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Norwalk's North Water Street Development Plan Clears Hurdle

The empty lot at 20 N. Water St. in South Norwalk would be the future home of a 107-unit apartment building and mixed-use complex.
The empty lot at 20 N. Water St. in South Norwalk would be the future home of a 107-unit apartment building and mixed-use complex. Photo Credit: Alfred Branch

NORWALK, Conn. — A major mixed-use development project at 20 N. Water St. in South Norwalk received Zoning Commission approval Wednesday after the developer agreed to relocate some affordable housing units.

Norwalk-based Spinnaker Real Estate Partners is planning a multimillion-dollar, 107-unit apartment building — with retail and restaurant space — at the site of the former Norwalk Co. building. As part of the project, Spinnaker sought to place seven of 11 affordable apartments slated for the complex at property it owns at 50 Connecticut Ave.

The affordable apartments, which are required under the city's workforce housing regulations, can be placed on-site or elsewhere in the community, so long as represent 10 percent of the project. Officials adopted the provision to help increase Norwalk's affordable housing stock.

But about a dozen residents said at a public hearing Wednesday that putting the units in a Connecticut Avenue complex that is already affordable does not increase the number of such units in Norwalk.

Also at issue was the unequal nature of some affordable units located in a new, luxury complex compared with units in an old, existing building. The Spinnaker development would feature water views, a private putting green on the roof and its own movie theater.

"How can you compare water views to Connecticut Avenue views?" resident Diane Cece asked.

Additionally, many objected to the gentrification aspects of the plan. Former Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now Director Robert Burgess said he believed the plan to relocate some affordable units may violate a consent decree the city adopted in the 1970s to improve affordable housing in Norwalk.

"HUD found that there was systemic discrimination in Norwalk when it came to housing," Burgess said.

Nothing about the development project was discriminatory, said Spinnaker attorney Peter Nolin, a former Common Councilman. The consent decree was designed to move affordable units out of South Norwalk and place them in other areas of the city, which the project does, Nolin said. Additionally, the development would make those affordable units permanent, which is a "huge benefit to the city," he added.

After a 10-minute recess, Spinnaker agreed to keep four affordable units at the development, place five at the Connecticut Avenue location — not seven — and place three units in other areas of the city.

The Zoning Commission voted 4-3 in favor of the compromise, with Jill Jacobson, Joe Santo, Adam Blank and Chairwoman Emily Wilson in favor. Nathan Sumpter, former Police Chief Harry Rilling and Michael Mushak opposed the compromise.

The vote will allow Spinnaker to seek more than $22 million in funding for the project, according to land use consultant Richard Redniss.

"I'm pleased by the vote," Spinnaker founder, chairman and CEO Clay Fowler said. "I'm looking forward to getting started."

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