NORWALK, Conn. – The argument over a BJ’s Wholesale Club proposed for Norwalk’s Main Avenue continued Thursday night, as a Quixotic Norwalk zoning commissioner raised his voice in frustration, saying that an expensive transportation study isn’t worth as much as toilet paper because it is being ignored.
Mike Mushak, a Democrat, questioned some of the state’s guidelines for the traffic study done for the application and continued to push for an independent review of that traffic study. He also suggested that Republican Mayor Richard Moccia didn’t want new zoning regulations on Main Avenue because they would have prevented the proposal for the 109,000-square-foot store on the Superfund site formerly occupied by ELINCO (Electric Indicator Co.).
Republicans expressed exasperation, told Mushak he was wrong, defended the mayor and, at one point, said his argument was nonsensical.
Mushak asked the 20 to 25 people watching at that point if they could follow his argument. More than half raised their hand to signify that they could, even though commissioner Joe Santo called the argument “esoteric.”
Much of Mushak’s argument had the tone of a broken record, but there were some new thoughts thrown in – there is a state law that says a municipality can do an independent review of a traffic study if it wants to.
Attorney Frank Zullo and others said there already is an independent review being done by city agencies, including the Department of Public Works.
“Yes, the city agency, the DPW that just put the bike lanes in on Strawberry Hill that are completely whacky,” Mushak said.
Mushak questioned the reliability of the Connecticut Department of Transportation, because the traffic plan calls for the state to synchronize six traffic lights in the area of the store.
Michael Galante of Frederick Clarke Associates, who did the traffic study, said the Traffic Authority would have to sign off on the project before the CDOT would authorize it.
Zoning Commission Chairwoman Emily Wilson, who is running for a Common Council at-large seat, referred to synchronized lights on Connecticut Avenue.
“I understand from staff that it generally is a phone call up to the state to let them know that they’ve gotten out of sync, and they’ll put them back in sync,” she said.
Staff members had confirmed for Mushak that the lights controlling pedestrian safety for the crosswalk at Main Avenue and Perry Avenue were not functioning correctly. Senior citizens who live in the Laura Raymond Homes cross Main Avenue to get to the CVS with the help of the traffic control system, and then have to take their chances getting back across the street because the pedestrian lights do not work, staff confirmed.
Mushak said he had watched a mother and her two children dash across the street three days ago because the pedestrian signal does not work. Residents have told him it has been broken for two years, he said, in spite of multiple phone calls to the state.
“If a crosswalk signal can’t be fixed in two years by the state, how are all the miraculous timing computers up and down Main Avenue going to work and be maintained by the state?” Mushak asked.
“They have traffic systems all over the state of Connecticut,” Galante answered. “Many of them work quite well. I see some that are off cycle, they go on cycle pretty quickly. It’s a computer model. In some cases they can make that change in Hartford. They don’t need to come down to Norwalk to make a change.”
Mushak zinged that.
“Well, apparently the line is broken between Norwalk and Hartford,” he said.
Galante said he would make a phone call to the state Friday about the crosswalk.
Zullo said BJ’s wants the road to be safe.
“We’re concerned about traffic, too,” he said. “We don’t want to build a store that no one can get to, spend millions of dollars. On the other hand, we’re concerned that the people who want to get to it can get to it safely and efficiently. We all share the same concerns.”
He agreed the city has the right to do an independent “peer review” of the traffic study at its own expense if it wants to, but, “Peer review is not a natural thing in any particular community.”
“Neither is a 109,000-square-foot building on a spot that is recommended for 10,000 square feet,” Mushak said, a reference to the Norwalk Transportation Plan, which cost the city about $500,000 and is being ignored by Zoning, he said.
Zullo said that plan also says the Elinco site might be acceptable for a big development, as an exception to that guideline.
Mushak also mentioned the 2006 Westport-North Main Corridor Study, which is incorporated into the city’s 2008 master plan.
“We should have changed our zoning years ago on Main Avenue,” he said. “We wouldn’t be sitting here, we wouldn’t have this project and we wouldn’t have petitions coming out our ears.”
He asked why the regulations hadn’t been changed. Deputy Planning and Zoning Director Mike Wrinn said it was because zoning commissioners hadn’t changed them.
Mushak layed it at the mayor’s feet.
“Since 2008, five years ago, we were told to change the zoning on this strip and nothing has happened,” he said. “I don’t think Mayor Moccia wanted anything to happen.”
Santo winced. “Don’t go there, Mike,” he said.
Linda Kruk, newly appointed by Moccia to the commission as a replacement for Adam Blank, disputed the comment.
“I don’t think that had anything to do with it,” she said.
Mushak’s other issue was the state’s guideline allowing Galante to discount 20 percent of the traffic on Main Avenue as part of his study on the theory that drivers who are already on the road see the store and decide to pull in.
BJ’s is a membership only club, Mushak said. You don’t just pull in.
He said 4 percent of eligible Americans are BJ’s members, and if you apply the same percentage to Norwalk, the 20 percent figure is inflated. Galante, Wilson and Santo did not agree.
“I’m not following you because it doesn’t make any sense,” Wilson said.
“That’s so esoteric nobody understands you,” Santo said.
“If you have a CVS on the corner not everyone is a CVS customer,” Galante said. “They might like Rite Aid. What’s the difference? It’s still the same 25,000 cars.” Plus, “I can go into BJs and become a member for one day.”
Mushak said Galante would agree with BJ’s, as BJ’s is paying him.
“I’m saying it because I’m standing behind it,” Galante said. “I’m not just making up numbers.”
Zullo defended the traffic engineer. He said Galante isn’t using the 20 percent figure at the entrance to the BJ’s and considers the figure too low.
“I have used Mr. Galante on many projects,” he said. “As you know, six months after a project is built, your staff goes out and sees if the conclusions that were arrived at were indeed correct. Mike, you can agree or disagree but I think you can confirm that on his projects, he’s been conservative.”
A public hearing on the application is planned for 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 19, in Concert Hall.
Corrections made 10:31 a.m.: Mike Wrinn, not Mike Greene; Perry Avenue, not Perry Street.
Leave a Reply
You must Register or Login to post a comment.