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Norwalk seeks thoughts on industrial zones, gets complaints

A screengrab from the results page for the City’s industrial zone survey, showing the most divisive question so far. Green means “agree,” red means “disagree,” gray means “passed/unsure” and white means “didn’t vote.”

NORWALK, Conn. — Ever taken a survey where you submit the questions? Well, you can now.

The City is seeking its residents’ opinions on its industrial zoning. The survey, posted by the consulting firm Utile, had less than 50 statements up for a vote but the total is up to 185 Wednesday evening.

The idea is, participants add their own statements. Then others agree, disagree or pass.

“The intent of the survey is to get feedback on peoples’ thoughts and concerns related to industrial zones, the uses allowed and the types of businesses that should be targeted,” Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin said in an email. “It is not your typical survey which asks questions and total the results.  It is meant to be an interactive discussion where the response changes based on responses.  In addition, people can track and view the conversation as it unfolds.  The survey runs through the end of the year.”

The City is fishing and here’s an example of the bait:

  • “Norwalk should take on industrial development so Westport, New Canaan, Wilton, and Darien can reap the benefits without the burdens”

 

Do you agree? Disagree? Or pass?

 

A different perspective

The City hired the Boston-based consulting firm Utile in June to shed a “fresh set of eyes on the city,” in the words of Common Council member Darlene Young (D-District B), who helped select the company as the winner of a $100,000 contract. Rather than folks with a long history of working with Norwalk, Utile is a new to the city, she said.

“Everybody else seemed to have a very similar formula on how they were going to pursue the project,” Kleppin said, during the June discussion. “And I think it would have ended up with it with a good end product, but Utile was approaching it a little bit differently in terms of how they, you know, vision the study going, in terms of some different outreach methods, as well as what they thought the outcomes could be.”

It’s time to look at, “’What do we want to use these zones for going forward? What’s the best use of land? Where should we draw the boundaries for these zones? How do we differentiate some of these uses in there? Are there better ways to handle the conflicts we have between the residential neighborhoods and, and the commercial uses?’” he said. “And one of the goals is to not drive businesses out of Norwalk. It’s just a way that we can best utilize the land going forward and hopefully accommodate all the businesses that want to locate to Norwalk.”

Kleppin said he was hoping the drive would come up with good ideas and not generate contention.

 

The feedback so far

Nearly 400 people have voted, as of 1 a.m. Thursday. While some of the resultant statements pertain to Zoning, many are off topic and it’s clear that East Norwalk is taking the opportunity to protest the Norden Place proposal. There are also objections to the Connecticut Department of Transportation’s plan to use Manresa Island as a construction site for the Walk Bridge project.

Originally, there were statements like:

  • The current mix of businesses in the industrial areas is good for the city.”
  • Restricting truck operations to the most important times of day might address many of the conflicts between residents and businesses.”
  • Any additional restrictions on industrial businesses will make it difficult for them to operate successfully.”

 

 

Now there are many like:

  • No more bike lanes where the road isn’t wide enough.”
  • Tax relief imperative for flood affected properties”
  • Norwalk since 1966 has NEVER made roadway development investment!!”
  • WHAT WILL THE REPLACEMENT POLICE CRUISERS LOOK LIKE NEXT YEAR??!! JUST KEEP TRYING UNTIL SOMEONE SAYS STOP!! STOP PARKING BEHIND BUILDINGS!!”
  • We have enough shoddy condominiums and apartment buildings. Too much traffic with big box developments. We need more green areas.”

 

And:

  • Norden Systems employed over 3,000 individuals. What was Not in Norwalk at the time was Over Development of CONDOS throughout the City!!”
  • The idea of a truck depot in a residential area is pure insanity!”
  • The Norden site should not be developed into a shipping hub. That many trucks in a residential area is nuts!”
  • This is another example why Norwalk is the red headed stepchild in Fairfield County!”
  • 160 tractor trailer trucks per day on skinny East Ave? No thank you.”

 

So how will the off-beat feedback be factored into a study on industrial zones?

“I think the overall structure of the survey tries to account for that,” Will Cohen of Utile said in an email, explaining:

  1. Comments that aren’t applicable to most people who fill out the survey will have a higher number of people choosing ‘pass / unsure’ instead of agree or disagree, and those comments get pushed toward the bottom of the pile.”
  2. Comments that are duplicative tend to have the same result, since people will eventually start to pass on comments that seem repetitive, so we don’t need to worry as much about one viewpoint crowding out the other perspectives.”
  3. Comments, on the other hand, that may be applicable to everyone but only a subset agree with will be used to help divvy up the total set of respondents into more accurate groups.”

 

Utile’s survey is grouping participants into “A” or “B,” based on their responses. There’s no clear label on what the grouping means, but the report page allows you to see results:

  • The 122 people in group “A” agree with statements like “There needs to be a balance between working (industrial) and residential. Hopefully the two can coexist.”
  • The 213 people in group “B” agree with statements like, “Industrial sites should not be permitted anywhere where commercial trucks must travel on residential streets to reach I-95” and “Why should Norwalk house industrial zones that benefit the residents of other towns but cause blight here?”

 

A majority of participants passed on these statements:

  • Firetree opened on Quintard without an adequate definition of halfway house. The City testified 6 times that there is no permit. Camacho.” (70% skipped it.)
  • I’m not sure what more evidence you need than the DoT manresa issue” (69% skipped it.)
  • Too much new construction on Aiken street.” (72% skipped it.)

 

 

Kleppin, in early December, said Utile has also been conducting interviews with area stakeholders “on what they see in terms of industrial growth, the challenges, the opportunities, issues with land use regulations, issues, they may have the city how the city could help more.”

The consulting team will consult the Harbor Management Commission, the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency and other groups, he said. “That’s all going to be occurring while we’re starting to rewrite Zoning regulation. So the outcomes from that study will feed right into the broader zoning analysis that we’re going to do over the next 18 months.”

2 comments

Red headed movie star December 17, 2020 at 11:59 am

I went to the zoning map and could not find key to color Legend-any hints as to what and or where it is? Thank you.

Michael McGuire December 17, 2020 at 2:11 pm

Thoughts on the Industrial zone? Start by changing the zoning laws to reflect our strengths.

Industrial uses in the Southwestern Fairfield County area are not practical due to two main reasons – the cost of labor and the cost of land. Why locate here when central/eastern CT is full of low-cost industrial options, both hi and low tech, and boosts an excellent skilled workforce at a lower price point.

But what is in very high demand here are small contractor yards suitable for the trades – a quarter acre +/- lot with a garage or two on site. However, this type of property is in very short supply and commands a very high premium when they transact. The reason for such high demand is, and has been, the steady and systematic reduction of industrial zoned land (the only place you are generally allowed to have contractor yards) for alternative, more profitable uses – apartment housing comes to mind. SoNo is a great example of this.

Reading NoN for years I’ve noticed that contractors operating out of residential neighborhoods are problematic for Norwalk with many complaints by the neighboring property owners. But poor planning has literally forced the contractors into the residential neighborhoods.

One possible solution (and killing two birds with one stone) is to modify the Restricted Industrial (RI) zone which requires a minimum lot size of 1 acre. This lot size issue creates an impossible hurdle for the trades – they can’t afford it.

Lucky for us, a very large part of Martin Luther King Blvd is RI zoned. It’s now home to underutilized, larger industrial properties (see paragraph two). It could/should be a thriving home for the many contractors and trades that need space (see paragraph four). Additional benefits – more good paying jobs and an increase in the grand list.

This will not chase away hi-tech manufacturing.

Play to your strengths, not your dreams.

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