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Rilling: BJ’s has made overtures about making another try for Main Ave.

Then-mayoral candidate Harry Rilling holds a press conference in September at the site of the proposed BJ’s Wholesale Club, saying that BJ’s would bring unneeded and debilitating traffic to Main Avenue and low-wage and part time jobs.

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:

Descriptions

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.

Benefits

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.

Costs

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.”

Comments

12 responses to “Rilling: BJ’s has made overtures about making another try for Main Ave.”

  1. Ken

    Im not sure I understand how encouraging redevelopment into housing helps us any more than big retail will. Norwalk is already bursting at the seams with people. That area was always meant for retail & industry. Complaints from residents should be taken in that light, if you moved there within the last 40 years you knew what you were getting into. Norwalk could benefit a lot from a BJs both in tax revenue & job creation. The Mayor, having milked Norwalk now for several decades, might not understand what its like to need a job. When you need work part time isn’t a bad thing. But putting condos there will give not a single Norwalker anything, nothing, not a place to shop, not a place to work, zero, just more Norwalkers to compete with.
    Not sure what this “Master plan” is, but given the debacles created in several places in the city I don’t have much faith in our ability to do anything but make a mess.
    At the end of the day its private property & as such placing obstacles in the path of ANY legal development, or trying to change the rules in the middle of the game, are as wrong as wrong can be. Its a city Govt not a strong arm operation.

  2. dlauricella

    This is a new year….let’s begin with New Ideas!

    Other cities and towns across the nation would love to help this landowner come up with a better use for this land than a big box! Let’s give our new Mayor the chance to offer a better use of this land! but we have to do this now!

    With a new administration and several Common Council leaders representing and living within the areas that a large retailer like BJ’s would affect…it is time to think outside the box.

    I believe that it is right and good for local and state government to help find better uses for the site in question.

    We citizens have paid high salaries to staff in Planning and Zoning and the Redevelopment Agency, as well as our state and federal legislators, to advise our Council and land use appointees to offer ALTERNATIVES.

    It is my understanding that the open-minded effort of Zoning Commissioner Mushak to adopt what credible master planning studies suggested about zone regulation changes on Main Avenue was shut down by both Moccia/Esposito appointees and the staff due to their continued myopic views of land use and property rights that have hurt residential taxpayers over time.

    Let’s have a community forum about the touchy subject of property rights. What about the property rights of all the neighborhoods that surround this tiny parcel? The point is we need to seek a balance and anyone who has been following land use trends since the 1980’s on the Connecticut, Westport Avenue and Main Avenue corridors show an old-fashioned, narrow view of turning former manufacturing land into big box retail with miles of asphalt parking spaces!

    I support what Council President Doug Hempstead (Council President and Planning Committee Chair) said at the first Council meeting about good governance…and Council Majority Leader Jerry Petrini and Council Minority Leader John Igneri and new Council Finance Chair Bruce Kimmel all said…let’s work together for the good of Norwalk and think outside the (big?)box.

    If we do not ask this of many of our development community and their consultants, land owners will continue to submit the “easiest” ways to make a buck.

    In a capitalist system, we cannot assume that it is the landowner’s job to strive for the “highest and best use” (although we do have several more-responsible land owners who strive for this…often discouraged by staff and bureaucracy).

    IT IS GOVERNMENT’S ROLE at every level to offer better alternatives, incentives and find a balance via reasonable, clear regulation and process. All these things need improvement.

    As a positive suggestion:
    Why can’t we encourage and help the land owner to seek something like a clean manufacturing/assembly use under special permit,that will assist:

    A) Tax base: Allow for additional development incentives by federal, state and local governments bring in even more “tax base” than a BJ’s?

    B) Jobs: Since this was a former manufacturing site for so many years, albeit dirty at the time, current standards and regulations would never allow a “dirty” industry to exist any more. Just think, this is within walking distance and would provide many more better-paying jobs.

    C) Sustainable Traffic patterns

    Come on people…we are blessed to have state legislators that have major connections to the Appropriations, Commerce Committees, etc….let’s do our homework.

    Let’s help the land owner realize a better idea!!!

  3. Piberman

    Here’s a chance for Mayor Rilling to step out in front with his new team and demonstrate how the “New Norwalk” works towards encouraging the return of small business to Norwalk. The return of BJs suggests they believe nothing has really changed.

  4. LWitherspoon

    Meet the new boss, same as the old boss?

  5. Suzanne

    More like meet the “new” Santos. Same as the old Mr. Santos. Whatever ideas to conform with the master plan have been “killed”. Now that’s really thinking outside of the (big) box.

  6. Mr Norwalk Ct

    Ken
    You are 100 percent correct on all points.
    I would add that good old Harry has been Mayor for almost 2 months and has accomplished ZERO. He is an empty suit as Mayor just like he was an empty uniform as police chief.

  7. EveT

    Smart development was a campaign theme for Rilling and several others who are now in office. Another big box store, and especially in that cramped, congested location, is simply not smart. Let’s think outside the (big) box.

  8. the donut hole

    next to Orange who rejected Stews application, we could just be the dumbest city in a state that is already closed for business. Nothing will scare developers away quicker than bipolar zoning regulations.

  9. jlightfield

    I would welcome an urban way of looking at this. Have BJs become the ground floor tenant of a 15 story high rise replacing the Wall Street Place project and incorporate a new library as part of the conditions of a new land disposition agreement. It would accomplish the revitalization of downtown by providing an anchor retail tenant, increased housing and more importantly establish how Norwalk can achieve public amenities that benefit the economic development of the entire city.

  10. SilenceDogood

    When discussing property rights, perhaps greater credence could be given to those who actually are property owners, and therefore pay real property tax. Should some who “post” here be more aptly called “imposters”?

  11. Unionsfirst

    This comment has been removed to comply with our policy regarding “sock puppetry,” or the practice of posting under multiple names on the same topic to show wider support for one’s position.

  12. jill st. john

    I know you all love mixed use, but lets remember the stress on the schools. marketing time for rentals used to be about 2 weeks, now its 3 months. BJ’s would bring jobs, and money they come they shop they leave.

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