Norwalk neighbors gird for future BJ’s battle

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“Do they start with where they left off or, having withdrawn that application, do they have to go back to square one?”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.”

Norwalk BJs 059
The BJ’s that was proposed for Main Avenue would be “cheek by jowl” with the road, Attorney Frank Zullo said. Longtime Norwalk activists suspect the application may be submitted again.

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.”


16 responses to “Norwalk neighbors gird for future BJ’s battle”

  1. RU4REEL

    Solution, vote Moccia out problem solved!

  2. Suzanne

    It’s shocking that these studies as mentioned above are NOT required reading for all affected commissions and the Council. Why, then, do any studies at all if not to be consulted by the very decision makers they most affect? And, unfortunately, I think Diane Cece is right: these commission involved in the BJ’s process were NOT working for the Town of Norwalk. They were working for the mayor, just as HE likes it. There is a serious misplacement of mission among these commissions and the council who have universally forgotten their roles as public servants.

  3. EDR

    Zoning regulations were developed to protect the private propert rights of the community at large. They were instituted as a local right by the Connecticut State legislature in 1929. The body of case law in this state is vast and very specific in terms of what can and cannot be done in terms of declining a specific development. It is not as easy to navigate the waters of zoning as folks on this page would lead you to believe. Education about the process is important first. Just saying.

  4. M Allen

    I’m glad to hear NASH is fighting the issues not the developer or the business itself. At least one has some common sense and isn’t out to just block the business because they don’t like the business. It’s all about the issues and if you want to push your anti-business, anti-box store agenda, go somewhere else. In this case there were a number of legitimate issues to focus on, but none more important than traffic. Traffic on Main Avenue is not a NIMBY issue. Light and sound and whatever else constitutes pollution for people who live next to a commercial area may be NIMBY, but support for their cause will be low. Significant increases in traffic on a major commercial and commuter artery effects more than just those who live in the immediate area. And in the case of BJ’s on lower Main Avenue, traffic was the topic to hammer on.
    Further, quit falling back on the recommendations. They have obviously not been accepted and codified. Go fight that battle and get the zoning regs changed if you want to keep spouting off about those recommendations. I’m tired of hearing about the fact that commissioners aren’t using the study. Not all studies or recommendations within studies come to fruition. I’ve read most of what Mike Mushak has posted regarding that study, and quite frankly, it would leave southern Main Avenue looking no better than the crap heap it resembles now. No matter what happens, Main Avenue needs to be upgraded in terms of its throughput capacity. Whether BJ’s or Whole Foods or the land of 10,000sf structures dots the landscape from Norwalk to Wilton, Main Avenue will continue to increase in traffic and congestion.
    Finally, if you don’t like the fact that commissioners work with the Mayor, then you know what your options are. Quit acting like you don’t understand politics. Commissioners are political appointees, appointed and confirmed by elected officials. I’m quite certain the commenters on NON are intelligent enough to not need a civics lesson on how that works. But stop making it out to be some nefarious cabal. Its politics and its no different under any party. They both push agendas. But its only nefarious, inappropriate and uncivil when the outcome isn’t to your liking. When it goes in your favor, it is a fair and equitable administration of governance.

  5. robert larsen

    I have only been following this BJ boondoggle for several weeks now, because the whole thing was kept from the public until that time. That very fact is devious and politically motivated, obviously, and intended to serve the interests of the land owner and the developer, and also obviously, the interests of the Mayor and his “business is the business of America” fellow travelers.

    Mr. Allen’s various jeremiads against any and all who question the safety and sanity of the BJ project reflect the sad reality of the political climate in the US at the moment. It’s all politics, says he. Well, as I say, that is obvious. The fact that anything is “all politics” is the reason why we have states’ rights/ property rights extremeists who claim that it’s my land and I can do anything I want with it and everyone else can go to hell. It’s why nothing gets done about gun violence in the gun crazed country and mass shootings have become the new normal. It’s why the politicized climate debate is also stalled and nothing is getting done to forstall ultimate disaster for the planet. Mr. Allen says get real and get over it, while Rome burns and “business as usual” prevails.

    I was at the Silvermine Tavern gathering and had intended to be present at the City Hall event, until the BJ application was pulled. The possibility that an application for the same or another big box store on that site may pop up again in the future does not fill me with delight. Will the powers that be ignore the studies again and will we have to fight this fight yet again?

    We beat back the monster interchage at the Merrit Parkway and Main Avenue, to our credit. For the moment, the further degradation of the lower Main Street corridor has been thwarted, also to our credit.

    Hat’s off to MIke Mushak and Nancy Meany and NASH and all my Silvermine neighbors and those on the eastern side of Main Avene, who care about our quality of life, our property values, and the legacy we pass on to our kids.

  6. EveT

    What is the “Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations”? How does one join? Are their meetings open to anyone? I’m not aware of a neighborhood association in my neighborhood.

  7. Anna Duleep

    @EveT: CNNA meetings are open to the public. CNNA bylaws limit voting rights to one vote per neighborhood group. Generally, a neighborhood association will designate a member to attend CNNA meetings. If you’re note sure whether there is an association advocating for your neighborhood, you may want to attend a CNNA meeting (4th Monday of the month at City Hall) and ask. There may be a defunct neighborhood group that needs help with outreach.

  8. M Allen

    @Robert Larsen,
    Rome isn’t burning and things aren’t as bad as some would make them out to be. If anything, the hyperbole and making mountains out of every molehill are what is keeping groups from reaching common ground. It’s an all or nothing, zero sum game mindset that permeates every level of government and the media that is used to educate the public. Every disagreement becomes the new “red line” that cannot be crossed. That is why nothing gets done. The act of compromise has been abandoned by too many.
    For the record, I was against BJ’s at THIS location, probably for many of the same reasons you were. In fact, I think I may have been the first person to write a letter to the editor, published in the Hour on June 7th, the day after their application was announced on June 6th. I just don’t agree with the crowd that would stand against BJ’s (or similar businesses) at ANY location in Norwalk. Norwalk is a very diverse city and as such should be open to a diverse business environment where it makes sense. It didn’t make sense here, but it might make sense in another location. But at least I am willing to look at crazy things like details in making that decision, as opposed to just thinking about my own personal little microcosm and agenda.

  9. Oldtimer

    Mr Allen, and others, have let the word “politics” degenerate into a bad word that seems to suggest that all the power is in the hands of a few “politicians” and the rest of us are, therefore, powerless.
    We have just witnessed a demonstration of the fact that politics, in this country, at least, is entirely based on the will of the people. Nothing is more powerful than the will of the people when well expressed by a small group of dedicated citizens. As long as we listen to their voices when they disagree with the an administration there is a future for democracy. If we are not happy with an administration, all it takes is to get out enough like-minded voters to effect a change.

  10. M Allen

    On the contrary, I do not use the word politics in a negative manner. Being a realist and someone willing to work within the prevailing structure, I use it under its most basic definition: “the activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, esp. the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power.”

  11. piberman

    Lets take the high road. BJ’s has just been “tabled”. The good news is that the capabilities of the P&Z are now visible for all too see. Lets hope that both Mayor Moccia and the Common Council will now see that the P&Z needs be “upgraded” with more capable leadership and skill sets. The acid test is whether under a more capable P&Z the Commission discussions will be more thoughtful and have the confidence of the public.
    If that happens when the proposal is resubmitted then this will be a “learning moment” for the community. If not then pehaps the public needs rethink the wisdom of re-electing Council members for decades and decades. It’s unfair at this point to stick it to Mayor Moccia. After all its the Council that approves appointments. They have the power.
    So there’s still some potential for a favorable outcome. Most residents would not protest another Big Box in a more suitable geography. Some will protest any Big Boxes.
    Most are proably indifferent. At day’s end P&Z decisions are bloody important. What BJ’s has simply done is to illustrate the fairly obvious limitations of the current P&Z.
    That Attorney Zullo didn’t see the protests is surprising given his record of accomplishment. BJ’s has highlighted a so far fairly uninteresting mayoral compaign.

  12. The Whole Truth

    As I’ve posted previously, residents need to remain vigilant. I applaud the Associations of Rolling Ridge and Silvermine Homeowners for their efforts to stop this bad idea. Not only did this incident expose that an independent city department is now just a place to dump cronies of Moccia, but it also reflects Norwalk’s lack of an economic development plan. If it’s based on retail, that’s shortsighted. We need to attract businesses that are growing, such as technology, that pay higher salaries and increase our tax base. Costco and other big box stores promise meager wages with no benefits and no growth. The only way to get Norwalk back on the right track is to retire Mayor Moccia this November. Time for him to start exploring retirement communities in Florida!

  13. The Whole Truth

    Correction: BJ’s, not Costco. Costco pays their employees a living wage with benefits.

  14. Pete Repeat

    BJ’s doesn’t know who they’re messing with– don’t they know that Messrs. Hempstead and Kimmel opposed their application as soon as it was withdrawn.
    Word is that Kimmel discovered the BJ’s was planning to sell rooster and bumblebees and that’s what got his dander up.

  15. Don’t Panic

    This just in from Florida: We have enough big box stores. No need to send Mr. Moccia our way.
    JK. 😉

  16. Oldtimer

    There are recurring stories about an out-of-state retirement home for Moccia, but they are not in Florida. Well south of Connecticut, but not in Florida, maybe in one of the Carolinas.

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