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Zullo defends BJ’s Norwalk proposal for N. Main Ave.

Norwalk Attorney Frank Zullo argues on behalf of the BJ’s Wholesale Club proposed for 272-280 Main Ave. Thursday, Aug. 8.

(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.

Michael Galante of Frederick P. Clarke Associates discusses plans to improve traffic on Main Avenue as part of the proposed BJ’s Wholesale Club. Room will be made for a turn lane by cutting into the property, he said. A sensor will detect when cars are stacking up in the turn lane, 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.”

Comments

25 responses to “Zullo defends BJ’s Norwalk proposal for N. Main Ave.”

  1. Debora

    Amazing. All this light timing is a function of improvements to our traffic signal systems already implemented by DPW, mostly using state or federal (I forget which) dollars. Now we are dangling more federal dollars to improve the brownfields site contingent on development that is probably going to suck more city tax revenues out in building incentives.
    .
    In exchange we MAY get as many as 125 jobs averaging between $8000 and $40, 000 a year and a nightmare contribution to noise, traffic and air pollution. What, exactly is BJs bringing to the table?

    Mr. Zullo states that he actively discouraged other clients from considering this site. Is that not in direct conflict with representations that this is the only/best option for this site? How many other possibilities has the city been permitted to consider in the last 20 years on their own merits?

  2. Adam Blank

    This project is bad for Norwalk, bad for Main Ave. and fails to comply with the Special Permit requirements.

    However, getting BJs approved has been a cornerstone of the Mayor’s vision for Norwalk for the past few years. By forcing Mr. Rilling to recuse himself from voting on this project and taking me off the commission the Mayor has all but guaranteed its passage through the Zoning Commission.

    Let’s hope an appeal is taken of the Commission’s vote.

  3. Justen Asken

    Hmmm…Is there a slice of this pie for Mr. Zullo?

  4. Rob

    If and when it is approved the people of Norwalk should refuse to shop there. Perhaps we can drive them out of business.

  5. Vic C

    So if this fails to comply with the Special Permit requirements how can it move forward?

  6. NorwalkVoter

    @VicC the answer is the Mayor will make sure his appointees vote for it.

  7. Dennis DeManis

    Why can’t the thing be built on Wall St, or where Maritime Motors used to be?

  8. Tim T

    This is perfect use for the site. The ones that cannot seem to see this must be the same ones that like the Moccia holes in the ground all over town. We should welcome BJ’s and any retail that wants to come to me ridden Norwalk.

  9. Rolling Ridge Rez

    Zullo equates the location of the Stop & Shop “down the street” (it’s actually UP the street, to the north) with the planned location of BJ’s and goes on to say that S&S is “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.” Those of us who live here and frequently travel these local roads understand well the difference in these locations. S&S is accessed directly off the Merritt, is set much further back from Main Ave than what is planned for BJ’s, isn’t compromised by the proximity and number of railroad crossings as we are further down Main, and doesn’t have as a complication what will surely go down in P&Z’s record book as one of the most poorly-conceived locations for a Dunkin’ Donuts imaginable. Stop & Shop cannot simply be likened to the planned BJ’s. Zullo and Friends, in their obfuscation of the facts and blithe disregard for the complexity of the traffic patterns in the surrounding neighborhood, are poised to disenfranchise hundreds and hundreds of residents who call this area home. The Mayor has cunningly stacked the decks by removing Blank and Rilling from the equation. This isn’t just a nice BJ we’re in for; this is an assault on our neighborhood’s right to an equal voice and all the due diligence we deserve BEFORE it’s a done deal. The commissioners should heed Mushak’s call to expand the scope of the traffic study.

    (Editor’s note: this comment has been edited because a portion of it was aimed at information include due to a reporting error, not Mr. Galante. The story has been corrected.)

  10. Piberman

    All communities enjoy the extea-ordinary benefits and services of supermarkets. Big the conventional Big Boxes such as Costcos, Sams and Home Depots are not universally welcomed and for obvious reasons. Norwalk’s reputation as Big Box town helps convince skeptics elsewhere that the costs outweigh the benefits of Big Box mania. Placing a Big Box on Rt 7 – a heavily trafficked roadway – represents the very best of the Norwalk view of development – low valued warehouses paying low wages.

    Attorney Zullo, a former Democrat Mayor, has an impressive record of bringing Big Box to Norwalk. And is no doubt proud of Big Box’s contribution to traffic, pollution and the greatly diminished presence of our once vibrant small business community. No doubt more Big Box opportunities await approval from our P&Z. Norwalk’s stagnant Grand List may suggest that Attorney Zullo’s vision of Norwalk Big Box may warrant serious questioning. One can only wonder why other cities and towns across CT haven’t followed Norwalk’s Big Box example.

  11. Tim T

    Piberman says
    “One can only wonder why other cities and towns across CT haven’t followed Norwalk’s Big Box example”. Its clear that Piberman doesn’t get out of Norwalk very often. Look at Milford, Trumbull Danbury, and so on all filled with Big Box and all successful. I and many in Norwalk say more retail.. BIG BOX YOU ARE WELCOME IN NORWALK

  12. Snickers

    Brownsfield money? Ah ha! Looks like an earlier poster was correct in her suspicions about graft, somwhere. Any bets that there will be,(any),Norwalkers working that fed clean up contract? Nope but sombody’s going to make a handsome piece of change. What is BJ’s really bringing to the table or Lowes for that matter? Do either pay a living wage, ($23.50 hr.), to its employees? At least a fair,($15.00 hr.), wage? Oh yeah, silly me, they dont bring any fair wage jobs but they do bring more high end generators for when the lights go out and CL&P and the mayor quit answering there phones.

  13. M Allen

    The problem we have here is that we have one group who simply detests large, national retailers altogether. As a result, they will use any possible excuse in order to keep them out. And that is simply bad for Norwalk. On the other hand, traffic congestion and poor planning vision are concerns we should all have.
    .
    I personally wrote a letter to the Hour when the BJ’s location was announced. While I am in favor of national retailers, big box or otherwise, I think this is a bad location. It is not remotely comparable to either Stop & Shop or Walmart. Square footage isn’t the issue. Footprint on the location is the issue. They are attempting to pack a Costco-sized structure onto half the acreage. It is too much on a poorly planned stretch of Main Avenue. This section of road is just not reasonably capable of supporting the traffic that a BJ’s is likely to attract.
    .
    All that being said, BJ’s should be in Norwalk. Location, location, location… Norwalk is the right location, but southern Main Ave is not. Not now, or under the current plans, regardless of how they think they will manage the traffic lights. But those who simply want to keep these retailers out of Norwalk will use whatever excuse possible. And we need to guard against that weak argument as much as we do obviously poor planning.

  14. EveT

    The argument that if we had half a dozen smaller stores/businesses there would be half a dozen curb cuts is totally specious. Look at any strip mall. You have one parking lot with ingress & egress, and that parking lot serves all the businesses in the strip mall. How bizarre to try to say that each business would have its own little curb cut!

  15. Adam Blank

    @ M Allen – I agree that not all Big Box stores are the same. Proposed locations matter. Additionally, some like Costco, Lowes and the Container Store, to name a few, pay employees very fair wages in comparison to the below-market wages paid by players like BJs and Walmart.

    As an attorney who handles tax appeals for commercial property owners I can assure you (and you can view for yourself on the City’s website) that office buildings and mixed use buildings command much higher valuations than big box stores and generate much more in property tax revenue. There is lots of literature on this. See, for example: http://citiwire.net/columns/multi-use-downtown-development-puts-standard-malls-yax-yield-to-shame/

    Additionally, office space and new construction apartments tend to bring into the community higher paid employees and more affluent residents who have a lot more money than a BJs employee to spend locally on other businesses and services (dry cleaners, restaurants, etc. etc.)

  16. M Allen

    Mr. Blank – I agree that if given a choice between an office building and a warehouse store on the same property, I would opt for the office building. I fully recognize that a warehouse store is nothing more than a shell with a few cash registers inside, and thus doesn’t generate the same kind of tax revenue as a manufacturing plant or even an office bulding, but I’m pretty sure Norwalk has room for both.
    More importantly, there is more to commercial real estate than what we wish would show up on our doorstep. Our hopes and dreams aside, investors don’t seem to be lining up to build more office space and manufacturing is a dead horse thrice beaten in this over-taxed state. If the occupancy demand was there, investment dollars would find their way in more office buildings being built. But again, sometimes you have to dance with the partner who says yes. Maybe more so when that partner is willing to dance on a superfund site.
    Now obviously we don’t need to fill every last parcel of land in Norwalk with box stores. We need some options available for when our hopes and dreams come true and someone asks to open a casino on the town green. But until then…
    We have a major retailer seeking to put down roots in Norwalk and provide to unskilled workers with jobs and consumers the cheap prices they are looking for. For that they should pay a price. Perhaps that price is we require massive infrastructure modifications to Main Avenue. But they shouldn’t be blocked by the crowd who thinks that mom & pop retailers on quaint tree-lined streets is making a comeback. They aren’t because they can’t compete. Again, it would be great if every commercial property in Norwalk was a niche retailer or trendy restaurant on the ground floor with hedge funds upstairs employing only Norwalk residents who live in newly-constructed apartments nearby. But sometimes a BJ’s on a superfund site is the best you can do at the time. The point is to do it right.

  17. Debora

    @M Allen,

    Of course the mom and pops can’t compete, their residential property taxes are higher than they should be because the commercial real estate taxes paid by big box stores RELATIVE TO THE SIZE OF THEIR FOOTPRINT is too low, while they increase the need for city services. Those mom and pops must then seek higher prices to be able to continue to live and work in the same community, all the while competing with “low prices” at the big box stores that are being subsidized with city, state and (in this case due to brownfields conditions) federal tax dollars.
    .
    There is no pressing need to open a BJs when we already have a Walmart and a Costco to serve the “low price” needs of consumers.
    .
    There is simply no evidence that there aren’t any better uses for this land because there is no evidence that the City proactively looked for other options. Maybe this gal should dust off her skirts and invite her choice to the dance instead of waiting meekly for an invitation.
    .
    At minimum wage of $8.25/hr, the “part-time” jobs will pay only $8,580 per year BEFORE TAXES for a 20 hour work-week, whereas a studio listed on the hour is currently $950/mo ($11,400). Calling them jobs for Norwalkers at that point is just laughable.
    .
    There is ample research that the presence of big box stores drives more local businesses to close, which will exacerbate the problem.
    .
    I am not against big box per se, but insist that we do our due diligence. Having someone come before our zoning commissioners (some of whom are screaming bloody murder about ignoring our own regs) and argue that this particular project will IMPROVE traffic strains credulity.

  18. M Allen

    @Deborah,

    At least admit your against big box stores. My god, when you cite that many examples of why they are bad then you certainly can’t be for them. Look, you can cite the type of jobs or the wage they pay all you like. Unskilled workers get unskilled pay. It either at BJ’s or flipping a burger someplace, but for those people, those 150 people, it may be better than no job at all. And chances are those 150 are more liklely to live in Norwalk than a good many jobs we could talk about here.
    .
    As for enticing others to come to Norwalk, everyone says that. The candidates are all talking about it. But let’s face facts. It’s not as easy as just asking. They all get deals. From NBC to Bridgewater to Costco – they all get deals. They are terrible, horrible corporations who pay no taxes. I’m just saying that it’s not as easy as it sounds to attract new business or new commercial investment as some would make it seem. Again, I’m for BJ’s although I would prefer a more reasonable location. But I would be working hard to find that location for them

  19. Debora

    @M Allen,

    I’d take a Target if we could get one…

  20. Piberman

    One has only to compare Norwalk’s “glory days” in the 1970’s and early 1980’s before Big Box mania adopted by our leaders and our stagnant Grand List with Stamford where leaders secured high valued corporate development together with high valued jobs. And a soaring Grand List. Beyond all the concerns about traffic, pollution and lowered adjacent property values is the critical one that encouraging Big Box discourages high valued land development. Big Box mania with its low taxed warehouses is an important factor explaining our stagnant Grand List. Norwalk is a residential community subject to top rated taxes and municipal labor costs. Attracting high valued corporate development, eg Merritt 7, ought to be the goal of far sighted leaders. But they encourage Big Box. None of the other southwestern Fairfield County communities have sought Big Box development. Norwalk’s “leaders” are leading us n he wrong direction. What happens when all the available large land parcels have been developed into Big Box ? Citizens in love with Big Box shouldn’t complain about stagnant property values or top taxes. Nor should they complain about pollution, traffic and noise. Unless Big Box locates near their homes.

  21. Joe Espo

    Mr. Blank, on one hand, is extolling methods of generating higher property tax revenues with big box multi-story office buildings 10 times the size of BJ’s, but on the other, he’s in the tax appeal business that successfully impoverishes the city from needed tax revenue that can be used for education.

    How much did he assist in slicing off $3 million from the grand list? Let’s ask Mr. Berman.

    And please – someone- cite a zoning regulation that outlaws big box stores because these entities don’t pay a “fair wage?” I’ll leave it to Mike Mushak to find a deeply buried kernel of “fair wage” guidance in the Master plan.

  22. Norwalk Lifer

    Mr. Zullo has a job to do, and he is doing it, No one should wonder about his “fervor” for this proposal, it isn’t heart felt nor is it a shining goal for him.

    He is most likely being paid for his opinion, that’s fine, but the words should be reviewed with that in mind.

    That area is not the right spot for a Big Box, BUT, maybe we should consider evicting all from City Hall and moving it there? 🙂

    Regards
    Norwalk Lifer

  23. M Allen

    @Piberman, you’re quite right that high-valued corporate development like Merritt 7 would be ideal. Being overrun by big box stores is not ideal. But we need to consider the fact that attracting investment into large corporate office development is not so easy. First, nobody (in their right mind) is going to build a corporate office on speculation. Second, before choosing to build in Norwalk over some other town in the area, they need to choose to build in Connecticut at all. As you are well aware, the state itself is not very business friendly and the state is having a hard enough time keeping the types of businesses who fill large corporate office buildings. So while I share your vision for growing Norwalk’s Grand List through development that leads to high-tax-generating properties, I don’t share your sense of ease in finding those developers.

  24. Just Saying

    Plenty of open space on Glover Ave. Plenty of room. Traffic easily manageable. Easy on/off for rte 7 and the Merrit. And even has its own train/bus stop. Several locations on Glover are currently vacant and available. Its a much better location than BJ’s has currently in Fairfield and would alievate concerns about traffic. Location, location, location. Right? Just saying…

  25. Piberman

    In the earlyv1980’s Mr Zullo’s colleague, Attorney Tom Flaherty argued for our first Big Box – Home Depot- suggesting good jobs, improved properties and new taxes. Hundreds of small business folks came out protesting HD. Now 30 yrs later the results are in – Big Boxes all over Rt 1. And low wages and taxes and lowered property values. So when BJs comes in we’ll see Big Boxes up and down Rt 7. More congestion and pollution and low taxes and wages. Mayor Esposito gave us Big Box on Rt 1 and Mayor Moccia is following with Rt 7.

    Why do none of the 5 surrounding towns allow Big Boxes ? Is it because they care about their environment and land use ?

    By the way there is a large professional literature about the consequences of Big Box development. Norwalk is a fine example here – small business declines, property values decline, low wages and taxes and high valued development seeks other environs.

    Mr Zullo always wins. P&Z always bows to the Mayor’s wishes. The BJ battle is over before it started with the outcome a foregone conclusion.
    In a few years Rt 7 will be Big Box top to bottom. In Norwalk we get the government we deserve. Why complain. Norwalk is Big Box. Glory be.

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