Updating Zone Regulations for the City of Norwalk

January 6, 2020

 In 2019, the City of Norwalk began the process of updating building zone regulations in response to the recommendations of the Citywide Plan.  The regulations contain key requirements and guidelines for land use and development in Norwalk. The first step was to evaluate current regulations and assess their usefulness and  consistency, among other things. The evaluation included discussion with local departments and agencies involved in land use permitting and enforcement, and meetings with other stakeholders who use the regulations, including developers, engineers, and attorneys. The assessment also included reaching out  to the public, including residents, property owners, and business owners, to learn about Norwalk residents’ experiences with and ideas about what they would like to see in new building zone regulations. The zoning regulations’ evaluation process revealed a number of issues and concerns, which are discussed below.

Organizational Revisions  

In discussions, it was pointed out that the way in which building zone regulations’ information is organized could be improved. Presentation of the regulations is not intuitive for many people, and oftentimes difficult for them to find information they need. It was suggested that the regulations should be organized around four major themes organized by what people are looking for: Regulatory Basics, Zones & Uses, Development Standards, and Permitting/Enforcement. In addition, they would be easier to read with a standard chapter, article, section titling and numbering system, as well as headings. Visual aids such as illustrations, tables and charts, and clickable tabs and links to related information would also help make the information more clear. 

The current regulations are now available via a static PDF hosted on the City’s website. The City envisions the regulations being available in a similar format but with more search and tab functions, and also available as an interactive map that contains searchable function by property address, that contains the relevant zoning and history of that property. By making the new regulations both user-friendly to find and read, information will be less confusing and more useful to all who use them. 

Updates to Policies and Standards 

The other set of recommendations from the evaluation phase of the new zoning regulations is to take a hard look at current regulations and make updates. This would include removing or revising ones that no longer make sense to enforcers, property owners and residents (such as parking in a residential front yard or rules regarding home-based businesses). In addition, the City should consider adding new regulations that would benefit Norwalk, for important issues such as stormwater, sustainability and pedestrian/bicycle facilities for example. Other areas where the City might changes include putting in place City‐wide design standards and guidelines, and updating provisions for industrial and business zones.

Since the City recently updated the  Citywide Plan, there are changes to the regulations and Building Zone Map that are recommended in the Plan.  Some of these changes may involve the rezoning of certain areas of the City, necessitating outreach within the subject community(s).  

Administration/Enforcement Changes

The third area in phase one of updating Norwalk’s building zone regulations was to look at   updating, reorganizing, and clarifying procedural provisions such as getting permits and applications looked at and approved. The goal would be for the process to be consistent and easy to understand. For example, the process of obtaining a permit could be more clearly explained to help less experienced applicants. Inter‐department communication (including plan distribution, review and approval) could be more transparent and coordinated for applicants and others involved in the land use process. Changes to help the process could include improving public access to application materials and notice of pending applications, as well as putting applications and payments online. Internally, reorganizing the workflow within the City could help processes, including streamlining the approval process by perhaps establishing a “permit coordinator” position responsible for coordinating department activities and expediting permits.

Norwalk has transformed over the years, from an important colonial seaport, to a major manufacturing center. Today it has an economy that supports Fortune 500 companies, a busy marine harbor, high-tech manufacturing and innovative start-up companies. Updating the zoning regulations is in order to keep up with the City’s changing profile. In 2020, the Norwalk Zoning Commission will be taking a look at the evaluation findings and recommendations in order to move forward with a new draft of the building zoning regulations. Once a draft is complete, the public will have an opportunity to review and weigh in via open houses, workshops  or hearings.

 CLICK HERE to read the full Building Zone Regulations Update Evaluation & Recommendations.

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