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Neighborhood opposition to Norden site plan pushes vote to a 4th hearing

Craig Yannes, the traffic consultant for the MTA and Norden Place, responds to public comment on May 22.

The Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday night ended its third public meeting related to the proposal from the MTA to turn part of the 10 Norden Place site into a “transportation maintenance terminal” with no vote yet. The commission heard more than three hours of testimony from residents, who oppose the project, which pushed the hearing into a fourth session.

Attorney Liz Suchy and the team representing Norwalk Center LLC, the owner of the property that would be leasing the space to the MTA, only had time to begin their responses..

“We’re going to close the hearing for this evening and continue it at our June 5th meeting,” Chair Lou Schulman said. 

Residents’ Concerns

Nine additional residents, including Diane Cece, who spoke on behalf of the East Norwalk Neighborhood Association, echoed concerns made by residents at two prior meetings about the negative impact they believe the project would have on the neighborhood roads, environment, and residents’ health. 

“On behalf of the East Norwalk community we represent over 4,000 households,” Cece told the commission, highlighting a petition against the project as well as the emails and statements from members of the public. “The residents are clearly opposed to this and we strongly urge you to deny the site plan and send this back to the drawing board or away.”

One of the biggest complaints from residents was that East Avenue was not included in the traffic study completed by the applicant. 

Joseph Balestriere, who lives in East Norwalk and is a realtor in town, said he was “shocked and appalled the traffic report wasn’t required to include East Avenue.” 

He also said the project brought “no net benefit to Norwalk” and would bring “additional traffic to the most congested area of our city—East Norwalk.”

Others echoed that point, stating the traffic is already bad enough without adding the projected car and truck load from the MTA site. 

“I really feel like with the bottom of my heart that I don’t think this is a good idea with these big tractor trailers,” resident Rita Paschalidis said. “This is the first time I’ve ever said anything [at a public meeting]. I love Norwalk, I love East Norwalk the most. I’m scared.” 

Resident Carol Solheim asked the commission to take into account other projects and work in the area that will also contribute to congestion on the roads.

“You’re going to be having a lot of traffic in this area anyway because you’re going to be building a new high school—it takes awhile to build a high school,” she said. 

Solheim also said that if increased road traffic makes Strawberry Hill and surrounding streets feel more perilous, many students walk or bike to school will probably get driven. 

“I just think there are many, many other uses for this site that would be far less impactful than this particular use of the site,” she said. “I would ask you to please consider the impact of our three schools on Strawberry Hill if this goes through.” 

Yvonne Marchese said that her child will be driving to school next year and she was concerned for him as he’s “an inexperienced driver, trying to navigate increased truck traffic.” 

Others raised concerns about the environmental impact of the project, particularly by increasing air pollution.

“Thankfully the East Norwalk residents came up with a high-quality air quality expert who spoke on our behalf,” said resident Sarah Hunter. “It’s not air quality—it’s our health. Air quality and pollution are related to not just asthma but cancer.”

“Contrary to City Plans”

Residents also said that this plan was the opposite of the city’s overarching plans for Norwalk, including making it “the greenest city in Connecticut” and a place where people could safely walk and bike around. 

“Instead of allowing the MTA to come in and pollute our city even further, congest our roads which are already at the breaking point and hurt our home values, why don’t we follow the mayor’s wishes to create the greenest city in Connecticut and turn Norden into a beautiful park?” Balestriere said. 

Cece raised the residents’ frustrations that they had been asking for a study or plan for Norden Place for years—something that was also called out in the city’s industrial zone study.

“Those consultants went to great lengths to advise the city to fund and commission a separate study for Norden Place,” she said. 

The study said the site was “an exception to the rest of the city’s industrial zones,” due to the “unique history and location of Norden Place.”

“Because of its former use, it is one of the city’s largest development sites at around 37 acres,” the study reads. “The scale of development in this location would add to the city’s commercial tax base, but there are several specific challenges that need to be addressed in planning for its future use … The site is surrounded by residential zones. Furthermore, while the site is physically adjacent to I-95, access to the highway requires driving through narrow residential roads. Heavy truck traffic to and from the site presents a major conflict with abutting residential uses.”

“I encourage you to read the comments from the consultants from the industrial zone study,” Cece said, adding that “had it been done we wouldn’t be in the position we’re in tonight.”

She also admonished the city’s Transportation, Mobility, and Parking, for recommending that some local roads, such as Fitch Street, be updated to accommodate tractor trailer traffic, calling it “insulting” that they would consider changing Fitch Street and that it was “unacceptable” for a recommendation like that.

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

Applicant’s Response

After the public comment section was over, the applicant’s team has a chance to respond to the public comments made by residents before the commission debates, discusses, and eventually votes on the project. Attorney Liz Suchy, who represented the project owner and the MTA, started her team’s response with Craig Yannes, the traffic engineer, going through some of the comments made by members of the public, the experts hired by the East Norwalk Neighborhood Association, and the city staff.

In particular, Yannes highlighted the Strawberry Hill Avenue and Fitch Street intersection and said that they think the “city should consider” altering the intersection to allow for easier turns, but Yannes found that there would be“no significant impact to traffic levels,” and so adjusting this intersection wasn’t necessary.

Cece had also highlighted a plan from around 2017 that looked at a roundabout or mini-roundabout for that intersection as something the residents supported. Yannes said that while he’s a proponent of roundabouts, he didn’t think it would work for this intersection.

“This location is not appropriate for a mini-roundabout because of the truck traffic, the truck traffic that exists today,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the application itself.”

He also emphasized that their traffic analysis “did present a reasonable worst-case scenario” for traffic—countering a critique from the expert hired by the neighborhood association—and that they looked at potential future development traffic on the site and found “intersections would operate with acceptable levels of traffic.”

As for why East Avenue wasn’t included in the study area, Yannes said the area was selected “based on the Norwalk Traffic Impact and Access guidelines, which essentially state: ‘Based on your traffic volumes and distribution, which intersections should be part of the analysis?” He said they “coordinated” with city staff and the city’s third-party traffic consultant and “included additional intersections that weren’t required by the guidelines at their requests.”

He also highlighted the East Avenue Corridor project noting, “there are improvements proposed for East Avenue” and those should “address any remaining deficiencies.”

While much of the conversation centered around trucks in the area, Yannes also emphasized that “most of our traffic is not truck traffic.”

“Our truck traffic volumes pale in comparison to the existing truck traffic,” he said, noting that they were expecting the largest vehicles to come to the site only two times a week.

While there are schools and residences along Strawberry Hill, Yannes noted that the road, along with Fitch Street, are classified as minor arterial roadways.

“These roadways and their classifications are designed for truck traffic,” he said.

Yannes was the only member of the applicant team who got to offer their responses before the commission adjourned the hearing for the evening. The applicant’s team will continue to respond on June 5.

Comments

3 responses to “Neighborhood opposition to Norden site plan pushes vote to a 4th hearing”

  1. Karl Deering

    I am one of the 4 impacted properties! What the hell is going on . I think we should have been notified by the City on any plans that affect our properties BEFORE we get to this point !!! NON the article does not explain what they want to do except that map , can you explain ?????

  2. David Muccigrosso

    For some reason this reminds me of the Swedish Chef… except for instead of saying “Bork! Bork! Bork!” he keeps saying “NIMBY NIMBY NIMBY”.

  3. Roberta DiBisceglie

    Enough with the cries of Nimbyiism. The proposed use of this site is a great example of spot zoning. The community does not benefit in any way from a facility such as this. East Norwalk Neighborhood Association – a VOLUNTEER organization – has once again spent time, money and considerable energy to shine a light on how destructive this will be to our quality of life. Increased Pollution ✔️ Increased traffic ✔️ If we are really to become a greener, pedestrian/cyclist friendly city , the City needs to make a commitment to that . The fight against overdevelopment has clearly been lost – let’s not make a bad situation worse by allowing spot zoning in a residential neighborhood .

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