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.”