Recommendations for Norwalk's Industrial Waterfront
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.
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 Findings
In 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 District
The 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 River
Input 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 Area
Further 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 District
On 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 Study
The 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.
Examining the Use of Norwalk's Industrial Waterfront
A beautiful city located on the Long Island Sound, Norwalk, CT has several photo worthy, waterfront destinations like the Maritime Aquarium or Calf Pasture Beach. These are great area attractions and unique spaces, but there are other waterfront areas, notably along the Norwalk River, that have historically been used for industry and other commercial purposes.
Norwalk is undergoing an assessment of the use of Norwalk’s industrial waterfront to determine what may be in store for the area. Read on to learn more.
Economic Development and Norwalk's Waterfront
City 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 Uses
Part 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 Waterfront
In 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:
The study will identify areas of high risk or high environmental sensitivity such as low lying areas that may be prone to flooding or areas receiving polluted run-off from their land side counterparts. It will also look at areas in the river that may be in need of dredging and determine any environmental considerations.
The final plan will incorporate best practices for zoning standards to minimize stormwater runoff and support water quality by adding things like permeable pavement and landscape buffers.
- Flood hazards
- Dredging for navigation channels
- Water quality
Planning for Norwalk's Future Waterfront
The 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 Waterfront
The 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
Norwalk recently underwent a study of its industrial zones to take a look at the different types of industrial development in various areas of the city, and how industrial and commercial zoning can best be used for economic and job growth.
How can the city become more modernized? How should the city change the industrial zone definition? What should industrial zones look like in Norden Place and along the waterfront?
These are just a few questions examined in the study.
The Norwalk Industrial Zone Study included conversations with city staff, industrial business owners, residents, and other local stakeholders. Below is a quick overview of the study’s recommendations.
Simplify Zoning Classifications for Modern Uses
Industry 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 Place
Norden 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 Others
While 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:
An additional recommendation of the Norwalk Zoning Study is limiting self-storage facilities, which are presently under a moratorium in the industrial zones. The reason for this is that self-storage takes up valuable industrial land, but is not the best use of the property. These facilities provide limited jobs and economic development potential, and don’t promote an active pedestrian environment on the ground floor such as retail or restaurants, which add to the vitality of the neighborhood.
- Locating them in accessible locations that will not cause traffic problem
- Adding buffers adjacent to these yards and access to major roadways
Develop a Unique Waterfront Plan
Historically, Norwalk has had industrial zones along the Norwalk River, but this waterfront is a unique area with many uses, regulations, and other pressures. The plan suggests that the city should take into consideration the many other issues that affect the land use along the waterfront, including the environmental impact, water quality, coastal resiliency, public access, recreational uses, as well as economic development opportunities related to the water.
In fact, the city has already begun to develop an Industrial Waterfront Land Use Plan to determine the best use of its waterfront, taking into account the many diverse challenges.
How Norwalk Industrial Zones Can Improve
Norwalk industrial zones can become more effective for today’s economy. By differentiating between different kinds of industry and creating new classifications the city can accommodate a larger variety of businesses and more mixed-use buildings.
Norden Place and the waterfront are two industrially zoned areas that are unique and should be studied, planned, and developed separately.
By taking steps outlined in the Industrial Zone Study, Norwalk is planning for the future. A future that encourages economic development balanced with residents’ needs and the environment.
Initial Recommendations for Norwalk’s Industrial Zones
“Industry” in the 21st century has come to have a different meaning than in the last century. For some, 2021-03-10 Steering Committee Meeting - Draft Recommendations (2)industrial zones may conjure up images of belching smoke stacks. But now, the modern industrial zone is something quite different. The manufacturing sector is seen more and more as including a variety of businesses that can be vital to creating vibrant local neighborhoods, offering a range of benefits from creative placemaking to employment opportunities.
The Changing Face of Industry
In many ways the new image of industry stems from the fact that manufacturing firms have changed radically over time. Across the United States, we are moving from a manufacturing sector dominated by mass producers with hundreds of employees to small and medium-sized businesses that are celebrated for keeping it local. Because of this, cities are redefining what industrial usage is as they take a look at their industrial zones.
Today, not all industrial uses are the same. They can be small-scale, less intensive uses such as small-batch manufacturing, woodworking, metalworking, machining, product design, printing, apparel and textiles, brewery and bakeries. Industrial uses can also include “light industries” including smaller-scale R&D, industrial services, distribution, building materials sale & storage and warehousing. Heavy industrial uses may include vehicle sale/service, storage/junkyards, asphalt and concrete plants, industrial processing, oil/petroleum/propane gas storage, solid waste transfer, recycling and composting.
Zones In Norwalk
Norwalk has three defined industrial zones: industrial 1, industrial 2 and restricted industrial. In addition, industrial uses are also allowed in certain other business zones. The kinds of activities that are allowed in these zones include manufacturing and processing, research and development, printing, warehousing, storage and wholesale distribution. These zones also allow for other uses that are not industrial, but accompany industrial uses such as offices and retail, artist workspaces, and even multifamily and single family housing.
Norwalk is setting out to reclassify and simplify its industrial zones. Recently, the committee studying this, presented the following recommendations:
The Industrial Zone Planning Committee will continue to refine its recommendations as it moves ahead, following up with the City’s industrial businesses, and with input and feedback from the public via public outreach sessions being scheduled for late April, 2021.
- Simplify zoning into three new types of zones:
- Mixed Use Commercial/Industrial
- Mixed Use Residential/Commercial/Industrial
- In the Mixed Use Residential/Commercial/Industrial district, encourage ground floor boutique manufacturing and live/work spaces by allowing building height increases. For example, in neighborhoods such as the East Norwalk or Wall and West Avenue areas, the City could look to create incentives for light industry such as allowing property owners to maintain and grow businesses while allowing for residential spaces above them.
- In the Mixed Use Commercial/Industrial Zones, allow for hybrid building types such as in South Norwalk along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Wilson and Woodward Avenues or North Norwalk along Perry Avenue.
- Distinguish the difference between the types and intensity of contractor yards from each other and from other industrial uses and identify more suitable locations and sites. Contractor yards pose problems when they are located along narrow residential streets or when they are near road networks and intersections which can cause conflict with their truck traffic. Currently, contractor yards are permitted by right in Norwalk in industrial zones in South and East Norwalk, but they are also permitted by special permit in other business zones in the City.
- Develop separate plans for the Norden site and the waterfront. The Norden Site is a large parcel (37 acres) but truck traffic now must move to and from the site through roads with no direct access to I-95. The committee’s recommendations are that this site should be considered for other suitable land uses such as industrial/commercial with passenger traffic only. Industrial uses around waterfront areas should promote access to the waterfront and be in compliance with and under the guidance of the City’s Harbor Management Plan.