was a criticism, we heard through the two applications that you did see in East Norwalk—why is somebody getting points for these?”
For example, adding shaded seating was a discussion point over whether or not that should earn a developer a few points.
“If we don’t either incentivize it or make it a requirement, it may very well not happen,” Schulman said. “So, I’m in favor either of requiring the shaded seating or of incentivizing it with some points.”
Mushak noted that having some shaded seating shouldn’t necessarily give bonus points.
“There’s times where you do want to sit in the sun in the winter, so this all seems very ambiguous to me,” he said. “If it’s going to be a well-designed space, it shouldn’t be earning points for density.”
He cited the Brim and Crown project near the train station which created a “very cool urban space.”
“It has that whole vibe going—and all of the design details, it does include seating and trees, and I just feel like that’s all something we should expect to be done and not to earn any points for, that’s all,” Mushak said.
Another suggestion was giving points for developers that built additional workforce housing. Right now, the City requires developments of more than three units to have 10% of the units as workforce housing—the change would allow for developers to get up to four additional points if they added an additional 10% of affordable units.
The East Norwalk Neighborhood Association sent in a letter with “preliminary questions, comments, and suggestions” to these changes. Some of their suggestions included removing bike racks from the amenity list— “all development within TOD area and in EVTZ in particular should require bike racks”—remove the rainwater retention from the bonus system as this is something that the association also said should be required; and asking for wider sidewalks.
Staff and commissioners noted that they did not have a chance to read the letter before the evening’s discussion.
Corner store regulations
Kleppin also brought forward some proposed language for allowing for “corner store” or neighborhood retail businesses.
“We’ve looked at it again and this we thought that what we’ve included here is just probably the most appropriate and kind of accomplishes what you guys are really looking for, which is the intent to allow some of these smaller uses within the residential zone to provide the opportunity where somebody’s not as car dependent for every trip for things but then also try to put some constraints around the proliferation and how wide a canvas that these can encompass,” he said.
Some of the regulations include prohibiting package stores and vape sales, limiting hours from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., requiring a minimum of 1,000 feet between establishments, and having the building be “consistent with permitted structures in the zone.”
Planning and Zoning staff announced that there would be three upcoming meetings related to the proposed zoning rewrite.
On Tuesday, November 21, at 6 p.m., there will be a virtual meeting where staff members will provide an overview of all of the changes that are considered and recommended. Members of the public submit written questions at that time.
On Tuesday, December 5 and Wednesday, December 6, both at 6 p.m., there will be hybrid public hearings, where residents can weigh in on the proposed changes either in person at City Hall or on Zoom.