East Norwalk has performed in the chorus line for far too long. It is ready for a starring role. For years, all of the City’s planning efforts and resources have been directed at productions in which South Norwalk and the adjoining Wall & Main Street Areas have been the lead performer.
Great big performances, written by the Redevelopment Agency have been funded with federal dollars and municipal incentives. There has been mixed success over the years, but theater-goers have been content to see the same increasingly aging headliner, and have paid little attention to the up-and-comer dancing with such energy in the wings.
East Norwalk has been auditioning for a chance to play the lead on its own stage for years. This doesn’t have to be a smash, just a chance to show what it can do.
Ten years ago, there was an opportunity for the other big producer, Norwalk’s Planning and Zoning Commissions to commit resources to planning for this gateway to our coastline, during the last POCD process. (The POCD is the Plan of Conservation and Development, sometimes called the City’s Master Plan.). Again, the starring role was cast with the big name star.
Two years ago, East Norwalk again auditioned for a lead in a modest production. P&Z was asked to apply for a planning grant for Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) at the East Norwalk train station. Finally, a chance to strut its stuff!
But, alas! Norwalk was not eligible to apply, because it had refused to join WestCOG until it was too late. Without funding, East Norwalk’s dreams were again dashed, as the production was shelved. In the meantime, it continued to dance its heart out in the chorus, while South Norwalk continued its starring role.
Finally, this year, the stars have aligned (pardon the pun) as both the POCD and the TOD study are fully funded and Planning and Zoning stand ready to produce a solid performer. East Norwalk will finally have a chance to shine!
Or will it?
Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom have swooped in to take charge of this production. The script includes a massive re-write, in the form of a four-building, six-story, high-density residential and commercial development, with reduced parking requirements. Only a combined 1% of this will be retail and restaurant.
The farce will be complete with the expectation that East Norwalk will wear hand-me-down costumes. The planned architectural design will be a continuation of the industrial design featured in and around South Norwalk. East Norwalk will forever stand in the shadow of Norwalk’s most persistent head-liner, even as it seeks to break out and make a name for itself.
There is still time to roll back the changes and allow the serious work of planning to take place in East Norwalk, for the first time ever. The Planning Commission and the Zoning Commission both have a part in approving or denying the zoning text amendments that allow this development to go forward. They will have the power to decide whether East Norwalk will dance in a fresh, forward-looking feature or a flop.
Each Commission will hear the applicant at least once more, and at least one public hearing will be scheduled. Please let them know that you would appreciate the chance to plan first, and develop second—the way smart cities do it.
East Norwalk deserves a chance to have an unencumbered planning process. Lest we find ourselves, years from now, like a sad Norma Desmond. “Mr. DeMille, East Norwalk is ready for its close-up.”