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Spinnaker’s plan for South Norwalk development gets lukewarm greeting

Spinnaker Real Estate Partners initial concept for its Maritime Village includes the six story building depicted here.
Spinnaker Real Estate Partners initial concept for its Maritime Village includes the six story building depicted here.
An artists rendering of the “smaller, more residential-looking” building for the proposed Maritime Village.

NORWALK, Conn. – A plan to put 70 apartments across the street from the planned rebuilding of Washington Village was met with a tepid response last week from Norwalk zoning commissioners due to proposed amendments to affordable housing regulations and other requests.

Spinnaker Real Estate Partners LLC  is proposing to construct Maritime Village, a three-building complex at 17 and 19 Day Streets, which would include one studio apartment, 46 one-bedroom apartments and 23 two bedroom apartments. A six-story building would face the Washington Village project at 20 Day St., and a smaller “more residential-looking” building would be built, Senior Planner Dori Wilson said. In addition, use would be made of the existing industrial building.

One problem is that the maximum building height in the revised Transit Oriented Development (TOD) area, near the South Norwalk railroad station, is five stories. Another is that Spinnaker is requesting modified parking regulations. Lastly, Spinnaker would like to change the income requirement for 10 percent of its affordable housing from being affordable to people earning a maximum 80 percent of area median income to people earning a maximum 100 percent of the area median income.

“Why would we want to do that?” Zoning Commissioner Nora King asked.

“I don’t know,” Wilson replied.

Spinnaker would make 20 percent of the units affordable, a total of 14. Half of that would be at the workforce rate and half would be at the higher income level.

Wilson spoke of state statute 8-30g.

“Currently 100 percent of area median would not qualify. … we qualify only if we pick the lesser of the state median, which is $86,400, and the area median, which is $125,100. Of course, in Fairfield County, almost every time you’re going to wind up with the state median because the area median is so high,” Wilson said.

The intent of TOD was to make more affordable units, Wilson said. Allowing a six-story building would complicate things, she said. Norwalk has about 50 workforce units now, but when it gets up into the neighborhood that Stamford has currently – 500 – keeping track will become confusing if things aren’t standardized, she said.

“I don’t think we should start messing with the formulas because it sets a precedent,” King said. Commissioner James White agreed.

Plus, “There is a lot of development going on now. … I am starting to think we need some sort of study of how it is going to impact the school system,” King said. That was a “very valid point,” Zoning Commissioner Michael O’Reilly (an alternate) said. White said they would get input from the Board of Education.

Clay Fowler of Spinnaker Partners asked to speak. The project is “not fully baked,” he said, but his company brought it forward for an introduction because of all the issues involved, he said.

He referred both to proposing “another layer” of affordability and the $30 million Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Choice Neighborhoods grant recently bestowed upon the Norwalk Housing Authority and its Washington Village project.

“The other layer that has been used now for Washington Village proposal is 30 percent of 8-30G,” Fowler said. “Well, that is fine. That is a project that has gotten a heavy subsidy, $30 million. It leaves a big gap between the ability for the private developer, us, who is not using subsidy to provide affordable housing or more affordable housing, and we are totally flexible and willing to engage in discussion on how that might be able to be accomplished with modification to the existing regulation.”

Allowing the changes he was requesting would provide more incentive for affordable housing production, he said. “I think in South Norwalk, in particular, it’s really important that as fragile as it is it continues to grow and what makes it grow, what is going to make it vital, is people. It’s people that makes the community. So I think that is part of the reason to allow more density to more affordable housing and to provide another mechanism,” Fowler said.

Wilson expressed skepticism. Using the HUD fair market rent of $2,345 per month for a two-bedroom apartment resulted in a calculation of an affordable rate of $1,845 per month, including utilities, she said.

“I don’t particularly feel that’s affordable and I think we have actually heard from others that market rate in this area is around 17 to 18,” she said. “So I don’t see where it fills a gap.”

The commission needs more information, she said, and suggested that Spinnaker come back with revised numbers.

Comments

21 responses to “Spinnaker’s plan for South Norwalk development gets lukewarm greeting”

  1. Don’t Panic

    Honestly? Another pitch to revise workforce and parking guidelines? Another variance to put an outsized development in the area? And the justification is “they got fed money so you need to make this more profitable for us?”
    .
    Stunning. Just stunning.

  2. Non partisan

    “affordable” housing is a misleading term

    It is subsidized housing that is subsidized by reduced real estate taxes that is subsidized by all other taxpayers.

    Want your taxes to go up? – keep pushing for affordable housing.

  3. Suzanne

    Can’t you see? It is a charitable move by Spinnaker to make it more affordable for OTHER developers to build affordable housing. And what is that bridge over Norwalk River we’d like to sell you?

  4. Piberman

    Vacancy rates at recently built apartment rental blogs relevant here ? Why taxpayer subsidies ?

  5. Mike Mushak

    Smart cities across the country are increasing density near transit hubs, in what are called “Transit-Oriented Districts” or TOD. That is where most future growth will occur and where most younger folks and retirees want to live, and will help transition from a car-oriented culture to more livable downtowns that are more walkable and bike able, and more vibrant with economic activity as a result.
    .
    In 2011, Norwalk taxpayers paid for an expensive professional study commissioned by the Redevelopment Agency officially called the “South Norwalk Railroad Station Area Transit Oriented Development Strategy (TOD Study for short) by the nationally recognized planning firm The Cecil Group out of Boston, with many local consultants contributing. Its intent was to revitalize an area in SoNo that has a patchwork of pattern of deteriorated and underused buildings and land, with a plan that works hard to preserve the existing community and businesses and concentrates on “infill” development to make the area more socially and economically integrated, bring new businesses and jobs, create more affordable and market rate housing, and improve the quality of life for the entire community. It accomplished this through increasing density, reducing draconian and obsolete parking requirements (that most other smart cities in CT and across the country have done already), and streamlining a broken zoning code that has no less than 13 different zones in a small concentrated area that complicates development and restricts private investment.
    .
    The overall economic impact is projected to increase housing units by up to 600, with 60 more workforce housing units in that mix under current standards, with a net increase in tax revenue of $24 million. It will also create hundreds of jobs not just in construction, but in new businesses that would be created to support this vibrant new community. The positive effects would stretch far beyond the limited area of the study, in increase demonic development and building renovation in currently depressed areas such as Woodward Ave and South Main St towards Wilson.
    .
    This plan is awaiting Planning and Zoning implementation, and is years overdue. It seems the Planning and Zoning staff is against this much-needed initiative, and both the Planniing and Zoning Commissions without strong visionary leadership just follow suit. It is frustrating to witness but it is happening, and Norwalk continues to fall years behind other cities in updating its obsolete and broken zoning code.
    .
    Without it, we will continue to have developers who are struggling to finance private development, and who come in begging for yet more patchwork zoning changes to make their projects affordable and buildable. Let’s not forget that every structured parking space adds about $20,000 to the cost of a building, which is recouped through higher rents or purchase prices, making housing less affordable for everyone regardless of income or whether they are “workforce housing” units or not.
    .

    As far as the argument that school age children will increase, here is a quote from the study:
    .

    “Actual numbers from the Norwalk Public
    Schools were used to estimate new public school students in these
    proposed multi-family developments at approximately 0.012 children
    per unit in the public school system.”
    .

    It goes on to explain that many folks will be simply relocating to the new projects from within the community and whose children are already counted in the total from the district, and the projects will draw many empty nesters an child-free millennials as the research has shown. The total impact on the school system is minimal.
    .

    I support higher density in SoNo, and cleaning up our patchwork complicated zoning code and obsolete parking requirements to draw new investment and create new jobs. This will provide more affordable housing for everyone, as every new housing unit regardless of its designation as “affordable” contributes to our limited housing supply, increasing competition that lowers costs for everyone and increases housing choices with the basic market principal of supply and demand.
    .

    I hope that somewhere in City Hall there will be support for improving our planning process, and moving those long-delayed planning initiatives forward. It just isn’t right that the opposition by just a few staff members, some who don’t even live in Norwalk, could hold up smart progress in Norwalk, and especially in struggling SoNo, for this long. We hired the best planners money could buy, and although not perfect and needing tweaking, the SoNo TOD Study needs to be implemented, and developers like Spinnaker who want to continue to invest in Norwalk are welcomed with improved smarter regulations.

  6. Mike Mushak

    Oops, 3rd paragraph should read “increase economic development” not “increase demonic development”. LOL. Spellcheck issue, and I wish we had an edit feature here! Someone might think I am promoting a remake of the Exorcist. That old anti-development naysayer crowd in Norwalk should just love this,, as many see any development or change as bad, while smart cities all across the country ar re-inventing themselves as vibrant denser less car-oriented destinations in this new 21st century monumental city-oriented social upheaval from the suburbs, by welcoming developers and making it easier for them, not harder.

  7. One and Done

    The architecturals would look more accurate with electrified razor wiring surrounding the place.
    .
    Mike can cite all the bogus studies he wants, we know the actual impact on the school system is one additional child per unit every two years. That also bears expense on the state for healthcare, foodstamps, transit vouchers, welfare, disability, cell phones, flat screens, and added police to keep everyone from killing each other. Government housing projects have always been and will always be failures.

  8. One and Done

    Build it in Wilton. They have plenty of land. There is a train and a bus system for transportation. Heck complete the river path for all those who will be bike to their jobs.

  9. Don’t Panic

    Smart Development makes sense, but I do not see how adding a sixth story where zoning says five, and raising the income limits for affordable housing achieves those goals. These changes appear to be for the financial benefit of the developer, who is pointing to the development that got Fed funds and crying “no fair”.

  10. spanner

    higher density in SoNo? Who is going to pay for it?Those who have homes in the area that are not on the same page?

    How many 0.012 children does it take to put in a light bulb comes to mind when I read things like this.

  11. Bill

    If Nora King wants to pay higher taxes to subsidize more public housing for non-Norwalkers, feel free, but the rest of us don’t support subsidies and shouldn’t have to pay for it. We need more wealthy people moving to Norwalk, not people on welfare of any sort. So let the market set the prices and stop regulating who deserves a subsidy for housing.

  12. piberman

    Norwalk and lower Fairfield County is one of the most densely populated areas in the nation. Long term residents are hard to find “improvements” from increeased population and development. Other than much higher property taxes for same civil services and drastically increased traffic congrestion, e.g. Big Box. “Smart cities” to use Mr. Mushak’s term focus on creating services affordable to their citizens not encouraging hordes of renters. Claiming that “retirees” would like to live in a “New Downtown Norwalk” is science fiction. Most of us avoid going downtown as do our neighbors in the surrounding towns for good and well known reasons. There’s a reason developers are having difficulty finding tennants in the new buildings downtown. But our politicos are always “optimistic”. There’s a good reason Norwalk’s population hasn’t grown much in recent decades. There are much better places to live in the County where taxes aren’t punitive and services superior.

  13. Mike Mushak

    Bill, the developer isn’t looking for subsidies. He’s looking for increased density in a TOD zone to make his project financially sound, and is desperate to find any way to do that in a planning vacuum in City Hall where the 2011 TOD Study that increases allowable density and streamlines the code is sitting on a shelf in the P and Z office, gathering dust instead of being actively implemented. You can get quite an earful from professional planners around the state about Norwalk.

  14. Bill

    I know the developer doesn’t want subsidies, he is admirable for building something for society, however, those who won’t allow him to offer more market rate housing are looking for more subsidies when the average Norwalker doesn’t want to pay for them; that was my point.

  15. RU4REAL

    Do Mike Greene and Dori Wilson live in Norwalk?

  16. spanner

    I think the crowd in Norwalk has had it.What I hear is when is Norwalk going to grow up and become a city?Instead of collecting dust it seems some are smoking it.

  17. Mike Mushak

    piberman, you should work in City Hall, with that anti-urban 1970’s point of view. I love how some folks just pretend that I am the one with these ideas, not professional planning firms that work around the country with great track records, and who have conducted studies that Norwalk taxpayers have spent millions on telling us how behind we are in building for the future. I suspect I could give you all the links in the world proving my point and you would still have this quaint reactionary anti-urban philosophy. It’s charming in a way, sort of like the nostalgic black and white (and dare I say segregated) world in the great film Pleasantville.

    Your coded language in your post above is telling: “Most of us avoid going downtown as do our neighbors in the surrounding towns for good and well known reasons.” I really think you should try to open up your mind and explore your own city a bit more!
    .
    I live in Sono, in a racially and economically diverse neighborhood, which is the pattern of the future of urban Norwalk and America in general as millions of folks of all ages and incomes flock to cities from the burbs. I can walk to the train and restaurants and stores. IN 10 years, I haven’t been shot or mugged as you may have presumed I would have been by your fearful and perception-challenged comment about “avoiding going downtown”. How silly and Lawrence Welk of you!

    .

    Maybe you should get out of Norwalk and see how successful and vibrant cities are becoming with smart planning initiatives for folks of all ages and incomes, like the TOD study that our P and Z Department is currently ignoring. Your approach to planning is based solely it seems on where YOU would choose to live or recreate. Pretty self-centered, wouldn’t you say?
    .
    You are ignoring verifiable demographic trends that show a majority of millennials and empty-nesters want to live in more walkable downtown environments, just like many folks I know personally who are my age (mid 50’s) who are leaving their McMansions in droves in the leafier duller back country of New Canaan and Westport to live in downtown Stamford or New Haven or Manhattan, especially as their kids move out and leave them despising the suburban grind of huge maintenance and utility bills and cleaning gutters.
    .
    That’s why there are so many for sale signs in the burbs now, and the largest shift in population to cities from the suburbs in the US in generations, that rivals the scale of the opposite shift in post-war America in the 1950’s from the cities to the suburbs..http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/03/27/census-cities-metro-growth-population/6863219/. I doubt that will change you rmind but maybe it will keep you from “avoding going downtown.” We don’t bite, you know, and the restaurants, architecture, parks, and cultural activities here in “downtown” are pretty cool.

  18. Bill

    Mike, if you could figure out how to fix the schools, people would move to the cities, but until we decide to fund actual education not guaranteed union pay raises and pensions for life, people will prefer to raise families in the burbs sadly.

  19. Srb1228

    Bill all those teachers in new canaan darien et al are union too. Ask HS teachers if juniors how much $ they earn writing teacher recommendatio letters. Then ask your average business person what they do for their job that isn’t with the expectation of $ compensatio.

  20. Bill

    Srb1228, nope, just checked, none of my private sector friends and I get 3 months off to enjoy summer, we get 2 weeks of vacation annually if that. Anyone objective can see that we overpay our teachers in Norwalk and Connecticut in general for subpar results. It is also the parents’ fault. If the Norwalk immigrants would work at teaching their kids English from an early age we wouldn’t have to spend so much on head start and ESL.

  21. Suzanne

    What is the percentage of that massive BOE budget going to ESL and Head Start?

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