NORWALK, Conn. – A revamped version of POKO Partners’ Wall Street Place development, now on file in Norwalk’s Planning and Zoning Department, is shorter in some places than its previous incarnation and features an updated streetscape plan that former Zoning Commission Chairwoman Jackie Lightfield said fits in better with the neighborhood than the original design.
The plans, attached below, show that while six stories were approved for the Wall Street façade, POKO is now planning five stories. POKO was planning seven stories along Isaac Street but is now seeking approval for five and six stories there. The plan for eight stories on Isaac and New Street (a new street) remains, as does the total number of apartments, although one more workforce housing unit has been added.
“The roof line now is much more interesting and fits in with how a series of factory loft buildings might have evolved over time,” Lightfield wrote in an email. “Note that the metal cornice echoes the cornice treatment on most of the buildings (older) on Wall Street. This reflects an architect that understands the period of architecture and streetscape look. It is much appreciated. (As an example, look at West Ave. buildings, or the proposed Head of Harbor South, neither attempts to blend into the visual look of the streetscape).”
The plan, drawn up by Kitchen Associates, will be considered at the Jan. 8 meeting of the Zoning Commission’s Plan Review Committee; commissioners will eventually determine if the amendments are a “minor change.”
“From a zoning standpoint, the review shouldn’t take long unless there is an impact on the public amenities and parking,” Lightfield said.
Keith Peacock of Kitchen Associates said, in a letter to Planning and Zoning Director Mike Greene, that the plan has been “repuzzled” following an analysis of the constructability of the building and a current code review.
“The revised residential units configuration and greater efficiency of the corridor/unit ratio resulted the reduction of the building height by one story along Wall & Isaac Streets and reduction of the overall building height,” Peacock wrote. “These minor changes in plan resulted in adjustments to the geometry of the elevations. However, most of the design elements from the approved plans are retained.”
A roof deck has been added to the fifth floor roof along Isaac Street.
“The ground floor elevations of the lobby, restaurant, and retail spaces have been adjusted to eliminate the need to raise the entire plaza above the street elevation,” Peacock wrote. “Instead of a long access ramp to the restaurant/retail and main lobby spaces. The restaurant/retail spaces are now at grade with the public street/sidewalk elevation and a shorter ramp to access only the main lobby is proposed.”
There will be 65 market rate units and 36 workforce units under the proposal. Recreational space in the building is increasing from the originally approved 19,924 square feet to 23,460 square feet.
The setback from the Wall Street right of way is decreasing 1 foot; no setback is required, according to Peacock. The “through block arcade” is increasing from 1,575 square feet to 1,870 square feet.
“The setback impact on the Wall Street facing would be a question I would ask along with more detail about the arcade,” Lightfield said.
POKO pulled a foundation-only building permit for the project on Dec. 19. Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan said he is still awaiting news about the last remaining piece of POKO’s financing puzzle – a construction loan from Citibank.
POKO principal Ken Olson expressed optimism in his Nov. 30 progress report.
“We are still targeting the resolution of all open issues if not by the end of the year, then by the first week in January,” Olson wrote.
Sheehan said he met with Olson Tuesday, strictly to go over infrastructure improvements needed for the project, which is Phase I of a larger plan.
Although Zoning approved the Phase I design in 2008, the plan dates back more than a decade with the formulation of a Land Disposition Agreement that included the transfer of city-owned property to POKO. An extension was granted this summer, with strict benchmarks for POKO to meet.
The first of those benchmarks is the 150-day requirement, which Sheehan figures is Jan. 31:
Within 150 days of the Effective Date, the Redeveloper will evidence: that (1) all required governmental permits pertaining to zoning and demolition have been secured for Phase I; (2) an updated Phase II environmental assessment of the site has been completed; (3) any subsequent environmental mitigation plan has been approved by the responsible governing body; and (4) the Agency has certified that the Redeveloper has closed on all necessary construction and permanent financing (public, commercial and equity) required to complete the Phase I Improvements.
Sheehan said recently that the requirements for an environmental assessment and mitigation plan have been met. That leaves the loan and Zoning approval, hinging on the determination of a “minor change.”
“From the standpoint of is the project changed substantially the answer is no it has not,” Lightfield wrote. “It could fall under a minor change since the parking, number of units etc. remain the same. It does not exceed the height and FAR regulations, etc. Again, the setback impact on the Wall Street facing would be a question I would ask along with more detail about the arcade.”
“We have been working hard all along to make this project a reality and we continue to do just that,” Olson wrote in a Wednesday email. “We have had some great supporters including Senator Duff and Mayor Rilling and others. We have an excellent highly skilled team in POKO and our current professionals. We are going to transform that neighborhood, it has always been what we have been trying to do and now everyone will see it happen.”
“I’m looking forward to the addition of this project in the downtown,” Lightfield, who is chairwoman of the Wall Street Task Force, wrote. “It’s got a nice retro urban feel to it, and is the kind of housing that appeals to young people. Since the project was approved, automated parking garages have been trending up. In L.A., a very car centric environment, automated garages are the new amenity in luxury buildings. I’m excited that Norwalk will be the home of this high tech garage, and that this solidifies the entrepreneurial and start up culture we’ve been cultivating.”