Residents raise concerns over density, traffic issues in East Norwalk plan

Emily Innes presents information about recommended East Norwalk Transit Oriented Development (TOD) land uses during a recent City Hall meeting held on Zoom.

NORWALK, Conn. — Questions surrounding density, traffic, parking, and other issues dominated two days of public hearings on the proposed East Norwalk Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) plan, which outlines zoning and design recommendations for future developments in the area around the East Avenue train station.

“This area has a lot of promise,” Planning and Zoning Director Steve Kleppin said at the July 1 public hearing. 


What’s in the plan:

There were 10 highlights that came out of the two-year planning process, as outlined by Kleppin and Emily Innes, of Harriman, the consulting group that helped put together the proposed plan.

They include:

  • Rezoning the East Avenue corridor from about I-95 South towards Gregory Boulevard and Cemetery Street from neighborhood business to a new village district designation. The rezoning would allow either current property owners or new developers to build up to 3.5 stories—currently 2.5 is allowed—through a special permit. Much of the area would also require ground floor commercial and public amenities to “create activity on the street.” The additional story would only be allowed if the developer gave back certain amenities, such as rain infrastructure, seating, streetscape, etc. “What the village district designation does is allows the city to have design control over what’s built there,” Kleppin said, highlighting areas such as building design, facade, architecture, sidewalks, and lighting. “It gives the applicant a sense that the city has outlined what they want in this area.”
  • Implementing a facade improvement program primarily for Charles Street north of Osborne Avenue to allow home and property owners to make improvements.
  • Looking into relocating the Department of Public Works garage, which currently sits along the water. “There might be a better use for that property,” Kleppin said. “It could be a return to a marine commercial use, it could be a park.”
  • Making no changes to the Water Pollution Control Authority site.
  • Rezoning pockets of property in primarily residential areas from “neighborhood business” to residential. “We’d like to pull the activity closer to the train station,” Kleppin said.
  • Allowing ground floor industrial use with residential units above it in areas to the right of East Avenue. “We thought there might be a way to enhance the economic viability of these properties by allowing a modest amount of residential above the ground floor industrial use,” Kleppin said. “They couldn’t turn the property into residential.”
  • Rezoning a section of Gregory Boulevard to the village district designation.
  • Preserving as a separate village district the Liberty Square area, where increases in property heights would not be allowed. Such a designation would serve to “protect that area,” said Kleppin, calling it “a very unique and interesting part of the city.”
  • Recommending a pedestrian promenade along Veteran’s Park to help connect South and East Norwalk, and provide a broad walkway, some seating options, and potential activities such as outdoor gym equipment or games. “One exciting thing that came out of the process, which I think will be a real win for the city in the long run, is the idea of creating this pedestrian promenade that can connect South Norwalk to East Norwalk,” Kleppin said.
  • The Preserving as a district the Cove-First Avenue, with a designation similar to that of Liberty Square. “That’s got its own unique kind of vibe to it, what we’d like to do is protect that as much as possible,” Kleppin said.

Ideally, the plan would work in conjunction with the East Avenue realignment and the East Avenue railroad bridge replacement, as a part of the Walk Bridge project to enhance pedestrian and bicycle safety along East Avenue, Innes said.

“East Avenue is not a great environment for pedestrians at the moment,” Innes said, adding that the proposed change would help create a “village center” feel for the improvements along East Avenue.

“We want people to feel like they’re coming into a village center,” Innes said. Wider sidewalks would allow more interaction along East Avenue, a public plaza vibe that would create a strong environment for pedestrians, she said.


Reaction to the plan:

Residents were invited to share their thoughts during two presentations in early July. Over 40 people offered written and oral questions, nearly all related to the proposed rezoning along East Avenue. The public also raised concerns about traffic, parking, the increased height of buildings, and the potential for added density in an area that’s already a challenge to navigate.

Lou Garcia, an architect and a 50-year resident of East Norwalk, said that while he thought it was a “good effort to try to do something in East Norwalk,” he didn’t agree with a lot of the East Avenue-related proposals.

“I don’t think increasing the density and going to 3.5 stories makes any sense for East Norwalk,” he said. “We have a very small amount of space on East Avenue. You will realize the space is very constricted. We have two lanes that (are) clogged with cars back and forth every single morning and every single afternoon.”

Kleppin did highlight that the lot sizes on East Avenue would be one way that future developments would be restricted. For example, developers in a mixed-use area must allow 1.3 parking spaces for each residential unit, so the size of the property would limit what could be built there.

Jessie McGarty, an East Norwalk resident, echoed Garcia’s concerns over the prospect of taller buildings.

“The thought of some big building—and I consider 3.5 stories big for this area,” she said. “I’m a New York City transplant. We do have that cozy New England feel and that’s why folks really love this area.”

McGarty also asked if there were any additional incentives to help existing business owners spruce up their properties.

Many people also voiced concerns about additional apartment rentals in the area, as opposed to condominiums that require ownership.

“We’re not out seeking rental apartments,” Kleppin said. “Our decision to recommend adding density…is based on a formula that can help revitalize the area. If everybody gets condos, that’s great.”

“Can any of this plan be implemented without adding one more apartment or residential unit to East Norwalk?” resident Barbara Punzi asked, citing current developments already under construction. “I kind of think that’s enough apartments. We don’t need to become South Norwalk or, God forbid, Harbor Point in Stamford.”

Kleppin noted that under current zoning, developers can already build apartments or other residential units in the neighborhood business district up to 2.5 stories—the same area that would be rezoned into a village district. He also emphasized that properties along East Avenue were much smaller than those along West Avenue, or other areas of the city that house larger developments.

“The density we’re proposing and the additional story I propose as modest,” he said. “Three and a half stories to me, especially with well-crafted design guidelines, is much different than six, eight stories you can do in other places in the city.”

While the plan aims to promote more “walkability” and other modes of transportation besides driving, many residents raised concerns about how many cars the added density could bring to the roads.

“Parking is obviously a big issue for many, many people,” resident James Mitchell said. “We see this as already maximized in various streets and locales.”

Diane Cece, a member of the East Norwalk Neighborhood Association (ENNA) and oversight committee for this plan, praised the members of the public for coming out and raising their questions and concerns.

“I’m glad that a lot of the questions came up around height and overall density, because it’s a lot of what ENNA has been hearing for months,” she said.

Cece, who has been critical of the plan, said that ENNA conducted surveys of East Norwalk residents in which they disagreed that the proposed amenities would provide enough of a tradeoff for increased density and height. She also said that in a survey with more than 300 respondents, two-thirds said they wouldn’t want to see more than 300 apartments added throughout the entire plan area.

Kleppin pushed back and said that even if nothing changed, there could be the potential for 300 units or more in the area right now.

“The density and height continue to be very serious issues,” Cece said.

Other members of the East Norwalk TOD Oversight Committee, including Councilman John Kydes, (D, District C), who represents the area, said that they appreciated the conversation and comments, but also felt that the proposed changes represented a step in the right direction.

“I’ve lived in East Norwalk my entire life, and what I see with stone yards…multifamily homes blighted…auto body shops—that’s not what I think about in a thriving seaside village district,” Kydes said. “There are improvements to be done to the area itself.”

The full plan can be found at https://tomorrow.norwalkct.org/

Emily Innes presents information about recommended East Norwalk Transit Oriented Development (TOD) land uses during a recent City Hall meeting held on Zoom.
Norwalk Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin presents information about recommended East Norwalk Transit Oriented Development (TOD) land uses during a recent City Hall meeting held on Zoom.


11 responses to “Residents raise concerns over density, traffic issues in East Norwalk plan”

  1. Sue Haynie

    There’s a lot of good work going on here. Great ideas like linking SONO & East Norwalk, removing the garage to add public space, keeping the districts, revitalizing areas. It’s respectful to the area. This is the kind of thoughtful plan I like hearing about. Kudos.

  2. Vicki Roos

    Reality check, please! A few stone yards? Blight? Get real. 2,000 apartments for what? You are taking the last bank in East Norwalk for Maximum density on cemetery street. Is Wells Fargo blight? Vets Park promenade and moving waste site have nothing to do with this zoning change. What about the ugliest apartment building on tiny Rowan Street at the train station? It’s a giant black monstrosity. Who approved that? Bank of America on Winfield will now be 17 apartments. No banks left in East Norwalk. Walkability? Don’t forget Tractor trailers will be coming through once the street is lowered at the railroad station. How many more traffic light will there be now? 8 just to go 1/4 mile? One tractor trailer will take up a whole block. Doesn’t sound very walkable. All the niceties ate out the window really. This is all just to over development East Norwalk period. Anyone can see that. It’s a shame and a sham.

  3. Steve Mann

    Today’s Wall Street Journal features a front-page article on Connecticut real estate. It appears that after “decades of stumbling” economically, the COVID crisis has prompted city dwellers to seek out small town living in our state and those buyers are largely opting for single family housing. Also mentioned is the fact that our state has had the slowest economic recovery since the recession of 2008. By the way, “recovery” is a generous assessment, since my home is worth around 60% of what it was in 2007

    But wait, after having finally gotten a bit of good news about their single largest investments, Norwalkers are now witnessing their mayor, Common Council and Zoning appointees doing everything they can to subvert the opportunities to give people what they actually want: home value appreciation.

    Can it be any more clear the hold developers have, and have had, on this city? Mr. Kydes tells you he’s lived in East Norwalk for his entire life. He’s a kind man, well liked, but neglects to mention he lives over two miles from the site of intended development. When will the ratepayers here understand that no one in City Hall wants to hear your comments? They don’t matter. 66% of survey respondents are opposed to the development, yet it advances.

    Kleppin basically says, “we’re going to approve 300 more apartments no matter what you think” The TOD development at the station has a name and number listed for information. Now we see from the drawing in this article that that was the tip of the iceberg. The word “modest” and the description of this project in the same breath is a joke. Mr. Kleppin doesn’t own property in Norwalk, nor was he elected to his position, yet his voice drowns out those of the majority of residents of East Norwalk. That’s just not right.

  4. John O’Neill

    There’s a few things I’ve learned over the years that might be helpful in deciding on Rezoning in East Norwalk:
    1) Contractors tend to want to build and build and build. It’s not a bad thing, it’s their nature. There are contractors out there that would love nothing than to build condos throughout East Norwalk. I have a friend who believes every open space on the planet would look better if a condo was built on it. – Hence, I take with a grain of salt anything a contractor may say regarding East Norwalk Zoning changes. There heart might be in the right place, but not necessarily in the community’s best interest.
    2) Learn from your mistakes. Better yet, learn from other’s mistakes. – Has anyone on any of these commissions looked at Stamford development, and the many mistakes they’ve made? I would bet not!
    3) When a politician tells a community they’re looking for input, they are usually looking for a rubber stamp. BUT, you have to admit it sounds good!
    Today’s American Hero of the day came to me as I enjoyed another fine pizza pie from Uncle Joe’s Restaurant. Great People and Terrific Pizza.
    I would like to join in with the Greek community and throw today’s shout-out to George Dilboy. For those who didn’t know George, shame on you! He’s the First Greek American Medal of Honor winner. Although saddened by his death in WW 1, his immigrant Dad could not have been prouder of his son fighting for the USA – A side note, the Dilboy family did not arrive on a Luxury cruise ship as some would lead you to believe. They were treated like crap by the Turks, and got the heck out to America. So Thank you Georgie for making us proud to call you an American Hero!!

  5. CT-Patriot

    Next time at Uncle Joe’s try their Souvlaki sandwich…

    Also Pontos…

    As for the development…Norwalk is losing its identity and by administration, trying to become another Stamford.

    Mr Mayor and council….we’ve had ENOUGH! Deal with your overflowing illegal apartments first!

  6. carol

    the powers that be are great at ruining na great neighborhood
    ,listen to the people that lie there,not the politicians or the developers. SAVE EAST NORWALK !!!!!!!!!

  7. George

    Let me get this straight.
    The city paid well for a hi-powered Boston consulting co., with much experience in similar projects, to help us with the design. And what did they produce, but a plan, with 2.5 story housing, that was not “financially feasible” for developers. At the very least, the city should get a refund on the fees paid.

  8. TomInEastNorwalk

    The residents of East Norwalk like myself who spent hours and attended the sham planning meetings were lied to and we wasted our time. We may as well have been told the results before they asked for our input. We objected to many if not most of the “suggested” points (like taller buildings and increased density) – but those items are still being pushed down out throats by the planners.

    The current “proposal” is not the collections of ideas of the residents – they are the plans of the out of state consulting group we are paying, but it seems the developers are influencing more.

    It seriously looks like the deep pocket developers are going to win and East Norwalk will be ruined. I wonder how many campaign contributors will benefit from this disgusting travesty.

  9. NiZ

    All I know is I moved to East Norwalk because I appreciate its ‘small town charm’ being close the beach, lots of mom and pop stores…. walkability, small train station, a bus line.

  10. Loretta

    I have lived in East Norwalk my whole life and have watched it change over the years. From Wall Street being the heart of the town to it now being a ghost town. The new mall is a joke, it doesn’t fit into the look of the area and If that’s any indication of what they will do to East Norwalk we are doomed. Norwalk doesn’t need any more apartments. They need single family homes that young families can afford. We need attention paid to our schools and the traffic on our roads. Building more is not the answer and what they want to build will destroy the feel we all love about East Norwalk . Why don’t all these politicians that want to change our town leave us alone and go change where they live instead

  11. Joe Ruggerio

    This is not a good plan. But I shouldn’t be surprised…look what happened with the mall…

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