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October 15, 2019Cart

Business

by Fairfield County Business Journal
by FCBJ

Norwalk moves ahead with master plan, says it will miss 2018 deadline

Norwalk is well into the research phase of its Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD), but already knows it’s going to miss its July 2018 deadline.

“We’ve discussed it with the state,” said Steven Kleppin, director of the city’s Planning and Zoning Department. “We told them we probably wouldn’t make it, but they said that as long as we were working towards it we wouldn’t be penalized.”

Steven Kleppin

The state requires each municipality to prepare or amend and adopt a POCD, or master plan, at least once every 10 years. Failure to do so makes the municipality ineligible to receive discretionary state funding, unless it is waived by the Office of Policy and Management. The funding can involve everything from access to the Small Town Economic Assistance Program and Clean Water Fund to open space preservation, brownfield remediation and historic
preservation.

Kleppin estimated that Norwalk would be a few months late with its plan — a big improvement over its previous one, which was due in 2001 but wasn’t finalized
until 2008. The state “has gotten a little tougher” since then, he said.

The city has also formed a 35-member oversight committee to assist the Planning Commission in overseeing the plan’s development. Committee members include staff from the Planning and Zoning Department, the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency, the Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce, the Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations and city residents.

Norwalk is undertaking a massive public outreach program to gather information on what residents would like to see, spearheaded by a new website, Norwalk Tomorrow, which was expected to launch by Nov. 9. According to the site’s text, it is designed “to be a singular conduit to receive messages, notifications, surveys, data and all (residents) need to know regarding planning activities in the city.”

The site includes a survey that in addition to gathering demographic information, seeks feedback on how attractive Norwalk’s Wall Street, West Avenue and Washington Street areas are; asks users to rank in order of importance six parking-related issues; and includes questions about what one likes and dislikes most about the city. The site will also be a repository for all of the city’s
planning documents.

Norwalk signed a $195,000 contract with Canadian consulting firm Stantec to assist in developing the master plan. As part of that, Stantec is conducting additional surveys and meeting with community organizations to gather additional information.

Unlike the current POCD, which has been criticized for not being the straightforward guide for future development that such documents are meant to be, the idea behind the new plan is to be “like the Bible going forward,” Mayor Harry Rilling said at a Nov. 1 meeting of the POCD Oversight Committee.

Kleppin said the “big opportunity” for the public to learn more about the process and give its input will be the “community visioning” event to be held Nov. 18 at the Center for Global Studies at Brien McMahon High School. “It’s an open-house style event,” he said, noting that it will begin at 9 a.m. and conclude at 12:30 p.m.

The city is “running about a month late” on its five-step schedule, Kleppin said. The first, examining existing conditions, involved gathering data from the census and various city departments “and digesting it all,” he said. Originally expected to be completed this month, the process will likely extend into December.

The second, community visioning”phase, will involve going through the data procured from the Nov. 18 event and surveys and should be finished by February. The third phase plan development, will involve policy recommendations for the
city to consider.

The draft and review process of the POCD should last from approximately next June through October, Kleppin said, with the final plan likely to be ready for the state by the end of 2018.

At the same time, the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency is in the midst of putting together redevelopment plans for the Wall Street, West Avenue and Washington Street areas.