Washington Village plan under consideration by Norwalk officials fearing underwater parking

Kendra Halliwell of ICON architecture shows off part of a model of the proposed Washington Village redevelopment at last month’s Norwalk Zoning Committee meeting.

NORWALK, Conn. – A proposed sprawling South Norwalk redevelopment is being scrutinized this week by two Norwalk governmental bodies that must decide whether to authorize the solutions proposed for what one Norwalk official called a complicated situation with no easy answer.

Both the Zoning Commission and the Planning Commission are considering whether to allow a regulation change for the Norwalk Housing Authority’s proposed Washington Village makeover, which includes the eyebrow-raising plan to put parking below the proposed rental apartments, just above sea level in what is a flood plain, along Water Street.

The Zoning Commission also has site plan approval on its mind, as a public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.

The proposed first floor of the building has been raised to 18 feet to prevent the apartments from being flooded, Planning and Zoning Director Mike Greene said. If the area were conducive to retail, the lower level could be filled with stores, but that isn’t feasible with market conditions, he said. Therefore, planners have settled on putting parking below the apartments.

The regulation calls for parking behind buildings to allow for people at ground level to see the street, Greene said. The development therefore needs a regulation change.

“It’s complicated, there’s no easy answer,” Greene said.

Washington Village Norwalk Zoning 013-20131114
A model of the Norwalk Housing Authority’s proposal for the Washington Village area.

Greene told the Planning Commission last month that the project is “very frustrating from a planning point of view” because the Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) calls for establishing public parking in that area, specifically a parking garage, and he would do that if he could wave a magic wand. One commissioner asked how the plan could be approved if it were in violation of the POCD, but Greene said the POCD is strictly advisory.

A prior Planning Commission had protested the plan.

“The Planning Commission actually wrote a letter to the mayor and the Common Council saying you shouldn’t do this project because you’re precluding the parking from happening. They went ahead and did it anyway. … the Common Council outvoted you because they only need a two-thirds override,” Greene said.

If the Planning Commission votes to deny the regulation change, the Zoning Commission could outvote it the same way, with a two-thirds override. That would mean five of seven commissioners voting in favor.

One zoning commissioner expressed frustration with the plan last month.

“I’m still stuck on this being a flood zone,” said Mike Reilly, an alternate. “… I am just picturing cars half full of water there in another really big storm.”

Senior Planner Dori Wilson said federal laws say only that the living area has to be at 12 feet. There is no specification for parking, she said.

“A car is mobile,” she said. The flood mitigation plan is to use automated phone calls to warn residents when a flood is coming so the vehicles could be moved to the Maritime Garage or a similar facility.

Greene told the Planning Commission that eyes on the street may be provided in some areas by alterations in the plan, to include recreation areas at street level. Planners were considering that option, he said.

“We hear a lot about good urban design,” he said. “Good urban design puts faces and people down on the street. Could there be more uses in there? Should you work toward that goal? Good urban planning says yes.”


4 responses to “Washington Village plan under consideration by Norwalk officials fearing underwater parking”

  1. Oldtimer

    Not suitable for retail ? What data is that statement based on ? West Marine, Rex Marine, and a few others never got that message.
    How complicated would it be to raise the ground level well above the occasional flood level for parking and build above that ? Water street floods regularly, but not all that deep. If Parking level was set at the present floor level, or a bit higher, a parking garage for cars only would raise the apartments maybe seven or eight feet. Fill is not all that expensive.

  2. Suzanne

    Does “good urban planning” also dictate that you put a parking area in a flood plain? This is a FEMA request waiting to happen come the next hurricane. I just don’t get it: what about the words “flood plain” does Mike Greene not understand? And is he qualified to speak for “good urban planning”? How?

  3. Joe Espo

    Funny, that Mike Mushak hasn’t chimed in with any outrage on the infringements on the POCD. Must mean he’s in favor of this big box “FEMA request waiting to happen.”

  4. TG

    It doesn’t seem like an automated phone call telling residents to live their cars is such a well thought out plan.

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