NORWALK, Conn. – An amended version of what one Norwalk resident called the "Big Box Promotion Act" was passed last week in a special meeting of the Norwalk Zoning Commission.
The amendment revises the minimum height requirement of retail buildings that contain more than 80,000 square feet – but only within eight-tenths of a mile of an interstate highway exit or entrance ramp. It eliminates the requirement that such stores must have a second story, reversing a decision made in 2009. It also exempts firehouses from building height requirements.
Commissioner Mike Mushak said the amendment was a compromise, affecting Connecticut Avenue only. Mushak said Commissioner Adam Blank made a motion to confine the change to an area that already has the infrastructure to handle large stores.
"I was initially very opposed to the amendment in any form as it contradicted the Master Plan of Conservation and Development, but I thought this compromise was acceptable, especially knowing that many improvements to the infrastructure along the Connecticut Avenue corridor are coming soon in the way of widened exit ramps, extra travel lanes, and a mile of new sidewalks on both sides of the avenue as part of the Connecticut Department of Transportation Rt. 95 widening project which broke ground last month," Mushak wrote in an email.
The amendment was not part of the agenda posted for the special meeting on the city's website. Mushak said commissioners had originally planned to vote on it in August but it was added to the agenda 24 hours ahead of the meeting, as a courtesy to commissioners who wanted to vote on it in July.
Former Mayor Bill Collins was among those protesting the proposed amendment at the May commission meeting, calling it the "Big Box Promotion Act." "It makes those of us in the city very nervous that out of its own cogitation the commission would present this," he said. "Because it would seem to a normal citizen that if there's one thing Norwalk does not need today, it's more big box stores."
He wanted the regulation change denied outright. Mushak, Blank and Commissioner Nathan Sumpter voted to do just that at last week's meeting. That failed on a 4-3 vote, with Commissioners Joe Santo, Emily Wilson, Jill Jacobsen and Michael O'Reilly voting to amend it in some way.