(Correction: Due to a reporting error, the location given for the CVS on North Main Avenue was incorrect. The store is on the corner of Perry Avenue. NancyOnNorwalk apologizes for the error.)
NORWALK, Conn. – An attorney with more than a passing familiarity with the ins and outs of Norwalk politics has many arguments on behalf of a controversial proposed store on a traffic clogged road, including questioning the meaning of “big box.”
The Stop & Shop at 380 Main Ave. isn’t thought of as a big box, former Mayor Frank Zullo said Thursday night. The Walmart at 650 Main Ave. isn’t called a big box, he said. But the BJ’s Wholesale Club proposed for 272-280 Main Ave. – that runs into trouble, he said.
Zullo and Michael Galante of Frederick P. Clarke Associates were among those trying to persuade Norwalk zoning commissioners at last week’s Plan Review Committee meeting that the upside of putting the 109,000-square-foot retail club on the Superfund cleanup site of the old Elinco Company would be a good idea, public resistance notwithstanding.
Zullo went first, attacking the premise of some of the criticism.
“It’s interesting when you get – usually like Costco, or BJ’s – you sort of get the connotation of a big box, which gives it a negative connotation to a pretty good use,” he said. “When we have 170,000 square feet of Stop & Shop down the street, that isn’t a big box, that’s a good use. If you have 180,000 square feet Walmart down the street, that isn’t a big box, that’s a good use. They’re almost twice the size here on the same street. You haven’t seen hundreds of people get killed by virtue of the traffic generated there.”
Zullo also came out swinging at comments made by Zoning Commissioner Mike Mushak during a long conversation with Corporation Counsel Robert Maslan regarding the recommendations made by two transportation studies.
Page four of the Westport-North Main Corridor Study and Plan clearly refers to the Elinco site as a possible retail site, he pointed out. Retail belongs on the northern end, near the Merritt Parkway.
“We assumed all of this development would take place on the existing Stop & Shop shopping center site, which is underbuilt, according to our real estate analysis, but it could also occur on other nearby parcels such as the Board of Education parcel or even the Elinco Superfund site,” the study reads.
Mushak said Zullo was ignoring the part of the study that recommends that stores in that stretch be limited to 10,000 square feet (page 10).
Zullo’s comeback referred to the lot size zoned for the area, which, he said was 12,500 square feet.
“What would happen if we had eight lots here with 10,000 square feet on each lot? We’d have eight or nine more curb cuts,” he said. “What’s causing all the accidents here, whether it’s in a motor vehicle or a bicycle or a crosswalk, is there are too darn many curb cuts on Main Street.
The proposed BJ’s site has been dormant for 20 years, he said, but before that it was occupied by a 96,000-square-foot building. Maybe the traffic counts with a store would be higher, but, essentially, it’s the same thing, he said.
“In terms of visually, in terms of the economy, in terms of welfare of the community, this was what was there before,” he said.
Galante said all of the street improvements would be paid for by BJ’s. That includes putting in a new traffic light for the club, as well as a left turn lane for those drivers heading south on Main Avenue who wanted to go into the store. Six existing lights would be synchronized, he said, and a crosswalk is planned for the intersection at Main Avenue and Perry Street, where the CVS is. Other crosswalks may be considered.
Mushak asked if the synchronization would be effective with pedestrians adding a random element to the equations.
“Doesn’t that throw off the timing that you have worked out at all the intersections?” he asked. “Because now you have a randomized factor in the timing sequence of all the lights. That pertains also to the vehicle sensors which now (are being installed at) all our intersections. If you don’t have anybody coming into the side streets, the light stays green at least in the intersections in Norwalk that have been done. If somebody comes in on the side street, then the light changes. Doesn’t that mess up all of the miraculous timing that’s going to solve all of our vehicle problems?”
Galante said the system could handle it.
“It’s interconnected to the other intersections,” he said, of the busy Broad and Main stop. “The other intersections may go green on the side streets at the same time. So you’re controlling all of the intersections. When you press that button you do affect the other intersections, but it cycles with the green on the side streets at the same time. It may not be exactly the same on each one, depending on the volume coming out, but it goes into the whole system. Does it affect it? Does it change it? Yes it does. But it goes into all intersections, seven intersections, when you press that button. It’s a fairly complex model.”
While Mushak and others questioned the scope of Galante’s traffic study, which is limited to the immediate area of the proposed BJ’s, Zullo said it is more comprehensive than usual.
“I’ve done as much special permits as any three lawyers in town,” he said. “I’ve never done six intersections before.”
Galante is working with the Connecticut Department of Transportation on the project.
Zullo said he used to discourage clients from going anywhere near the old Elinco site.
“I wouldn’t let them buy it,” he said. “Everyone was frightened as to the Superfund site and what the impact was going to be. We’ve got someone now who has the resources and is cleaning this site up and has the resources to implement the very expensive traffic improvements that, yes, make the traffic situation better. A new traffic light. Coordinating the intersection – six intersections.”
CDOT isn’t the only higher power backing the project, he said.
“The federal government and the state are pleased with this concept, finally putting the final touches on cleaning this up,” he said. “They’ve allowed us into a brownfield site category, which indicates additional assistance when we are ready to go.”