November 10, 2022
A significant portion of the waterfront in Norwalk, CT has been zoned and used for industrial use. The city undertook a planning exercise to determine the appropriate land uses for these historically industrial waterfronts. The draft plan, Industrial Waterfront Land Use Plan, has been developed for the city to use as a policy roadmap, allowing these areas to grow and change in a way that balances and aligns with both public and private needs.
Changes to the zoning laws around the Norwalk waterfront will be aimed at promoting economic development and preserving the water dependent uses in the area, while also increasing public access, improving water quality through improved drainage techniques and providing native vegetative buffers, while also improving the built environment.
Read more to find out some of these suggestions for how to revise this waterfront.
Why the Norwalk, CT Waterfront Rezoning Matters
Before we begin, let’s take a quick look at why the Norwalk waterfront needed to be reevaluated.
It’s quite an understatement to say that industrial waterfront land has vastly changed in the last century. In Norwalk, the use of industrial waterfront has been transitioning from strictly industrial uses to less intense uses, such as marinas and small boat facilities, while legacy uses such as oyster harvesting and bulkhead repairs continue to be integral parts of the community. In addition, modern innovations, like the innovative boat building and storage or marine highway programs like harbor harvest hold promise for future economic success for our harbor.
However, updating industrial waterfronts comes with its challenges. The historical use of Norwalk’s urban waterfront plays such an enormous part in the city’s identity. It’s also an essential piece of the local economy.
The Norwalk waterfront has an array of uses.Some areas are zoned exclusively for heavy industrial uses, while others are reserved for commercial or public use and some have a mix of uses which can include residential
This is why the Norwalk Industrial Waterfront Land Use planning process looked at ways to benefit both public and private institutions alike, including the input of many stakeholders to thoughtfully address these uses. Read further to learn about the major themes that occurred throughout the planning process.
1. Increased Public Access
One common desire mentioned in the numerous meetings with the public is for Norwalk residents and tourists to have more access to the waterfront. An asphalt factory near the head of the Norwalk river is a good example. Not only is The facility under-utilized, but locating an asphalt plant in proximity to your downtown is not a desired land-use scenario. In addition, the public feels the land could better serve the community by broadening its usage.
This automatically indicates the need for changing the zoning laws, which is already underway. This site would need to be rezoned from its current industrial status. It’s just one example of how shifting the zoning laws may impact the broader waterfront ecology.
2. Reduced Heavy Industry
Rezoning to determine the appropriate types of heavy industrial usage and where they should be located have been common themes across every public meeting. The current zoning laws prioritize heavy industry. The updated zoning regulations would increase light industrial and artisanal industries.
These would be able to exist alongside residential zones to buffer more heavy industrial uses. This would allow for more mixed-use areas near the waterfront.
3. Mixed Use
Whatever form the final rezoning takes, mixed-use could play an important part. We see this in the proposal of placing light industry next to residential, for instance.
This would open the way for mixed-use marine commercial zoning, allowing more marine commercial businesses to remain on the waterfront while opening up the area around them for mixed uses. Examples of marine commercial businesses could include yacht clubs or marinas while mixed uses could be a marine retail store with residential above.
4. Reimagining Water Street
How Water Street looks, feels and functions has been debated many times over the years. The Plan’s vision for the area strives to strike a balance between the desire for public access and views of the water, with the need to support Norwalk’s thriving marine industries, while also improving the built environment of the street to compliment the desired development occurring elsewhere in the neighborhood.
Increasing the amount of greenery, particularly waterfront buffers, is another common concern, which would also help to address environmental issues. This is another major goal for many of the proposed changes to the industrial waterfront.
These suggestions will all help to keep the area vital, making it more appealing to residents and visitors.
5. Retain Protect, and Reinvest in Water-Dependent Businesses
There was consensus among stakeholders of the need to support and maybe even expand businesses that are water dependent in Norwalk, especially in the Water Street Marina area in South Norwalk. The concern is that they continue to contribute to Norwalk and the regional economy.
Ways to do this include: increasing the protected marine commercial zone and investing in infrastructure for these industries– such as bulkheads, dock repairs, and dredging of the Norwalk River.
While this is an acknowledged goal of the plan, it must be done in a way that considers the other identified needs and goals of the study, so the waterfront is resilient, active and accessible to all.
6. Preserve the Environment and Prepare for Resiliency
For waterfront areas, consideration of environmental factors is especially important. Recommendations for all the waterfront parcels is to increase flood resilience, improve water quality, and promote ecological restoration.
Investing in things like impermeable to permeable pavement or vegetation/soft shoreline would help reduce flooding in the more urban areas of the waterfront. These would limit property damage and ensure businesses are able to resume operations soon after a major storm. Expansion of tidal marshes, living shoreline, vegetative buffers, or other passive flood protection would help to mitigate flooding, improve water quality, and restore habitat in less inhabited areas.
The final recommendations in the plan, like those above, will inform the city as they work to update policy and develop the waterfront along Norwalk Harbor and the Norwalk River, including the Harbor Management Plan as well as land use regulations.
Stay up-to-date on the Norwalk, CT waterfront and other planning efforts of the City and give us your input.