Rowayton considers ‘offensive’ on Norwalk

A rendering of Bruce Beinfeild's
A rendering of Bruce Beinfield’s original proposal for a house at 2 Nearwater Road, in the middle of Farm Creek in Rowayton.

NORWALK, Conn. – Rowayton residents who expressed incredulity that a 2½-story house could have been approved to sit in the middle of a creek have been urged to take action on Norwalk Planning and Zoning.

“We need to launch an offensive at the city and the inconsistent planning and zoning laws that exist,” said Lisa Thomson, a Rowayton activist, at the Sixth Taxing District Commission meeting Wednesday.

This suggestion was made in response to a repeated question: How can a house be put on 15 feet of property?

“It is such an unusual opinion that a building can be built fully on a 15 feet of property location,” one man said. “I would say that, in most other towns, would be rejected on that basis alone. I know that they did it, I know it was their responsibility to do it, but it is also the public’s responsibility, if it has no other recourse to sue.”

A diagram on file in the Norwalk Planning and Zoning office
A diagram on file in the Norwalk Planning and Zoning office compares the size of the existing cottage at 2 Nearwater with Bruce Beinfield’s original concept for the property.

The topic at hand was architect Bruce Beinfield’s original plan for 2 Nearwater Road, which was to replace the existing cottage on a peninsula in the middle of Farm Creek with a larger house on piers. Beinfield withdrew the plan in September after more than 300 emails were sent to City Hall in protest, but it had appeared that the Zoning Commission was going to approve the plan.

The discussion about the application at the Sept. 12 Plan Review Committee meeting was short and sweet – less than nine minutes long. The topics included its storm resiliency; Beinfield said the house would have minimal impact on the sight lines. There would be two parking spaces along the road, he said. It conformed with all existing zoning regulations, he said.

Then-Zoning Commission member Mike Mushak was the only one to express a concern, questioning Beinfield about light reflecting off the water.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Mary Finnegan said that when she wanted to alter her Farm Creek Road property, she had to go through the Coastal Area Management (CAM) review and other processes. “You can’t build within 35 feet of the creek, so how did this little 15-foot-wide strip get approved for this gigantic house?” she asked.

“We don’t understand how this tiny little property can possibly have a house put on it. It doesn’t seem fair as we all have setbacks, we all have these types of things,” another Rowayton resident said, expressing “tremendous sadness about this.”

“Jody has a 30-foot setback and can’t add a garage on the trolley line, and yet we have what has been approved for Mr. Beinfield,” Thomson said.

“The Norwalk zoning department believes that a single-family residence cannot have an impact on coastal resources. … That is what drives everything,” Sixth Taxing District Commissioner Mike Barbis said.

“It’s true,” Zoning Commission member Nora King said. “I agree, the current chairman of the Zoning Commission believes there should not be public hearings for houses that are built in a CAM zone. They believe that a single-family house has no impact. I do not agree with that but I am only one vote. As the commission changes and different people get put on it, we get better resumes, more qualified people to be on those boards, that could possibly change. … But when … the director of the Planning and Zoning Department (Mike Greene) has that philosophy and sets the tone, there you have it.”

Diane Lauricella had been the first to mention zoning regulations.

“We need good people to send resumes to the mayor and the council,” Lauricella said. “We also have to ask our council people to make sure they use their committees to deal with this as well because our coast is a wonderful asset. It also protects us from what is happening with weather, so we need to make sure. It’s not just Rowayton. This is a Norwalk issue, to protect all of Norwalk, and we need to make sure our local government is working better. One way is to look at who is on those land use boards. We need to send resumes. We also need to ask our mayor and council people and our zoning and planning commissioners to step up instead of hiding.”

Thomson kept beating the drum for organized rebellion.

“This is a unique planning and zoning issue relevant to Farm Creek but it is not the first planning and zoning issue to come up in this town,” she said.

That includes Main Avenue, where BJ’s Wholesale Club was looking to build, she said.

“Problems like these are popping up all over Norwalk because of either archaic rules, the inconsistent applications or just no rules whatsoever,” Thomson said. “At least in Stamford they stopped Bridgewater from taking over a boatyard. I think over in Darien they just stopped the pink house from being subdivided into two lots. The pressure of public opinion is quite strong … Bruce is doing what he is doing because the city let him.”


12 responses to “Rowayton considers ‘offensive’ on Norwalk”

  1. The Norwalker

    I do not even live in Rowayton, but it would be a shame to block other people’s view of the creek and the bay beyond the bridge. What about the view to the bridge where kids dive off to swim in the sound.

  2. Don’t Panic

    The situation with Zoning is out of control. It is time to rethink the whole arrangement.

  3. piberman

    Well if the folks in Rowayton take a serious interest in the City’s zoning morass we may see some action. When the mall is built how will exit to 1-95 ? By helicopter ? Would the Rowayton folks tolerate a mosque destroying their neighborhood ?

  4. EveT

    I think everyone can agree that Norwalk’s zoning regulations are out of date. Deciding how to update them in a way that benefits the city and its residents would be a major challenge.

  5. Taxpayer Fatigue

    I don’t understand how this is even a build-able lot? How are side/front yard setbacks met?

  6. Andrea Light

    This kind of conversation makes me a little crazy because it’s laden with sweeping statements like “launch an offensive against the city.” I spent some time on the Zoning Commission.The staff members with whom I’ve worked has excellent knowledge of the regulations and the possible impacts of applications presented for approval. Commissioners from both sides of the aisle were thoughtful and inquisitive. Anyone can approach the office to review pending applications – they are posted on the city website I believe. Zoning amendments are proposed all the time. I loved Zoning Amendments because that’s where we as Commissioners had the most leeway to accept or reject – Site Plan Reviews and Special Permit Applications have specific criteria to evaluate so there’s has less wiggle room.

    Vis a vis, archaic rules (which ones pray tell?), Mike Greene worked with my neighborhood of Harborview several years ago to try to develop an overlay zoning. The objective Mike voiced was to help us deal with inconsistent set-backs, insufficient off-street parking and building height issues. No zoning amendments came from this exercise because we could not, as a community, reach agreement on what overlay to existing B Residence Zone rules we wanted, but many lessons were learned. For me, one that stands out is that the Planning Commission needs to be more pro-active in the overview which will give the Zoning Commission more clout in working out the details.

  7. Suzanne

    It is remarkable that Mr. Beinfield could meet all zoning requirements with this home on stilts above water that surges and a natural area, called an “estuary” by some on these threads. How is this possible?
    To heck with views – where are the wastes from this house going? Where is the water coming from? How is electrical maintained and energy generation? On a, as described, 15 foot “spit” of land surrounded by water???
    If someone other than Mr. Beinfield should propose such a plan, what would their chances be in getting this house approved? What about the sacred setbacks so often imposed on others next to other waterways and sources, including wetlands?
    Of course it would be a challenge to change zoning regulations – but the alternative, as so clearly illustrated here, is much, much worse. The leniency toward developers or anyone, for that matter with influence, over existing regulations is shocking and not equally applied to every citizen.
    If you don’t think so, check the setback requirements per environmental regulations. Whatever variances Mr. Beinfield was able to obtain for this? On top of the water? If they are not wrong, they should be.
    That is why zoning regulations need to be changed and the challenge taken. I hope Rowaytonites so interested gather together other interested groups throughout the City – NASH in Silvermine comes to mind – because with such zoning regulations that currently exist, any plot of land, commercial or residential, will be subject to the generous variances often extended to developers and, if none, a desecration of existing lands fully within the existing, inadequate law.

  8. spanner

    Wasn’t the McMansion era blessed by the zoning board in Rowayton years ago where a lot of owners created this knack by its owners?Whats good for one is not good for another?

    Maybe now the city can overhaul the way its done business for years,if Rowayton wants support let them send some to other parts of the city first and show everyone its a team player.

    First it was trucks then the bridge and now this with many other things in the middle,almost comical for the Norwalk’s Rowayton ranking #6 “Happiest Seaside Town” in America.Kiss that title goodbye.

    Some of the clowns have frowns we have your trucks you have our city hall seems fair it all worked out in the end.

    Whats going on is a shame a lot of good people who do great things for Norwalk who live in Rowayton Diane and Nora are right as well.

    Anyone thinks city carting doesn’t smell whether its the transfer station or the contract are wrong but that is one example where if we had a unified city maybe things wouldn’t be as bad as they are now.Thank your councilors for the deep-seated animosity from some of us.

    @piberman your right the answer is NO

  9. Priscilla Feral

    I realize one snarky comment above is offered as a stab at humor perhaps, but the arguments all boil down to questions about whether there’s political corruption, and why any sensible bureaucrat would show such a reckless disregard for preserving nature in Rowayton. I don’t think we have time to send resumes to people who might hold all the wrong ideas anyway. The urgent intervention has to engage the Commissioners and Mayor so that adequate weight and influence are placed on developers fronting the ideas that destroy an intended nature preserve. Following that solution, the Zoning Commission can be investigated and changed.

  10. One and Done.

    They should rebuild Washington Village or the Mosque there.

  11. Carol

    Diane-toughto change things when you send in resume’s and they are ignored–would love to sit on zoning and make some badly needed changes.

  12. peter parker

    Zoning and Planning and DPW all need big changes! This city has real issues relating to both. Go get em Rowayton!

Leave a Reply

Recent Comments