Correction 4:19 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 24: Nancy Rosett’s name was misspelled in the original version of this story.
NORWALK, Conn. – The application for a BJ’s Wholesale Club has been pulled, but the forensic analysis continues for the defenders of Norwalk neighborhoods who were opposed to the project and, as in the past, frustrated by the process.
Zoning commissioners are at this point working for the mayor, not the public, one member of the Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations said Monday night. City staff probably knew about the application for a year before the general public became aware of it, said another. Being prepared for the possible resubmission of the application would be good, but focusing only on the traffic would be a mistake, said another.
The monthly CNNA meeting drew a few fresh faces to join the stalwart veterans of municipal conflicts.
Nancy Rosett, a West Rocks resident, wanted to know what would happen next.
“Do they start with where they left off or, having withdrawn that application, do they have to go back to square one?” she asked.
“You’ll be surprised how fast ‘second time around square one’ moves,” Diane Wittowski replied. “Square one turns into square 10 just like that. The blink of an eye.”
Diane Cece of the East Norwalk Association lamented the lack of time opponents had to research the situation.
“They have probably been working with our staff for over a year,” she said of BJ’s representatives. “… By the time we know it’s an application, we are so far behind the eight ball; by the time between it went from being an application to the time it would have been a public hearing it was almost overnight.”
She could identify with BJ’s, she said – if it were her application she wouldn’t want it to get out to the public either.
“We have to balance the needs of business with the needs of the community to know,” she said, as the group brainstormed ways to meet that challenge.
Cece and Heather Dunn, of the Norwalk Association of Silvermine Homeowners (NASH), based their timeline for city awareness of the BJ’s application on a proposed zoning regulation amendment that seemed designed to allow a big box store to go onto Connecticut Avenue and Main Avenue. The amendment was passed in July 2012, though not in its original form: It was limited to Connecticut Avenue, within .8 miles of Interstate 95 exit 14.
Lowe’s subsequently applied to build within that area. The application was approved.
Zoning Commissioner Adam Blank said he was not reappointed to the commission by Mayor Richard Moccia because the original version had not passed.
Dunn referred to Blank on Monday night.
“I remember going to the council meeting and hearing the mayor say ‘I can appoint whoever I want to appoint,’” she said. “He has appointed his people. … It is to some degree cynical of me, but they’re not working for us, they’re working for the mayor. We have to remember that piece of it.”
The department heads are also working for the mayor, she said.
Julie Burton of Rowayton Advocates for Zoning struck a similar note.
“When I moved here, when (Frank) Esposito was mayor, zoning might as well have not existed. I mean, they handed out variances like candy,” she said. “But that is what happens when you have one mayor for a really long time. Eventually all the appointees are consistent with that mayor’s point of view.”
But, she said, Attorney Frank Zullo had a point when he talked to abutters of the proposed project at the Norwalk Inn a week before the application was pulled.
“I felt Zullo made a good point,” she said. “Another thing you conceivably would not want at that space would be three or four or five little stores that generate a lot of traffic. … A Dunkin Donuts, a car wash and gas station in that space will be just as bad if not worse because of the traffic.”
Dunn said NASH did not oppose the BJ’s application, it opposed the traffic impact.
“We’re fighting the issue, not the developer,” she said.
But East Norwalk resident Deb Goldstein warned against focusing on traffic if there is another fight with BJ’s developers.
“If you hang it on traffic you’re going to get in a situation of dueling traffic studies and it’s only a matter of time and it’s almost besides the point when you’re talking about 109,000 square feet vs 10,000 square feet,” she said.
The conversation included references to the Plan of Conservation and Development and the Norwalk Transportation Management Plan, which cost the city $500,000. Dunn had been to Plan Review Committee meetings and said she was frustrated by the lack of awareness of those documents.
“(Zoning Commissioner) Mike Mushak was the only one who had read the studies,” she said. “They should be required to look at it to take it as part of the project. … But they don’t know what we were talking about. I had a zoning commissioner ask me afterwards what was this traffic study that they we were talking about. It should have to be part of the process, that it’s part of the review, part of the process.”