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Zoning and historic resources

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Two recent decisions of the Planning and Zoning Commission to approve projects affecting Norwalk’s historic resources did not fulfill their obligation to protect those resources under Chapter 6 of the Norwalk Citywide Plan: 2019-2029. The Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD):

Goal 1. Norwalk protects its most important historic resources and encourages adaptive reuse of historic sites to maintain and enrich the city’s character.

Strategy
A. Preserve the integrity and character of historic structures, historic landscapes, and cultural resources sites within the City of Norwalk

 

As a result of this, The National Register of Historic Places-listed Udelman Building at 31-35 South Main St. will be lost and the streetscape in that part of SONO will be irreparably damaged.

Is the Planning and Zoning Commission required to follow its own Plan of Conservation and Development when approving zoning applications?  If not, why do we have a POCD, other than the fact that State requires one?  Norwalk is about to revise its entire zoning code and a requirement that applications for new projects must comply with all pertinent elements of the POCD, including those involving historic preservation, would be a welcome change.

The first application (approved on Feb. 15) #2022-55 SP/CAM – 31-35 South Main Street – Eight (8) story addition to existing Marriott SoNo Residence Inn hotel to add 48 rooms and 45 off-street parking spaces.  This application requires the demolition of the National Register of Historic Places-listed Udelman Building (1927) at 31-35 South Main St.  It seeks to demolish a significant building without any attempt to adaptively reuse it or to include it in its plans for an addition.  The loss of this building would substantially damage the remaining historic streetscape on the west side of this section of South Main Street.

The second application (Approved March 22) #2022-24 SP/CAM – Mill Pond Holdings, LLC – 1 Cemetery Street (District 3, Block 42, Lot 27) – Construction of a 77-unit mixed-use development within two (2) buildings, 98 parking spaces and other on-site and off-site improvements, is for the construction of a large housing complex on the former site of a bank building, directly across Cemetery Street from the East Norwalk Historical Cemetery.  This cemetery, founded in 1655, is our oldest and it is our only tangible link to the founding of Norwalk.   It contains the graves of  Thomas Fitch IV (c. 1699 – July 18, 1774), governor of the Connecticut Colony from 1754 to 1766, his son Colonel Thomas Fitch V (1725-1725) who is believed to be the source of the song “Yankee Doodle” and at least eleven of Norwalk’s founders.  The applicant was not even required to submit a study of the possible effects of such a large development so close to this important resource.

The approvals of these applications are in direct opposition to the goals and strategies listed above.  As a result, these applications should have been denied as presented.  In case of the hotel, the applicant should have been required to show how they made every effort to incorporate the Udelman Building into their expansion plans. A third-party should have evaluated the Udelman Building’s historic integrity and the possibility of its adaptive reuse.   In the cemetery application, the applicant should have been required to submit a study showing possible effects of the development on the cemetery.  There is still time to add those conditions to the approvals.

Tod Bryant

President

Norwalk Preservation Trust

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Comments

10 responses to “Zoning and historic resources”

  1. Lisa Brinton

    Tod, This mayor and the majority of his APPOINTED commissioners over the past decade don’t care about the historical issues you’ve outlined or what’s written into their ‘interpretation’ of the POCD. It’s not rooted in being a Democrat or Republican blah blah blah, but boils down to morally weak, unaccountable, rubber stamping commissioners and individual developer greed. Norwalk’s become a two bit whore to a handful of $1000 campaign donors and their friends.

  2. David Muccigrosso

    Bro, have you SEEN that building? It’s ugly AF. It was an abandoned carpet store that had nothing to do with the core set of businesses that make SONO so great. Seriously, NO ONE was going to SoNo for the freaking carpets, and if you think otherwise, you obviously don’t live in this neighborhood nor ACTUALLY CARE about its character.

    Expanding the hotel doesn’t HURT our neighborhood character, it ENHANCES it. It will lower prices for people to come visit — like my dear aunt and cousins who stayed there just last month(!) — and also lower demand for AirBnBs and other sorts of residential speculation that drive up the already-absurd rents here in SoNo. That means more foot traffic for our businesses, more revenue for the city, and a higher quality of life all around.

    Maybe instead of telling us what we should do with our neighborhood, you should spend more time enjoying its wonderful amenities, including the world-class, award-winning wings at Blind Rhino. I’m frequently there and always happy to talk over a beer about the REAL problems that SoNo faces. But if you’re not willing to do that… butt out, and let SoNo be SoNo– a great place to live!

  3. Johnny cardamone

    Wow, somebody’s actually standing up to Norwalk zoning!?! Like the Bible says, the love of money, has corrupted the democratic mafia party, and they all need to be thrown out of office ASAP!!!!! maybe there’s a slim chance we could save some of our history!!:(

  4. Jessica Garnett

    Yup, it was a mistake to let the hotel go as a requirement in the SoNo collection

    https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/ggp-given-go-ahead-now-formally-asking-to-build-hotel-less-sono-collection/

  5. Lisa Brinton

    @ Jessica – Best views of the harbor from the parking deck of the garage but no, let’s stick a Marriott next to a police station and then tear down an historic building next door. Norwalk’s city hall: corrupt or just plain stupid?

  6. David Muccigrosso

    @Jessica, do you even know what that building was being used for? Are you even aware that national historical preservation watchdogs — surely as biased in favor of preservation as anyone — declared it was NOT worth preserving?

    This letter is a last-ditch, bad-faith effort to save an ugly, useless building from being replaced with one that actually fits the neighborhood character BETTER. Knee-jerk preservationism here is only going to make the cause of preservation a harder sell later on when we actually NEED it. Tod should be ashamed of the damage he’s doing to his own interests.

  7. David Muccigrosso

    @Lisa, I think you’re honestly misguided here. The building isn’t historic, it’s dilapidated. It will be replaced by something better.

    I’m all for protecting the things worth protecting. The facades on Washington shouldn’t ever be changed, for instance — it’s cool as heck that you can recognize the buildings from pictures 100 years ago.

    But we shouldn’t let preservation alone prevent us from restoring and expanding the neighborhood character. I’d LOVE to see Washington-style mixed-use buildings extend several more blocks south along Water and South Main. If we did that while also halting the construction of high-rises, I’d be perfectly happy! And SoNo would be a vastly better place to live.

    I just don’t think we have to take knee-jerk preservationists at their word every time they slap the “historical” label on a building. It will lose its meaning and political support if we keep indulging their worst excesses. We NEED that support to preserve the rest of Washington. Let’s not waste it NOW on a building that doesn’t matter.

  8. Alan L Kibbe

    Sorry to read this, Tod. I thought there was an obvious, win-win, solution on South Main St. to add hotel rooms and maintain an appropriately-scaled, streetscape with a nod to the history of the neighborhood. It’s unfortunate that the City didn’t have the vision to see the possibilities and that the developer couldn’t find an architect up to the job.

  9. Bryan Meek

    $1000 donations and you can tear down a building on the national historic register. Forget to do that and they’ll throw the book at you for knocking down a building not on the register. Thankfully that one is a stone’s throw from city hall so it only took a few weeks for someone to notice the demolition.

  10. Jessica Garnett

    @David- where in my comment did I weigh in on demolishing the building? I pointed out what most of us knew, that allowing the mall to be built without a hotel was a mistake. There was clearly a need for a hotel in this part of town. Chill out, the building is coming down and the hotel will expand.

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