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Norwalk Zoners consider apartments for Frontier site

An artist’s rendering of the apartment complex planned for 10 Willard Road.

The Frontier facility at 10 Willard Road, set back from the street and behind another building.

NORWALK, Conn. — An apartment building and self-storage facility would replace the Frontier Communications site off Westport Avenue, in a plan under consideration by the Norwalk Zoning Commission.

The proposal for 10 Willard Road, up for a public hearing Thursday, features 219 apartments in a four-story building along with a four-story self-storage facility. This would be built within the current footprint of the Frontier-developed area and would designate up to 2 acres as conservation land. The existing transmittal tower would remain.

Developers say that as a courtesy to their residential neighbors, they’d like to leave some of the land in its current state as a natural undeveloped buffer. They would agree to this in exchange for a Zoning classification change, creating a conservation easement.

The applicant, 10 Willard LLC, was granted a change to Business No. 2 zoning last summer, to allow for the self-storage facility, the application states. The entity could build six townhouses along Strawberry Hill Avenue in the .85-acre B Residence Zone but has developed this idea instead.

Frontier currently has a warehouse used as a truck distribution center and maintenance facility on the 8.3-acre property, Attorney Adam Blank told the Zoning Commission on Feb. 6.

“The site is pretty much entirely asphalt with really no landscaping and we’re going to improve upon all of that part of this application,” he said. “…The plan doesn’t call for any expansion of development into the what I’ll call the under existing undisturbed- or tree lined-buffer… The apartment complex has 158 one-bedroom units, 61 two-bedroom units. There’ll be 22 workforce housing units, 16 one-bedrooms, six two-bedrooms, and those will be evenly dispersed.

“The vast majority of the parking structure is going to be really hidden from view,” he added. “And the site itself as you drive by is fairly hard to see from anywhere other than the site. When you’re on Westport Avenue, you’ve got the strip mall in front of it. And there’s some large trees sort of on the corner of Westport Avenue and Willard that block your view of the site. And then on the back side of the site, there’s a pretty steep grade that goes up towards Strawberry Hill along with the buffer with the trees that exists now, so it’s sort of its own little world back there.”

An artist’s rendering of the apartment complex planned for 10 Willard Road.

There’s essentially no landscaping now, but developers would remove invasive species and dead trees, he said. The landscape architect has “proposed 600 plantings in the buffer area and those will be native species. And then in addition to those, there’s roughly, like, 130 trees, including the arborvitae, that will go right outside of that buffer; 425 shrubs and 1,100 perennials and grasses are proposed for the project.”

Applicants plan a 2.1-acre conservation area but there’s some back and forth with the Conservation Commission about whether it should be 1.6 acres given the wetlands on the property, Blank said.

On Saturday, Blank wrote that he expects Zoning “will have us keep the full 2.1 acres as a buffer even if it is not all in an easement.”

So what about traffic?

The intersection of Westport Avenue and Willard Road has a traffic signal, and service will remain at a “B” level, according to Traffic Engineer Michael Gallante.

Level of service (LOS) is a term used to qualitatively describe the operating conditions of a roadway with a letter, A to F, with A representing the best operating conditions and F the worst.

“The increase in average vehicle delay for the intersection overall will be 0.4 and 1.2 seconds per vehicle during the weekday morning and weekday afternoon peak hours, respectively,” he wrote in his analysis.

Blank identified Jason Enters, Brian Dietz, and Steven Harvey as the developers behind 10 Willard LLC.

“Something that most people don’t realize about that Frontier facility, because it’s both a maintenance and parks facility, they have 150 people that come in, in the morning, and those people then leave,” Enters said. “That’s 60 percent of them (who) leave in vans and the other 35 percent leave in these trucks that you don’t see parking in the garage, but there are cranes on them. They come through there all day long.”

The study shows the intersection “operates fairly well” under the proposed scenario, and even with other redevelopment in a neighboring parcel, “operates up to levels of service, anywhere from A to D depending on the movement and turning movement and improvements and so on.” In the eyes of the Connecticut Department of Transportation and the City, “is operating at acceptable levels of service,” Gallante said.

The “D” is “on one of the approach turning movements,” so no change is needed to the traffic light, he said.

“There’s very little additional traffic generated from the site, all of which funnels out to Route 1, not to the neighborhood streets behind,” Blank said.

The cell tower is expected to be camouflaged by the parking garage, with the apartments designed to exclude views of that garage. Planned amenities include a pool, a rooftop patio, and a dog park.

The plan includes “four different-sized one-bedrooms and three different-sized two-bedrooms to directly address the affordability issue,” said Enters, who worked with M.F. Discala on the Head of the Harbor South development. “You know, a smaller unit is less expensive, and it makes it easier for somebody to get in there. And I think we’ve been very successful… it allows for a much more diverse community. And that’s what we want here.”

This article was corrected at 1 p.m. to show that Jason Enters is not part of M.F.DiScala, per DiScala CFO Alan Webber.

An artist’s rendering of the apartment complex planned for 10 Willard Road.

26 comments

Milly March 2, 2020 at 7:00 am

Is there no end to the am amount of apartments Norwalk wil allowed to be built? Plus after this snowless winter will there be enough water to make it thru the summer without a code red call?

DrewT March 2, 2020 at 8:01 am

NO MORE APARTMENTS IN NORWALK!!!!! WE DON’T NEED THEM!!!!! How about an actual community center for the kids?! Or something along those lines?! STOP WITH THE APARTMENTS!!!

Steve Mann March 2, 2020 at 1:26 pm

Interesting that developers all claim that “no additional traffic” will be added to city roads. And then we sit at two or three light changes to get past Strawberry Hill and Westport Ave, or Route 1 and East Ave. Anyone? How do you add 200+ apartments per development and not have traffic affected? Are these “magic” apartments?

Hey folks, at some point, ALL of your real estate values will be affected by congestion and over saturation. Condo owners are not safe from devaluation with inventory constantly rising.

Al Bore March 2, 2020 at 4:12 pm

What more apartments in Norwalk do we know how to do anything else? NO we do not that would require thought.

Nan Benning March 2, 2020 at 5:23 pm

Yes❣️ Community Center❣️ How do we create it? Fresh—and clear—vision is needed here. The community needs to witness what creativity can do.

Mike O'Reilly March 2, 2020 at 6:36 pm

This might be a great use of this property for 219 apartments and it might be scaled down. Hey it might not work at all for the developers. In which case we will find another developer with better terms. Land is finite and schools need more resources.

My biggest concern is the developers get no tax breaks whatsoever. We have experienced years of economic development people giving away the farm. They forget there is finite land for development and we give developers all these tax breaks to build. Like where else are they going to build multi family housing? Darien? Westport?

Norwalk was and is the best only location.
I hope the Common council will look at all incentives promised the developer or future developers and will work to eliminate any future giveaway’s
I had the honor of serving on Zoning with Adam Blank and during the Waypoint hearings, Way point kept pointing out how few students were attending our schools and Adam pointed out the obvious that it is likely over the coming years more kid’s from Waypoint would be attending Norwalk schools. Adam Please correct me if I am off base.

My proposal to The developers is you pay a additional $1000.00 per unit for future school resources $219,000.00 Preparing for increased classroom size and making our schools more sustainable. This should apply to all developers looking to add additional apartments in Norwalk going forward

KT March 2, 2020 at 6:41 pm

Great idea, but please don’t make the 1 BR the size of a shoebox. More than 650 sq ft. Should start at 700 sq ft minimum. Folks like having 2 toilets in this day in age. 1 for guests a d 1 for the bedroom.

Bridgportize March 2, 2020 at 8:05 pm

With property tax increasing 5% alone this year to compensate for the city’s tax hike dependent hodgepodge commercial development, why are more apartments continuing to be built? It is astonishing and mind boggling that despite the massive amount of fortress style apartment complexes, big box stores and shopping mall development the city has endured, property taxes are now being raised at a faster pace than ever before. The city is becoming an embarrassment.

Ron Morris March 3, 2020 at 2:25 am

Bridgportize
You do realize that this is about Norwalk? Last year most of the city had a tax decrease and East Norwalk had a very small tax increase. Also you are the first to say that this year we will have a 5 percent tax increase.Please posts some links to back up your statements. Fact do matter.

Jo March 3, 2020 at 6:19 am

Who doesn’t want to live in “apartments designed to exclude [sic] views of that garage?!”
There’s a reason these developments look like prisons. Primarily, Norwalk tolerates and actually welcomes it!
@Ron Morris: Not sure where you’re hearing about taxes going down… Ours most certainly went up here in Silvermine, and the writing is on the wall for this year.

Bryan Meek March 3, 2020 at 6:30 am

400 pending lawsuits from the botched commercial revaluation is going to cost city $ millions to adjudicate. The result will even more massive in terms of lost revenue that will need to shift to homeowners, who got to enjoy on average a $150 tax break for one year while their home values plummeted another $50k.

My commercial property taxes went up 150% in one year on a 50 year old building with no improvements. If you think commercial property owners aren’t going recover this obscene shift in tax burden, you probably also think someone cares about this city more than their two pensions. The damage that has been done here is going to take over a decade to recover. And the push to give even more of our city away to preferred developers is not slowing down, nor is there any interest in protecting the quality of life from congestion, illegal apartments, and anyone from anywhere from clogging up our beaches and parks.

David M March 3, 2020 at 7:23 am

I would like to know the property tax that this building would pay. My property taxes for a 1 bedroom in Norwalk are over $3000 per year. I find it hard to believe that they would pay over $650k a year in property taxes. What a loss to the city. More people moving in and less tax dollars to pay for the “services” Way to go Norwalk.

Norwalk mom March 3, 2020 at 8:49 am

I have lived off of Wolfpit Ave since 1993. The traffic crossing over Westport Ave from Strawberry Hill Ave has grown exponentially awful. Currently we have cars parking from the current apartment building almost to the stop sign along Strawberry Hill, narrowing that road, nightly. We have cars exiting the gas station into Strawberry Hill at that light. Now you want to create an apartment complex adding 200+ apartments where you can estimate the residents will add one to two cars, per apartment, daily pulling into Strawberry Hill traffic patterns to get to the light?!!
I say absolutely not!
When the Westport Ave and Strawberry Hill Ave intersection was just redone no allowance was made for a left turn signal. When trying to navigate that intersection now, with cars waiting to turn left onto Westport Ave, it sometimes take 3 light cycles (often with a walk light intermixed) to get across to the other side of Strawberry Hill. As someone who has to travel that route daily, often multiple times per day, I empathically say NO to more apartments. The intersections are not designed to withstand potentially 400 more cars – 3x the amount of traffic the Frontier trucks claim they currently add.

Patrick Cooper March 3, 2020 at 9:44 am

Ct is experiencing an exodus of residents – many of them long-time Nutmegger’s. We have been among the worst states in the country relative to population trends. Within CT – Fairfield county is somewhat less affected.

https://www.governing.com/topics/mgmt/gov-states-losing-population-census.html

The CT political machine only works when the bills can be paid, and the favors can be awarded. That is the case for any political party. So what CT needs is bodies – any bodies – to help generate the “revenue” required. Lamont wants big time population growth in the cities. The two that he knows best – Norwalk & Stamford – also have the proximity to the NYC jobs. Jobs that are not being developed in CT. That’s a whole different story.

So – in order to house individuals – they need rooms. Not houses – rooms. There simply isn’t enough open space to build single family residential – and – the price tag is unaffordable to many.

But make no mistake – Norwalk is only interested in pleasing the state, and their developer friends (and lawyers). Not Norwalk taxpayers or residents. Norwalk is looking for ANY KIND of development – and guess what – developers know this. Right now – apartments are a good project – they maximize the number of “rooms” on a piece of property – get the city to offer them incentives to do so – pay little to none of the infrastructure work needed to make it happen – and bear little to none of the long terms costs – like sewage, water, and city service support, after they are built. No – typically – Developers sell the project as quickly as possible (to a REIT, or whomever is buying). Like the Mall did. Like why Waypoint is for sale. It’s smart business – for the developer.

This administration seems to only know the 3 “R’s” – Redevelopment Agency, Renters, and Retail. There seems to be no interest in anything else. Like POKO – these nightmare city deals can drag on for a decade.

Do the math. Since Harry has been mayor (2013) – how many apartments have been built? Versus – how many businesses have relocated to Norwalk – with high paying jobs? Those apartments – how many more are in the construction phase? The planning phase? The zoning approval stage? Ask yourself – how many apartments are there in Norwalk? Is every single one of them at 100% capacity? Is there truly “no vacancy”? It has been argued population attracts jobs. Bridgeport, New Haven, Waterbury, and Hartford totally rebut that theory.

This is about zoning laws that leave the city vulnerable. Harry knows this – it’s why he has never “fixed” them, as he promised to do in 2013. This is about a mayor who is playing monopoly with your money, but – can’t seem to address his grand list illusions. Fund the BOE ask? Is the rainy day fund going to be there when it actually rains? Who pays for our imported poverty?

@Mike O’Reilly – you have the right idea. Developers have limited options – so it would be “smart” if Norwalk understood that value – and negotiated a better deal for the city – not just lay down and accept the first offer. There is power in the decision – NO. The $1,000 you note would pay for about 10 kids – in 219 rooms? No – this is why we need not only a new “city management” team – we need a whole new philosophy.

Bridgportize March 3, 2020 at 12:22 pm

Ron – Yes. Facts do matter and the city is becoming a textbook case of the downfalls of municipal development without adequate planning. Revenues are failing by 8 million dollars to adequately fund schools despite a nearly 5% pending tax hike. Alarming to say the least.

The development is also failing to calm anxieties for adequate school funding or ease property owners financial burdens with another large tax hike amidst a decade long stagnation in real estate values. The election year tax hike suppression game is also getting old – notice how minimal mill rate increases occur during election years? Just saying

Here is a link for the facts you are seeking:

“Under the current budget recommendation, the average tax increase would be about $329 or a 4.65 percent increase.”

https://www.thehour.com/news/article/Common-Council-passes-385-million-budget-cap-15084725.php

Adam Blank March 3, 2020 at 1:58 pm

Let me add some facts to some of the above comments. Norwalk has not offered this developer any tax subsidies. The property currently generates roughly $100k per year in tax revenue. Once completed, the City will tax the property approx. $1M per year. This development team recently constructed a similar apartment and self storage complex on CT Ave. That was smaller and generated 2 school kids (who were already in Norwalk public schools). This project will probably generate 8 or so school kids. The additional tax revenue from the project will far, far, outweigh the cost of any added students.

I strongly support the BOE and Zoning office putting together actual numbers of school kids generated by the new apartment complexes. The data should specify if the students are coming from workforce units or market rate units and whether the students are new to Norwalk or have just relocated within Norwalk. I expect the numbers will demonstrate these projects are not a major factor in the school population growth in Norwalk.

@Mike O – CT State law doesn’t allow a tax like you suggest; however, if you were really looking to add a premium tax to uses that create costs for the schools you would want a tax on single family homes because they create far more students per unit than multifamily.

Bryan Meek March 3, 2020 at 4:05 pm

2 kids are attending NPS from a storage facility? The demographics projections don’t last past day one. The market forces drop what rents can be had, then comes subsidized rents, then come children. It’s already happening in some of the buildings that have come on line recently.

This already happened in New Rochelle and they are beginning to tear down these cheaply built fortress apartments now they threw up a few decades ago.

At least New Rochelle was getting revenues from Albany.

Our apartment dwellers pay below market real estate taxes via their rents to the owners, then all of their NYC sourced income gets taxed by Albany. Zero goes to Hartford and even less than that comes back to Norwalk. It’s insane and needs to stop.

Mike O'Reilly March 3, 2020 at 5:06 pm

I am so glad to hear Norwalk will not be offering any tax subsidies.
@adamblank- You wisely pointed out at The Waypoint hearings as a zoning commissioner there is a strong likely hood of increased student population in the future. It is a obvious conclusion. Just as at this property with 219 new homes it is likely we will have more than 8 students in the school system.I think the idea of yet another tax on homeowners is dead on arrival for so many reasons.

We know when a new family moves to town we can expect two to three children registering for school. When 219 people move into town at once we have no idea what to expect in four years. Could be eight or 28.
Like it or not Norwalk and Stamford will be the apartment market for the near future.
Let’s get ahead of the curve and provide the school system added resources to prepare for the future.
If you buy a property in a wealthy seaside community say Cape Cod or Block Island R.I you pay a land trust tax so that more property can be purchased to reduce further development.
I see no reason we can’t apply a education trust tax to developers to assure our schools have the resources they need to accomodate a potential growth in Student population.

Bridgportize March 3, 2020 at 8:04 pm

Yes, facts matter and that was last year 2019 (election year) and not the pending 5% increase slated for this year (non election year – in 2018 taxes rose 4% (non election year). Pattern seam familiar?

David Bayne March 3, 2020 at 8:59 pm

While I’m not sure how I feel about more apartments in Norwalk, I am glad to see development. In case folks haven’t noticed, Norwalk already has quite a few empty office and retail locations. I’m not sure there is much desire for new commercial occupancies but I’m far from an expert. New apartments beat old, dilapidated, unoccupied offices in my opinion.

Banks March 3, 2020 at 10:55 pm

219 more units adds roughly 400 more people to the population. As Norwalk builds, let’s get apartment occupancy rates on the city dashboard, for transparency.

With all the development, population growth and extra traffic, maybe the attorneys could report greenhouse gas emissions from construction development and population growth (to be included on the city dashboard).

Since Lamont cares so much about the environment, yet dumps on Norwalk (while Rilling smirks with each uptick to the grand list), maybe there should be a carbon tax on unsustainable development projects in Norwalk. These energy intensive construction projects contribute high levels of GHG effectively warming temps, and expanding flood zones which raise insurance costs. Can developers start providing GHG stats?? Since the trend is to build, dump, pollute, flip and run; perhaps a carbon tax will help recoup costs for the permanent liabilities left behind.

Ron Morris March 4, 2020 at 3:27 pm

Bridgportize
The conversation is about what has occurred, not what could occur. I am not a mind reader. I talk facts, not what ifs.

Ron Morris March 4, 2020 at 3:30 pm

Bridgportize where do you see a pending 5% increase this year? That is odd considering that the budgets have not even been set yet.

Caroline Blaire August 24, 2020 at 5:27 pm

News Flash Everyone: Today Monday 4/24/2020 the ground breaking has begun – We awoke to early a.m. sounds of a back hoe digging & pounding. Brideportize I agree with you and Norwalk Mom – the WPT Ave / Strawberry Hill intersection is under revitalization so I sure hope after 15 years of living here I won’t be playing Russian Roulette while trying to make a left turn onto Strawberry Hill Aven! Norwalk DOES NOT need more apartments that the millenials you market them to can afford…unless Mommy & Daddy are paying for their precious little darlings! During Covid lockdown this all slip by us — wouldn’t it be great to have a skate park for kids or a like previous entry a recreation area – anything other than MORE apartments and even worse a self storage facility. UGHHHHHHH

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