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.”
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.