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.”
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.”