Norwalk BJ’s opponents score a small victory

A BJ’s Wholesale Club proposed for 272-280 Main Ave. would take up 90 percent of the lot, Attorney Frank Zullo said.

NORWALK, Conn. – A minor part of the application to build a BJ’s Wholesale Club in Norwalk was turned down Thursday evening by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Attorney Frank Zullo had said at a Plan Review Committee meeting that he would approach the board of appeals and attempt to get BJ’s a variance for signage. Common Councilwoman Anna Duleep (D-At Large) said Thursday evening that the board had turned down the application. Board member Sharon Stewart confirmed that account.

BJ’s would like to build at 272-280 Main Ave., which has long been vacant as a Superfund cleanup site. Zullo said recently that BJ’s wanted the letters on its signs to be bigger than normally allowed because the signs would have to be closer to the road than usual, given the proximity of the store to the roadway. BJ’s also wanted more signs than zoning regulations allow.

“Frank Zullo lost,” Duleep said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before.”

The meeting may have been a harbinger of things to come. Rolling Ridge Condominium Association President Curtis Pippin said 10 to 15 residents came out, which he said was remarkable, given that it’s August.

“We told them it would be good if they came and the next one’s where we really want them to show up,” he said, referring to the Zoning Commission public hearing tentatively scheduled for Sept. 19.

The association has retained the services of Attorney Richard Saxl in its effort to fight the BJ’s application. Saxl said he has much experience with zoning issues, as he spent 12 years on Fairfield’s Planning and Zoning Commission and 12 years as Fairfield’s town attorney.

Other association leaders were at the board of appeals hearing, Duleep said, including the president of the Norwalk Association of Silvermine Homeowners.

Duleep said she has heard from constituents in Silvermine, Cranbury, the Winnipauk Village Condominiums and Rolling Ridge who are opposed to the BJ’s application.

She was one of the speakers at the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting.

“To me, if the lot is not fitting the needs of this particular company, it’s not a hardship, it is a misfit, and they should look for another site for BJ’s,” she said afterward. “I was pleased that the Zoning Board of Appeals seemed to agree, at least with that one part of the application.”


31 responses to “Norwalk BJ’s opponents score a small victory”

  1. TLawton

    If there is anyone reading this blog that supports this BJ’s plan please post I’d like to hear from you. As it is, it seems as if only Mayor Moccia supports this project.

    Thanks TL

  2. Anna Duleep

    @TLawton: There was one person last night (besides Attorney Zullo) who spoke in favor of putting BJ’s on Main Street: the owner of Diamond Plaza across the street. Also, the owner of the car wash submitted a letter asking that, if the project goes through, the BJ’s people please coordinate their construction so his customers don’t get dust on their freshly washed cars. Everybody else who spoke (plus several people who did not speak but observed) opposed the proposal.

  3. NorwalkSage

    As consumers, I and all of my friends favor the BJ’s application. I live in one of the areas Anna Duleep claims opponents to BJ’s, and I can’t imagine why anyone would reject these benefits –

    – Cleaning up the Superfund Site
    – Jobs
    – Increased business in the neighborhood and a stronger Grand List
    – Pressure on Costco, area supermarkets and Wal-Mart to offer better prices for consumers

    It strikes me that the opposition falls on partisan lines suggesting that this is the best issue Moccia’s opponents can come up with to justify their candidacies. Either that or their motivation is related to BJ’s retail competition. As a consequence Norwalk will be perceived as business-unfriendly which benefits no one.

  4. Piberman

    Attorney Zullo, former Democrat Mayor, has long been the City’s pre-eminent attorney seeking favorable P&Z applications for Big Box firms. So it will take a very major and concerted effort by residents to deny the BJ application. It is encouraging to have a modest success especially in an election year. Lets encourage everyone running for office this season to express their views on BJ’s application. Is Mayor Moccia alone in his support or are there other candidates for mayor and Common council positions that also support BJ’s application ? Are Republicans supporting BJ’s Big Box application ? Democrats ? Independent candidates ? Just who is supporting BJ’s ? Lets not keep it a secret.

  5. Shop til you drop

    What are the opponents proposing other than a toxic hole in the ground? Sorry, I have no sympathy for someone who bought property adacent to Main St who now think it should be their private access road. We are talking about Main Street here folks.
    What I find interesting is there is almost no coercion from Costco. My respect for that company continues to grow. BJs will not be nearly as good to their workers.

  6. Mr Norwalk Ct

    I am 100 percent for BJ’s. How anyone can be against this improvement is beyond me. The site has been a vacant contaminated dump for 20 years. I Say WELCOME BJ’s

  7. Al Raymond

    Here is the deal, everyone complained when the state put in SUPER 7. They said now there will be no traffic here for our businesses it was built & businesses suffered now they want to put something there that will bring people and money to a piece of property that has been an eye soar for many years. It`s a (nimby) thing if they were to put it over on Ct. Ave I`am sure that would be okay. Norwalk needs smart development this will help grow the city.There is a group out there called CNNA this is a group of neighborhoods that meet once a month keeping an eye on things that are happening in the city,if you really want to do something for your self,your neighborhood,your city go to there meetings there the 4th Monday of every month room 101 at city hall maybe I`ll see ya there.

  8. R. Morgan

    Do these people that are for the building of BJ’s live in the area of the proposed site? As along time resident, I know this will be a traffic nightmare both for motorists and pedestrians.

  9. spanner

    Interesting in some of the EPA data is said clearly the amount of contamination would not be obvious until all foundations were removed.Was it odd those foundations were never removed during the cleanup?

    Then the reports aaid Norwalk mixed good water with well water to cut down the concertrations of chemicals going to the residents.

    Screw the traffic Al its the water that may kill you in Norwalk.

  10. Tim T

    R. Morgan
    What did the people that live in the area of “Main ST” expect?? Maybe they should have bought elsewhere like the backwoods of Weston.
    Also they should be happy that the contaminated site is being cleaned up.

  11. Al Raymond

    Spanner; I may be wrong but,I was under the impression that the property was cleaned up, if that is the case than how is the water not clean? If the water is not clean please explain & then we can look at this in a defendant way like how to clean it up or better yet how BJ`s can clean it up

  12. Suzanne

    I don’t think the objections have been levied against BJ’s, the company, so much as the scale of the project (BJ’s own company data as represented on this site indicates the lot is very small and not normally accommodated to their store size) which is way larger than what was initially planned: a building occupying 10,000 square feet as planned as opposed to the BJ’s 100,000 plus square feet. The resulting traffic should be of concern to everyone: does everyone believe the traffic study gentleman who said 700 plus more cars per day in that corridor with his timing devices at various intersections will actually IMPROVE traffic? That’s just silly. Norwalk does not need a BJ’s but it does need new business and it does need to develop this former Superfund site. There are all kinds of options with research and study – instead, we have this idea that a BJ’s is the ONLY option and, perhaps, politically for the Mayor, it is. But for the people of Norwalk? Not so much. I think more study for alternatives needs to be done and considered with more active intercession into the train wreck that is the BJ’s bulldozer plan. Norwalk gets to have the highest and best solutions to development and not settle for what is thrust down its throat.

  13. M Allen

    This is not a NIMBY thing. This is a poorly-designed facility that draws too much traffic for a stretch of road that is not now, nor planned to be, designed to handle it. Let’s work this out:

    1) Road not designed to handle it: The number of existing traffic lights and intersections within a half mile of this location is an issue. Moreover, a number of these intersections have existing issues due to the railroad tracks. On top of that, we have the absolute horror that is the intersection with Rt. 123 at Dunkin Donuts, which feed to/from Rt.7/95. On top of that, Main Avenue in this area is fairly narrow with little leeway on either side of the road for widening. Traffic is an issue in this location today, let alone when combined with the addition of this facility and its layout.

    2) The poor design of the facility: in order to accomodate a facility of this size on such a small piece of land (Costco sits on land twice the size), the developer has required 100% underground parking. Underground parking is great. The issue is in where it is accessed. This facility will sit right at the road’s edge and the enterance to the underground garage is set broughly 2 car lengths from the road. When cars enter a parking lot like Stop & Shop (which is set back), there are multiple entry points and a driveway before entering the parking area. At BJ’s, cars will be forced to slow down while entering the garage, potentially causing traffic backups onto Main Avenue. An example of this is already available at Costco on CT Ave and they have a driveway before entering the parking area. Somehow a left turn lane for cars travelling southbound will also need to be wedged out onto Main Avenue.
    The fact is that anyone familiar with Main Avenue, who drives it during rush hour or on the weekends, can tell you this part of Main Avenue is a bad location. I personally want a BJ’s here. Almost anywhere. In fact this location would be more convenient for me. I will make the case all day long that Norwalk needsto be open to national retailers and some big box stores. Open, just not stupid about it. I will argue against the naysayers who say we shouldn’t build this because an office building brings in more taxes; even though no investor is lining up to build an office building. There is even a small part of me who thinkins that we should be happy to have anything on this godforsaken piece of unused real estate. But then I drive the road often enough to know better and my common sense kicks in. Tell me we are going to use eminent domain to sieze land and widen Main Avenue and I will support this location for BJ’s even if it were to be the biggets noise polluter in Norwalk or contaminate the stream that runs 3 times a year in the corner of the property. But to basically leave the traffic pattern on Main Avenue as is, while adding another traffic light in between Broad Street and Perry Avenue, while building a facility that will draw in the cars that BJ’s is likely to draw, and I have to say you’re crazy. You don’t need Mike Mushak’s $500k study or some other plan to work as your Bible. This is a bad location for this specific property. That’s not NIMBY. That’s common sense.

  14. Tim T

    I along with many others would like to see more retail along Route 7/Main Street.. If a major retailer wants to move into the area we should welcome them with open arms. The ones that can’t seem to see this are the same ones that are to blame that Norwalk has so many vacant lots and vacant office space. we need to work with these retailers and not against them.

  15. M Allen

    @Suzanne, you’re right. although some do make the case against the project anywhere in Norwalk. But read BJ’s own publicly available literature from their SEC form 10-k regarding the land they typically use:
    “As of January 29, 2011, we operated 167 full-sized warehouse clubs that averaged approximately 114,000 square feet and 22 smaller format warehouse clubs that averaged approximately 73,000 square feet… Including space for parking, a typical full-sized BJ’s club requires 13 to 14 acres of land. The smaller version typically requires approximately 8 acres.”

    Those are BJ’s own words. This parcel of land is 5 acres, less than half of what they would normally use for one of their locations. Right idea, wrong location.

  16. Debora

    Suzanne is right.
    We have not seen any evidence that the city has made a best effort to site something more appropriate on the land. How many industries were ruled out? How many other businesses were contacted?
    BTW, it is not up to the citizenry at large to come up with a better recommendation. That is what our elected and appointed officialsare supposed to be doing. They are well within their rights to point out when a project is unsuitable without assuming responsibility for all of the alternatives.

  17. spanner

    Al its the same thing in Norwalk for years GE puts a tank farm on Water street and years later no tanks or sign of a tank farm product still floats on the puddles after it rains ,Research and Norwalks environmental advocates could stop a lot of things in Norwalk if we had the resources,read the reports one I have says Oyster Shell park leaks each tide into the Norwalk river.None of the chemicals were ever removed they are all stiil there.

    The thing with BJs is simple if there was a plume of conatimantion that left the property and made it to a well did that path get dug up?

    This site like most are called clean until something shows up if someone had the money to clean it up entirely it would be a first. Common sense and gravity when they break open the street for utilities there shouldn’t be hazardous waste trucks pumping out of the ground should there?Not like West ave after the car dealer ship and gas stations left mega pollution under the roadway and who cleans that up each time when a manhole needs work?Norwalk Al no one else.

  18. spanner

    one other thing is you look at the names of people in the private sector who worked on Hazmat sites in Norwalk and then years later check the names of DEEP staff and you might find the same names as they were hired by the State of Ct years later to pass the ok on land they worked on(its a fact).Where is the checks and balance when most of the time cleanups are done short of complete yet out of funds.The funding for such projects are simple big problems take big money but when the money runs out so doesn’t the job no one works for free.This was the case in Oyster Shell park those who capped it now work for the State in leadership roles how conveniant.Gina McCarthy knew this maybe now in DC she will come back and make things right.Maybe then the driftwood in Norwalk would be removed from city hall and we could start cleaning Norwalk up once and for all.Its odd I have never seen or heard of any cancer studies on this superfund site where others I have seen have detailed information.In this process did anyone mention what chemicals were involved and what was the long term plan to test the area yearly?Once a hazmat site always a hazmat site and what is clean?Norwalk Stamford and Bridgeport has become a leader in cancer treatment and screening in Ct what are the figures for new cases from older residents from Norwalk?

  19. Suzanne

    Tim T, No one is objecting to retail in the space just smart development and this isn’t it. Please see the direct quote from BJ’s own literature and additional comments by M Allen above.

  20. Tim T

    That is your opinion and M Allen’s opinion nothing more nothing less. My opinion and many others in Norwalk see it different. As far as BJ’s own literature if in fact that is what it actually is. I am sure that the professionals at store planning at BJ’s know more about making an exception than you do or I do. You say its not smart development. The site has been vacant for 20 years.. Is that what you would rather see? In 20 years no one had an interest in it and I can’t see anyone else rushing out to clean it up. I say BUILD BUILD BUILD.. It’s not a perfect world and I am sure that once its built, which it will be all will be just fine.

  21. Suzanne

    From M. Allen’s comment above (should you have skipped the part about the amount of land needed to successfully launch a big box BJs from their own literature:)

    But read BJ’s own publicly available literature from their SEC form 10-k regarding the land they typically use:
    “As of January 29, 2011, we operated 167 full-sized warehouse clubs that averaged approximately 114,000 square feet and 22 smaller format warehouse clubs that averaged approximately 73,000 square feet… Including space for parking, a typical full-sized BJ’s club requires 13 to 14 acres of land. The smaller version typically requires approximately 8 acres.”

    This statement could be not be more clear. Your myopia is what is leading our Town government and what is leading to consistently disastrous results. Norwalk is not a town – it is a conglomeration of “good ideas” to BUILD, BUILD, BUILD in the wrong location irrespective of the community and its needs. And it shows. piberman often references the Grand List, if you read other opinions on these threads other than your own, and the increase in property taxes for Norwalk homeowners. The fact that people do not see Norwalk as a desirable place to live. The less than stellar educational possibilities for its youth, the lack of facilities/amenities to assist the aged and, for crying out loud, the absence of decent roads, access for pedestrians and, yes, bicycles as well as mis-managed assets such as Oak Hills hemorrhaging money on our dime. If this is your idea of successful urban planning, then Tim T, keep on pushing those oversized buildings on small lots creating neighborhood logjams. You will get to shop and to heck with the rest of us. Good for you.

  22. M Allen

    I tried pretty hard to use a direct quote from BJ’s since their words and this project are so incredibly at odds with each other. If you need the actual link, here it is. It is from their 2011 annual 10-K filed with the SEC.
    Tim, I completely agree with you that Norwalk needs to be open to retailers, including BJ’s. I am a member and travel to their Fairfield location so this one, which is about a mile from my home, is more than convenient. When I first heard they were coming to Norwalk, I cheered. But when I heard about the location, I couldn’t believe anyone would approve such a folly. It’s not BJ’s fault. Their store will do business. But you need to get your mind straight about who decides whether it is the right location or not from a zoning perspective. It isn’t BJ’s and whether they think it is the most suitable location or not isn’t the answer. It is our city leaders who represent the public who are tasked with approving a project such as this.
    Again, I am 100% behind BJ’s coming to Norwalk. I can’t be any clearer about that. And I am 100% behind finding something logical to put on that dead zone superfund site. But a 109,000 square foot BJ’s warehouse club is not the right fit, both literally and metaphorically. I won’t even begin to try comparing this to any other development in the city, actual or potential. BJ’s and this location isn’t an all or nothing deal. BJ’s wants to be in Norwalk. It is good for their business. Norwalk should want BJ’s as well. But Norwalk doesn’t need BJ’s at this location. We should be working hard to find a suitable location, not just try and cram them into a spot that nobody else seems to want.
    And by the way, Tim, I agree with you. It will be built. No developer in his right mind would buy a site like this without knowing that all their ducks were lined up ahead of time. But it still needs to be said.

  23. NorwalkSage

    M Allen and Suzanne, you are entitled to oppose BJ’s but your argument that their own literature contradicts the Main St proposal is flawed. Yes, they describe “typical” properties in the SEC filing. Surprise, the SEC filing also fails to include Superfund cleanup sites as “typical” BJ’s locations. Building stores which are not “typical” can be good for both business and consumers.

  24. Suzanne

    Maybe for business and consumers and not for neighborhoods or roadways or adjacent businesses or community-based businesses or traffic patterns or….. When the business owner, BJ’s describes something as “typical” and the City’s own plan states that a 10,000 square foot building would be the most appropriate for the site, how is 103,000 square feet of building footprint on the site make any sense? How does 700 plus more cars in a corridor already jammed with traffic? And as I believe I have made clear (and I think M Allen too though it would be inappropriate to speak for another), no one is against the BJ’s in this particular argument. Just the poor planning leading to a behemoth that will adversely affect not only the main corridor of traffic in front of the store but the adjacent neighborhoods. It is not that this is an “atypical” store, it is the wrongheadedness of the planning that puts this particular BJ’s at this wrongheaded location.

  25. Tim T

    From my comment above (should you have skipped the part about I am sure that the professionals at store planning at BJ’s know more about making an exception than you do or I do

  26. Tim T

    I agree with you 100 percent. What these “few” that oppose this don’t seem to realize is most if not all location do not fit into a cookie cuter . When the store is built and a year or so passes “everyone” will forget about these issues that are not issues.

  27. Suzanne

    I don’t know Tim T, I think that in a contest between money and quality of life, money would win with these so-called “planners” every time. They may know more about how to build their stores in a too-small space but, ultimately, their interest is in the fine art of capitalism and NOT the neighborhood or town in which they plan on making more money. That’s why it is good for the constituency to speak up and remind the elected and non-elected members participating in this process (where the public only gets input at the very last) what they are there for, i.e., to be of service to the taxpayer. Money being the prime motivator is not always what is best for the community, expert or no expert.

  28. Debora

    To the Rolling Ridge member I met in city hall, here is the info:

    NEXT  MEETING IS MONDAY, AUGUST 26, 7:00pm, CITY HALL, ROOM 101 (please note our new time)

    The monthly meeting of the Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations (CNNA) is Monday, August 26, at 7:00pm at Norwalk City Hall, Meeting Room 101. Please note new time.

    Agenda will be published the week before. Member associations are encouraged to attend, and all Norwalk residents are always welcomed.


  29. piberman

    To Norwalk Sage:

    The issue is not opposition to BJ’s – Norwalk has dozens of Big Boxes so one more is no big deal. The real issue here is siting BJ’s on a busy section of Rt. 7 that’s already heaviy congested throughout the day and that once sited BJ’s will encourage still more Big Boxes thereby making lower Rt. 7 a replica of western Rt. 1 – Norwalk’s Big Box mecca.

    Moreover, the opposition to the BJ siting on Rt. 7 is not an attack on Mayor Moccia. BJ’s hired Attorney Zullo, former Democrat Mayor, precisely because Attorney Zullo has an unparralleled record of successfully guiding Big Box sitings before the P&Z. There’s every reason to believe that both the Mayor and Common Council approve the BJ siting on Route 7 as a positive development.

    The larger issue is that both Republican and Democrat administrations in Norwalk have supported Big Box development making Norwalk lower Fairfield County’s “Big Box city”.
    So far the evidence over the past 30 years supports the general conclusion of a very large professional literature that Big Box development sharply reduces the number of previously competing small businesses, generates only low wage jobs, provides only modest tax levies on their warehouse buildings lowers surrounding residential property values, discourages corporate park development and has pronounced traffic congestion and negative “external” environment effects, e.g. pollution, noise.

    The issue is a good one to discuss because Norwalk has a substantial supply of under or unused industrial zoned lands left over from its hayday as a major manufacturing City. And many argue that Big Box is better than vacant lands. But, and its a big but, after the huge success of Merritt 7, the P&Z has enacted restricted zoning that precludes corporate park development along Rt. 1. As does the City’s much higher property taxes required to fund the highest municipal worker salaries in the state of any city.

    Finally, its worth noting that in Norwalk’s “Golden Years” we did just fine without any Big Box save grocery stores. At day’s end Norwalk does have a stagnant Grand List and for all its presumed virtues another Big Box won’t make a real dent. So its not political attacks against BJ’s just where BJs proposes to be located. That’s the real deal here.

  30. Silverminer

    The building includes other businesses along with BJs. It is out of scale as anyone who has seen the model with agree. The owner is not/ and will not be BJs (forget any conveyance tax). It is the responsibility of the owner, not the person leasing the building to clean up the site. So regardless of this particular BJs plan, it has to be cleaned up. This plan will set precedents for zoning that are not good for our city on so many levels.I wonder why we still have a hole in the ground right on 95. It would be a much better plan to have BJs there. Most of the opposition for BJs is about the lack of following a master plan for the city. I was under the impression that we pay the redevelopment agency to do real long term planning. We need to stop whoring the city out because we think we have no options.

  31. To anyone who has the money to waist on a lawyer to impose their views on others…

    I personally find it rather amusing that people are coming out of the woodwork and hiring attorneys to fight a wholesale club. The people in our community who can’t afford lawyers to try and force their points of view on others are the ones who need something like this BJ’s in the first place. Funny how all these stuffed shirts said nothing when a liquor store the size of a Wal-mart opened on route 7 and offered state minimum pricing. Guess if it is something that they value it’s okay, right?

    As far as the argument that route 7 being to busy, if memory serves wasn’t the route 7 connector suppose to go all the way to interstate 84? Folks who had way to much time and money on their hands did the same exact thing back then. They hired lawyers and screwed the whole thing up, now we are all stuck with the repercussions of their shortsightedness. If the BJ’s makes it so I spend an extra 5 minutes in traffic but in exchange gives me a place to save a few hundred dollars on things I need to survive then so be it.

    – Scoutmaster

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