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MTA facility approved for Norden Place despite East Norwalk residents’ opposition

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

The Norwalk Planning and Zoning Commission voted 6-3 to approve a transportation maintenance terminal at the Norden Place site, despite  traffic and environmental concerns raised by many residents. This was the fourth meeting on the project, after multiple sessions of public comments featured dozens of residents opposing the project with even more sent in via email. 

Some commissioners said they felt the application met the requirements and the zoning for the site.

“I don’t share the difficulties of many of the other commissioners on this—I think the regulations are quite clear, and I don’t have any choice, frankly, but to vote yes on this,” Chairman Lou Schulman said. 

Others said they felt the plans for the site could have been larger and had even more of an impact on the surrounding communities. The MTA’s plans call for a transportation maintenance terminal that would house about 150 employees who conduct maintenance and work on the railroads and their infrastructure. The project would use about 113,500 square feet of an existing building and 155,000 square feet of the property for storage. 

“While I definitely want to acknowledge the people in East Norwalk that have spoken against this, this site is sort of between a rock and a hard place,” Commissioner Tammy Langalis said. “If it isn’t this application, what else is it going to be? We’ve turned down some things… I’m going to vote in favor of the application because I think it’s a tax-paying property, it’s jobs coming to Norwalk…What if it was another Avalon building? Then it’s going to be 500 cars in and out every day versus some tractor-trailer trucks and dump trucks.”

However, three commissioners, Darius Williams, Nick Kantor, and Ana Tabachneck, voted against the plans.

“There are so many outstanding questions that I have and I cannot vote in favor of this application,” Williams said. 

Tabachneck said that while she thought the project didn’t meet the standards for approval, she also wished the city had conducted a study of the site as intended.

“I also have wondered what else could the owner do with this site? And I have no idea. And I think that’s why having a study for that site made a lot of sense. And I would have liked to see the results of that,” she said. “I’m voting no, because I don’t think it conforms to our regulations based on the testimony we’ve heard.”

She said the project, which would “bring more large vehicles and trucks through residential streets,” is in conflict with many of the city’s other goals to “do interventions to get less cars on the roads.”

Lengthy Conditions

While the application was approved, the commission added a long list of conditions to the approval, including: 

  • “If the number of weekly scheduled tractor-trailer delivery trucks—two projected—increases by more than 50%, the applicant shall notify the Planning and Zoning staff, and “If MTA’s larger fleet vehicles…increase by more than 25% based on typical, daily projected trip counts, the applicant shall notify Planning and Zoning staff.”
  • “The MTA may not increase its total larger fleet vehicles…by more than 50% until such time that an analysis of truck accessibility at the study area intersections is performed to determine their ability to safely navigate them; all planned improvements on East Avenue are complete, or an alternative routing plan for the increased truck traffic be presented to the Commission for approval; an updated evaluation of operating times for MTA’s larger fleet vehicles versus pearl school traffic times is complete. If existing or additional larger fleet vehicle traffic is occurring or anticipated to occur at those times, the larger fleet vehicle operating times must be adjusted to ensure they don’t coincide with school drop-off and pick-up periods.”
  • Before obtaining a Zoning Certification of Compliance, the MTA must “collect Turning Movement Counts at the intersection of Fitch Street and East Avenue.” 
  • “A follow-up traffic study shall be submitted six months after full occupancy of the proposed project area,” and it should include: “turning movement counts and vehicle classifications counts at the intersections utilized in the initial traffic study as well as the intersection of Fitch Street and East Avenue and All MTA designated facility driveway(s); capacity and queue length analysis at the intersections utilized in the initial traffic study, as well as the intersection of Fitch Street and East Avenue.”
  • If any of these identify a “traffic impact,” the MTA must work on mitigation measures with the city, including “traffic signal improvements, roadway striping, and signage improvements. In addition, Staff will notify the commission who shall ensure any necessary remedial measures are implemented.” 

“I appreciate this effort to try to predict what may have been and putting contingencies in place to further evaluate or fix things, but I feel like if something needs this much of this…” Tabachneck said, trailing off.

Overconcerned?

Attorney Liz Suchy, who was representing the MTA, agreed with a few commissioners said they believed the residents were overconcerned about the impact the project would have on their community. 

According to the proposal, there would be about 150 employees coming to the site each day, where they would meet, get their assignments for the day, and depart in their “work crew trucks.” The traffic report estimated that about 13 work trucks, including boom trucks, mini-excavators, and dump trucks, would leave and return to the site each day, along with about four UPS/Amazon-type delivery vans each day, and two large tractor-trailers each week. 

“I can sympathize with the fears of the neighbors but I think those fears are overblown,” Schulman said. “I think that the traffic issues that they fear will not come to fruition based on the number of vehicles that we’re seeing here.”

Commissioner Galen Wells emphasized that the project was adding just two tractor-trailers each week. She also highlighted that some of the traffic issues in East Norwalk currently were “temporary,” due to the Walk Bridge construction project and the fact that the East Avenue roadway improvement project has not yet been done. 

“Right now, East Avenue is under construction and the Walk Bridge project is in full swing, but that’s temporary,” Wells said. “That’s not a permanent condition and things will be much easier.”

Tabachneck chimed in, asking, “How many years is temporary?”

“I don’t know Ana, but that’s not the problem for this property owner,” Wells said. “Nonetheless, it’s a temporary problem, this will end, it’s just a few years.”

Comments

11 responses to “MTA facility approved for Norden Place despite East Norwalk residents’ opposition”

  1. Bryan Meek

    We’re putting a school in an industrial zone and an industrial zone in a neighborhood. Pure genius.

  2. Lynn Vetare

    Why would anyone care what any resident of this town thinks?? They do want they want, no matter who is against it, or what the cost to our town. Just sad.

  3. John O’Neill

    When I found out who was representing MTA I knew East Norwalk had no chance of winning this case.
    It’s time for some on this committee to find another hobby. They are not helping Norwalk.
    Any reason why this operation couldn’t have been built in Westport, Darien, New Canaan or Wilton ?
    Just like our school systems Libs from those towns talk the talk BUT don’t walk the walk.

    1. Kenneth Werner

      John, I don’t understand why we would want the commercial and tax benefits of this project to go to a neighboring town.

  4. Lynnelle Jones

    The attorney representing the MTA and the Norwalk City Law Department (who taxpayers pay for) know the AGENT PRINCIPAL RELATIONSHIP can result in a liability if Agents do not act on behalf of Principals. Was this ever addressed? No, of course not. At least a few appointed commissioners had the character, courage, and intelligence to listen to the experts hired by residents and the unprecedented number of residents who passionately spoke, and vote no, even if they are not reappointed. A site plan review that does not listen to this level of public concern is not a fair site plan review, per se.

    This is not the first secret/side/non-transparent deal Norwalk City Leaders have made to trade favors with powerful political entities, at the expense of residents, yet this one is epic given the experts hired by residents, the testimony of residents, and the sheer number of residents who strongly opposed this application.

  5. Mike Mushak

    This was a smart decision to approve a low-impact use providing local jobs while helping our mass transit system that is our economic lifeline. I could not agree more with comments by the commissioners who voted in favor.

    The weak argument against this application was basically “traffic creates pollution”, hardly convincing when 95 is running through the heart of East Norwalk. Sorry folks, we don’t live on the sleepy coast of northern Maine, but an hour from one of the biggest cities in the world.

    A bit of history: The Norden property has been an industrial zone since 1960, after the building of the New England Thruway (now 95) cut the old Devine farm in half. Norden Systems built their defense manufacturing plant there that had 5,000 round-the-clock employees for years at its peak, crippling East Norwalk at every shift change with massive gridlock that required traffic cops at corners along Strawberry Hill Ave. I’m glad commissioner Richard Roina brought that up before he voted in favor, as he lived on a street at the time with thousands of cars every day when Norden was at its peak. Compared to that potential intensive industrial allowed use, the MTA use is low-impact and much preferred.

    Now get this: In 2009, East Norwalk residents came out in force to oppose the 240-unit Avalon apartment building, demanding the property be off-limits to residential and be preserved for industrial uses only. Petitions were signed, and crowds of angry residents showed up with signs “KEEP NORDEN INDUSTRIAL!” The same folks who now don’t want industrial uses at all. I guess when you oppose everything you forget what you actually were once for.

    I have a long memory for this kind of hypocrisy and fear-driven nonsense, no different than the recent petition with 700 names demanding we preserve the death trap of 37 feet of asphalt on Cemetery Street, preserving an obsolete 1950’s pedestrian and bike nightmare. That’s right, the so-called “community” demanded we keep the high speeds and a high accident rate around the cemetery instead of reducing speeds and adding bike lanes and safer crosswalks. Go figure.

    It gets worse. Over 800 East Norwalk residents signed a petition in 2012 opposing the bike lanes on Beach Rd, saying they’ll encourage “those people” from South Norwalk to ride through THEIR neighborhood increasing crime. I’m not kidding. The racism on display was embarrassing. That’s why fear-based petitions generated by players with hidden agendas aren’t worth the paper they are printed on.

    The idea that trucks don’t belong anywhere in Norwalk except in the low-income minority community of South Norwalk where I live is growing tired. The amount of trucks the MTA will use in a week in East Norwalk is less than the trucks we get through South Norwalk in 5 minutes. Cry me a river!

    And where do the NIMBY folks think these necessary industrial uses will go? Of course, to the minority communities of South Norwalk or Bridgeport! The privilege on display is astounding.

    We live in a city of 90,000 people that one had 136 huge factories that closed, but left us with a network of industrial zones where other businesses have opened creating jobs and economic activity and a diverse tax base. Cities will always have trucks and traffic, and as we electrify fleets and phase out diesel and gasoline fuels the pollution will diminish.

    Thank you to all the commissioners who gave their precious time to listen carefully to both sides of this issue.

  6. John O’Neill

    While I don’t completely disagree with Mike above, I’m not sure his neighborhood qualifies as a low-income neighborhood. Unless
    one considers Million Dollar homes low-income.
    What’s wrong with homeowner’s trying to protect their neighborhood?
    Norwalk seems to do the dirty job that surrounding towns don’t want any part of? Why would anyone think that’s right?

  7. Mike Mushak

    John, my dense and diverse and walkable urban neighborhood in South Norwalk, near the Exit 14 Rt 95 bridge that burned recently to get a perspective, would never be described by any sane observer as “million dollar homes” , lol!

    We have city-owned Section 8 housing directly across the street from us on Elmwood Ave, low-income housing (Ben Franklin Gardens) around the corner, a social services center one block away on Flax Hill and Bayview (former Ben Franklin school, then NEON, now Child and Family Services) and around 3,000 affordable apartments and condo units within a 3-block radius that includes the dozens of complexes on Taylor, Flax Hill, and Fairfield Avenues.

    We do own a big single family home in the middle of all that which is fine with us, as there is economic as well as ethnic and racial diversity here unlike many of the more homogeneous suburban neighborhoods in Norwalk that might qualify as “million dollar homes”.

    As far as your anger at Norwalk doing “the dirty job”, we were always a city of blue collar hard-working people and “dirty” jobs. Always. Early European immigrants mostly from England displaced the Indigenous People who had been here for thousands of years, and in the 17th and 18th centuries the European settlers were farmers, fishermen, and shipbuilders (all “dirty” jobs, no?) then when the 19th century Industrial Revolution arrived we became a water-powered then coal-powered boomtown with 136 huge factories employing thousands of immigrants from Ireland, Hungary, Italy, Greece, etc, (you see that still in the ethnic churches and clubs like St. Ann’s)

    At the same time, many African Americans arrived in the 1920’s through the 1950’s with the Great Migration from the rural south as they sought opportunity as well as safety from the widespread domestic terrorism and lynchings of the KKK, and entrenched official racism of the Jim Crow era.

    Oh, and many Puerto Ricans arrived around that mid-20th century time as well, as jobs were plentiful and the city had a tolerant attitude towards immigrants. Besides working on assembly lines in hot dirty factories, most of the residents of Norwalk were also in the construction trades as carpenters, painters, masons, landscapers, plumbers, electricians, etc., who all found plenty of work in nearby wealthier communities and yet they lived in affordable and diverse Norwalk, same pattern as most other industrial cities in the northeast.

    For the people who want to deny our history and legacy as a “dirty” city of industry and fishing and construction and service jobs that are still providing abundant opportunities and dreams for so many to this day, and now attracting immigrants from Central and South America, I say nice try but you’re probably living in the wrong place for your fantasies.

    1. John O’Neill

      Hey Mike: Thanks for the background. I appreciate the history lesson. Based on the latest revaluation there’s more than a couple of Million Dollar homes in your neighborhood. However, based on the accuracy of that revaluation you’re probably right. The lower income neighborhoods seemed to be overvalued and the wealthier areas undervalued. It’s almost as if the wealthier sections got a 20% discount because they’re nice people.
      No anger from me as just stating facts. IF you’re will to give surrounding towns free pass and let Norwalk handle the burden of crappy zoning that’s your prerogative.
      Any idea who/what the Indigenous people replaced? After all, I don’t think they were just placed on sunny Norwalk shores by God. But then again, maybe they were? Let us know if you can.

  8. Tysen Canevari

    I would love to hear about all the great businesses that have come to town Mr Mushak. You. Bob Duff, and Harry drink the same punch. Merrit 7 half empty, Wall street is a disgrace to say the least anchored by the Tyvek Temple and Washington Street is half occupied. All the great apartments have brought zilch to Norwalk. Obviously, you cant argue with you anyway because you are part of Harry’s group. As a fellow landscaper though I noticed your guys still using gas backpacks last week. At least we can agree on something! Dont let that silly ordinance committee sub group (AKA Shanahan and Frayers group) catch you!

  9. Bryan Meek

    @TC. They count Uber drivers as new businesses. It’s a total joke and now they are spending more money to figure out ROI from sales tax data they could have had for free.

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