NORWALK, Conn. – Some tinkering with the zoning regulations regarding parking is being proposed by Norwalk Democrats, with Rowayton eyed as a test subject for the entire city.
Yes, it’s true that Rowayton has a Village District, but it’s just a “token,” Zoning Commissioner Nora King said at a recent Zoning Committee meeting. The reason, she explained in an email, is that Rowayton reverts back to city-wide requirements in Section 118-1220.
“There’s a problem with the small businesses and the ability to get things done in that area,” she said to fellow zoning commissioners. “As someone who is very familiar with village districts and how they are being set up through Connecticut with what I actually do for a living, I think doing something like this in Rowayton is sort of critical. Right now, even though it’s called a village district, that’s a token — in name only. When you actually do the research … it shows that most village districts don’t even have any parking requirements.”
Two Rowayton Common Council members expressed widely divergent opinions about the idea Tuesday.
“I think Nora, Mike Mushak and others have some good concepts about a new village zoning rule,” said John Igneri (D-District E). “I think we could use Rowayton as a test for the rest of Norwalk, maybe put in different rules for different areas of the city so that we could ease the parking problems and make it easier for restaurants and small businesses to open their doors.”
“In the urban core, I agree with Nora and Mike Mushak, (wow, amazing, I know) that parking minimums create excess parking spaces and distort the landscape,” David McCarthy (R-District E) said in an email. “I met with Adam Blank and Mike Greene to begin a discussion to look into that along West Av, where there are a huge number of parking spaces being required of developers (Waypointe, 95/7, etc), most of which will not be used at any one time.”
But, he continued, “Rowayton is different, and does not fit the definitions she is using. Given the uses we have right now, the parking in the area is extremely tight at almost every area of the day. Parking restrictions are one of the only tools the city has to maintain control over business uses and potential overreaches. I have seen it occur up and down Rowayton Av. What was a polite and walkable stretch of the avenue is becoming more and more focused on cars. People used to stop and let people cross the street, and now they race along that strip and the entire character of the village has changed. Removing parking minimums will exacerbate the problem the village is facing and while it might do a favor for certain business owners, it won’t benefit the village, the district, the city or the citizens. I get calls about trucks through Wilson Av and Rowayton Av all the time. Limiting that sort of traffic is the right thing to do.”
King said Monday that Norwalk has token village districts geared toward specific developments. A village district revision for Rowayton would change the code.
“You create a pure village district and then you create new regulations around it so that it helps small businesses,” she said. “It shouldn’t just be for Rowayton, it should be for other parts of Norwalk, but you kind of have to start somewhere, right? You look at some of the things Stamford is doing, they have these districts around Glenbrook, they just basically make it easier for small businesses to be able to operate and do business.”
This could, for example, be good in East Norwalk, she said.
“They walk for ice cream, to go out to a restaurant, or go to get a cup of coffee, if they live in the nucleus or the hub,” she said.
Village districts are being done by progressive communities, she said.
”Norwalk hasn’t been a leader, at the forefront of doing that,” she said. “Honestly, that’s why people aren’t choosing our town.”
The city regulations that Rowayton reverts to allows for one parking space per 200 square feet of retail space; one parking space per 334 square feet of gross floor area and one parking space per 45 square feet of active floor space.
“As we all know, the future of progressive areas and cities allows for much higher square footage and most progressive towns and cities have moved away from these standards in walking or transit towns,” she said.
The Zoning Commission will consider the concept. The recent conversation was just the beginning of the discussion; Zoning Committee Chairwoman Emily Wilson asked King to come back with a specific amendment for consideration.
King has the support of Zoning Commissioner Mike Mushak, also a Dem, who she said has done an “amazing” job of providing her with studies about parking.
A “fascinating” 2006 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) outlines the national effort to do this as part of the “Smart Growth” planning movement, and is attached below.
“I personally feel there should be no parking requirements and the more walkable visionary areas in other states are doing this,” she said. “However, I realize that Norwalk is still not that flexible with parking requirements so I suggest one to two spaces per 1,000 square feet of gross floor area. I also think we need to get away from this ‘active’ concept that could be easily not interpreted the correct way.”
King said she likes a recommendation in a Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) Smart Growth Parking Code Guidance publication: “A combination of on-street parking and off-street parking is typically used at approximately one to two spaces per 1,000 square feet of gross floor area for non-residential uses and one space per unit for market-rate residential land uses in downtowns, town centers, transit corridors, and mixed-use districts in small cities. Parking usage may be even lower close to excellent transit and in walkable, bikeable communities,” the publication says on page 14.
“After all, this is 2014. … I think it is time for us to start favoring a more progressive model for Village Districts and parking requirements,” she said. “We should be all about ‘smart growth’ and small businesses. Norwalk is a city built on small business and we need to start supporting this.”
“There are good, positive things about it,” Igneri said. “We need to be careful about being too enthusiastic about it and making mistakes, open the door for someone to take advantage of the easier rules. So that’s what we’re looking at.”