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Norwalk P&Z Gets First Look at New Plans for Vacant Main Avenue Site

A look at one of the three structures proposed for 272-280 Main Avenue.

What was thought to be the future site of a large big-box store—presumably BJ’s—might now be home to a coffee shop, drive-thru restaurant, retail space, and 10 apartments. But Norwalk Planning and Zoning Commissioners expressed skepticism over the latest iteration for the Main Avenue site, with one calling the new proposal “underwhelming.”

The Commission got its first look at the latest proposal for 272-280 Main Avenue on Wednesday. For years, the site has been referred to as the BJ’s site, after an initial proposal dating back to 2013. Next, the Commission approved plans for a 100,000 square-foot retail development called “The Village” in 2017, but that approval expired in 2023.

Approval for The Village had been appealed numerous times by residents concerned about the impact of the development, particularly the traffic it would bring to the area. 

Attorney Liz Suchy, representing the applicant, described the latest plans to develop the site with three independent structures: a 2,200 square-foot coffee shop, a 2,200 square-foot restaurant with a drive-thru, and an 18,000 square-foot building with 10 apartments and retail space on the bottom. 

Some renderings of the proposed site.

But commissioners and city staff expressed skepticism over that plan.

“This is one of the few spots in this city that has yet to be developed,” Commissioner Nick Kantor said. “It’s got a lot of potential, and we’re ending up with three pretty small buildings at the end of the day.”

Kantor said he was surprised that this is what the developer would like to do with the site.

Commissioner Richard Roina said he was curious as to why the developer put forward the “underwhelming application.”  

“It’s a challenging site,” Suchy said.

The property is the former home of ELINCO (Electric Indicator Co.) and is a Superfund site that was put on the national priority list in 1984. It was declared ready for reuse in September 2020. There’s a groundwater treatment building on the site, which Suchy said would remain, and access to it would be maintained.

A rendering of the potential restaurant on site.

She also said that this new plan is what the “interest in the market is.” 

Bryan Baker, the city’s principal planner, said the site was mainly made up of a lot of parking and questioned some of the applicant’s traffic plans. Suchy said that based on their counts, they wouldn’t need to add a traffic light in front of the property. 

But Baker said that if the retail component was to become popular, as with a Starbucks and a Trader Joe’s, that could draw more traffic.

“Sometimes what’s in the ITE [traffic] manual doesn’t line up with reality,” he said, offering as an example the Chick-Fil-A site on Connecticut Avenue, which recently was reconfigured for at least the second time to address traffic challenges.  

This was just a preapplication review by the commission. It voted unanimously to have a peer review traffic study done, the next step.

The applicant and the proposal will come back before the board for a full review, with more detailed plans and discussion. Commissioners emphasized that they wanted to hear from the applicant about why they are putting forth this proposal.  

“I’d love to have that conversation,” Kantor said. “It feels like such a unique parcel.” 

Comments

12 responses to “Norwalk P&Z Gets First Look at New Plans for Vacant Main Avenue Site”

  1. Lee Levey

    Architecturally Underwhelming. The site deserves much better design in such a prominent location on Main Avenue. This also raises the question of can apartments be built over a polluted brown field site?

  2. David Muccigrosso

    So just one big wall with no doors or businesses on the ground floor… this is insane.

    Prosperity comes from density of options, not just population density.

  3. Laura Lamorte

    I am a long-time owner and resident of a condo complex abutting the proposed development, and I was one of many stakeholders involved in the movement to deny approval of the “BJs/Village” project of yore, including many from NASH. A number of my neighbors and I breathed a sigh of relief when we read in The Hour last week that the site will finally be developed and that the plan seems to be more in scale with the area and needs of the surrounding communities.

    My hopes were somewhat dashed when I attended Wednesday evening’s zoom. I was alarmed to hear several of the commissioners seemingly advocate for a more super-sized version, despite Attorney Suchy’s explanation that the site is challenging due to its former status as an environmental hazard and the requirement for ongoing monitoring.

    With respect, was it appropriate for Commissioners Kantor, Roina, and Bryce to nudge the developers in this manner just when the project appears to be of a moderate scale that would be more acceptable to the abutting and surrounding residential communities? @LeeLevey, I don’t remember Commissioner Roina saying that it appears “architecturally” underwhelming. He simply said the plan was “underwhelming,” following in the footsteps of Kantor, who referred to the “small” buildings and who said that there was so much more potential. AARGH!

    There was also discussion about the 10 apartments that are to be located over the 19K sq ft building, with one Commissioner asking why more aren’t planned. No one questioned whether or not residential apartments are suitable for a former SuperFund site. Can we assume that P&Z has already checked this? Does this require EPA approval? It would have been good to have addressed this.

    The Main Norwalk LLC representatives reviewed the architectural renderings and where the watercourse flows across the property. This is assumedly the watercourse into which the Rolling Ridge Condominiums’ pond and protected wetland flows. Disturbance of this by a larger development could become problematic. I assume that the Conservation Commission had already taken that into consideration and I wanted confirmation of such, but my raised hand was never acknowledged. The Agenda noted that members of the public using zoom could provide live comments by clicking “raise your hand.” Would someone kindly explain why this protocol was overlooked?

    Let us not be doomed to re-live the conflicted history of 272-280 Main Ave. I hope I’m wrong about where some Commission members appear to be leaning. I hope they’re not in favor of an expansive project that would bring back the traffic, environmental, and noise concerns of the many neighboring communities. Only Commissioner Schulman appeared to be aware of this site’s past controversial history. Perhaps he and Director Kleppin can review that with the rest of P&Z. If there is a public hearing (Suchy suggested it was not necessary), the process is typically too far along and already approved. Please give all stakeholders an opportunity to engage with our Commission in advance of green-lighting each stage of the project.

  4. Ray Juodaitis

    Don’t shoehorn more into this space than this plan calls for. Traffic will choke us to death. “No need for a traffic light” , who is he kidding? “Underwhelming” is just what we need now. “More potential” and “I’d like to have that conversation” are vectors for the blind upselling of development that are making Norwalk the “no longer great place to live” that it’s always been.

  5. Tysen Canevari

    Rolling Ridge Condominium will complain no matter what goes in there. They always look for an excuse. Traffic, environmental, too big a building, blah blah blah. You bought a condo next to a super fund site and now that it is clean you want to dictate its development? They already wasted thousands in lawyers fighting it and the judge said no. Just give up. Maybe the new tenants on Main Ave should start complaining they look at your condo with zero upgrades since it was built in the 70’s!

    1. Liz Miraglia

      Tysen,
      Over the years Rolling Ridge has maintained its property well for the safety and comfort of its residents who are taxpaying citizens concerned about the quality of life not only in their complex but in all of Norwalk.
      Should any Norwalk homeowner “give up” on concerning issues as you suggest? Your advice to give up on the problems that will be caused by construction in such an already congested area is not a valid argument and hardly helpful.
      All town residents have seen traffic, air quality and noise problems increase due to continuing construction. Each and every Norwalker has a right to voice their opinion and to be heard without criticism.
      It might be time to direct developers of these shopping complexes and large apartment buildings to build in surrounding towns like Wilton, Westport, Darien and Greenwich.

      1. David Muccigrosso

        >>and to be heard without criticism

        Lol wut?

        That’s not how democracy works. We ALL get to criticize each other.

  6. William Morton

    the neighbors to this Super Fund Site should be glad that it is going to be covered by pavement and new soil.

  7. Laura Lamorte

    @WilliamMorton: yes, as I noted, “I breathed a sigh of relief when we read in The Hour last week that the site will finally be developed and that the plan seems to be more in scale with the area and needs of the surrounding communities..” And also that “the project appears to be of a moderate scale that would be more acceptable to the abutting and surrounding residential communities.”

  8. Kelly Wheeler

    My thinking is this spot would be good for a small IGA or Aldis market. After Stop & Shop, there really isn’t a grocery store south of S&S. There is a few little mom and pop bodegas I guess. A grocery store that’s not as large as say stop and shop like Aldis could be an anchor for smaller businesses to go into say the rest of the shopping center. I have posted this idea in comments on Facebook on different Norwalk local pages and there seems to be a liking to this idea. I’m surprised no one thought of it.

    1. Laura Lamorte

      @KellyWheeler, Main Ave Inc does not yet have tenants for the 3 structures, as per their team’s reporting at the meeting. They have a number of factors to consider in their proposal, including ongoing monitoring of a former SuperFund site, as per Attorney Suchy’s response to the commissioners, whose comments on what they feel is the “small” and “underwhelming” nature of the project were troubling to those of us who will be directly affected by the final plans for this project.

  9. walter o’reilly

    I’m all for a larger mixed use development, with the one caveat; widen Main Ave with left turn lanes and a full length center turn lane from the intersection below to the intersection above the site. So from Ward St to Linden/Perry. Otherwise traffic will be a nightmare and everyone will reroute to West Rocks Rd. With 3 schools on WR Rd we don’t need increased traffic.

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