Examining the Use of Norwalk's Industrial Waterfront

Industrial Waterfront PlanA 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:
  • Flood hazards
  • Dredging for navigation channels
  • Water quality
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.

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

Industrial Zones in NowalkNorwalk 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:
  • Locating them in accessible locations that will not cause traffic problem 
  • Adding buffers adjacent to these yards and access to major roadways 
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.

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. 

Read the full study here

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: 
  1. Simplify zoning into three new types of zones: 
    • Industrial
    • Mixed Use Commercial/Industrial
    • Mixed Use Residential/Commercial/Industrial
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
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.

See Draft Recommendations Presentation

Watch Draft Recommendations Session 

 

Surveying Norwalkers on Industrial Zones

Norwalk's Industrial ZonesIndustrial zones have been integral parts of cities for decades, allowing certain areas to be designated for industrial and commercial use. Following the  2019-2029  Citywide Plan, Norwalk is assessing its industrial zones to see if these areas are still appropriate for industrial uses, as well as taking a look at how to better use these zones for economic diversification and growth.  As part of this effort, the City recently conducted a survey for stakeholders across the City, including residents and business owners, to gauge their opinions about Norwalk’s industrial zones.

Industrial Zone Survey Results

Out of a total of 434 respondents, two major opinion groups emerged, based on their votes and statements submitted.  One group of about one-third of those who responded had generally a pro-industry stance, with strong support for additional industrial development across the City, as well as a healthy mix of both commercial and industrial uses. Their opinions were generally:
  • More supportive of industrial growth, especially for job creation
  • Support for a balance of land use
  • Sensitive to the location of industrial uses and their relationship to residential neighborhoods
A second group, representing about two-thirds of participants, had more of an anti-industry attitude. Many in this group expressed a desire to see industry be placed elsewhere in Fairfield County, and many pointed to the noise and harm  that industry causes to residential neighbors.  Their opinions included:
  • Less support for industrial growth
  • Norwalk should not bear the regional burden of industrial development
  • Industry in Norwalk is not well located and should not be near residential areas
Despite the gap in opinions on industrial zones in general, there were areas of consensus across both of the groups. Whether pro-industry or anti-industry, there was wide agreement on:
  • Industry should respect the needs of its residential neighbors
  • Traffic and infrastructure are serious issues in many of the zones
  • There should be a clear distinction between heavy and light industry
  • Waterfront is a valuable asset for the City that should be considered separately from the other industrial zones

Industrial Zone Planning - Next Steps

Based on both the survey results and the above consensus points, the industrial zone planning team will look further into several questions that arose, including:
  • While Norwalk is well positioned for a regional advantage with regard to industry, should it be the main industrial district for Fairfield County?
  • What are emerging industrial trends and how should they inform the future of industrial development in Norwalk?
  • How to balance the future of marine industrial and commercial uses with recreational uses such as boating and public access along the waterfront?
  • How can Norwalk’s planning and policy mitigate conflicts between industrial uses and abutting residential and commercial areas?
With these in mind, the committee will undergo further planning analysis to develop urban design scenarios related to the various zones.

For a full discussion, watch the Industrial Zones Oversight Committee Special Meeting, 1-12-2021

  Read more about Norwalk's Industrial Zone Planning Effort