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Residents begin speaking out against proposed East Norwalk development

Attorney Adam Blank presents plans for 1 Cemetery St. during Thursday’s Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing.
Citizens attend Thursday’s Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing on 1 Cemetery St. (Harold F. Cobin)

NORWALK, Conn. — A dozen residents had the chance to weigh in on the proposed plans for 1 Cemetery St. in East Norwalk, with the vast majority voicing concerns about the size of the project as well as its impact on the neighborhood, traffic, infrastructure, and more.

But, there were dozens more who showed up and tuned into Zoom to participate Thursday. With the applicant’s presentation running until about 9:15 p.m., Planning and Zoning Commission Chair Louis Schulman said that they would continue the public hearing on March 15, starting with the remaining public comment before the applicant would respond ahead of the Commission potentially voting on the item. 

Residents were eager to make their voices heard throughout the long presentation, interjecting at times, which caused Commissioners to ask presenters to repeat themselves multiple times.

The East Norwalk Neighborhood Association, which has strongly voiced its opposition to the current plans, brought land use consultant Gloria Gouveia to speak on its behalf and pick through the details of the application. While Gouveia called parts of the application “beautiful,” she said “it also needs to be functional. I don’t think it is.”

“This project will be a template for all that follows in East Norwalk, don’t we deserve to make it the best it can be? Shouldn’t this be the poster child for excellent thoughtful development?” she said, adding that East Norwalk and the community as a whole “deserved better.”

One of the biggest points Gouveia highlighted was a letter from Connecticut DEEP, in which Marcy Balint Sr., a coastal planner with DEEP, stated that “primary concerns include the intensification of residences within a flood hazard zone and the lack of a clear public access plan.”

Gouveia read from the letter, specifically the part that said: “The site contains a significant portion of AE14 Coastal Flood Hazard Area within the 100-year flood zone per FEMA NFIP with many of the proposed residential units proposed within areas subject to flooding…. Allowing

increased density within a flood zone is a risk in the face of increased climate change uncertainty and inundation predictions.”

The Planning and Zoning Commission also received more than 25 letters since Feb. 25 related to the project. Five were letters of support, with a few others asking questions or offering suggestions about modifications. The commissioners received dozens of more letters from before Feb. 25, but many of those were asking for a public hearing to be hybrid, which the commission did.

Attorney Adam Blank presents plans for 1 Cemetery St. during Thursday’s Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing.

What’s in the Project?

The proposed plans call for 77 apartment units, of which seven would be workforce housing units, within two buildings on a 1.6-acre site at 1 Cemetery St. The project includes about 2,900 square feet of office and 2,900 square feet of retail space, as well as 79 covered parking spaces, 23 surface sports, and 14 on-street spaces.

Previously, the site contained a bank surrounded by a large amount of parking spaces and asphalt. The applicant’s team went through a very detailed look into the plans, ranging from what’s on the site to materials used to the stormwater drainage to the landscaping.

Colin Grotheer, an associate with Beinfield Architecture, highlighted different architectural inspirations for the project, including one of their own projects in Rowayton, that had the feel of “a New England village center.”

Grotheer said that he thinks there’s “quite a few” community benefits the project would bring. He listed improved sidewalks, a public courtyard, public waterfront access to Mill Pond, new bicycle lanes, reduced impervious surfaces, improved streetscape, and better stormwater management.

He noted that the site is located very close to many restaurants in the area and other amenities including transit.

Five Norwalk Planning and Zoning Commissions attend the kick off of Thursday’s public hearing on 1 Cemetery St., in City Hall. Other Commissioners attended remotely. (Harold F. Cobin)

In addition to the development, the project would also usher in altered traffic flows in the area. City plans call for turning Cemetery Street into a one-lane road, and potentially moving the curve where Cemetery meets Gregory Boulevard down a bit. This would allow for on-street parking, added crosswalks, slightly wider sidewalks, and bike lanes.

Grotheer said that by doing this it would be more walkable and “more hospitable and beneficial to the public.”

Traffic engineer Greg Del Rio said that right now Cemetery Street is almost operating as a one-lane street since the vast majority of cars come from one direction. During peak hours, about 590 vehicles turn left onto Cemetery Street from East Avenue and Van Zant Street and about 35 turn right onto the street.

At the highest peak time, in the evening, Del Rio said that there would be about 26 vehicles entering each hour and 20 exiting. He also compared the number of trips that the development would generate versus how many there might be if there was another bank on the site. He estimated that about 14 more trips would be generated in the morning, three more trips in the evening, and during Saturday midday there would be 14 fewer trips.

Right now, there are two alternatives that affect where the yield sign would go—on Cemetery or Gregory—and how wide the triangle is that divides traffic coming out of Cemetery, that are before the state DOT, which needs to give its approval of the plan.

Regardless of which alternative, Commissioner Mike Mushak asked if the planned roadway improvements would help reduce speeds and crashes involving injuries.

“This solution would make it safer for cars, for people in cars because they would be going slower, pedestrians, and bicyclists?” he asked, to which Del Rio agreed.

Citizens attend Thursday’s Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing on 1 Cemetery St.

Opposition and critiques from residents

Residents listed numerous issues that they had with the proposed plans including that it was too big for the area, that it would put too much traffic on the roads, that it would impact the city’s infrastructure, that it would affect the environment, and that it would diminish the quality of life in East Norwalk. One of the biggest concerns was making Cemetery Street a one-lane road.

Former Mayor Alex Knopp, who lives in East Norwalk, called the traffic study “one of the worst I’ve seen in my years of public service.”

“Doing a traffic study in East Norwalk in March is like doing a traffic study around Yankee Stadium in December,” he said.

Knopp said that he supports the transit-oriented development concept, but that this was a “conflict between a good idea and a highly problematic location.” He called the Brim and Crown project right next to the East Norwalk a “no brainer,” but said that this project was “problematic,” particularly in traffic chokepoints in the neighborhood.

He called on the Commissioners to reject the traffic study as flawed, “almost ridiculous.”

Resident Jill Delaney said that she thought the plan “is very attractive,” and that it might be “a nice place to move into,” but was very concerned about the traffic math.

“I find it hard to understand how adding at least 77 cars, at least 150-200 people and that may be conservative, to a very constricted area helps the neighborhood,” she said. “The numbers don’t work and I agree that constricting the roadway to one lane is kind of nuts/kind of crazy.”

Multiple residents called on the developer to reduce the size of the project.

“The scale of the buildings…it’s just too much,” resident Patrick Shannon said. “They’re just overpowering—I don’t think it’s going to help the community coupled with the fact that it’s going to create more traffic.”

Jim Anderson, a resident of East Norwalk, said he can see the corner of the property from where he lives.

“This project will forever change the character of East Norwalk,” he said, adding his own concerns about the traffic in the area.

Lou Garcia, a resident of East Norwalk and architect, said that he believed the project was “too dense and I think it’s too dense because of the regulations.” that were approved as a part of the East Norwalk Transit Oriented Development plan.

Resident Mimi Chang asked the developer to break up the larger building into three separate, smaller structures, to allow for more green space and sight lines to the pond.

“The design appears as if the developer’s goal was to pack in as much massing and apartments as they could and then some,” she said.

If the Commission required the applicant to scale it back, Chang said that could help “set the stage for responsibly scaled developments.”

The environmental impacts, including those that Gouveia raised, as well as others about Mill Pond and flooding, were a concern to some residents.

Resident Roberta DiBisceglie said that officials were “overdeveloping this city at the expense of the natural world.”

“The city continues to pack in as many souls as they can into a limited amount of space and fritter away our natural resources,” she said. “I am horrified you would consider a development of this magnitude in this space.”

Kelly Prinz, formerly Kelly Kultys, is the founder of Coastal Connecticut Times.

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Attorney Adam Blank presents plans for 1 Cemetery St. during Thursday’s Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing.

Comments

13 responses to “Residents begin speaking out against proposed East Norwalk development”

  1. Steve Mann

    Hats off to Norwalk government on finding the most effective development tool: only tick off one section of town at a time and depend on the apathy of all others.

  2. Jeannine Steward

    I would like to back up former Mayor Alex Knopp’s comments by stating that the traffic study took place during March 2022 (see traffic data appendix) when beach traffic would have been at a minimum along with the fact that many people were still working at home due to the pandemic.

  3. Niz Judia

    I live in East Norwalk since 2015. And have read through the concerns, I think the following needs to be considered: quality of life Standards. Specifically, related to the following Special Permit Standards C (1): (a) Density of use and bulk of buildings (b) “Stable traffic flow” shall mean that site-generated traffic shall not adversely pedestrian or vehicular safety, conflict with the pattern of highway circulation or increase traffic congestion to a level of service considered unacceptable to the Commission. The Commission shall not approve developments which fail to maintain stable traffic flow unless provision has been made for the improvement of inadequate conditions (c) Availability of mass transit facilities and provision of sidewalks, with a minimum clearance of five (5) feet without (d) Availability and compatibility of utilities (e) Adverse impact from noise, odor, fumes, dust and artificial lighting (f) Signs of size and design that are in harmony with the neighborhood (g) Adequacy of yards and open space, screen and buffering

    My comprehension of my neighborhood, and the concerns noted above, should cause modifications that will scale back the project. The well noted/outlined concerns by the ENNA, is on point! As they represent a majority of East Norwalkers, that I whole heartily support.

  4. Johnny cardamone

    I always find it strange that climate change and rising tides are such a concern, unless there’s a developer with money and connections who wants to build on the waterfront! We’d all like to see the asphalt around the Wells Fargo bank removed and a park created! 77 apartments no even half that would be too many!

  5. Jill St John

    “begin”….. seriously we(East Norwalk residents) have been discussing this project since we saw the plan. Where is the parking? Change the name of cemetery street? How about we do the traffic study in…oh say July? First week or so.

  6. Tom lametta

    Webster st lot ,Glover Ave.cemetery street and Who knows what’s going to happen to all the additional space at the former factory store. The public hearings are a joke as all these projects are already approved. Take a ride to Glover Ave and see the new train station the State built to accommodate the hundreds of apartments that are coming soon. The lowering of east Ave to accommodate tractor trailers I can’t imagine it. Crews abated the old merchants bank last year knowing the approvals are assured. By the way we’re not talking about an extra 77 cars as some have said there will be hundreds not counting tractor trailer’s. When the dust settles East Norwalk and the town sorry City of Norwalk will be forever changed. But look at the bright side at least we won’t have leaf blowers to worry about !! .

  7. Tracy Barclay

    Bravo to all the speakers, both in person and Zoom who stayed until the meeting ended at 11 with no promise their chance to speak would happen. Brilliant points of opposition to the scale of this project and traffic concerns. Also noted was the eye rolling and commentary of Steve Kleppin caught during the break when he didn’t realize his mic was hot. It was just the disrespect we residents have come to accept from the P&Z dept. I hope this committee and the mayor are listening to each comment from the first to the last and I am looking forward to more robust defense of the call to scale it back on March 15. Keep up the energy, residents of Norwalk and thank you to everyone who spoke.

  8. Carol Solheim

    Thank you former Mayor Alex Knopp for pointing out the ridiculousness of the traffic study. When I lived on Gregory Blvd, we complained to the city about the noise levels. So a noise level study was done in… wait for it… December. Looking at the development being done around the city, never ending oversized apartment buildings.. how does this help the town? Yes people need places to live but few of these apartments are what anyone would consider affordable. Too many of the projects done in this town are for one purpose only, and that is to line developer’s pockets. Yes, a park on this site on Cemetery Street is a lovely idea and makes more sense than what is being proposed.

  9. Mike O’Reilly

    So much great feedback and insights from The Norwalk Community .Outstanding to hear so much brilliant feedback from our community. For the first 15 minutes of last night’s presentation we were all actually laughing out loud mostly out of sadness at how pathetic the presentation was.
    To start, we obviously need a objective traffic study to start with This cost money.

    I am donating $1000.00 to ENNA EastNorwalk Neighborhood Asociation.org. I am doing this tonight and I hope you can match this with $20 $50.00 and $100.00 donations. It’s sad we have to do this but let’s stand up for our neighborhood.

  10. Tysen Canevari

    This is so funny to see. The mayor and the state have been jammimg apartments down our throats all over Norwalk for years now and no one seems to really complain that much except a few of us. But build one in East Norwalk and look at the socio economic makeup of the people in that room doing the bitching. Yup, doesnt get any more plain vanilla than that! Even Mr Knopp joined the band wagon to complain when he usually tries to take credit for everything wonderful that happens in Norwalk. At least it is Mike Discala who is proposing the work. Not some developer that will sell it off after two years.

  11. Fred Wilms

    This project is like trying to jam a square peg into a round hole. The site is inappropriate given the traffic, environmental and neighborhood issues. This property is better suited to being an open space park. The City should purchase the property for that purpose, using eminent domain if necessary.

  12. David Muccigrosso

    @Bryan – You’re unintentionally correct. NIMBY attitude was what kept our city from keeping its housing stock up with population growth.

    If we’d never clamped things down in amber, if we had ALWAYS allowed “the next increment of construction, everywhere, automatically”, then we wouldn’t be in this mess.

    Arguably, the whole city would have been far stronger.

    But we didn’t.

    It’s not too late to fix things. To chart a prudent path of organic growth. But that organic growth needs to be legalized. Until then, growth will continue to be top-down and filled with corruption.

  13. David Muccigrosso

    @Fred: You’re ignoring the massive loss of parking we’d have if we just turned it all into a park. Not to mention the destruction of a perfectly fine, if not exactly pretty, grocery store.

    Most of the traffic will come from West Ave, which is brand-new and has plenty of available lane capacity to keep up.

    If anything, it’s the waste issues that we should be paying the most attention to. Norwalk needs to (1) pivot from dirty outdated industrial waterfront uses towards a more commercial waterfront, and (2) just build a bigger sewage treatment plant already, because the growth isn’t stopping.

    It’s tempting to think that you can somehow magically wave a wand and say “No more! Norwalk will stop growing! People will stop coming!”. But that’s a fantasy. If we don’t deal with this now, all of today’s problems will only be worse 5, 10, 20 years from now.

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