Environmental Resilience Planning: Heat Study in Norwalk, CT
Missing Middle Housing and How It Benefits Cities and Towns
What Is Missing Middle Housing?Broadly speaking, the missing middle is composed of diverse housing types that fall into the category between single family dwellings and larger apartment buildings with many units. Missing middle units are similar in scale to single-family homes, addressing space limitations. They include duplexes, multiplexes, cottage courts, and townhomes. These types of dwellings allow for urban areas that are less dense, more walkable, and offer more open spaces.
Why Is Missing Middle Housing Needed?Currently, there is a growing gap between upcoming demographics and available housing options. If missing middle housing were built, it would offer an affordable alternative. Those who work in the city could purchase property, build equity-based wealth, and still live affordably. In addition to greater affordability, missing middle housing also addresses housing demand. Since many aspiring homeowners are priced out of the market, they must keep renting for years. Likewise, the available options for low-priced housing tend to be farther away from urban centers with little access to public transportation. This mismatch between the demand and city-based options is substantial. Moreover, smaller multi-unit dwellings support walkability and keep spending in the local economy. By creating housing options in urban spaces, consumers can utilize public transportation more effectively. Thus, residents would save on transportation expenses and build equity in their new homes.
Who Benefits the Most From Missing Middle Housing?Those looking for moderate or lower-priced housing would benefit from missing middle housing. These types of multi-unit housing use existing space more efficiently, reducing cost per square foot. Additionally, many creative professionals are not interested in traditional living. As a result, they are willing to live with simplified or downsized amenities. For example, many are looking for a car-free lifestyle, which is impossible in the suburbs. Empty-nesters looking to downsize after their children have left home can benefit from smaller space and reduced expenses. At the moment, these populations often do not have effective options available in cities and larger towns. Missing middle housing options can help to ensure that low and moderate income residents of a city can find affordable housing and remain there where they are close to transportation, jobs and other benefits of urban living.
What is Norwalk Doing to Address Missing Middle Housing?Norwalk is currently evaluating its accessory dwelling unit regulations to potentially allow more flexibility in how these units are developed. In addition, as part of the comprehensive rewrite of the zoning regulations, the City is considering freeing up certain portions of the smaller-lot, single-family zones, to allow for 2-family dwellings.
Norwalk's Economic Outlook in 2022 and Beyond
Throughout 2020 and 2021, the Connecticut Board of Labor reported high numbers of unemployment claims and other worrying statistics about the state's overall economic situation. However, a recent economic look at Norwalk, CT shows promise of growth and stability.This Norwalk economic outlook was presented to the Norwalk Common Council earlier this year. Here's what Norwalk residents and business owners need to know about housing, new businesses, commercial real estate, and urban development in 2022.
Residential HousingIn January of 2022, the median listed home price in Norwalk, Connecticut was $550,000, a 10% increase from the previous year. As of late February and early March of this year, the average single-family home sold for $750,000 and spent about 86 days on the market. These price changes signal a robust residential housing market. According to the report, home vacancy rates are at an all-time low in Norwalk, CT. This could drive increased housing development in the form of single-family homes, apartments, and multi-family residences for people of every economic background.
New BusinessesTo give an accurate assessment of new business growth in Norwalk, government officials focused their attention on two statistics. First, they looked at the number of new business formations since July 2021. In that period, there have been 185 new businesses established. The committee projects that by June 2022, that number will reach 370. Next, the city reviewed how many commercial tenant fit-up permits they've granted since the beginning of the fiscal year. There have already been 71, so they anticipate granting a total of 140 by the end of the fiscal year. 2020 only saw 101 commercial tenant fit-up permits granted to businesses while 2021 saw 131. With these promising statistics, it appears as if business development in Norwalk is seeing a rebound from the hardships of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Commercial Real EstateTo get a bigger picture of the Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk commercial real estate market, the commercial leasing activity in the area was compared to national averages. Overall, the state of commercial real estate appears to be weaker than national averages, especially in the retail property sector. However, the following property sectors in Norwalk are stronger than the national averages:
Urban DevelopmentDespite some weakness in the commercial real estate market, the City of Norwalk anticipates five new urban development projects that may see groundbreaking or applications in 2022:
- Pinnacle, 467 West Avenue—393 residential units and 26,000 square feet of commercial space in South Norwalk
- 10 Monroe Street—150 residential units and 16,000 square feet of commercial space
- A mixed-use commercial/apartment building at Monroe and Chestnut Streets near the South Norwalk train station
- A Wells Fargo site in East Norwalk
- Applications for commercial sites on Route 1
What This Economic Outlook Means for Norwalk's FutureIn general, Norwalk city officials see this economic outlook report as promising. In both residential and commercial sectors, developers are laying building blocks for increased growth in the future. The City of Norwalk will continue to work with developers and seek input from residents and businesses. Combined with reviews and updates to Norwalk’s industrial zones, industrial waterfront land uses, zoning regulations and affordable housing plans, the City of Norwalk has high hopes for 2022's economic situation. Stay tuned with the City of Norwalk. Give your ideas and feedback for the future plans for business development in Norwalk by subscribing to updates, and make your voice heard.
Norwalk, CT Merges Separate Planning & Zoning Commissions
Recent CT State Land Use Planning ChangesA lot happened during the last year related to Land Use Planning in the State of CT. The Connecticut General Assembly presented more critical land use and statewide zoning proposals than they have in decades. The bills that obtained approval from the House, Senate, and Governor’s office were scaled-back versions of these proposals. Still, they received much media attention, and for a good reason. They were important rulings that will affect our city.
Why the Change in Norwalk?Some Connecticut towns have already combined their Planning and Zoning commissions. The new structure of Norwalk’s Planning & Zoning Commission supports an efficient and collaborative working relationship. For instance, New Haven’s Planning commission has also combined the duties and responsibilities of P&Z. However, areas like Danbury and Stamford continue to run separate city Planning and Zoning commissions. For some time, the City of Norwalk had also run separate Planning and Zoning commissions. The general agreement was that the separation resulted in a disconnect between planning, land use policy, and city zoning and created additional work for applicants to both commissions.
Benefits of the Planning & Zoning Commission MergerHistorically, a third or more of the Planning Commission’s workflow came from the Zoning Commission. This process often added one to two months to the approval process, hindering development in the city. Now, applicants will save considerable time and costs without the need to present requests to both commissions. The union of the planning and zoning commissions also creates a more consistent planning relationship. It gives the Commission increased jurisdiction. That broadened authority enables them to support consistency with citywide planning.
What to Expect from Norwalk’s Unified P&Z CommissionIn the past, the Planning Commission and Zoning Commission successfully executed their distinct functions. Together, P&Z can coordinate to promote greater efficiency and growth for the Norwalk economy. New members of the merged P&Z group have been selected. Currently, the City is rewriting its zoning regulations, which is set to be completed later this year.. Other land use efforts underway in Norwalk, CT are a reassessment of its industrial zones and developing a plan for its urban waterfront areas. You can stay updated on Norwalk Planning and Zoning Department news by visiting the official website. The City of Norwalk welcomes your questions and feedback. Please feel free to contact us with your inquiries.
Norwalk Residents Weigh In On Industrial Waterfront Uses
As the City of Norwalk studies how to optimize the industrial areas of its waterfront resources along the mid-to-upper Norwalk Harbor, the Planning and Zoning office is reaching out to the public and other stakeholders for their thoughts.One of the ways planners have gathered input is via an online community mapping activity. This digital engagement, which started in late 2021, was the first of several opportunities to gather public comment. Participants added their input on how they would like to see the waterfront used via an interactive map where they placed comments pinpointing to specific areas in the study zone. Keep reading to find out what the public would like to see along the industrial area of Norwalk’s waterfront.
Interactive Waterfront Survey FindingsIn all, more than 150 comments were made by more than 55 stakeholders, with 1,100 people visiting the site. A large majority of comments involved a desire to include public access and open space along Norwalk’s waterfront. Another popular comment was regarding infrastructure along waterfront areas such as the inclusion of sidewalks, paths and trails. Below are some of the most popular comments for various areas along the Norwalk River.
Broader Marina DistrictThe comments pinpointed to Veteran’s Park asked for improvements to the park and increased water access, the input being that the water frontage is substantially underutilized. Some ideas included putting in better boardwalk/paved paths around the park, adding plantings, picnic tables and access for kayaks and canoes. Along Water Street many respondents said they want to maintain the land for water-dependent uses, such as boatyards and aquaculture. Many liked the suggestion that anything vacant in this area should be required to be landscaped into parks accessible to the public since this area is flood-prone.
East Bank of the Norwalk RiverInput on the waterfront area on the River’s east side industrial-mixed use transition area included a desire by many to finish the Norwalk Harbor Loop Trail of which there is a missing section in this area. Commenters also wanted to see cleanup of the old asphalt plant in East Norwalk, possibly turning the area into a park that could serve as a buffer zone to accommodate flooding that occurs in the area regularly.
Industrial/Commercial Business District Wall Street AreaFurther up the river in the Wall Street area, many liked the idea of making the waterfront here more accessible to pedestrians, and increasing recreational marine uses such as canoe or kayak rentals. Other comments included zoning the area for accessory uses that would enable cafes and restaurants. Respondents also expressed a desire to connect the area under the bridge leading to Freese Park with the Harbor Trail Loop.
Washington Street/Oyster Shell Park DistrictOn the west side of the Norwalk River, a number of those surveyed would like to see the completion of pedestrian access from South Norwalk (SoNo) through Oyster Shell Park, making both pedestrian and bicycle access safer. Others expressed an interest in a continuous boardwalk in SoNo on the waterfront from Washington Street to Elizabeth or Hanford Streets, including in front of the Maritime Aquarium.
Public Engagement for Industrial Waterfront Land Use StudyThe Waterfront Land Use Study Steering Committee will continue to engage and inform the public with a series of public meetings. Overall themes that came out of this original survey will be discussed and participants will be asked to rank the top three issues/concerns/themes that they would like this plan to address. The committee will also make additional suggestions for land use and development intensity that the public can weigh in on.
Norwalk, CT Holds Charrette on Revising Its Building Zone Regulations
This fall, the City of Norwalk held a charrette focused on rewriting and modernizing its building zone regulations which lasted over the course of five days. A charrette is a collaborative planning process that involves all stakeholders and this one was open virtually to the public.Norwalk embarked on a building zone regulation update following its ten-year Citywide Plan in 2019. One of the Plan’s recommendations was to take a fresh look at the city’s zoning regulations, which have not been thoroughly reviewed nor revised in 30 years. The charrette was part of a greater public outreach process to educate local citizens on the zoning code and get their input and feedback on what works and what needs to be changed.
How the Virtual Charrette WorkedDuring the charrette, the community learned about the city’s current zoning regulations. In a series of online focus meetings, stakeholders shared their hopes and concerns about how the new regulations may affect things such as transportation, architecture and design, community character, land use, development, neighborhoods, housing, green infrastructure, sustainability, and most desirably its waterfront charm. For those who couldn’t make it to one of the meetings, an online virtual open studio was available for much of the day where people could join and ask questions, or share their thoughts on zoning. Another way the city was able to get input from the public during the charrette was through a virtual mapping workshop. Using an online tool, people were able to access a map of the city and add markers to indicate what they liked about the character of Norwalk and their thoughts on opportunities for improvement.
Findings from the CharretteAs mentioned in a report from The Norwalk Hour, “if one word was said more often than any other word this week, it was character. We heard from people wanting to maintain the marine character. Views of the water are important.” On the final evening of the virtual charrette, the planning team presented their findings and discussed how the community input is shaping the new Building Zone Regulations in several areas. Here are some of their findings.
HousingDuring the charrette, people asked for a greater variety of housing types in more locations. Allowing for multifamily and accessory dwelling units that fit into the character of single family neighborhoods. Part of this is an expressed need and desire for more affordable workforce housing.
Sustainability and the EnvironmentImportant to charrette attendees is the maintenance of the maritime character of the city, and the need to preserve water views. The protection of natural resources and the coastline is also a public concern. Attendees talked frequently about the need for green infrastructure such as permeable pavement, accessibility for bicycling and pedestrians, solar power, green roofs, and sustainable stormwater solutions.
Industry and the EconomyWhile open, green space and preserving the character of neighborhoods were important to charrette attendees, there was discussion about protecting some industrial zones. There was a call to look at other locations for these zones than where they are currently. The biggest concern with industrial zones was the need to address the contractor yards in these neighborhoods and adjacent to homes. There is a Norwalk Industrial Zones Study underway which is taking a look at these issues. Also of importance for attendees was protecting water dependent commercial uses while still allowing for public access to the water. Currently, the city is working on an Industrial Waterfront Land Use Plan to guide decisions on the best uses of Norwalk’s waterfront resources. Overall, the public wanted to retain, grow, and attract a wide range of businesses, allowing for various commercial building types that are more compatible in more areas.
Mobility and TransportationManaging all modes of transportation was a critical concern for attendees, especially making land use decisions that support and improve walking, biking, and public transit. Parking was brought up as having an impact on the character, walkability and desirability of the community. There were presentations on shifting parking lots to be hidden and interspersed among businesses as attendees expressed an interest in a review of parking standards.
Next Steps in the Zoning Regulations UpdateThe zoning regulations planning team is taking all the feedback from the charrette and drafting new regulations. The intention is to simplify what is now a complicated document, and consolidate some of the zoning districts. The overall policy will be to take a character-based approach to zoning. This means grouping zones together that are similar, and creating character districts where certain building types are appropriate for each district, while taking into consideration policies such as open space and commercial uses, etc. Residents, businesses and others in the community will have the opportunity to review and provide feedback to the draft, continuing the important public input to ensure the new regulations take into account all who live and work in Norwalk. To see videos from the Charrette Presentations CLICK HERE
Examining the Use of Norwalk's Industrial Waterfront
Economic Development and Norwalk's WaterfrontCity leaders across the nation view commercial waterfront districts as an opportunity for sustainable development. Norwalk is one city undergoing such an evaluation. The latest waterfront assessment is all about improving its waterfront properties to meet the needs of today. For example, Norwalk officials are reconsidering the use of the city’s industrial zones. At the same time, they’re examining how residents can best coexist with local industry. City planners hope to answer these same questions along waterfront property with the latest industrial waterfront land use study. The study is the result of a recommendation from the initial Industrial Zones study which suggests that waterfront industrial uses should be assessed separately from inland industrial uses as a result of their unique qualities. There’s an abundance of opportunities for Norwalk’s industrial property on the waterfront. The goal of the study is to ensure that the city meets the needs of residents and businesses. That’s why feedback from the public is being encouraged to influence how they move forward. The Industrial Waterfront Land Use Plan will be influenced by residents, business owners, and other local constituents.
Examining Industrial Waterfront UsesPart of the process of rethinking the Norwalk waterfront is to examine how the land zoned for industry is currently used. Already, there are several well-established businesses along the Norwalk River. They range from commercial marine facilities, to recreation and tourist areas, to industrial and commercial business districts. Many of these uses add to the maritime character of Norwalk and play a role in the regional and State economy.
Environmental Considerations for Norwalk's WaterfrontIn addition to creating more jobs and offering recreational and other options, officials also want to protect the area’s natural resources. The waterfront study will evaluate several environmental concerns, including:
- Flood hazards
- Dredging for navigation channels
- Water quality
Planning for Norwalk's Future WaterfrontThe ultimate goal of Norwalk’s Industrial Waterfront Land Use Study will be to determine how to best make use of waterfront property in the future. It also will consider opportunities for public access and recreation. Overall, the city’s new plans for the Norwalk River will prioritize water-dependent uses. Water dependent uses are valued by local citizens because of the role they play in creating a sense of place in Norwalk. They are also prioritized by the State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. This plan will help city officials assess the aspirations, ideas, and needs of residents and businesses with regard to the local waterfront. The outcome of this study will be a new framework for regulations and rezoning in the area. More importantly, it will highlight projects that will result in a healthy, vibrant, and dynamic waterfront for Norwalk.
Help Shape the Future of Norwalk's WaterfrontThe City of Norwalk would love to hear your ideas and feedback for the future plans for Norwalk’s industrial waterfront. Please feel free to visit our Norwalk Tomorrow feedback map and make your voice heard.
Recommendations for Norwalk’s Industrial Zones: A Guide
Simplify Zoning Classifications for Modern UsesIndustry in Norwalk has evolved over the years. Commercial zones previously developed for agriculture and manufacturing need modernization. Yet, the city still needs to make room to attract construction projects and other heavy industrial works. One recommendation of the Industrial Zone Study is to simplify zone classifications to make them more in line with contemporary uses. This would distinguish each zone class by the type of industrial uses allowed, the types of contractors permitted, and whether or not residential uses in the zones are permitted. There are four proposed industrial categories for the zoning districts:
- Heavy Industrial - this include intensive manufacturing, contractor yards, utilities and waste management
- Mixed-use Heavy Industrial/Commercial - this includes heavy industry but also allows commercial upper floor uses such as offices, research and development, showrooms, and other industrial services.
- Mixed-use Light Industrial/Commercial - this would include light manufacturing uses, as well as research and development, limited warehousing, and other less intensive industrial services.
- Mixed-use Artisan - these zones would allow boutique manufacturing, textile companies, bakeries, beverage and spirits production, and artist studios.
Special Development Plan for Norden PlaceNorden Place is a unique area because of its industrial history and location. The site takes up more than three dozen acres in Norwalk and is an ideal location for an industrial zone. However, there are specific challenges that need to be addressed when planning for its future use. For one, it is adjacent to I-95, yet drivers must go through residential areas to access the highway. The study recommends preparing a development plan just for the Norden site. While a warehousing center for Norden Place may not be ideal, mixed commercial/industrial users should be able to make use of the location. Potential uses might include research and development, life science and biotech companies, or a data center. Importantly, they should discourage residential uses. Along with the planning for Norden Place, the city should examine and devise a plan for access to I-95. It may be possible to open additional ramps to the highway, though it’s important to bear in mind the effects of these construction projects on city residents. One solution could be including buffering strategies to minimize noise pollution along the highway. They may also want to restrict vehicular traffic in the zone to passenger vehicles and small trucks only.
Differentiate Between Contractor Yards and OthersWhile contractor yards are permitted in industrial zones, contractors can include a large array of service providers from plumbers and electricians to site contractors and sand/gravel storage facilities. The sweeping term ignores the realities that each industry has its own needs and in zones with more intensive contractor yards and heavy industry conflicts can arise when they are intermingled with residential uses. The study proposes that the city should distinguish between contractor yards with heavy truck traffic and impact on the site, and contractor offices that have only a few service vehicles and less effect on its surroundings. Distinctions should also be drawn between contractor operations with outdoor vs. indoor storage. Some other requirements suggested for zoning regulations for contractor yards include:
- Locating them in accessible locations that will not cause traffic problem
- Adding buffers adjacent to these yards and access to major roadways