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Rilling agrees with citizens in key criticism of proposed Norwalk zoning regulation update

Urges public participation in update process

Mayor Harry Rilling discusses the draft Norwalk zoning regulation rewrite, Thursday at City Hall. At right is Principal Planner Bryan Baker. (Harold F. Cobin)

NORWALK, Conn. — Mayor Harry Rilling has joined the citizens who object to the citywide zoning rewrite’s proposal to change some single-family areas into districts where two-family homes can be built.

Rilling held a news conference Thursday to assure residents that their voices are being heard.

“I wanted to get out up front so that people can feel a little bit more relaxed, that we’re going to take a serious look at the areas where the zoning regulations suggest that perhaps we should have a two-family residence area where there’s only one right now,” Rilling said at City Hall. “I believe there’s room for modifications that we should be looking at, and making modifications to the recommendations by the team that’s looking at our zoning regulations.”

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In January 2021, the City hired consultant Town Planning and Urban Development (TPUDC) at a cost of $190,040 to review and update the city’s zoning code, which hasn’t had a comprehensive overhaul in more than 30 years, according to Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin. The rewrite is meant to align with the City’s Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD), a state-mandated 10-year guide revised in 2019. 

Rilling, a former Zoning Commissioner, voiced a widely held opinion about the current zoning regulations when he spoke to the press Thursday.

“I think the zoning in the city of Norwalk is very complex, not easily understandable,” he said. “…It’s all over the place. So, I think it’s time for us to take a look at all the areas, make the zoning more consistent, and more appropriate for a city that’s growing like this, like the city of Norwalk.”

But he’s been hearing from citizens who object to some single-family areas being converted into two-family areas.

“I want people to know upfront I share those same concerns,” he said. “I think we all can agree that Norwalk needs more housing. More housing helps the city grow and Norwalk is a growing city. But I think it’s a little too much, too fast.”

He’s met with Planning and Zoning and conversations will continue, he said, urging people to speak at the zoning regulation update public hearings planned for June 21 and June 28, at 6 p.m. on Zoom.

“I have all the confidence in the world that the Planning and Zoning Commission, during the next two public hearings, will take their advice or take their comments seriously and will make the appropriate decisions,” he said.

Kleppin said the Planning and Zoning Commission will digest the public’s feedback over the summer and delay a vote until late fall, when everyone is engaged again.

He described the draft rewrite as “vastly different structurally and aesthetically” from the decades-old code, but said that once people learn how to navigate it, it will be easier for them to use and understand.

“We’ve proposed to consolidate a portion of the B zone, which is basically a single-family zone on a very small lot, with a C zone into what’s called the CD-3. And that would allow for one or two family – you don’t have to do a two, but it would allow for one or two,” Kleppin said at a recent town hall, where Shorefront Park homeowners voiced objections.

“We don’t see that as an increase in density basically because ADUs (accessory dwelling units) are allowed in all single-family zones today. So you can already do a second unit on your property,” Principal Planner Bryan Baker said Monday at a discussion for Harbor View, Village Creek and Brookside. P&Z can guide the look of a two-family home and, “We’re hoping that it increases some homeownership opportunity.”

Harbor View and Village Creek would remain single family zones under the proposal, he said. Devil’s Garden is proposed to become two-family as part of Brookside, but since it’s further away from the South Norwalk train station and the downtown density this is likely to be changed, in light of feedback at a Sixth Taxing District meeting. Highland Avenue might become “sort of the dividing line” between the two zoning designations, he said.

“In the community meetings we’ve had, I think it’s been a good dialogue,” Kleppin said Thursday. “I know people get exercised when you talk about change on their property. And you know, we’ve told them, ‘Look, it’s the first step, we’re here to listen. And here’s why we’ve made the changes. And when we understand you don’t always like those. But here’s what we’re recommending, but we’ll take anything you have under consideration.’”

The “key thing” is that no determinations have been made yet, he said. The recommendations follow the planning documents that have been done over the last few years but “these are just recommendations in that the final verdict hasn’t been made on any of these yet.”

Rilling said that not only should people attend the public hearings, but “I would encourage them to send us emails, whatever other correspondence they have available that they feel is appropriate, because we do listen.”

Again, homes are needed and, “Density is not a bad thing. It’s just how you go about it,” he said.

“Norwalk is unique in that we have many little neighborhoods that are identifiable as neighborhoods, and we want to maintain the integrity of those neighborhoods,” Rilling said. “…When you act quickly, sometimes you don’t get it right. We want to make sure we get it right.”

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2 responses to “Rilling agrees with citizens in key criticism of proposed Norwalk zoning regulation update”

  1. David Muccigrosso

    The NIMBYs are playing right into Harry’s hands here.

    Look, you don’t have to like the huge apartment complexes. I don’t like them either. But by refusing to upzone EVEN just to the next increment, you’re guaranteeing that Harry will keep having plenty of opportunities to hand even more corrupt apartment deals to the big developers. You’re guaranteeing that Norwalk never grows its own ecosystem of small developers who can do small projects that give us the “gentle density” and “slow growth” that leaders like Lisa Brinton say they want.

    People, the growth isn’t going anywhere. And we have 3 paths to choose:

    (1) Keep letting Harry build these unsustainable apartments, keep hating each other, keep resenting growth.
    (2) Don’t let anything grow. Wait until Norwalk becomes so absurdly unaffordable that the growth dries up and tanks EVERYONE’s property values and neighborhoods.
    (3) Accept slow, gentle growth.

    People have lived happily with slow, gentle growth for literally all of human civilization up until the last 100 years or so. It was only around that time that we started having these unrealistic expectations of our neighborhoods being permanently frozen in amber.

    People, things change. Families move in, their kids grow up, kids move out, couples grow old, and die or move out. Even if you stayed in your neighborhood for your entire adult life, and nothing was ever built there, its character would change — from kids playing in the street, to teens driving their cars, to a street of empty nests, and then back to kids playing in the street — for whole decades at a time.

    No one wants to turn Norwalk into Manhattan. Literally no one. In places where single-family has been upzoned to two, the pace of change has been remarkably slow. Your neighborhood wouldn’t be demolished even in a short 5 years; it’d take 10, 20, or even 30 for the change to become apparent.

    It’s time to turn the temperature down on this debate. Slow, gentle growth is what Norwalk needs. Let’s embrace it.

  2. John O’Neill

    I read this with much amusement — WHY is it that many Democrat Do-Gooders want all these inclusive policies, BUT NOT IN THEIR BACKYARD? While I’m not actually saying they are all hypocrites it sure seems that way in the above story. Where was the outrage from District E leaders from Rowayton as monstrosity on North Richards Avenune was in the incubation stage? BUT then again, North Richards Avenue is not on the Five Mile River. Shorefront Park residents tend to be most Liberal constituents in Norwalk, EXCEPT when it comes to their seaside landscape being invaded by those who may disturb their pickleball games. Like many moderates we’re tired of their nonsense.
    IF Kleppin had any guts he’d call them out. BUT then again he lives in well zoned and homogenous New Fairfield, when not making density decisions for his employer. (US)
    This reminds me of a conversation I had with a guy from DesegregateCT last year. I actually found his points interesting,.. until I found out he lived on a two acre parcel in the quaint All-White town of Weston. – I think that encounter frames the topic perfectly.

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