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Norwalk Zoners hear Norden Place proposal, public opposition

Traffic engineer Craig Yannes explains the traffic plan for Norden Place at Monday’s Zoning Commission public hearing. The green and the yellow are the primary and secondary routes, he said.

A rendering of the proposed distribution center for 10 Norden Place.

NORWALK, Conn. — Would-be operators of a distribution center in Norden Place, hotly opposed by a number of East Norwalk residents, promised Monday to provide a community hotline for complaints, 24-7.

They offered to pay for alterations to the northeast corner of East Avenue and Fitch Street to better accommodate tractor trailers and promised to be accountable for the operation as owner/operators, in the years to come. They also said it’s possible that Norden Place could be used as a logistics training center, as part of their pitch to bring jobs to Norwalk in this, the worst recession “dating back to World War II.”

Zoning Commissioners, in the first public hearing for the controversial application, pushed back on Attorney Carolyn Cavalo’s promise to have trucks avoid nighttime hours  “to the extent commercially practicable,” and a limited number of residents finished up the four-hour part I with well-reasoned pleas for the Commission to deny the application.

“This application not only doesn’t benefit Norwalk, it actually impacts us negatively in at least a half dozen important ways, all of which you should take into account into the special permit standard, including an inevitable increase in air pollution,” Diane Cece said, speaking for the East Norwalk Neighborhood Association.

She went on to list the impacts.

“The introduction of new noise pollution regardless of decibel levels, the dramatic increase in truck traffic, including tractor trailers, a predictable decline in property values – also that will affect grand list, the impact on the public’s convenience and quiet enjoyment. The multiple components that impact our health and safety and effectiveness as an application in this application cannot be defined as being in harmony with the surrounding area, as 100 percent of the access to this site requires access through our residential areas,” she said.

Zoners are considering a proposed conversion of a 330,000 square foot portion of the existing building located at 10 Norden Place, to create a new warehouse and wholesale distribution facility with 19 loading docks and changes to the site’s existing parking lot and driveways. It’s estimated that the business will produce 180-190 truck trips a day; owners promise to keep them between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m., “to the extent commercially practicable.”

Zoning Commission Chairman Lou Schulman noted there were 137 people tuned into the Zoom meeting and warned that he would end the meeting at 9:30 p.m., continuing the hearing on Jan. 7. He took pains to address the many letters received by Planning and Zoning, some asking how the City could have allowed the application to progress this far.

“Neither the Mayor nor any elected officials play any role in the process of either approving or disapproving this project,” Schulman said. “The Commission members are appointed by the Mayor or approved by the Council, but we are to act independently. We are not supposed to have communication with any outside entities regarding zoning issues that we need to act upon.”

It would be against the law for elected city leaders to interfere in a Zoning application.

“Once an application like this is filed, we have no choice but to take action on it, we can’t ignore it,” Schulman said. “We can’t disapprove it out of hand, we have a process which, by law, we are required to follow in reaching a decision. And this is not a political process. The Commission operates under a series of laws and regulations that define what we can and cannot do. In fact, for many applications, our hands are tied.”

 

Applicant presents

The project conforms to Norwalk’s noise ordinance and “conservative noise calculations predict no adverse noise impact to the existing community conditions,” said David Greenberg, an acoustics expert.

Tim Kucab of Tighe and Bond said air emissions would “fall virtually right in line” with previous business on the site and pointed out that it’s right next to the emissions-producing Interstate 95 in an industrial setting. And, “as you move in time, naturally, vehicles and trucks are getting cleaner and cleaner.”

“The roadways are designed for truck traffic,” said Craig Yannes, a traffic engineer. “…The proposed warehouse is not expected to significantly impact traffic operations within the study area.”

“A detailed review of safety within the study area and along Strawberry Hill Avenue was conducted and did not identify any significant pollution patterns or concerns with bicycle pedestrian and truck collisions,” Yannes said. “…And although the study concludes that there’s no significant impact, the applicant is prepared to complete improvements.”

The applicant, Norden Place KB LLC, is willing to install adaptive signal control at the Strawberry Hill Avenue intersections with Beacon Street and Norden Place which would allow for real time adjustments to the signal timing, the City’s peer review consultant, WSP, explained in a Monday letter to Zoning. The applicant “would install radar detection on Strawberry Hill Avenue to monitor the speed of traffic… within the three school zones and include the speed limit and the vehicle speeds.”

WSP, however, expressed continued safety concerns about trucks on Strawberry Hill Avenue during school arrival and departure.

WSP traffic engineer Stuart Gordon told the Commission the applicant has “followed the industry standards.”

And Cavalo had an economist to promote the potential economic benefits.

“What people are not aware of, is that the state of Connecticut right now in are the latest data officially from census shows that we’re losing 424 people per week, on a net basis to other states,” Donald Klepper-Smith said.  “… These are numbers I never thought I would see as a professional economist in my 40 years. What people are not aware of is that it over the last 10 years on we created basically 103,000 jobs in the state of Connecticut. All of that job growth was wiped out in the month of April.”

He called the Bridgeport Stamford labor market area “one of the worst performing labor markets in the state” and said, “In a recession of this magnitude, it’s important to remember that every job counts because of the linkages to income spending, consumer confidence and tax revenue. The projected gain here of 164 direct and indirect jobs associated with this development represents good paying jobs that are much needed in this recession.”

“We’re not building big new structures, we are utilizing the existing structures that are on this site, between the rail line and 95,” Adam Altman of KABR Group, principal of Norden Place KB LLC, said.

“In addition to the 100 direct and 64 indirect jobs forecasted at this site, we are exploring the potential for an onsite logistics training program that would serve and hold his first priority the residents of Norwalk,” Altman said. “It would be an entrepreneurship and logistics training program with classrooms. We are currently engaging in a robust vetting process for the feasibility and implementation of this program, and hope and expect to have more good news for the Commission in the coming weeks… We want to be on the forefront of providing workforce training for the new technology jobs that are part of the future and should be part of Norwalk future.”

“This proposal will generate more property taxes for the city of Norwalk, and the property taxes will be paid upon this proposal going through. The logistics industry is booming,” Cavalo said. In addition to the radar detection and work at Fitch Street, the applicant will make a $10,000 donation to the Norwalk Police Department for crossing guards.

“We have satisfied and exceeded all of the applicable criteria for the issuance of our requested special permit,” she said. “Put differently, a denial of our application will be based on speculation, and potentially rumor. Though heartfelt, still speculation, and rumor, and not based on substantial expert evidence that we’ve put into the record.”

 

Zoners reply

Commissioners Nick Kantor, Joshua Goldstein and Stephanie Thomas pressed Cavalo on the promise to limit traffic to normal waking hours.

No, the applicant couldn’t legally require tenants to limit truck traffic to keep it 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., Cavalo admitted.

But, as far as “commercially practicable,” she said, “most trucks will not come to a site, when there are no employees there to unload the truck. And although we are, just like any office building, proposing that the site be available to the tenants and their employees 24/7…that doesn’t mean that the tenants will be operating in terms of taking deliveries and preparing deliveries 24/7. That’s just not the way the industry works.”

But when there’s an accident on the highway or some other delay, a truck driver would want to pull in and wait for the employees to arrive to unload the truck, she said.

Commissioner Galen Wells pointed out that there are businesses that receive goods at night and ship them in the morning. “I’m sure Amazon has around the clock operations and warehouses, for instance,” she said.

Schulman asked if the time restriction could be built into the building’s leases.

“I think we’d have to think about that,” Cavalo said. She mentioned the potential 24/7 hotline.

Thomas, who has been elected to the State legislature and will likely be leaving the Commission, said that by the time people call hotlines like that, the beeping truck or the truck ambling north on Strawberry Hill is gone.

“I’ll just reiterate the fact that we do not see any adverse impact with regard to noise or traffic,” Cavalo replied, citing the expert reports.

Traffic engineer Craig Yannes explains the proposed alteration of Fitch Street and East Avenue at Monday’s Zoning Commission public hearing.

Thomas, commenting on the proposal to make East Avenue more attractive to truckers by altering the intersection with Fitch Street, said, “At first, I thought that sounds like a good idea. But I think as soon as a truck driver sits in the traffic that we sit in on East Avenue, they will very quickly decide it is the least attractive route, even though it may be the most direct.”

Yannes pointed out that East Avenue is going to be improved as part of the Walk Bridge project.

“You’re talking, you know, 17,000 trips per day (now) on East Avenue, we’re only adding 25 in the peak hour. So, you know, it’s not a large increase in traffic in the scheme of things,” he said.

Commissioner Richard Roina asked if a ramp could be added to I-95, to keep the trucks out of Norwalk’s neighborhoods.

“It’s extremely unlikely that federal highway and DOT would determine that the site would warrant a new access point along this segment of 95,” Yannes said. “…It would also require the establishment of a public right of way, which is not currently owned by the applicant. For these reasons, you know, I-95 access is unreasonable as part of this application.”

That being said, the applicant would work with the City to pursue the idea, he said.

 

Public comment

More than 20 members of the public got to speak before Schulman closed the meeting, half an hour later than he said he would.

“In addition to the hundreds of emails from our community, ENNA has a opposition project petition with over 1100 signatures, actually over 1200 as of tonight,” Cece said.

“Even if the application meets all the standards for a special permit, there are no conditions or quantity of conditions that you can impose that would make this a suitable, acceptable or desirable use in our community,” she said. “You have no means to regulate or enforce the number of trucks … nor the size style equipment of those trucks, including exhaust system options, nor can you condition only specific window of time for the trucks on public roads. You can’t condition the materials that the trucks will carry, nor the specific trucks, truck routes, and you also can’t condition a minimum number of jobs or the base salaries are how long those jobs would be required to be employed.”

Common Council member John Kydes (D-District C), speaking as a private citizen, followed Cece.

“If there’s ever a project that needed to be denied it is this one. And I implore you, the Zoning Commission members to deny this application,” Kydes said. “I do believe there’s legal grounds to do so.”

“They are going to face my property and shine their lights into my bedroom windows at night and add more sound, and the noise is going to be an ambient?” Jane Skeen said. “And like my fellow neighbors have stated the trucks will idle. They will keep the trucks going to keep whatever’s in the truck warm or cold or whatever.”

“They have not shown what the air quality is on the site or modeled what it’s predicted to be, after many, many years of use,” Farhan Memon said. “There’s ample information within the literature that shows that residents who live close to or budding sites that have warehouse type uses have increased rates of cancer, and increased rates of asthma. There’s literature that shows that schools that are along truck routes have increased rates of asthma amongst children. So I would submit to you that the expert testimony offered by the applicant and the consultants is lacking in so many respects as to the environmental issues in this application.”

Monday’s Zoning Commission meeting on Zoom. Mayor Harry Rilling was present but did not speak.

15 comments

Carol Anderson December 8, 2020 at 8:29 am

If this application goes forward in a residential neighborhood it would seem that Norwalk residents have lost any voice in their political, social and private property environs.

DryAsABone December 8, 2020 at 9:01 am

If present, how do they plan to clean up any radioactivity?
A cement cap?
Haul-away to Stamford’s South End?
Just asking.

ENO SaysNO! December 8, 2020 at 9:19 am

No. This would not be good for ENO. And while I logged on to the hearing respectful of the applicant’s wanting to make good use of the facility as it could benefit ENO in some ways, the negatives far outweight the positives. And I actually was shocked as the applicant showed true colors last night in terms of the type of neighbor/community member they would truly be, as their “expert” presentations painted a laughable, rose-colored vision of everything — they cane just short of promising unicorns, rainbows and butterflies as they indicated we’d barely notice tractor trailers on our residential streets. The ultimate slap in our faces came as they insulted our community, P&Z, and council by saying the only way this special permit could be rejected is by decision makers embracing rumors and speculative information. This is not only insulting to ENO, its leaders, public servants, and community, but it is an affront in that they are presenting only speculation (they won’t commit to the businesses that will come in, won’t commit to enforcement in mitigating truck traffic hours, etc.) and they are initiating and spreading their own rumors by stating as fact data that is not based on actual tenants — they’re stating as fact what will come from tenants they’re rumored to be recruiting, but that they say they have not yet identified. At the same time they say they will be good neighbors and community members, they speculate and spread their own rumors as they pre-emptively say if this special permit is declined it will be because the good people of ENO and its leaders have based their decision on speculation and rumors. No thanks —the writing is in the wall — this applicant is worried only about self-interest, ENO be damned.

JJ December 8, 2020 at 2:52 pm

I am very opposed to the distribution center for all the reasons stated in the article. Its presence will greatly diminish the quality of life in ENO and will definitely lower property values. I suspect that the outcome is a foregone conclusion, however, as the reinforcement of the overpass on Strawberry Hill Avenue has been in the works for many months with, I suspect, the distribution center in mind. Norwalk continues to decline in quality of life-does any elected official care about that?

Question December 8, 2020 at 2:54 pm

Genuine question from a newcomer to the area,

What was this facility originally? What uses has it had historically? What uses are permitted as-of-right to this owner or any owner of the property?

Mike O'Reilly December 8, 2020 at 6:03 pm

I felt like Attorney Cavallo was addressing us like we are a group of idiot’s who should simply follow her enlightened thinking. Condescending is too kind a word to describe her performance.
They were grasping at straws throughout the meeting
” The roadways are designed for truck traffic” Yeah Strawberry Hill was designed for 18 wheelers to come zooming in.
“The proposed ware house is not expected to significantly impact traffic within the study area”

180-190 additional truck’s daily won’t impact traffic? What is the study area?

Oh and the generosity of the applicant. We will donate a whole $10,000.00 to help Norwalk Police support school crossing guards. Wow. That should cover a few weeks of NPD overtime to support a problem attributed solely to the applicant.

We should warn our crossing guards on Strawberry Hill they will now need a suit of armour.
Many years ago truckers were very safe drivers. Many still are. When deregulation came truck safety standards deteriorated as did the standard of drivers. If you drive on 95 I bet it has not been long since you have seen a reckless 18 Wheeler. When was the last time you saw the weigh station open to inspect trucks?

Everyone did a great job speaking up last night. Let’s keep the community spirit up.

Steve Mann December 9, 2020 at 6:25 am

This whole idea is so utterly preposterous that attorney Cavolo had no choice but to fabricate the scenario in which this makes any sense. To those who question the any one part of this nightmare, you have to look at the parts and their sum.

Yes, Mike, is it time for our milk and cookies yet? I thought that was coming next from her mouth. Maybe they’ll be available at the logistics training center?

Laura Giancaspro December 9, 2020 at 7:51 am

I agree with Mike O’Reilly & ENO SaysNO!100%. The applicants can call it what they want but this performance–as Mike so aptly identified it–was exactly that. The “meeting” was nothing more than smoke & mirrors, a dog & pony show, etc., to detract from the multiple facets of our lives they will disrupt with their platitudes & generic explanations. Their sole intention was to meet whatever the law requires of them while hopefully quieting the dissidents.

The applicants are not at all concerned about the residents as Attorney Cavalo herself demonstrated when asked about a time restriction for trucks being incorporated into the tenants’ leases: “I think we would have to think about that.” In other words, she has absolutely no intention of “thinking about thinking” of any such thing. She’ll “‘just reiterate the fact that we do not see any adverse impact with regard to noise or traffic,'” and again cite her “expert reports.” It appears the applicants, along with their experts, have the gift of clairvoyance!

Actually, it’s more like the old saying: “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them with bulls***.”

Although they tried, they certainly did not succeed.
#ENOStrong

Jonathan Cohen December 9, 2020 at 11:34 am

Regardless of expert testimony about noise and emissions and the rest, the plain truth about the proposed Norden Pl distribution center is that it a supremely bad idea to add 200 trucks/400 trips per day to the ever-more congested and dangerous intersection of the I 95 off ramp and East Ave. Anyone can see it; everyone knows it. And who is to say that fleet will remain capped at 200 trucks once the center is established an its business grows, as the owners surely hope for? As a secondary matter, but just as important, it is extremely disappointing to hear the argument that elected officials, particularly the mayor, should remain above the fray of this dispute. The mayor attended the hearing. Certainly he has an opinion about the proposal or should after absorbing all the information and comments. Elected officials are our representatives and advocates, not dispassionate bureaucrats merely arbitrating procedural rules. They need to address issues that affect the residents of the town and defend its best interests as they see them, not hide behind procedure.

Milly December 9, 2020 at 11:54 am

Has there ever been a traffic study that states the traffic will be dangerous, loud, congestive, and ruin the quality of life? Every traffic study shows no problems.

Farhan Memon December 9, 2020 at 12:17 pm

We need to capture the hearts and minds of the Zoning Commission to deny the application. ENNA and Diane Cece have done a great job in rallying citizens to show that there is widespread opposition to this development. However the Zoning Commission can only turn down the applicant based the grounds enumerated in the bylaws.

The newly formed Sasqua Hills Neighborhood Association (SHNA) has hired land use attorney Joel Green to help us prepare a case to oppose this application.

As such we need to identify and hire a traffic engineer and an environmental engineer as consultants to help our attorney oppose the application. If you know of anyone that is in these professions please send them my way ([email protected]) We will also need community support for funding.

John Miller December 9, 2020 at 8:07 pm

This project would essentially turn a significant area of East Norwalk into a de facto commercial zone and adversely impact the property values and property rights of the citizens who live in the impacted area. It must not be approved. I found Attorney Cavalo to be particularly arrogant and condescending with her suggestion that rejection of the project would he based on rumor and speculation as if we were all a bunch of dummies. When pressed by the commissioners about how the tenants of the distribution center would control the arrival of trucks during overnight and non-operational hours, she gave some half baked explanation about how trucks would not arrive at the site until they are ready to unloaded because “that is how the industry works.” I spent three decades in the transportation industry and, believe me, when I was at the Clairol plant in Stamford, the truckers would show up anytime day or night and park in front of the residences on Blachley Road outside the front gate (with their engines idling) until their appointed delivery time. The neighbors just loved it. Ms. Cavalo doesn’t know what the heck she is talking about. The traffic engineer’s claim that the roadways were suitable for truck traffic was also a joke. School zones and residential streets are suitable for 65 foot long, 80,000 pound long haul tractor-trailer trucks? Really!!! If the roads are suitable, why are they proposing to remove a large section of the St. Thomas Church front lawn so the trucks can make a right turn from Fitch Street onto East Avenue? Enough for now. BTW @ Mike O’Reilly: Deregulation did not impact the safety standards for the motor carrier industry. The regulations are actually more stringent under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration than they were under the Interstate Commerce Commission. And if you think truck drivers are dummies, try passing the test for a CDL hazmat endorsement.

Mike O'Reilly December 10, 2020 at 12:57 pm

John
I have the utmost respect for truckers. My heart goes out to them every time we are stuck in slow moving traffic. I can’t imagine a more stressful demanding job.The observation I wanted to share and maybe I poorly expressed this is as someone who regularly commuted to New Jersey I have witnessed truckers greatly exceeding the speed limit when there is little traffic. I always assumed this was to meet unrealistic delivery times put upon them.

Mimi Chang December 10, 2020 at 2:54 pm

Thank you for your coverage of Monday’s very important Zoning Commission meeting/public hearing, Nancy. We had a decent turnout… I think it was mentioned later that the final headcount was around 200 listeners. The East Norwalk residents who spoke were impressive; they asked all the hard questions of the applicant’s representatives and did not disappoint. More residents were queued up to speak, but we ran out of time. Hopefully, we’ll get an even larger turnout at January’s meeting. We’re going to need that!

Compelling last night was when the attorney whom the residents of the Pequot/Sasqua community, aka, “Sasqua Hills Neighborhood Association,” hired to represent residents in opposition to this application, introduced himself to us in the public speaking portion, and said he plans to bring more expert testimony to the second January public hearing. Neither he nor the above mentioned community group are mentioned in this coverage, whereas there is mention of John Kydes alluding to fightIng this application, declaring, “I do believe there’s legal grounds to do so…” Those reading this article who didn’t listen to the public hearing might assume Mr. Kydes is leading the charge, where Sasqua Hills Neighborhood Association should get the recognition for doing so.

I shudder to think how differently this meeting regarding the 10 Norden Place Special Permit Application might have gone if not for the large public turnout’s delving questions and massive pushback, as a result of the tireless work to get the word out via multi media outlet communications, a petition and yard signs, by Diane Cece, the ENNA Board, the Sasqua Hills Neighborhood Association, and the many deeply engaged volunteers (I wrote the petition in co-collaboration with Diane Cece…) who spearheaded a movement to fight this insanity, sparing nothing. The community did all the heavy lifting here… Mr. Kydes just had to show up, which coincidentally dovetailed very nicely with his announcement in the press the next day that he is considering running for mayor, with both local media outlets referencing his appearance and comment at the public hearing. Interesting timing.

While I appreciated hearing that as a private citizen, he opposes the proposal (Who in her/his right mind couldn’t though, really?!), the optics are such that Mr. Kydes is politicizing this movement and posturing himself as a quality of life advocate for a possible campaign run, when his voting record over the years indicates that he is far from being a quality of life advocate of the stakeholders of District C. His pro big development voting record indicates he is the problem rather than the solution. As a member of its Oversight Committee, Mr. Kydes greenlighted the East Norwalk Neighborhood TOD Plan with its proposed 1200 apartment units/thousands of vehicles, without a comprehensive traffic study (which residents BEGGED for…) of the TOD parameters or any metrics analyzing the terrible traffic congestion/air pollution which currently exists, and if our infrastructure (and our lungs!!!) could even withstand several hundred to possibly thousands more vehicles. It’s unfortunate and rather disingenuous that Mr. Kydes is suddenly publicized as a champion for quality of life for political points. We East Norwalkers have worked too hard bringing light to and fighting this debacle with all we’ve got to be used as his political props.

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