NORWALK, Conn. – Mayor Harry Rilling confirmed Friday night that he has been approached by representatives of BJ’s Wholesale Club about renewing their quest for a store on Main Avenue.
“There have been discussions, but no formal discussions,” Rilling said in response to a question after NancyOnNorwalk received a tip. “They are interested in resubmitting. They are interested in that spot. But nothing has been agreed upon.” He said they have not submitted any applications to the city.
Rilling said he heard from the BJ’s representatives about a week ago.
This comes on the heels of Wednesday’s Mayor’s Night Out meeting in East Norwalk, where a member of the public asked what was happing with BJ’s.
“BJ’s has not put in another application as of yet,” he said.
Planning and Zoning Director Mike Greene jumped in.
“We’ve had no conversations that they plan” to submit another application, he said. They haven’t talked to us.”
When asked about work being done at the site, Greene said it was not related to BJ’s.
“The owners of the property have been working there since long before the (BJ’s) application,” he said, suggesting it had to do with the site cleanup.
The property at 272-280 Main Avenue is a Superfund site due to toxins left behind by previous businesses. The designation allows site owners to get federal aid for the remediation.
The original application for a 109,000-square-foot retail club sparked opposition from nearby residents as well as people who have to travel through the area frequently because of traffic concerns on the already-busy road. The proposed project became a campaign issue, with Rilling – a member of the Zoning Commission at the time – opposing putting the store on that site and recusing himself from Zoning discussions on the matter.
In mid-September, the day before a planned public hearing on the project, BJ’s pulled the plug but left the door open to return in the future.
Norwalk Zoning Commissioner Mike Mushak argued against allowing a store the size of the proposed BJ’s on the property, citing a study that recommended capping commercial buildings at 10,000 square feet. Mushak said at the time he would propose zoning changes that would include the study recommendations.
In the part of the study focused on the Central Main Avenue area, the study said:
For the segment of Main Avenue between Linden Street and Union Avenue, we recommend that retail stores be limited to 10,000 square feet and that drive-through facilities be prohibited. This size threshold is below the minimum required for a typical medium-box drugstore, and the drive-through restriction will further discourage high traffic-generating chain stores. As a result, we project that several properties that would otherwise have been redeveloped with retail will instead be redeveloped with residential.
Reduces potential growth in traffic through these segments of the corridor and encourages mixed-use development and the retention of small, locally owned businesses. If the Linco and Muller sites are redeveloped for residential purposes, the land use changes envisioned here would encourage the gradual conversion of the remainder of the corridor to uses more complementary to residential development on those parcels.
Limits potential retail expansion; makes many existing businesses non-conforming. Segment 2 in particular currently serves as a service corridor for auto-related uses; these uses may be threatened by a change in zoning that limits their expansion potential.”
The study said big box stores should be limited to the northern part of North Main Avenue, near the current Stop & Shop. To see the full study, click here: WestportNorthMainCorridorStudy
Friday night, Mushak said his attempt to pass the regulation was defeated Wednesday night.
“(Zoning Commission Chairman) Joe Santo kept saying I was doing this to protect the area from BJ’s,” Mushak said. “I said no, I was doing it because of the master plan.”
But, he said, “It’s been killed.”