By Harry Rilling
Democratic mayoral candidate
NORWALK, Conn. – Yet another big box is about to go up on Connecticut Avenue, further clogging an already congested stretch of roadway. The traffic congestion is also set to spread to Main Street and Westport Avenue where developers are eying new sites for even more big boxes. Is that what we want for our city? More parking lots and strip malls?
Big-box stores with large floor area, wide selection, discount prices, and huge parking lots can be cheap places to shop. Unfortunately they also generate lots of traffic, pay minimal property taxes, employ workers at rock-bottom wages (often part-time and without benefits), and take the place – quite literally – of mixed-use and other development that would provide housing, better jobs and business opportunities for Norwalkers.
While the headlines in Stamford herald NBC Sports, Bridgewater Associates, Starwood Hotels and the massive Harbor Point development along with the thousands of high-paying jobs, housing units and well over a billion dollars’ worth of taxable new development, the headlines in Norwalk announce the arrival of more big box stores and strip malls like CVS, Lowes and maybe even a BJ’s Wholesale Club. Why do we get the traffic congestion, the low paying jobs and the negligible property tax revenue from this type of development?
I’ve talked to many Norwalkers who ask themselves these same questions and the answer is simple: neighboring communities are pursuing better development for their communities while Norwalk keeps approving the big box stores under our welcoming zoning regulations.
And all-the-while our local mom and pop businesses are wondering if they’ll be the next one forced to close under pressure from these multi-national corporations.
It is now too late to undo much of the damage caused by big box stores and we have missed our chances for much of the development that passed us by for other towns, but a new city administration needs to blunt the ongoing harm as quickly as possible.
Mayoral inaction on zoning is hurting our city badly and needs to be corrected. Let’s not repeat the mistakes of past years, lest Main Avenue and Westport Avenue become two more impassable arteries in our city. This is one area where new forceful leadership can make a very visible difference.
Zoning Commissioner Harry Rilling, former Norwalk Police chief and candidate for mayor
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