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Quarterra presents Webster Street lot redevelopment concept

Screenshot from Thursday’s Norwalk Common Council Economic & Community Development Committee meeting on Zoom.

NORWALK, Conn. — A new City park would be perched on structured parking just off Martin Luther King Drive, in a new concept developed for a mixed-use development with about 420 apartments on the Webster Street lot. A road would bisect the block, stretching from the lot’s Washington Street entrance to MLK, and a pedestrian plaza would begin on Main Street and cross the expanse. A 650-space garage is planned to go behind 50 Washington St., which would be untouched by the project.

Quarterra, a firm advertising “a new era of alternative asset management,” was selected by the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency from seven bidders interested in developing the potential transit-oriented development (TOD) jewel, according to Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Brian Bidolli.

“Capitalization is obviously an important factor,” Bidolli said.

Greg Belew, Quarterra Divisional President for the N.Y./Tri-State area, listed a series of reasons why Quarterra is “probably (in) the best position of anybody that would really be looking to develop some project of this scale. They include its status as a wholly owned subsidiary of Lennar Corporation, one of the nation’s leading homebuilders since 1954, ranked 131on the Fortune 500.

Quarterra set out to build on the work that’s been done since 2004 to reimagine the Webster Street lot, a five-acre City-owned property, said  Brian Gafney, of Antunovich Associates, an architectural, planning and interior design firm.

Pending six to nine months of public feedback, work could begin in 18 to 20 months to build the garage, keeping all the existing parking available during construction, said Doug Browne of Quarterra’s Stamford office.

Then Quarterra would like to construct “residential houses” along Martin Luther King Drive, set back from the road, he said. The sidewalk would be moved back to the other side of the existing trees to allow room for a bike path.

The site would maintain “roughly the same pattern of the entrance and exit of the existing parking lot, with a road,” Gafney said. This would allow access to both the public and residential parking while pulling drivers off the streets so “you don’t get a lot of double parking people getting dropped off by a taxi cab, which always seems to happen when you’re late for work.”

The project would be subject to an in-depth traffic study, Bidolli commented.

A pedestrian promenade from Main Street to MLK could allow pop up retail, sidewalk dining, chess playing areas, fountains and trees, nestled inside the complex, Gafney said. “Along Main Street, we have retail space, as well as a co-working or a flexible office space for incubator space, those types of things, as well as the parking that I mentioned.”

The public park on the southeastern part of the site, with entrances from MLK and Washington Street, would have the greenspace atop parking but also “spill over the side, somewhat replicating some of the beautiful landscaping that we see along the shores of Connecticut all over the place,” Gafney said.

None of it is set in stone, Browne said, emphasizing the public outreach effort to come in sessions “as informative as possible and as interactive as possible.”

Bidolli said the concept preserves much of what’s on Main Street.

Council Majority Leader Darlene Young (D-District B) asked about affordable housing. While Norwalk’s Zoning regulations require 10% of the apartments be designated as affordable, Bidolli said Redevelopment is “looking at ways to maximize that,” investigating State programs to get as much mixed income housing as possible in the project.

Economic & Community Development Committee Chairman John Kydes (D-District C) pointed out that many of the properties abutting the Webster Street lot are privately owned.

“The development is absolutely able to be scaled to stand on its own,” Belew said. “We will continue to have discussions with all the surrounding privately owned parcels to see what is feasible to be added.” He mentioned the community’s interest in keeping a supermarket there.

Kydes suggested that if the abutters aren’t interested, the profit margins might decline so it “becomes not a worthwhile project.”

No one will have Quarterra over a barrel, Belew said. None of the surrounding parcels are so critical that any price would be paid to secure them, however, “securing some of these I think would be overall beneficial for the development and for the community.”

14 comments

Skip Hagerty December 2, 2022 at 6:59 am

Excellent plan. Quarterra presents some really imaginative ideas. A chess playing area will be fantastic. Hopefully Quarterra is selected to build more and more apartments in Norwalk. Another 450 units is something Norwalk desperately needs.

David Muccigrosso December 2, 2022 at 8:25 am

Just eyeballing it, this is probably a good move. It creates a more resilient street grid, more ground-level retail, and it’s not “too big to fail” – you see the multiple complexes, instead of one big complex where everything has to work just right or the whole thing fails. Hopefully the specific designs will allow infill between the buildings if it’s successful.

It also replaces and expands the existing parking lot, which currently just takes up a huge chunk of great real estate.

It’s not perfect, but no plan ever is. From a Strong Towns perspective (www.strongtowns.org), this is about the best plan I’ve ever seen proposed in Norwalk.

Also, for the love of all that’s holy, put in a freaking Trader Joe’s. CTown is wonderful, and I hope they stay open, but SoNo could use another grocer, and maybe the competition will force the owner to clean the place up a bit.

Patrick Cooper December 2, 2022 at 11:10 am

Fire Brian Bidolli – and every other RDA employee, then sell the office space and all assets, and then – disband the redevelopment agency forever. Kill this conduit of corruption once and for all.

First act (DAY 1) of ANY new mayor – fire Steve Kleppin. And – every lawyer associated to this regime. 1st up – Mario.

Michael McGuire December 2, 2022 at 2:46 pm

Question is – can our flagging infrastructure handle this? A drought might be a temporary thing, but all new mid and high-density residential development should be curtailed until we get the raw sewage flowing into the upper harbor issue cleaned up.

This issue should be front and center for the CC, not leaf blowers.

Mike O'Reilly December 2, 2022 at 8:31 pm

Why are “Residential Houses” in parenthesis? Are they two story? or four story? or eight story houses? Very interesting concept but let’s take our time on this. Going forward developers have to contribute more to our water, sewage and infrastructure maintenance. Not to mention our schools.
We are a great city everyone want’s to develop in. Time to start paying the cost to assure a great future for all of us.

Ben Hanpeter December 3, 2022 at 12:17 am

On the whole, this is looks to be a big step forward for the area, and I’ll be interested to see how it takes shape. All that additional housing is a big deal, especially being so close to the SoNo station. I hope this also gives the city a chance to reimagine the roads in this area, and add some bike infrastructure along Washington Street. It is also critical that a grocery store remain in SoNo. If CTown doesn’t or can’t remain, something else must take its place. The neighborhood cannot succeed without one.

Skip Hagerty December 3, 2022 at 6:36 am

Ben,
I’m not so sure they need to have a grocery store in the neighborhood. Residents can zip down Connecticut Ave ( especially on the weekend when traffic is particularly light) to two (soon to be three) grocery stores. It’s a cinch.

David Muccigrosso December 4, 2022 at 7:56 pm

” especially on the weekend when traffic is particularly light”

Do you even LIVE here? Stop trying to make me laugh.

Ben Hanpeter December 4, 2022 at 11:26 pm

@ Skip, this will be built as transit-oriented development, since it’s so close to SoNo station. One of its central goals will be (or ought to be) reducing the car dependency of the residents who live there, and so will need to provide essential businesses and services close at hand (ideally within walking distance), so people don’t have to drive to Conn Ave whenever they need something. Reducing traffic generation is key to making denser developments work, and that can only happen if there are businesses in walking distance. A grocery store should be a top priority.

Cheryl Warner December 5, 2022 at 7:30 am

I Love CTown; I live in EN and its a quick run to CTown and the parking is easy and they have everything! They also serve the walking Hispanic population in So Norwalk Never mind a long run up to CT Ave.

Cheryl Warner December 5, 2022 at 7:41 am

I remember when the Webster Parking Lot housed the Old,old red stone City Hall. My Dad & I walked from 10 Spring St., below the terrace, (before our home was taken by eminent domain in 1961-1962 for the phone company) to City Hall to buy his clamming license for the summer.

Bryan Meek December 5, 2022 at 9:48 am

@Skip. Easily resolved with bike lanes. The same way you can ride your bike to stews and bring home the milk and ice cream on a hot summer day. Or take a 90 minute bus ride if you prefer.

David Muccigrosso December 5, 2022 at 3:33 pm

@Bryan… or maybe we just do the simple thing and give SoNo a modern grocery store?

For a conservative, you don’t seem to like simple solutions much.

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