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Norwalk residents petition against multifamily zoning changes

A woman walks up the stairs to a renovated unit in the Colonial Village public housing complex in Norwalk. After spending years to get local zoning approval, the project is now waiting on state funding to move forward. Every year, state legislators earmark millions of dollars to build new affordable housing. But as the housing market has heated up, Connecticut Public’s Accountability Project has found there’s a $450 million pot of money that hasn’t been spent.
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
A woman walks up the stairs to a renovated unit in the Colonial Village public housing complex in Norwalk. Town members are demanding halts to any further formal action on a zoning update and eliminating the upzoning of single family home areas.

Norwalk residents are circulating a petition asking the city to put a zoning rewrite on hold that includes increasing multi-family housing in certain neighborhoods.

The petition created by “Save Norwalk Neighborhoods,” started in early July, and has garnered nearly 900 signatures.

Its intention is not to prevent multi-family homes from being built in certain Norwalk neighborhoods, but to encourage the city to be more conscious of population density, according to petition co-organizer Lisa Brinton.

“The issue that's prompted the petition is this upzoning, and this further increased density in Norwalk just completely ignores the fact that we've got decades of ignoring blight violations, or enforcing anything that's been going on in terms of any sort of violations,” Brinton said.

The petition includes seven demands from residents. Those demands include halting any further formal action on the zoning update, eliminating the upzoning of single family home areas, providing more information about potential future build out and city growth, zone by zone before/after information on land uses and building regulations. Residents are also asking that the action include more community outreach and input.

A Plan of Conservation and Development released in 2019 assessed the city’s needs and areas of improvement. Following the release of that report, the city began an overhaul of the zoning regulations in 2021.

In April of this year, a draft of the new regulations was released and several months later residents began critiquing the recommended changes.

“We have too many people and not enough infrastructure, whether it be our sewer system, our schools or our streets, and that's kind of drawn such a heated response from the community,” Brinton said. “This is a 400 year old city. We're not set up on the grid. It was a series of windy little narrow streets that were designed 400 years ago and we're just trying to say: stop.”

In the proposed regulation draft, several neighborhoods,including a majority of East Norwalk and Spring Hill, would be converted from single-family zoning to two-family homes and mixed-use zoning.

East Norwalk is one of the city’s oldest areas, with centuries-old buildings along narrow roads designed prior to the invention of motor vehicles. Petitioners are concerned the area is not equipped to withstand an increase in population that multi-family facilities may bring.

Petitioners are particularly concerned about the impact of increased density on the East and South Norwalk neighborhoods, as both are federally recognized Transit-Oriented Developments.

Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling agrees the recommended changes aren’t yet a proper fit for the city and said the Planning and Zoning Commission is taking resident concerns into account.

Rilling also said the city should wait for an on-going affordable housing study to be completed before moving forward with any zoning changes.

“The initial proposal was doing too much too fast, they need to take a step back, especially since we are in the process of an affordable housing study,” Rilling said. “So we should wait until that study comes out before we do anything of that nature, of that upzoning.”

There are no existing plans to vote on or finalize any zoning changes, according to Rilling.

Abigail is Connecticut Public's housing reporter, covering statewide housing developments and issues, with an emphasis on Fairfield County communities. She received her master's from Columbia University in 2020 and graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2019. Abigail previously covered statewide transportation and the city of Norwalk for Hearst Connecticut Media. She loves all things Disney and cats.

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