NORWALK, Conn. – A lone Norwalk zoning commissioner’s crusade to get an independent review of a BJ’s Wholesale Club-commissioned traffic study has boiled down to a frustrating effort to simply get things on the record.
Commissioner Mike Mushak has been trying to convince others on the commission to invest some city money in getting an independent traffic analysis regarding the application to put a BJ’s Wholesale Club at 272-280 Main Ave., and asking why an independent study that cost the city $500,000 was being ignored.
Corporation Counsel Robert Maslan told Mushak and other commissioners at a Plan Review Committee meeting two weeks ago that both considerations would need to be discussed and voted on by the full commission, and Mushak had requested that be done Wednesday night. But it wasn’t on the Zoning Commission agenda.
Chairwoman Emily Wilson said that had been her decision, based comments Maslan made at that meeting.
“Because of the way the traffic study has been presented to us, we would be beyond the scope of a reasonable request to ask for a program review of expanded intersections,” she said, citing Maslan’s guidance. “… I do not feel comfortable calling for a vote for something that we don’t have the authority within our own regulations to do.”
With BJ’s Attorney Frank Zullo watching from the back of the room, Mushak complained that Maslan’s guidance contradicts the statements he made when the Al Madany Islamic Center was proposing to put a mosque at 127 Fillow St., that there was much gray area in what the city’s attorney had said and that he couldn’t get answers from Planning and Zoning staff.
Mushak has said he would like the commission to expand the area for the BJ’s traffic study to include all intersections affected by an increase of 25 or more cars per peak hour, as recommended in the Norwalk Transportation Management Plan, which, he said, cost Norwalk about $500,000 and was completed last September.
He cited this passage from Section 2, Chapter 4:
“The City of Norwalk has established that the following guidelines for the preparation of a Traffic Impact and Access Study should be adhered to when preparing a traffic study for any development project. Specific rules and regulations for the City of Norwalk should be obtained from the Planning & Zoning Department.”
Maslan said two weeks ago the plan was commissioned as guidance for the Department of Public Works and other departments. The recommendations would not become zoning regulations unless the commission voted to adopt them, and it hadn’t done it yet. Adopting them during the course of an application would be illegal, he said.
Mushak said Wednesday night that independent traffic studies are routinely commissioned by land use boards across Connecticut.
Wilson reminded Mushak that the DPW is reviewing the traffic study done by Fredrick Clarke Associates for BJ’s, and that the Connecticut Department of Transportation is deeply involved.
“I think Bob Maslan was quite clear with regard to what our authority is in regards to the regulations,” she said. “We don’t act on what is not in the regulations. It’s a limited scope in terms of how we act.”
She said BJ’s was not on the agenda for discussion, and that Mushak had spoken about it enough.
Mushak said that was fine, but then repeated his earlier comments about independent reviews being common in other communities.
“I don’t know why Norwalk doesn’t do it,” he said. “We have every right to ask for more information. If that includes peer review, that’s what it will include. I have never heard of us not having the right to ask for more information.”
Then he went too far for the rest of the commission. “Mr. Maslan gave contradictory statements about how we should apply our regulations because at the mosque application we were told –”
Planning and Zoning Deputy Director Mike Wrinn raised his hand and looked at Mushak angrily, and Wilson shut Mushak down.
Commissioner James White also spoke up.
“You’ve made your point,” he said. “We need to be silent.”
The Rolling Ridge Condominium Association has hired Attorney Richard Saxl in its effort to fight the BJ’s application. Last week, he cast aspersions on CDOT’s involvement in the traffic study.
“That’s sort of irrelevant,” he said.
Just because they say you can do it, doesn’t mean you should, he said.
“They don’t really care if you have gridlock,” he said. “You’re going to care, if you’re driving up and down Main Avenue.”