Rilling looks to stitch Norwalk economic development issues and zoning together

Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling
Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk will be addressing the “big picture” shortly with department heads and key city government volunteers in an attempt to form a unified approach to development issues, as many residents decry the zoning regulations that have led to three controversial proposals.

Mayor Harry Rilling is expected to hold a press conference Tuesday to announce what one volunteer said will be an effort to form an economic development action plan.

“Probably Tuesday morning I’m going to announce the fact that I am going to be forming an economic development team and also going to be looking at zoning issues. That’s the two processes we’ll be discussing,” Rilling said.

“I believe the mayor has got a group that is going to be looking at economic development, but really economic development with a focus on the physical development, development of property,” Zoning Commissioner Adam Blank said. “There’s going to be a meeting to have an economic development action plan for the city of Norwalk, that I think is going to involve a number of department heads and chair persons or key people from some commissions.”

That would include Common Council members and people from the Redevelopment Agency and the Planning Commission, Blank said.

This comes on the heels of the vote to buy the Fillow Street property owned by the Al Madany Islamic Center to settle the federal lawsuit that has been looming over Norwalk since 2012. Also in the public’s consciousness is the withdrawn application to put a BJ’s Wholesale Club on Main Avenue and possible re-application from Attorney Bruce Beinfield to expand the house at 2 Nearwater Road, in the middle of Rowayton’s Farm Creek.

Blank pledged to work to reform the zoning regulations when Rilling reappointed him in August.

Asked about that, Blank said, “There’s a couple of things that are sort of independent and sort of together. It’s a bit in flux. I have met in an informal meeting with zoning staff and (Zoning Vice Chair) Emily Wilson to go over some of the most obvious issues that I think can be addressed – dealing with work housing in the industrial zone, which I think is 30 percent there and 10 in the rest of the city; talking about a desire to increase density and height in South Norwalk through central Norwalk; and to decrease the parking requirements. Those are general concepts, so we have started to look at them and try to deal with what we want as an end product. That informally has started.”

He then referred to Rilling’s expected meetings “to try to come up with some big picture vision.”

“Either in connection with that, which is my preference, or potentially independently, individually I will meet, whether informally or with some task force with a similar group of players, to then come up with how we will implement this big picture,” Blank said.

Everyone is saying that the zoning regulations need to be overhauled, but it’s not that simple, he said.

It would be tough for someone in a wheelchair to get past this telephone pole in front of the new Norwalk fire station on Connecticut Avenue.
It would be tough for someone in a wheelchair to get past this telephone pole in front of the new Norwalk fire station on Connecticut Avenue.

Sidewalks are a topic but, “Just looking at that issue, is it a zoning issue, is it Common Council, or is it a DPW issue? Is it Redevelopment? Are we all on the same page?” Blank asked.

That needs to be ironed out, he said.

“On Connecticut Avenue, they just put in new sidewalks, but the telephone poles, they kept them right in the middle of the sidewalk,” Blank said.

Another example would be that many people say zoning requires too much parking, he said. “I think my view, and I think (former Zoning Chairwoman Jackie Lightfield) would agree, we ought to shift away from having parking being predominately on individual users, private user lots, and have central parking locations. Have a number of garages that service a decent area,” Blank said.

There should be an optimization of the available space and shared parking arrangements in garages because “You need a lot less if somebody is sharing,” he said.

“On the Zoning Commission, sure, I can write a regulation that says you don’t need any parking, but that creates problems, doesn’t really solve them unless the Parking Authority and the Common Council are on board for funding and where these lots are going to be located,” Blank said. “Or if the Council looks at it and says we’re going to buy this piece of property and we’re going to hold it as the need arises so we’re good with you really ratcheting down the parking requirements, but limit it to this geographic area.”

The need for cooperation is obvious, he said.

“What if Redevelopment is working on a deal for 95/7 for that site to have no parking or for that site to have an abundance of parking. That makes a difference, I think, to what zoning does,” Blank said. “Almost every issue that’s considered zoning maybe can be gone through the Zoning Commission but is probably better solved through an agreement through whichever player might have a stake in that issue, agreeing on a strategy and then you change the zoning regs. So I am still adamant about getting the zoning regulations modified as needed, but I want to do it in a way that makes sense and I think that has to involve Redevelopment, Planning, the Common Council and Zoning.”


11 responses to “Rilling looks to stitch Norwalk economic development issues and zoning together”

  1. John Hamlin

    Who’s in charge? Who is accountable for all of this? It seems thang no one is accountable for planning, development and zoning. Until Norwalk has a significant charter reform so that we have a strong mayor and a city manager with authority and accountability, not much will happen in the face of the entrenched interests.

  2. Casey Smith

    Good luck with that one, Harry. Those fiefdoms are deeply entrenched.

  3. Piberman

    John Hamlin is on target. Without incoming Mayors having full appointment authority over key boards not much will happen. Omitted from the Mayor’s proposal is the importance of getting the City’s budget under control, affordable to residents and competitive with other communities.
    No City ever regains its “luster” without controlling its finances. So far the Mayor has not put City finances on high priority. So we know the result – continued stagnation.

  4. EveT

    Thanks for the photo of the utility pole smack in the middle of the sidewalk. So maddening. It makes Norwalk look stupid and uncaring. What are sidewalks for, duh!
    Like one department/agency blindly says “We were told to lay the sidewalk thus and so” and another department/agency blindly says “We were told to plant utility poles thus and so.” Common sense be damned.

  5. Sara Sikes

    Speaking of poles and stupidity, why did the city workers replace the fallen wooden pole on corner of Main and Wall with another wooden pole? My friend was driving by when the wooden pole fell, pulling the traffic lights down and missed her car by inches. So the lights were again strung from one metal pole to a NEW wooden pole, which could rot and fall down on another driver. There is a metal pole a few feet away where the lights could have been strung. Why Why Why?

  6. Oldtimer

    When the pole fell, it was not a wooden pole that failed, it was a metal pole, and we were told it had failed because of extensive corrosion at the base. If it was replaced with a wooden pole, my guess would be that is a temporary fix. Some said they felt traffic moved better without the lights, but others seemed to think it was important to get the lights back up as soon as possible.

  7. Mike Mushak

    A step in the right direction.

  8. Nancy

    Why bother with a pole at all in front of a dilapidated building. No one is going to invest in a business near a derelict property anyway. Its a shame that there are no blight ordinance laws to protect property and business owners from a few slumlords that drag a whole area down. It must be classic a game of monopoly where one investor drives down the values of its surrounding properties in order to swipe them up pennies on the dollar. Too bad for the residents and business owners in this area who have put so much effort into making this charming street a wonderful place to live and work. Sadly, they are overshadowed by a few bad apples.

  9. piberman

    Mike Mushak gets it right with just a few words.
    “A step in the right direction.”

  10. Nicole Spiropolis

    It shouldn’t be news that a mayor appreciates that zoning changes need to be taken in the broader context of our city. You’re telling me that before Mayor Rilling, zoning changes would be made without looking at traffic flows, public safety, and DPW infrastructure? Wow- that level of planning says a lot for the way we elect our legislative body here.

    The problem with boards and commissions isn’t that the Mayor can’t put on who he wants. The problem is that political deals are made because of the need to apportion seats to the two major parties. How else do you get a Joe Santo and a Nora King on one commission?

    You want to fix the problem? Post upcoming vacancies for boards and commissions. Encourage the public to apply. Who knows the talent pool that would be tapped if skilled professionals didn’t think that they’d have to play political footsie for a chance to serve their hometown.

    Editor’s note: Mr. Santo and Ms. King were appointed by different mayors. Also, the city charter dictates limits on the number of members of each political party that can be on appointed panel.

  11. Nora King

    @ Nicole. You should send your resume in to city hall. Don’t be so quick to put those down that give up much of their personal time to VOLUNTEER to help their city. The Common Council, boards and commissioners are all volunteers. I think both Mayor Rilling and Mayor Moccia always looked (look) for volunteers. They are not that easy to find. It is actually not easy to find people who want to run for Common Council as well. You should send your resume to the Mayor. I am sure he is very open to smart and committed people to help make Norwalk a better place.

    You may not agree or like myself or Joe Santo but I can honestly say both of us work hard for the city and give up a lot of personal time to try to do make the city a better place.

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