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Norden Park distribution center will further degrade East Norwalk

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This is an open letter to the Norwalk Zoning Commission, Mayor Harry Rilling and District C Common Council members John Kydes and George Theodoridis.

It shocks me that it is necessary to publicly stand in opposition to the proposal for a distribution center in Norden Park. I don’t understand why it has gotten as far as the Zoning Commission. Do you really live in Norwalk? Have you ever driven from East Norwalk to exit 16 in the morning on your way to work, or home in the evening, inching your way through the invariable bumper to bumper traffic that exists
already?

I’ve lived in East Norwalk for over thirty years. That’s long enough ago to have naively thought at one time that the most reckless choice our elected officials could make was permitting a Dunkin’ Donuts on East Avenue. A fantastic call for whoever owns DD, but miserable for anyone on their way in or out of that area.

My wife and I moved into this neighborhood because we appreciated the proximity to SoNo, the natural beauty of Norwalk’s incredible coastline and islands, and the small town feel of being able to stroll the area on a summer evening together with our dogs, and eventually with our children. Over the years I knew people who wondered aloud why we didn’t move to neighboring towns. Often, once they’d spent a little time here, walking down to SoNo for the Arts Festival, or to the beaches, they’d comment about what a surprising gem this little area really is. I haven’t heard a comment like that for quite some time.

Since the Dunkin’ Donuts debacle, I’ve watched mostly silently as various administrations have step by misguided step turned this side of I-95 into a virtual parking lot with the permits they have endorsed. Massive buildings, far out of scale with the rest of the local architecture, packed with apartments, and ground level retail spaces of highly questionable value to Norwalk residents have caused our roads to be choked with traffic at all hours. It’s become a misery to get in and out. At this point, traffic is pretty much like it was in Stamford, from where we initially fled because it was too much like a city for us even as a young couple.

For anyone who imagines that widening roads is some kind of solution to traffic congestion, I encourage you to take a little field trip to the Bronx (as just one easy and stark example) to see how that logic inevitably plays out. And of course, it’s about much more than traffic.

It’s obvious that adding tractor trailers to and from the proposed distribution center to our roads will bring traffic to a virtual standstill. But it will also raise stress levels, injure our health with a miasma of diesel fumes and absolutely endless noise – I can already hear trucks on I-95 all the way over here on Third Street in the middle of the night, I can only imagine what it’d be like for the people who live any closer than us to a 19-dock distribution center!

It’s a plain fact that if the Norden Distribution Center is allowed, it will degrade the experience of living in this area in every sense. No public official who supports this project or any like it will ever again be able to honestly represent themselves as a supporter of public health and safety, or quality of life. I urge you to think long and hard about who you stand with on this question.

Respectfully,

Mark Stephenson

26 comments

David Muccigrosso December 3, 2020 at 1:31 pm

Yeah, it doesn’t seem like a very convenient place for the distribution center itself. They’d be far better off in the industrial areas south of Sono. The actual distance further from the highway belies the fact that they’d be facing far easier traffic on MLK.

Curious December 3, 2020 at 10:26 pm

What is the benefit to Norwalk residents in having this here? Are we going to get lower taxes, probably not. Obviously having trucks go through parts of Norwalk at all hours of the night is not good. And it shouldn’t be redirected to sono.

Michael Foley December 4, 2020 at 5:30 am

Norwalk Residents that live in and around this area should be very concerned over tractor trailers driving through their neighborhood streets daily that aren’t correctly designed for this type of traffic. Easy on and off I-95 Is not available. Say No To This Bad Idea !

BS December 4, 2020 at 7:36 am

Thank you Mark. You speak for so many of us! Traffic, air quality, and noise would be intolerable. SoNo is not the solution either.

Effie G December 4, 2020 at 7:38 am

👏🏻👏🏻 Well said Mark! Thank you! And you see, for the record, they don’t really live in East Norwalk to understand the struggles of the congestion they are responsible for bringing into this area of Norwalk and the negative impact that will result if this distribution center is permitted.

Scott Vetare December 4, 2020 at 8:12 am

I agree Mark. Thank you for a well written letter. I just hope these politicians open their eyes!

Mark Scanlon December 4, 2020 at 8:17 am

The site is immediately adjacent to I95. Couldn’t the traffic congestion problems be alleviated simply by adding exit and entrance ramps from Norden Place directly onto the highway?

Ev December 4, 2020 at 10:40 am

V I am writing as a concerned neighbor of the proposed Norton warehousing site. The area where Norton property is located is residential. There are not one nor two but three schools within walking distance of that site. School children do walk to and from school.

Strawberry Hill is zoneed at 25 mph. I can guarantee you that 18 wheeler’s up and down Strawberry Hill will not be going at 25 miles an hour. Thus endangering school children and other pedestrians. Not to mention health impacts from diesel fumes-polluted air. Plus, it’s unlikely, the curbs have been put on the hours of operation for such a facility. Not to mention who knows what will be transported.

In addition to the air pollution there is a concern of noise pollution. Years ago studies were done in New York City that determined that the traffic noise interfered with both teachers and students classroom production. Children were less able to focus with the constant drum of traffic noises.

Noise pollution is also a concern for the many residents working from home because of Covid. When the wind blows in the wrong direction, I-95 traffic is a constant hum. Will you add to that with diesel if engines of 18- wheelers?

Trucks will be coming off I 95 and using Route 136 Dash again residential area. Other trucks will be coming off I 95 exit 16, using East Avenue. Good luck to their getting up Sunset Hill. Or will they be taking a more circuitous route through the small neighborhoods?

Should I even mention the home for the elderly just past the overpass across I-95??

What environmental impact studies are being required of this developer to protect the children and the residential nature of the neighborhood??

It’s a horrible intrusion into a residential area.

Russell Morris December 4, 2020 at 10:59 am

Thanks, Mark. I wholeheartedly agree. I understand that when Norden Place was originally built a few decades ago the situation in East Norwalk was a little different. The neighborhood has become more densely residential sense then, and as Mark points out the major traffic thoroughfares have become incredibly congested.

However, the zoning details are still caught in that old framework. I’m led to believe that the recent traffic study, for example, is comparing to what the standards were for the old facility. So the developers might be playing by the rules, but the city isn’t doing us any favors by accepting it without question.

We certainly need to build our economic base. But shouldn’t we be thinking about super-fast, community owned internet connectivity; businesses that would support making our homes more energy efficient, small businesses that are developing ways of dealing with climate change. The last thing we should be doing is facilitating more diesel fumes spewed into our neighborhoods.

Diane Cano December 4, 2020 at 3:02 pm

Well said Mark,

Someone is going to benefit and those are the people pushing this through. The question is WHO? Not the residents as Mark has said.

As far as the option of a ramp off Strawberry Hill onto I-95, I’m wondering if that is already part of the bigger plan and the public is only being made aware piecemeal. There is so much work going on now “repairing” the strawberry hill/I-95 overpass, that I wonder if they are simultaneously prepping for a ramp(s)

As construction starts on the train overpassed on East Avenue and Strawberry Hill in the coming years, traffic will be more of a snarl even without trucks from a distribution center. A ramp on Strawberry hill would allow trucks from Norden Place to access I-95 without traveling on smaller East Norwalk roads, but would ruin the Strawberry Hill communities.

I say no to the distribution center and no to ramps on Strawberry Hill!

Mimi Chang December 5, 2020 at 12:00 am

@Diane Cano, I have to agree with you on “There is so much work going on now ‘repairing’ the Strawberry Hill/I-95 overpass, that I wonder if they are simultaneously prepping for a ramp(s).” I have the same thought whenever I drive over the overpass. Repairs (Repairs being of course a good thing…) to that bridge had been on the agenda for well over a year, and perhaps are part of the bridge/overpass infrastructure improvements bundled with the Walk Bridge project? I don’t know. However, they have cleared out trees at the overpass on the Northbound side of I-95, which has made the area even noisier, and to me it almost does look like an on-ramp could happen, which would indeed disrupt the Strawberry Hill Avenue community. An I-95 entrance ramp for 10 Norden Place, if, worst case scenario, our powers that be unfathomably pass the application, as we residents seem to have zero say in the matter, should be beyond this point and directly in front of the complex, so as not to disrupt ANY residential areas.

Jane Jacobs December 5, 2020 at 8:42 am

The simplest solution would be to demand that outgoing truck traffic is routed left from Triangle Street onto Route 136, with access to 95 via Exit 17. I guarantee this harebrained distribution center plan would be shut down by Westport before you could say “Robert Moses.”

John Miller December 5, 2020 at 2:24 pm

Excellent piece Mark and spot on. I grew up on Lockwood Lane, am old enough to have witnessed the construction of I95 and, for several years, actually worked at Norden Park so know the area well. To get a sense of how this distribution center would actually impact the area it’s really worth taking a ride from Exit 16 in Norwalk and then from Exit 17 in Westport and travelling the roadways leading to and from Norden Place and then trying to picture 65 foot long 80,000 pound long haul tractor trailers moving in both directions negotiating the roadways and making the turns necessary to get to a distribution center on Norden Place (Full disclosure: I worked in the surface transportation industry for 30 years so can picture what the reality would actually look like). The existing roadway infrastructure will simply not accommodate this kind of equipment. Period. Like you, I don’t know how this made it all the way to the Zoning Commission, which suggests that the Mayor and the Council are only interested in one thing: Development at all costs and to hell with the citizens who elected them. This must not move forward.

Kathy Ferguson December 5, 2020 at 3:55 pm

Thank you, Mark. This will affect everyone living in East Norwalk and none of it in a good way. Traffic is already at unacceptable levels here. Is this an Amazon distribution hub?
It doesn’t belong in South Norwalk either.
I say no to this distribution center and no to ramps on Strawberry Hill.

Mimi Chang December 6, 2020 at 1:53 am

The latest from the applicant is an offer of $300,000 to widen the left lane on East Avenue that turns onto Fitch Street, so the massive tractor trailer trucks can make the turn on what they now want to be their primary truck route. Apparently, they backed off of Westport Avenue to Strawberry Hill Avenue to Norden as the primary route, Thank God, because of strong objections to the trucks passing schools and endangering our children. Clearly, they don’t care that their latest primary route encircles residential streets that house some of those very children, and that they will be spewing diesel exhaust and bringing even more noise pollution into their/our lives, and killing walkability/bikeability, which I thought were objectives of the East Norwalk Neighborhood TOD Plan. Kiss the bike lane on Strawberry Hill Avenue Goodbye and make way for the tractor trailer trucks. Just unconscionable!

This 10 Norden Place proposal is an environmental disaster which will decimate an already fragile East Norwalk afflicted with traffic and noise pollution issues. Residents along the primary truck route will not be able to be outside because of constant diesel exhaust fumes. Already, the air quality is poor on East Avenue and on Strawberry Hill Avenue! We had brought this to the attention of elected officials over several years now with our feedback pertaining to the East Norwalk Neighborhood TOD Plan. We need to hold our elected officials accountable to advocate strongly for us and to prevent this application from moving forward. I cannot fathom how anyone who cares about our quality of life could possibly vote this application in.

Bryan Meek December 6, 2020 at 2:01 pm

@John Miller. 17 has long ramps. What do you think the impact to traffic will be from a fully laden 80k pound trucks merging into Yankee Doodle Bridge traffic on that relatively short incline with traffic crossing to the connector? This assuming they can fix the traffic light pattern on East ave to allow more than 3 box trailers through each light passing. Also, when they exit on 16 seeing they legally have to make the right turn from the left lane, do you foresee any issues there. I know it feels like a tight turn for me in a mid sized SUV.

Robert Keyes December 6, 2020 at 6:24 pm

This would definitely impact Westport along Route 136. It would run right through Sasqua Hills area. Could they limit the tractor trailers to overnight travel? Also I would investigate how this would effect the level of service at the traffic light at corner of Triangle Street and Winfield. They have a traffic enigineer who will argue little or no change to the level of service at that light and every other traffic light affected by this. You also need to consider turn ratios and sight lines.
We know traffic is getting worse in East Norwalk and most will be against this. I know the East Norwalk neighborhood is organized so review the traffic study and consider having a different traffic engineer review it. It may mean having all opposed funding the cost of an attorney or their own traffic study. Also consider impact of building on former BOA property to this along with all other current proposals along East Avenue. I bet their traffic study doesn’t consider these other future proposals.

Steve Mann December 7, 2020 at 11:01 am

Thanks Mark, for taking the time to share thoughts. Some of the commenters, and others I’ve spoken to, think that a quick solution to this issue is an on/off ramp to I-95 from Strawberry Hill Avenue, or the Norden property itself. With all due respect to those of this school, that does nothing to mitigate other conditions that will be thrust on the ratepayers and tenants of the area.

Incessant 24/7 noise from trucks in reverse gear, unenforceable “demands” against detours taken by some trucks, idling of trucks on Triangle as they wait for their appointments, and dealing with a mélange of food trucks parked on Triangle are all part and parcel of the detritus that the neighborhood will become.

The fact of the matter is, if you take any simple map application, you can measure distance from the planned site, to your front door. Maybe we’re lucky by being a big .4 miles away, but pity the people on Heron Drive, which is literally 380 feet from the site as the crow flies. 380 feet! Even if you’re not a golfer, you’ll understand that you can literally take a pitching wedge, and hit a ball over the tracks from Heron and have it land on the roof of the proposed distribution center.

That our elected officials are even considering moving this forward, in the fact of over 800 letters and emails is incomprehensible. Where are the voices speaking against this? A councilman was quoted some time ago as saying this is a good idea. We hear from those on Zoning past and present talk about creating a utopia of “walkability” where families can stroll the streets to shops and restaurants, amidst the green splendor of the neighborhood. We heard from past Zoning Commissioners about the “crumbling facades” of East Norwalk, and wanting to improve the neighborhood. How can those same people possibly favor this development?

We’ve yet to hear thoughts for and against from our city officials. Where are they? We’ve heard from the Westport First Selectman, who advises this project is ill-advised.

We’ve lived in East Norwalk for twenty-five years. Now we’re being sold out by the very people you’ve elected. What a shame.

Shari Brennan December 7, 2020 at 12:54 pm

No! No to disturbing a primarily residential neighborhood with dangerous traffic, noise and environmental pollution.
No to additional ramps on I-95 . See nothing that states this will occur, but if so will leave openings for rerouting of highway traffic any time an accident occurs on highway
No to moving distribution site to South Norwalk. Don’t dump this on an area that is already lacking affordable housing and the health and safety of many.
Where are our politicians on this matter. P & Z must be closely watched.
neglecting The families that live in area

Mimi Chang December 7, 2020 at 3:42 pm

Well put, @Steve Mann. We are being sold out if this proposal even has legs at this point. It should be DOA. And I agree… Why have we not heard statements for or against from our city officials? Where do they stand on this? Surely, they are reading the petition comments, the hundreds of letters pouring in, and the chatter of distressed stakeholders on social media and on our community group site, and they are seeing the lawn signs in opposition. A grassroots movement is happening in opposition to this proposal, for crying out loud! Are they hiding? Where are the voices of our elected officials who are self proclaimed environmentalists? If ever there was a moment for them to show their stuff in support of us, it would be right now, at tonight’s public hearing! I hope they do not disappoint.

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