NORWALK – Officials have drafted citywide zoning regulation changes to encourage development, but many single-family homeowners are opposing a proposed merge with nearby two-family neighborhoods.
Norwalk currently follows a Euclidean zoning model, which separates zones by use. But for the first time in almost 40 years, officials are seeking a more comprehensive update to its regulations to “allow the appropriate development, while protecting the cherished parts of the City,” according to the municipality.
During a series of question-and-answer sessions that began April 26, Planning and Zoning Director Steve Kleppin was met with concerned residents from a single-family zone who said the proposed rules would impact property values and community character.
The draft regulations take the B Residence Zone – single-family houses with limited height and width requirements – and C Residence Zone – single and two-family houses with similar height and width requirements – and merge them to create Zone CD-3, which would allow two-family homes as of right.
At a Monday meeting in the SoNo Branch Library, former Zoning Board of Appeals Chair Urban Mulvehill joined other Zone B residents in opposing the merger.
“The idea of combining the B and C zones, even with the fancy new name, strikes me as hugely inappropriate [given] the principal objective of zoning, which is to preserve the property values that people have bought into,” Mulvehil said.
Mulvehill said he often walks through C Zone residences to get to the South Norwalk Train Station, adding the walk gets “seedier and seedier” the further he travels.
“Nobody living there owns it. Nobody keeps up their properties,” Mulvehill said. “It has none of the characteristics that are important that you see in the B Zone.”
But Tanner Thompson, chair of the Norwalk Bike/Walk Commission, argued that current zoning rules in that area were made to keep certain groups of people out.
“When zoning was first established here in the United States, it was very explicitly to keep poor people out of the suburbs,” Thompson said. “And at the time, poor people meant explicitly Black people.”
Thompson said as housing prices have increased, current zoning regulations have continuously ensured that single-family neighborhoods are unaffordable for most Norwalk residents.
“When people say the idea behind zoning is that we preserve what we bought into 20 years ago, 40 years ago … what you ensure is that that becomes more and more and more exclusive,” he said.
Kleppin explained the new CD-3 Zone would support a key goal in the city’s current Plan of Conservation and Development by providing a range of diverse housing for Norwalk residents.
“One of the things we tried to do is provide housing opportunity, which we think the two-family does, which is consistent with what the POCD says – provide some different housing options like missing middle housing,” Kleppin said.
But one B Zone resident, Donna Smirniotopoulos, questioned why officials needed to improve citywide affordability.
“There’s no obligation for this city and [anybody] else in Connecticut to make it more affordable,” Smirniotopoulos said.
Kleppin clarified that the merger would allow for two-family houses, but did not require them, but Smirniotopoulos continued to question the need for change, especially in single-family neighborhoods.
“Don’t people have a right to purchase in neighborhoods where they have a reasonable expectation of what their future is going to look like?” she asked.
Smirniotopoulos, who lives on Shorefront Park, said the zoning changes would push her longtime elderly neighbors out as developers seek out waterfront rental properties.
“I invested heavily in renovating my house. I was buying something,” Smirniotopoulos said to Kleppin. “And now you’re deciding – not you personally, Steve, because I know you work for the city – but other people are deciding what’s best for me.”
Many attendees said they were also concerned about parking. One resident living in a C Zone, Jody Proct, said a neighboring two-family house has 16 cars.
“There are 16 adults living in this house. Each have their own car,” Proct said. “The street is now lined with cars because they can’t fit in their parking lot.”
Proct said if the city is going to implement the regulation changes, they need to strictly regulate street parking.
“I’m all for two-family homes. I absolutely think it’s important to [have] the space for people to live, but I think it needs to be regulated.”
Kleppin explained the city cannot regulate how many cars a two-family house has on their property, but can regulate where an owner puts their parking spaces. Under the new regulations, he said, duplex owners would be required to put four parking spaces on the side or in the rear of the house to avoid a “sea of asphalt” in the front yard.
At both the Monday meeting and the Tuesday meeting for C Zone, residents said few Norwalkers were aware of the citywide regulation changes and requested that the Planning and Zoning Department improve community outreach efforts.
On Wednesday, Kleppin told members of the Planning and Zoning Commission that the department would send out postcards to all Norwalk residents ahead of the two June public hearings.
Following the public hearings, Kleppin said the commission would review the proposed changes and residents’ concerns before the adoption hearing in late September. If adopted, the regulations could go into effect in January 2024.
On Thursday, Kleppin told CT Examiner that the city is open to residents’ suggestions. If they were to adjust the proposed regulations, he said, that would happen over the next three or four weeks.
“Maybe there are some areas where maybe it makes sense to pull back,” Kleppin said. “But we haven’t gotten to that point yet.”