NORWALK – On Wednesday, local officials weighed need for additional housing against the potential impact on a nearby neighborhood as they debated rewriting zoning regulations to allow multifamily development near the South Norwalk Station.
As a part of the city’s zoning regulation rewrite, the Norwalk’s Department of Planning and Zoning proposed an “upzone” of the single- and two-family houses nearby the South Norwalk train station, but also warned at the Wednesday Planning and Zoning Commission meeting of potential consequences for the surrounding neighborhood.
In the case of the Cleveland Terrace area, Planning and Zoning Director Steve Kleppin told commissioners that they will have to decide between additional housing near transit or historical preservation.
“I think it really just comes down to a question of, ‘do you think this area, given its location, is an appropriate area for more density? Or should it remain in the one- and two-family zone as more of a potential preservation tool for the buildings that are there now?’” Kleppin said.
Just a quarter-mile walk from the train station, some of the single- and two-family houses along Cleveland Terrace date back to 1880. Kleppin warned commissioners that allowing multifamily housing, including townhouses, condo complexes, and small apartment buildings, as of right would likely lead to demolitions.
“A very likely scenario is they could cobble two or three adjoining lots together, and [the] money would probably be incentivized enough for them to take down what’s there and build new,” he said.
Several commissioners said they were torn.
While they said they valued historic preservation, they also wanted to address the need for additional housing as Norwalk’s population continues to grow. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city population increased almost seven percent from 2010 to 2022.
Earlier this year, the commission held public hearings to gauge resident opinions on the proposed zoning changes, and while some said they wanted to expand housing options, many said they were opposed to what they saw as overcrowding and significant changes to single- and two-family neighborhoods.
Commissioner Nick Kantor said Cleveland Terrace is a prime neighborhood to add housing given its proximity to the train station.
“This is the prime core of the city,” Kantor said. “We say we don’t want to put density all over the place. This seems to be the place where you’d want to put it.”
Some also argued that many of the houses along Cleveland Terrace and the surrounding neighborhoods were deteriorating, and that an upzone could improve aesthetics and property values.
Commissioner Jacquen Jordan-Byron, pointed out that many of the historic houses in the neighborhood are not owner-occupied, and it showed.
“There’s a lot of older homes, historical homes. There’s also a lot of blighted homes as well,” said commissioner Jacquen Jordan-Byron. “I know that eventually some developer will want to rehab it.”
Louis Schulman, chair of the commission, agreed with Jordan-Byron and said that while the character of the neighborhood would likely change, upzoning may be exactly what the area needs.
“This is a neighborhood that’s continuing to deteriorate,” Schulman said. “And although it may not be an ideal solution, it may be a way of beginning to halt that deterioration.”
A voice for preservation
Tod Bryant, president of Norwalk Preservation Trust, said that he was strongly opposed to turning the neighborhood over to multifamily development.
“If they’re going to make it multifamily – like more than two-family – that’s a danger in that part of the town,” Bryant said. “But if they were to make it two-family, that’s not necessarily a death sentence to these historic buildings.”
In a phone call on Friday with CT Examiner, Bryant said there is a key way to encourage improvement in the area without upzoning – converting the area to a village district.
Norwalk’s village district regulations add a layer of historic review that would benefit the Cleveland Terrace area, he said.
“Village district is the stronger of the two [mechanisms] because it could include design review and some other things, and it would be administered by the Planning and Zoning Commission,” he said.
Last year, the city added a transit-oriented zone to East Norwalk Village requiring that new construction be reviewed by the commission for landscaping, building design and the impact on historic structures.
Bryant said that during the regulation rewrite process, he has been working with Kleppin to add additional protections for historic properties across the entire city in the new zoning regulations.
“I see it as an opportunity to add some more protections if that’s possible, and also to protect some of these neighborhoods,” he said.
Asked about the deterioration on Cleveland Terrace, Bryant said officials should use Norwalk’s blight ordinance to address the issue rather than changing the character of the neighborhood entirely.
At the commission meeting, most members agreed that the Cleveland Terrace area should allow for multifamily development. Schulman said no decisions were final, though, and the commission would revisit the issue later as they continue to debate the rewrite.