December 10, 2021
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 Worked
During 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 Charrette
As 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.
During 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 Environment
Important 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 Economy
While 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 Transportation
Managing 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 Update
The 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