Last Wednesday evening, the Norwalk Zoning Commission cleared the way for home-
improvement giant Lowe's to build a store in Norwalk.
Lowe's is now expected to demolish the vacant building at 80-100 Connecticut Ave., the former site of Affinion marketing, and construct a 141,715-square-foot store, including a 25,000-square-foot garden center. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2014 and finish by late fall 2015.
The Lowe's store is expected to employ about 130 people on a 10.2-acre parcel bordered by Clinton and Stuart avenues and Frost Street.
Commissioners approved the proposal that was presented last month, with stipulations that included noise restrictions during construction.
Founded in 1946, Lowe's has grown from a small hardware store to the second-largest home improvement retailer worldwide, according to it's website. Lowe's operates more than 1,745 stores in the United States, Canada and Mexico, which stock products ranging from appliances and tools, to paint, lumber and nursery products.
While the opening of a Lowe's store is good news for the rebounding retail sector, the approval of a proposal made by Muller Park Realty LLC to allow an artists' workspace at 30 Muller Ave. is positive news for the city, said Tad Diesel, directing of marketing and business development for Norwalk.
"The addition of artists' workspace as an appropriate use in the Business 2 Zone is a valid and appropriate addition and may lead to the revitalization of Muller Park -- one of the most beautiful and underutilized old factory buildings in Norwalk," Diesel said via email. "Steven Chrisoffers' ownership of the complex goes back through his family roots and he can tell stories all day long about the old mill -- its German ownership, its confiscation during World War II, the various things manufactured there.
"Steven was among the very first people I met with after taking this assignment years ago. The saw-tooth roof on the main old mill building is a spectacular example of early-20th-century industrial architecture. Steve gave me a tour of the facility and we talked on and on about the history of the place. Professionals in the Planning and Zoning department and Legal Office have been tremendously supportive of the difficult work -- a satisfying team effort. Seeing a revitalization of the complex would be among the very most satisfying endeavors of my time with the city of Norwalk."
One decision the commissioner's put on hold was a zoning amendment that would allow contractors to rent or own garages in the Industrial No. 1, Business No. 1 and Business No. 2 zones if they keep everything inside.
Ron Czebiniak, an independent commercial broker, was among those commending the commission for tackling the issue. He said he knew of three businesses -- Darien Lawn and Tree, Dominick Fuel and Pack-Timco -- that had been forced to relocate all or part of their businesses to Bridgeport and Stratford because of current zoning regulations.
"These were good jobs that left our city because of the burden that zoning put on them," Czebiniak said. "This measure, if approved in a manner contractors can actually benefit from, will do much to stem the exodus of small businesses from our city, to allow the contractor base to grow and prosper, to attract new businesses, and also, very importantly, give a legitimate home to some of the trucks that are parked overnight on some of our streets.
"But I'm very concerned about the 12,500-square-foot minimum lot size. It's one of the most onerous conditions that keep small businesses from being able to afford to own a contractor's lot in the Industrial 1 zone and it should be done away with there and eliminated in this proposal, as well."
Jacqueline Sharp, a business attorney, agreed on both points.
"The contractors I represent won't buy in Norwalk" because they can't park inside, she said. But, she said, a 5,000-square-foot minimum would be more appropriate, as there are many companies that only have two trucks.
Both speakers were concerned that the proposal would not allow contractors to keep equipment inside the garages.
"They want to be able to pull that truck in and load it so it's ready to go out the next day," Sharp said. "That means profit to them. That's overhead."
The regulation, which had been drawn up by city staff, was sent to committee for review.
Another agenda item, a proposed beekeeping regulation, prompted a heated discussion.
The regulation, which called for limiting the number of bee hives to two per quarter-acre of Norwalk property and was eventually approved, was written in response to complaints about the bee farm owned by Andrew Cote at 137 Silvermine Ave. Cote's operation, though, is grandfathered in and unaffected by the limitation.
Jeff Hall, of 127 Silvermine Ave., said that he was surprised the commission had written a beekeeping regulation because he didn't think the commission had the authority to regulate livestock.
"In 3 1/2 centuries, we've never had a problem with beekeeping in Norwalk, "Hall, a New York City scientist, said. "I found it difficult to convince my colleagues at Mount Sinai (Medical Center) that this was really a proposal."
Another neighbor said that Cote's property is a nuisance and they didn't think Cote even lived there. That prompted Cote's mother, Edith Cote, to say that, although her son has an apartment in Manhattan, he does live on Silvermine Avenue.
Commission member Joe Santo suggested Cote could avoid problems with his neighbors if he did not have items left around the property.
"I thought we were talking about beekeeping, not how many buckets are on my property," said Andrew Cote, who later apologized for being on edge.
Nicole Rivard contributed to this report.