Rowayton eyed as test tube for new parking requirements

Norwalk Police Commission 041214 009
The walkability of Rowayton makes it perfect for tweaked parking regulations that would come with a more serious Village District designation, Zoning Commissioner Nora King said.

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.”


City code 118-1220



9 responses to “Rowayton eyed as test tube for new parking requirements”

  1. John Hamlin

    It’s hard to see Rowayton as being similarly situated to other parts of Norwalk when it comes to these parking regs, and it’s businesses seem to be doing just fine. Using it as a model for a change in parking regs would be sort of like using it as a test case for a stronger blight ordinance. But time to change the regs for areas like SoNo and West Ave.

  2. EDR

    Mrs King raises some good points. However In order to discuss parking requirements you also need to discuss other aspects about the debate such as location near mass transit, pricing, etc. Quoting planning papers and studies is easy but without specifics relative to the locale-‘the one size fits all concepts of urban planning do not work. What has Ridgefield done with theirs or Middletown? Are you not looking for comparable situations?

    The debate about parking is a good one and needs to be studied but the fact is we are a state and city dominated by automobile travel. Norwalk has no subways and the only CBD rail access is in SONO where parking demand for commuters is very high. We are working on bike lanes but how safe are they really given the suburban nature of much of the city. Living in Norwalk is different then living in NYC for example or even Stamford which has seen massive downtown dense residential construction near its train station.

    With respect to SONO and Rowayton I seemed to recall there are already concepts for shared and off site parking as well as mixed use credits. I suspect that the economic issues with tenants have far more to do with the economy, rents, and changing demographics than parking regulations.

  3. Mike Mushak

    I often stop at Rowayton Market in the heart of the village area at different times of the day, at peak hours in the morning, at lunch, and at dinner time. I have never seen what Dave McCarthy describes as parking being “extremely tight at every time of the day”. The municipal parking lot is often more than half empty even at peak times, and I can often find a spot right on the street right in front of the market as it has a quick turnover rate. .
    Nora King’s motives are to improve Rowayton by making it even more of a walkable and attractive destination by filling the numerous empty storefronts that are suffering from restrictive and generic suburban parking requirements that should not apply to this unique area. This issue has nothing to do with the thru truck issue that is based on a lack of enforcement. Perhaps John Igneri and Dave McCarthy can request an occasional DOT spot check with the NPD to control the increased truck traffic, but any increased truck traffic for small storefront businesses or offices will be minimal.
    Nora’s initiative reflects concerns of the community and the 6th Taxing District, and is a sincere effort to help small businesses thrive in Norwalk . I agree with her, and I also agree with former Senate candidate and WWE president Linda’s McMahon, who said “small businesses are the engine of our economy, and create 65% of new private sector jobs.” Our current obsolete and punitive parking regulations stifle small business creation in Norwalk, and so I applaud the long overdue changes to these regulations .
    This should be supported by everyone on both sides of the aisle as a positive move for Norwalk., to fill vacant space, create jobs, create more vibrant and safe neighborhoods, and add commercial tax revenue to help offset our high residential burden.
    I am glad to see Dave McCarthy support changes to our obsolete parking requirements in our downtown areas. What many folks don’t realize is that the current requirements keep housing less affordable to everyone, as every required structured space costs $20,000 to $30,000 to construct, costs which are added into the proposed rents to allow developers to finance their projects. If you lower construction costs, you lower rents across the board, making housing more affordable which is what towns and cities have figured our across the country.
    That is just one of the many benefits of following expert recommendations in our taxpayer-funded 2012 Parking Master Plan, that recommended a short term goal by 2014 of reducing our commercial and residential parking ratios city-wide by roughly 25-35%. That hasn’t happened yet, of course, but Nora King’s initiative is a step in this direction that a top parking consultant and planning firm in the country recommended.

  4. Justin Pugh

    Thanks Mike Mushak for being willing to say anything, no matter how ludicrous, to support your friends! It makes it easier to out you.

    The constant trucks and cars are an issue when they are on Fairfield Av, but they don’t exist when they are in Rowayton? You’ve been there and you don’t see them. Well, oddly, every other person does.

  5. piethein

    Completely agree with Mike. I also come to the Village Center at all times of the day including weekends and never have any problem finding a spot. Great work Nora and Mike !

  6. Spanner

    Where does Bob Duff sit on all this?His expertise in the past and his informative nature could be helpful.

  7. Mike Mushak

    Justin Pugh, what are you talking about, and what does that statement mean that I am “outed”? I have been “out” since I was 14! Lol. I never said there were no cars and trucks in Rowayton. I said there needs to be better enforcement by the DOT and the police to control the trucks, something that the community desires. The parking requirement issue is NOT related to the thru truck ban. Your nasty comment towards me makes no sense and is not related to anything I said. Please add substance to this debate instead of useless childish comments.

  8. piethein

    Mike some people like Mr Pugh will never get it. No worries Mate.

  9. Peter Parker

    Maybe everyone needs to learn how to play nicely in the sandbox! We all don’t have to like the other, but lets be construtive and make some real change to better Norwalk. How about both sides take a timeout! After you all take a little nappy you can try to sort this all out like mature adults. There is a thing called compromise! Why don’t you all try it for a change?

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