Updated, 1:25 p.m.: Comments from Mayor Harry Rilling supporting back-in parking.
NORWALK, Conn. — Prediction: One year from now, Norwalkers will be complaining about “too much” development happening in the Wall Street area.
So says Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan in telling two groups last week that construction at the three long-delayed projects is moving ahead, and there’s another one that should be submitted to Zoning soon. But one aspect of the rosy prediction is set for some controversy – Sheehan said the city has decided to go with back-in angled parking for Wall Street, but Wall Street Task Force Chairwoman Jackie Lightfield said that’s, well, “dumb.” The task force has concerns about the sudden activity, too, she said.
Sheehan’s first commentary on this came at the Parking Authority meeting, where Dick Brescia said the “general tone” on Wall Street is that the city is neglecting that area while trying to jump start SoNo. Not true, Sheehan said.
Head of the Harbor South and the Globe Theater are surely going ahead; Wall Street Place is very likely to proceed and Jason Milligan is planning a housing project behind the library, Sheehan said.
“I am pretty confident that at the end of the day that within 12 months, the sense of what’s occurring on Wall Street is going to be dramatically different than what people perceived it,” Sheehan said. “… All of this construction will hit at same time, and the folks that today are concerned about the construction not advancing are just going to be overwhelmed by the level of construction that’s actually going to be happening all around them.”
Lightfield said similar things in an email.
“I’ve heard rumors that Milligan has purchased the People’s Bank and Eagles Property near the library, that the First Taxing District wants to sell their Belden Ave. property, and that Belpointe/Paxton Kinol are buying property on Knight and Cross Streets. Each project is rumored to be for housing,” she wrote.
Head of the Harbor should begin construction in mid-summer, Sheehan said Thursday to District A Democrats; current activity includes utility relocation orders. The former Globe Theater has “minor environmental review issues that need to be checklisted out” for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), he said.
The Wall Street Theater Company on Friday announced that it has closed on its $5.2 million construction loan with Patriot National Bank, with plans to renovate what was in 1915 the Regent Theater into a multi-use theater with state of the art technical capabilities. Sheehan said the hold-up with HUD concerns old oil tanks and a vapor study that needs to be redone because the one that has been done is more than 180 days old. “In short order, those issues should be addressed,” he said.
Milligan is taking an “interesting” idea to the Zoning Commission soon, he said.
“He’s focused on the smaller units that aren’t carrying the heft of the rents that, for example, the Waypointe project is doing,” Sheehan said. “He is appealing to a younger demographic that can’t afford $1,700 for a one-room apartment.”
The development will have to include some incorporation of the surface parking element that is there now, he said.
“He is working proactively with the library, I’ll leave it at that. It’s a private discussion between the library and him,” Sheehan said. “… They are trying to resolve some issues, looking at other properties around the library.”
The intersection there, where Wall and West and Belden and Mott converge in a confusing mess, will change with or without the advancement of Wall Street Place, Sheehan said. The city has decided that it will go ahead with the infrastructure improvements that are linked to the delayed development even if it isn’t built because it’s important to the area, he said.
“Changing Wall Street to angled parking and modifying the flow of traffic in and around the islands on western Wall is critical. Those should be advancing with or without development,” Sheehan said.
Traffic enhancements at the west end of Wall Street include “cleaning up” the “exceedingly confusing” intersection, where newcomers literally have no idea where to go, Sheehan said. There will be crosswalks leading to sidewalks across the islands.
An idea had been floated to make Wall Street one way. That is not planned. It would go against urban planning principals, as the goal is to activate the street, Sheehan said.
“I think there is some misperceptions on the part of some of the merchants there that will enhance their business,” Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord said to the Parking Authority. “Generally that’s something that doesn’t enhance their business.”
“I am pretty comfortable at this point it’s going to be angled parking, back-in angled parking,” Alvord said. “The mayor stopped in at bike task force last Friday. I think we all agreed on back-in parking. We pretty much all agreed that is the safest way to do it.”
Enter the controversy.
“The idea to try reverse-angled parking on Wall Street is one of the dumbest things to do in terms of supporting business,” Lightfield said in an email.
“Jeff Speck, in his book and in his presentation to the Redevelopment Agency a few years ago, specifically pointed out that the if the goal is to increase the number of retail businesses in a downtown, it is imperative to provide on street parking, and that the parking be convenient to the use. The goal, from a business perspective is to make it convenient to park, not more difficult. It is why parking lots are always designed with the ease of entry and parking movements foremost and less consideration to the exiting maneuvers.
“Reverse angled parking is not convenient. It is an unnatural parking maneuver. And on Wall Street, which is; a bus route, an ambulance and emergency services route, and has a fair amount of car traffic– Norwalk will find, much like the City of Austin and many in Michigan are finding, businesses are losing customers. The area is challenging enough without adding greater inconveniences to visitors.
“Further, reverse in parking is more dangerous to pedestrians on two fronts. One is that the driver is not facing pedestrians who naturally use sidewalks. And second, the exhaust from all these reverse angled cars will now flow onto sidewalks and into businesses– aggravating the quality of air needlessly. Most vehicles are design to have more rear overhand, so the rears of cars will likely encroach on the narrow sidewalks, further contributing to the poor pedestrian experience.
“Another important thing to note is that reverse parking is normally banned at train stations, airport parking lots, and university/college parking lots all across the nation, precisely because in high volume parking situations, the reverse parking motion is difficult for drivers to master, and parking lanes in such lots need through traffic flow during congested periods where there are timed events.
“The extra time for reverse in parking is well documented, but it is simple to understand why it does cause more traffic congestion. It takes less time to back out of a parking space (from a constricted area to a wider area) than to back into a parking space (from a wide area into a constricted one.)
“Lastly, the entire speculative idea that this will be safer for cyclists is speculative and erroneous The FHA studies on biking accidents predominantly show that bike/car accidents occur when the cyclist enters a traffic lane, or with motor vehicles turning at intersections, not parking movements. Specifically cited, (47 incidents) or 1.6% of all cycling accounts involve autos backing, of those 19% were in parking lots, and 19% were in an alley or a driveway where both the cyclist and vehicle were in the same area, in other words driveways with children.
“The Wall Street Task Force for the following reasons prefers head in angled parking:
“It is safer for pedestrians and drivers. It minimizes the risk of denting or hitting adjacent cars. It minimizes the risk to pedestrians. It minimizes traffic congestion. It is pro-business.”
There are numerous studies online that support back-in parking, Mayor Harry Rilling said Monday. “It took me less than three minutes to find this one back on April 15 when I sent it to those in the early morning meeting. I am certain there are many reports/studies on both sides of this issue,” Rilling said in an email, sending along this study:
“Notice that back-in parking starts with the very same first action that parallel parking starts,” Rilling wrote. “Signaling an intent to park and pulling just past the spot. Then the same next move, cutting the wheels to the right and backing up. No difference. Then look at the view one has when they are ready to pull out. Head-in angled parking can cause significant problems when backing out into moving traffic, especially if there is a large vehicle blocking the operator’s view. It becomes a roll of the dice and a bit of luck.”
Sheehan said the angled parking plan at present would provide “one if not three” more on-street parking space than are there now.
The developing Waypointe project also will affect Wall Street, Sheehan said, as residents look for things to do. Alvord said the increased activity might stir interest on the part of the Connecticut Department of Transportation to reactivate Wall Street’s hidden train station, which is under the Ink and Out tattoo parlor.
Belpointe Capital is looking to spread the Waypointe project further into the neighborhood, Sheehan said. “That’s a preservation zone in the Redevelopment plan, so we have had some discussions with the intent of the developer,” Sheehan said. “…The plan had always been for that neighborhood to be strengthened.”
Much of the development should be complete within two years, Sheehan said.
“All of a sudden the pieces come together and, quite frankly, folks get overwhelmed by how quickly it’s moving. When they see it come into construction they get a little bit apprehension,” Sheehan said.
Lightfield’s group has that now. An email:
“All this activity is concerning, and the Norwalk Center Task Force is working on a few things:
“1. We are recommending that all new construction in the central business district will be limited to having a stone or brick facade, not including brick veneers.
“2. We are recommending that new, updated design guidelines can reflect the historic architectural elements that define the central business district and prohibit elements that detract from the district’s aesthetics.
“3. We are recommending that parking requirements be contributing assets to a District Parking amenity that can be shared between residential and businesses in the area.
“4. We are recommending that the City invest in an economic program to subsidize retail establishments to avoid the empty storefront syndrome in the central business district.”
“We are working with a number of the property owners in the area to understand better what the city can bring to bear in facilitating opportunities for their ground-floor space,” Sheehan said.
There has been talk of incubators and master leases, but “smaller folks” with business opportunities have been hesitating with a “Is it coming, isn’t it coming?” apprehension, Sheehan said.
As for the city neglecting Wall Street in favor of SoNo, people need to remember that the city has to think of the entire region, Sheehan said.
“It was alleged that the city had enticed good businesses to leave the Wall Street area down to Sono,” Brescia said.
A Wall Street yoga business that moved to Ironworks SoNo had been contemplating leaving Norwalk altogether, after problems with a landlord that included a leaking roof and mold, Sheehan said. Redevelopment helped arrange a small business loan and the yoga studio is drawing a surprising amount of foot traffic in the morning and afternoon, he said.
“Their relocation has been very successful, they are happy with the location where they’re at,” Sheehan said. “From the agency’s perspective, you can’t control where businesses want to locate. This was a business decision made by the parties that own the business. It was better for Norwalk not to lose them.”