North 7 Project Moves Two Steps Forward with Norwalk P&Z Approvals, with Consideration for Wilton Concerns

Renderings seen along Route 7 (Source: BLT)

Editor’s note: Although the North 7 project is located in Norwalk and therefore falls outside of our coverage area, GOOD Morning Wilton is reporting on related events for several reasons — the potential impact on Wilton roadways leading to and from the location, the concern of Wilton residents who live on those impacted roadways and close to the location, and the participation of Wilton’s Planning and Zoning Commission and other town officials as invited by Norwalk officials, are just a few issues driving our coverage.

The controversial North 7 complex proposed for Glover Ave. in Norwalk near the Wilton border has taken two big steps closer to reality. During the Wednesday, June 15 meeting of the Norwalk Planning & Zoning Commission, the Commissioners voted to approve two of the project’s three applications. However, the final piece of the puzzle — the special permit that would approve the complex’s master plan — will not be voted on until late June or early July.

Of note, because the proposed development is so close to the Norwalk/Wilton border, Norwalk’s P&Z took into account feedback from Wilton Planning & Zoning officials.

The plans proposed for the North7 complex outline a series of seven towers between five and 15 stories tall, which would collectively house 1,300 residential units and 28,000 square feet of retailBuilding & Land Technology (BLT), developers of The Curb apartments right across Glover Ave., are spearheading the effort. BLT submitted a master plan to the town of Norwalk in May 2020, describing a complex that would appeal to “on-site corporate workers, adventurous aspirationals, maturing millennials, and empty nesters.”

 

Renderings show that several of the towers would be visible from Route 7 and neighbors have already raised concerns about the traffic impacts of adding such a significant number of apartments off an already congested intersection, with residual impact on Belden Hill Rd. A Facebook group called Residents Concerned about North 7 Development was formed last month by Wilton residents David Cristini and Matt Raimondi, who serves on the town’s Board of Finance. The group now has more than 200 members.

A public hearing on the project was held earlier this month, drawing a large crowd but only a handful of spoken comments. The Commission also accepted written comments submitted by 3 p.m. on June 15.

Status of the Project

The North 7 complex involves three concurrent applications to the Town of Norwalk. As the Commission worked through each item, Norwalk P&Z Director Steve Kleppin briefed the group on the impact of each approval.

  • The map amendment would consolidate the parcels of land on which the complex will be built, creating a unified development site.
  • The text amendment would revise the definition of an Executive Office Development Park and allows the developer to build at the higher density allowed within Norwalk’s urban core (increasing from eight stories and 100 feet to 15 stories and 150 feet).
  • The special permit, which has not yet been approved, would require the project to be completed in three distinct phases, with requirements about infrastructure improvements that must be completed at each step of the process.
Norwalk’s Planning & Zoning Commission

During the meeting, Norwalk P&Z voted unanimously to approve both the map amendment and the text amendment. The map amendment passed with little fanfare. Although the text amendment vote was also unanimous, several commissioners spoke out on the broader project before casting their “yes” votes.

Commissioner Richard Roina spoke to those who had submitted letters opposing the project, noting that he had read them all and visited the site himself two or three times.

“This project is incredibly complicated. Making this its own district with the ability [for the Commission] to vote on each phase, each tied to improved infrastructure, is the best that we can do for the City of Norwalk. I hope everyone will realize at some point that it’s a win-win situation.”

Commissioner Tammy Langalis underscored the need to keep traffic management at the forefront of the conversation as the project progresses:

“Traffic around Route 7, Glover Ave., Grist Mill, and Main Street is already so bad and if it doesn’t get fixed, it’s just going to get worse. The city, state, and BLT all need to work together to make those intersections more friendly to cars, pedestrians, and cyclists. People have good intentions but the city needs to hold the developer responsible on this.”

She also referenced the news that ASML will be expanding its workforce by 1,000 additional employees as an additional traffic factor.

Finally, Chair Louis Schulman said, “When we first began reviewing this project in 2020, I said it seemed like a wonderful and exciting opportunity and it also scared the heck out of me. I don’t think I’ve changed my mind. I think it potentially holds great promise for the city but it absolutely needs to be done the right way.”

Wilton P&Z Weighs in

Although the project lies entirely within the bounds of Norwalk, and far enough from the border that Wilton is not involved in the review process in an official capacity, Norwalk P&Z invited comments from Wilton Planning & Zoning “as a courtesy, because of the scope of the project.”

Earlier this month, Wilton’s Town Planner Michael Wrinn submitted preliminary comments in writing, in which he underscored the importance of requiring any traffic improvements to be in place prior to any of the buildings being opened and called the height of the tallest buildings “substantial.” During the Monday, June 13 meeting of the Wilton P&Z Commission, the members discussed the project once more and Wrinn noted that he had shared the letter with Police Chief John Lynch and Wilton’s Department of Public Works as well.

The traffic concerns raised by Wilton mirrored stipulations Norwalk had already included in the resolutions approving both amendments. The recommendation made in Wilton’s letter — to restrict occupancy in the buildings until required nearby transit improvements have been completed — also had been included in the draft resolution for the special permit.

This requirement was the source of an extended discussion amongst Norwalk’s P&Z commissioners that followed Wednesday evening’s votes. Kleppin posed a possible scenario to the Commission members, testing their appetite for upholding this key stipulation.

He asked whether the Commissioners would find themselves in “a tough spot” if, for instance, a building had been fully completed but the transit infrastructure projects underway at the state level were delayed. According to the current special permit draft, in that situation, BLT would be unable to apply for a Certificate of Occupancy (CO) to begin populating the building due to a delay beyond their control. The Commissioners were unruffled by the hypothetical.

“Why would that be a tough spot?” Commissioner Nick Kantor asked.

“This is something the applicant has agreed to,” Roina said. “I would have no problem saying no.”

Schulman agreed. “They make that decision at their peril. They could wait until the project is two-thirds completed and improve their chances that they can occupy upon completion. Or they can wait until the improvements are completed or near-complete before moving forward. This gives us — the city — a little bit of protection from having to provide a CO when the construction work on the improvements is not completed.”

Kleppin agreed to continue fine-tuning the occupancy clause and additional requirements for building height, environmentally friendly design elements, and other items over the coming weeks, in advance of the Commission’s vote on the special permit.

Next Steps

The special permit application for the complex’s master plan is expected to be voted on at either the June 28 special meeting of the Norwalk P&Z Commission or its regular meeting scheduled for July 7.

As noted earlier, the master plan sets forth a phased project plan in which BLT will need to demonstrate certain infrastructure capacity in place before receiving approval from Norwalk P&Z to move forward to the next phase. Additionally, each individual building in the complex will come to the Commission for review, public hearing, and a vote.

So although the seemingly imminent approval of the master plan may soon be settled, the public review of North 7 is expected to continue piece-by-piece over the next several years.

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